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BLOOMINGTON — Jeff Wells gave himself a one-in-10 chance of winning Friday. Joe Bierbaum thought his odds were actually worse.

"Probably 1 in 15," said Bierbaum.

When the Bloomington-Normal City Match Play championship flight semifinal tees off at 7:21 a.m. Saturday, Wells and Bierbaum will be standing on No. 1 tee against each other at Bloomington Country Club thanks to upset quarterfinal victories.

Bierbaum pulled the stunner of the 100th anniversary tourney when he knocked off defending champion Mike Cushing, 3 and 2. The 50-year-old Wells took control with three straight birdies around the turn to upend Alan Bardwell, 4 and 3.

"Alan is stronger, a better putter and has a better short game," said Wells. "Today was just my day."

Saturday's first semifinal at 7:12 will be a battle of youth against experience when qualifying medalist Michael Mounce faces 2016 champion Mike Henry.

Mounce, 21, was in control throughout in downing Logan Stauffer, 4 and 2. Henry, 49, was in a tussle against Grant Milling before coming on strong late for a 2 and 1 victory.

"I wasn't really on top of my game, for sure," said Henry. "I hit some squirrelly shots, but I've got a pretty good short game and can get up and down."

Cushing drew all square with good friend Bierbaum after chipping in for birdie on No. 11. Bierbaum stuffed his approach shot on the 13th for a short birdie putt to go 1-up. Cushing missed a chance to tie when he couldn't convert a 6-foot birdie putt on the 14th.

Bierbaum, 37, made a nice up-and-down to save par on No. 15. Cushing couldn't do the same and when Bierbaum two-putted for par on the 16th he was victorious.

"I hit a couple good iron shots and made a couple long putts early," said Bierbaum, who will be playing in his first semifinal. "I knew I had to play good and catch him slightly off. If he comes out and does his 7-under-par, I can't beat him. I had to catch him when he shot par and I played well."

Cushing, who won the first of his three titles in 2012, gave all the credit to Bierbaum.

"I had a good run. In all honesty, he was one I don't want to play," said Cushing, who swept the Match Play, Two-Man Best Position (with Tom Kearfott) and Medal Play last year. "Our families are so close. I know I'm going to get his absolute best. He beat me. I wasn't sharp."

Wells, the 1995 Medal Play champion and Match Play runner-up in 1996 and 1999, reemerged on the local golf scene last year after an extended absence.

He credits the interest in golf from his youngest of three sons, Jonathan, and surprisingly qualifying for the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball last year with Will Snodgrass of Murray, Ky., as sparking his resurgence.

Having the Match Play at BCC also hasn't hurt.

"I feel like I'm at home," said Wells, a former BCC member. "I've played a thousand rounds out here. Some of my old member friends followed me. It's like home for me."

Bardwell three-putted No. 7 to give Wells a 1-up lead. Wells then ran off three straight birdies for a 4-up advantage that grew with another birdie on No. 12.

A Bardwell chip-in for eagle at the par-5 14th wasn't enough as Wells made a short par putt on the next hole to clinch the victory.

"Out here I know (the course) so well and I'm so comfortable," said Wells. "I see things well and I can shape shots I want to here. It's really lightning in a bottle."

Mounce didn't want to prolong his match with Stauffer any longer than necessary. In his previous match, Tyler Weaver put on a late charge to force sudden death before Mounce prevailed on the 19th hole.

So Mounce was glad when his 50-foot birdie putt on No. 16 dropped to eliminate Stauffer.

Mounce, who was 2-under for the round, built a 4-up advantage at the turn. He struggled off the tee despite shooting a record 63 in last Saturday's qualifier at Weibring Golf Club,

"The first bad shot I hit (Friday) was my first putt on 11. I've got my long game figured out finally. That's good," said Mounce, who will be a senior on Bradley's golf team.

"That's been the key so far, keeping it in play. Having shots to the green in two is big out here. If you punch it out and try to get it up and down for par, it's going to be hard to win a match."

Henry and Milling expected to be close throughout and didn't disappoint.

After Henry built a 2-up lead after eight, Milling charged back. He hit onto the par-5 ninth in two for a birdie and then took advantage of a Henry bogey on No. 10 to draw even.

Henry briefly went ahead again before Milling reached the par-5 14th in two to get back to all square. It appeared Milling might take the lead at No. 15, but Henry sank a 25-foot par putt before Milling's 5-footer for par curled around the hole.

When Henry drilled his tee shot on the 219-yard 16th to within 6 feet, it set up a birdie for a 2-up lead. Henry then got lucky on No. 17 when his approach from the fairway bunker hit a rake by a greenside bunker and settled 25 feet away.

Two putts later, Henry had survived.

"We were all square, I could go 1-down (at No. 15) and blink-blink it's over," said Henry, who beat Milling in another tough match on his way to the title two years ago.

Contact Jim Benson at (309) 820-3404. Follow him on Twitter: @Pg_Benson



Reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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