The 10th-ranked Aztecs won the first two matches but were unable to hold on over the course of the final three. Despite the loss, the Aztecs posted their best team finish at the NCAA Championships in their Division I history by tying for fifth place at the par 71, 7,2-92-yard Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif.
Defending MW champion SDSU qualified for match play on Thursday after recording a 54-hole total of 19-over 871 (292-295-284) to tie for fourth place with the Golden Bears in the three-day stroke play portion of the tournament.
"You have to be in the final eight to have a run at the national championship in this format and we were here," said Aztecs coach Ryan Donovan, a semifinalist for National Coach of the Year. "I think this is going to make us stronger and help with recruiting."
SDSU's finish was the best by a team from the Mountain West since 2005, when three MW teams in the top eight. SDSU also provided the league with its first top 10 finish since 2009, when TCU placed ninth.
The turning point came in the final pairing when Cal's Joel Stalter sunk a 15-foot putt for birdie on No. 17 to defeat Aztec senior Alex Kang 2&1.
SDSU seniors J.J. Spaun and Colin Featherstone both came away with wins in the opening two matches, providing the fifth-seeded Aztecs with an early 2-0 lead over the fourth-seeded Golden Bears.
Cal's Pace Johnson bested Aztec senior Matt Hoffenberg, and SDSU junior Tom Berry fell to the Golden Bears' Michael Kim, who put the match away with a birdie at No. 17 after Berry had rebounded from a three-hole deficit.
With the match even at 2-2, the quarterfinal winner came down to the final pairing of Kang and Slater. It was all square through the first three holes, until Kang went 2-up with pars to Slater's bogeys on Nos. 4 and 6. Slater would get back to even as the group made the turn, then went ahead for the first time on the par-5 11th hole when Kang double-bogeyed. SDSU would get back to all square on a birdie putt on No. 14, and after both golfers recorded fives on No. 15, on Kang found the bunker on back-to-back tee shots on Nos. 16 and 17, which allowed Slater to go up by one before sinking the winning birdie putt.
It was the first time a team from the Mountain West advanced to match play since the current format was established in 2009, as well as the first time that the Aztecs had ever qualified for the match play portion of the national championship.
"It came down to the wire," Donovan said. "It came down to the last match and that is what I was expecting. They made an extra birdie or two on us and that is what it comes down to in this format."
Now comes the task of replacing four seniors --- Spaun, Kang, Featherstone and Hoffenberg --- who played major roles in the team's success over the last four seasons. Spaun, who finished tied for 13th during the stroke play portion of the tournament, exits as the 2012 MW Player of the Year.
"I am so proud of this group of guys and the bond that came between them," Donovan said. "These are memories they will always have. (They) won back-to-back Mountain West Conference championships, and came back from behind against Stanford (on Friday) when everyone thought we were down and out. They showed a lot of heart. I could not be more proud of the group, and it is going to help us to get better in the future."
2012 NCAA Men's Golf Championships
Pacific Palisades, Calif. - Riviera Country Club (Par-71, 7,292 yards)
Match Play - NCAA Quarterfinals
No. 1 Alabama def. No. 8 Kent State, 3-1
No. 7 Oregon def. No. 2 UCLA, 3-2
No. 3 Texas def. No. 6 Washington, 5-0
No. 4 California 3, No. 5 San Diego State 2
J.J. Spaun (SDSU) def. Max Homa (Cal), 4&3
Colin Featherstone (SDSU) def. Brandon Hagy (Cal), 2&1
Pace Johnson (Cal) def. Matt Hoffenberg (SDSU), 4&3
Michael Kim (Cal) & Tom Berry (SDSU), 3&1
Joel Slater (Cal) def. Alex Kang (SDSU), 2&1