Will Kannegieser, of Portland Country Club, follows through on a shot on the fairway during Wednesday’s semifinal round of the 2020 Match Play Invitational at Spring Meadows Golf Club in Gray. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

GRAY — Will Kannegieser will defend his title.

The Minot native will defend his Maine State Golf Association’s Match Play Invitational championship as the second seed defeated third-seeded Caleb Manuel 1-up in the semifinals Wednesday afternoon at Spring Meadows Golf Club in a rematch of last year’s final.

Kannegieser will face Joe Hamilton in Thursday’s final at 7 a.m. The fifth-seeded Hamilton defeated the No. 1 seed, John Hayes, 3&2 in the other semifinal.

Kannegieser left the door open for Manuel late in the match after making par on the par-3 16th hole and going 2up on the 16th hole with Manuel’s bogey.

On the par-4 17th hole, Kannagieser’s approach shot hit the green and spun back 30 feet, Manuel was able to get in with par while Kannagieser three-putted.

“I had a wedge from 125 (yards) and I felt the wind at my back, I thought it was nice, but it didn’t get over the ridge and it spun 30 feet back,” Kannegieser said. “I made a bad decision there; I should have gone with one more (club).”

On the par-4 18th hole, Kannegieser almost had a walk-off like Manuel did last week at the Junior Amateur while winning with a double eagle. The approach shot hit the top of the flag stick and the ball rolled onto the fringe in front of the green.

It was an elevated approach shot, and Kannegieser was expecting the worst.

“Well I left the (approach) short in the first 18 and the way it was flying, I thought it may come up short again,” Kannegieser said. “Right as I thought it was going to land, it hit the flag stick. At first, I thought it may do something funky, but luckily, it stayed relatively close where I could putt it up there and force him to make (his birdie).”

His birdie putt missed but he ended the hole with a par before Manuel’s birdie attempt.

Manuel’s approach left him about eight feet for birdie to extend the match. Manuel slightly misread the putt and his tournament came to an end.

“I hit a good putt, I didn’t think it was going to break as much as I thought it would,” Manuel said. “I was down the whole time; in the other matches I was 2-up after two (holes) every time. I think the first couple (of holes) hurt me and I couldn’t come back. I couldn’t make any putts.”

Manuel jumped out to a two-hole lead against Jace Pearson and Steve Lycette on Tuesday, then got out to an early start against the No. 6 seed Joe Walp Wednesday morning en route to a 4&3 victory in the quarterfinals.

Caleb Manuel, of Brunswick Golf Club, reacts after hitting his tee shot on the 3rd hole of Wednesday’s semifinal round of the 2020 Match Play Invitational at Spring Meadows Golf Club in Gray. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Manuel took a penalty stroke on the first and third holes that gave Kannegieser a 2-up advantage. Manuel was glad to finish the front nine only one down after Kannegieser missed opportunities on holes eight and nine to extend the lead to 3-up.

“I was looking good one down at the turn. He could have been two or three up,” Manuel said.

Manuel was the second Brunswick Golf Club member Kannegieser defeated Wednesday, as he dispatched Garrett Olson 1-up in the quarterfinals. Kannegieser felt he jumped on his opponent’s mistakes in both matches.

“I felt like whenever they hit poor shots, I was able to hit decent shots to put more pressure on them,” Kannegieser said. “With maybe the exception of maybe one or two holes against Garrett, I didn’t let too many opportunities go, which was nice.”

Just like Kannegieser, Hamilton jumped out to a quick lead over Hayes, winning the first two holes and never giving up the lead.

Hamilton knew Hayes was going to chip away at the lead during the match. Hamilton led 4-up thru 11 before Hayes won the 12th and 13th holes and almost won the 14th hole, just missing what would have been his third straight birdie.

“I knew at some point Johnny was going to make a run at me, I didn’t know when,” Hamilton said. “It’s just like growing up and playing basketball, the halftime speech from my coach was the same every halftime, even if we (had) leads: ‘They are going to come at you, you got to weather the storm.’ In golf when I am playing someone good, I am always ready when they catch fire and try to weather the storm and make them earn everything.”

After the two halved No. 14, Hamilton won the par-5 15th hole with a par. He put the hammer down on the par-3 16th hole, nearly acing it.

Joe Hamilton, of Biddeford-Saco Country Club, watches his drive off the 10th tee during Wednesday’s semifinal round of the 2020 Match Play Invitational at Spring Meadows Golf Club in Gray. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Hamilton wasn’t going to let another opportunity slip away. Two years ago, he almost went to the final, but lost to Drew Powell — the two met Wednesday morning in the quarterfinals where Hamilton won 3&1 —the reason he felt like he lost is because he didn’t commit on some shots.

He committed to the shot on 16.

“On this one, I stepped up on the par-3 and said ‘It’s Ok, if you don’t hit good but commit to it and make a good swing,’” Hamilton said. “I almost holed it.”

Nothing was clicking for Hayes on Wednesday afternoon after defeating Judd Parsons in 19 holes in the quarterfinals.

“I had some bad three putts and some bad shots, but that’s golf,” Hayes said.

It will be the first time Hamilton and Kannegieser have ever faced off against each other, although Kannegieser thought both had the same tee time this morning in the quarterfinals.

“I stepped up at first tee at 7:05 for 7:09 tee time and Will was standing on the tee,” Hamilton said. “I am like ‘Oh, I thought I was playing Drew and Will is like ‘I am up.’ I was like ‘Oh, okay.’ So, he was there, he was just a day early.”

The two will be standing on the first tee Thursday at 7 a.m. to decide a champion.

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