COLUMBUS, Ohio — Eight hours of tension-packed bowling produced several memorable rallies, some history and, more importantly, an opening victory and a second round defeat Friday for the Vanderbilt Commodores at the NCAA Bowling Championship.
Vanderbilt began the day with a 2-1 victory over stubborn Fairleigh Dickinson. The history came in the way of both Commodore match points, which were won in modified tiebreakers — the first time in the sport’s history that there were two ties and resulting tiebreakers in the same match.
There was another wild ride in the advancer’s bracket with Southland rival Stephen F. Austin. Vanderbilt appeared to have the traditional game in hand, sided immensely by Mabel Cummins’ 231, only to go off the tracks in the middle of the rotation and lose at the wire, 911-887.
An incredible comeback in the 5-Game Baker set – down 128 pins after two games – produced an improbable point, only to fade in the best-of-seven, losing 4-0.
Vandy will play top-seeded McKendree Saturday at 8 a.m. CT for the right to meet SFA in the national championship match.
“We had more downs than ups,” a disappointed Vanderbilt head coach John Williamson said. “As a whole we were pressing too much. Mistakes were amplified when they haven’t been in the last couple of weeks. Overall I felt we were pretty average today and it was a bad day to be average.
“Overall our grit and fight in the group is fantastic. We have to figure out a way to execute. It’s great to claw back but I don’t personally feel that we should have had to in either match. We missed three makeable spares and lost three games by single pins to SFA. You can’t give away outs and today we did.”
It was apparent from early morning that Vanderbilt’s big guns were misfiring. Cummins, fighting a sore throat that went through her teammates last week, got off to an uncharacteristically rocky start and freshman flash Paige Peters also had moments were she looked unsteady.
Case in point: in the traditional game with FDU, the score was knotted at 957 and, luckily for the Commodores, Peters still had her 10th frame fill ball needing one measly pin to win the point. The ball struck her ankle on her release and caromed into the right gutter, a rare and shocking sight and that resulted in the first modified 5-frame Baker.
After dropping the 5-Game Baker point, Vandy found itself down 3-1 in the best of seven but staged a thrilling rally that included a Peters strike in the 10th to salvage a 214-214 tie and eventually create another tiebreaker.
Cummins knows why Vanderbilt played so well in those crucial situations.
“That is a testament of what we do in practice,” Cummins relays. “We practice quite a bit for the tiebreaker scenario and that helped us today. We practice tiebreakers so many times we were well prepared.”
As mentioned, the Commodores got off to a crummy start against the talented Ladyjacks in the afternoon contest, botching the first point with a sour last few frames and finding themselves down 128 pins after two games of the Baker set, in which SFA’s opening 268 put Vandy in a big opening hole.
Vanderbilt’s coaches had been pushing a lot of buttons in hopes of finding a spark and in the third game, they inserted the seldom played freshman Kailee Channell, the two-time Tennessee high school Bowler of the Year.
Williamson explained what appeared to be an unusual substitution.
“Kailee’s throwing it well and we were down 128 pins. At that point we had nothing to lose, we were trying to get five people to throw the ball repetitively. She was really good in practice and was good the last few weeks. We didn’t dress her last week because we wanted to back to heal a little more but she said it didn’t bother her. She competed well on a big stage.”
Channell was surprised to get the playing nod but ready for the moment
“I really wasn’t expecting to be put in and at first I was a little nervous but I got myself together quickly and I think this was the calmest I’ve ever been on this team,” she said. “I’ve liked the pattern and had a decent look. At that point being down that much there isn’t that you can lose, all you can do is give it your all.”
Channell, who’s older sister Ashley Channell was a star at Louisiana Tech, filled every frame the rest of the match. Cummins praised the freshman for her poise.
“She changed the energy in the settee,” Cummins noted. “KC did a great of being consistent. That level of consistency is what I’d expect of a Vanderbilt recruit. She was able to come in and perform like we know she can – she had a tremendous high school bowling career and she handled herself very well. She filled very frame, that’s our baseline.”
Cummins also spoke to the momentum swings that created tension throughout the Wayne Webb’s Columbus Bowl – at times raucous and at other times one could the bowlers footsteps as they approached the foul line.
“In our SFA match, there was quite a bit of nervous energy and we were backed against a corner,” she said. “That’s what our team is known for – how do you react, how do you turn things around and get momentum? That’s when our performance is often the strongest.”
The swings of fortune included individuals as well as the team. In the FDU match, Caroline Thesier was splendid as she led the Dores with a 234 and kept it going in the Bakers. She lost the magic against SFA and watched the Bakers from the sideline.
Looking ahead to Saturday morning, Vanderbilt and McKendree were the top two seeds coming into the tournament. McKendree lost to SFA in the opening round before ousting FDU from the tournament in the afternoon. The Bobcats have a 5-4 season edge on the Dores who have won the last several meetings late in the year.
Saturday’s match will be streamed on NCAA.com. The winner will advance for a rematch with SFA on ESPNU at 7 p.m. CT Saturday in this double-elimination event.