Jan. 15, 2012
JONESBORO, Ark. – Vanderbilt saved its best for last, dousing red-hot Arkansas State twice on Championship Sunday to win its second straight Mid-Winter Classic.
The Commodores were third Friday, second Saturday and left little doubt Sunday about which team would bring home the title hardware.
“We feel as though we are built for these best four-of-seven formats and we look forward to them,” said Coach John Williamson. “We executed well today, minimized mistakes and kept the pressure on at all times. We are a mature team and I hope this is a sign of things to come.”
Vanderbilt opened its day in the No. 1 seed versus 2 show-down by avenging a Saturday setback to the Red Wolves, winning 4 games to 2 and earning a bye into the championship match.
State would win a tight struggle with Central Missouri for the right to meet Vandy, setting up a very quick rematch for the championship. As Baker games go, these would be high quality affairs with outstanding spare shooting by both teams.
The first game of the best four-of-seven ended in a draining 234-234 draw with anchor Samantha Hesley doubling in the tenth and getting a 9-count to counter-balance the Red Wolves’ potent run of five strikes in a row.
The two teams traded wins in the second and third games before Vanderbilt got breathing room by winning both the fourth and fifth games for a 3.5-1.5 advantage. Arkansas State, the tourney host playing on its home lanes, closed the gap in the sixth, setting up a tense seventh that was not clinched until Hesley threw two strikes in the tenth.
“We can fill frames and strike with anybody,” Williamson said. “We expect to win more of these four-of-seven’s than not. Today was our third day on the same pattern and a good player is going to figure out how to best play it. So today was a combination of being familiar and the nature of the games with high intensity.”
Jessica Earnest was strong and steady all weekend and made the all-tournament team by virtue of her second place individual finish Saturday.
Vanderbilt primarily used a Baker rotation of Brittni Hamilton, Nicole Mosesso, Kim Carper, Earnest and Hesley although Coach John Williamson was quick to insert freshman southpaw Rebeca Reguero to finish off several games once the outcome was safely decided. In most cases, the Arizona product produced strikes.
“Sam had a cut on her hand and we were not sure how long she might go before it would open up,” Williamson noted. “We were trying to give Rebeca confidence while we were trying to minimize how many balls Sam would have to throw.”
In between the high profile duals with ASU, Vanderbilt played Texas Southern in what is considered a “bye” game so that it would not be at a competitive disadvantage with a long lay-off between games. Vandy topped TSU, 4-1, with Williamson using all nine of his available players in various rotation slots.
“We talk a lot about maintaining our focus, regardless of the situation,” Williamson said. “We kinda limped in today against Texas Southern but we had been very sharp early in that match. I was not at all concerned that we wouldn’t be sharp in the championship match despite the bye round.”
The team championship was Vanderbilt’s second in four events this year, having previously won at Maryland-Eastern Shore. The Commodores have also placed second and third in other tourneys.
Central Missouri blanked Nebraska for third place and Maryland-Eastern Shore topped Sam Houston State for fifth.
Vanderbilt’s next action comes Jan. 27 in Reading, Pa., at the Kutztown Invitational.
Vanderbilt 4 Arkansas State 2
VU 4 Texas Southern 1
VU 4.5 Arkansas State 2.5
Tie 234-234 (each team earns .5)