Bowlers roll into NCAA Semis

April 15, 2011

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TAYLOR, MI—Vanderbilt saved its best to last and as a result moved into Saturday’s NCAA semi-final against Nebraska, a game that will be played at 9:40 a.m. CT. The winner moves into the afternoon’s championship match against the Maryland-Eastern Shore-Fairleigh Dickinson semi-final victor.

It was both a memorable and tremendous day for Commodore bowling, a grind of ups and downs in which many of the games were not decided until the tenth frame. The Commodores beat Central Missouri, Arkansas State and the Huskers while dropping what the tournament director publicly declared was “one of the classic games in NCAA Tournament history”, a heart-breaking two-pin loss s to top-seeded Fairleigh Dickinson in a rare tie-breaker.

For a team that many left for dead after a weak start last fall, it has been a remarkable turn-around that is still being written.

“This team has been through a lot and the girls have seen it all so I’m not surprised we were able to tough today out,” said Coach John Williamson. “I can’t say enough about the performance of Kim Carper and Amanda Halter in reserve roles. It was a day when we needed everyone and we got everyone. I expect a real battle tomorrow but we are confident, we have a good look and I like our chances.”

Vanderbilt got huge efforts from anchor Samantha Hesley, senior Kayla Rhoades and sophomore Sarah O’Brien among others.

O’Brien is going to undergo her second surgery in eight months for degenerative hip problems but despite her ailing joint, she was exceptional nearly the entire day. When her leg and hip got too sore to go late in the day, Carper came in and filled frames.

“It was really exciting out there,” said Carper, who has seen limited action all season. “I was really impressed with our team as we overcame adversity in our season and now we’re doing it again. We feel confident. Our goal today was to be comfortable, have fun and survive and advance.”

Rhoades, entering her final day as a collegian, began the day with gusto, then became untracked during the third round game with Arkansas State and briefly came out of the rotation. She was inserted in the finale against her former Nebraska teammates and the Indiana product was red-hot.

“I talked to Josie (Earnest, the assistant coach) and made a lane adjustment that last game,” Rhoades said. “I actually moved outside to where Jessica was and it was a much better look. I really wanted to be there for my teammates because they were there for me. They helped get my confidence back.”

The day was also satisfying for Williamson, who took a calculated gamble during Thursday’s seeding marathon by lightly bowling certain individuals, shuffling his lineup and playing all 10 team members. The goal of peaking at the right time seemed to pay dividends.

“The atmosphere out there today was something,” admitted sophomore All-American Jessica Earnest.

“It feels different than other tournaments. It’s nerve racking in the best way. We are having fun. And I’m so impressed with our bench; they were fabulous.”

Much of the buzz was about the modest but wang-tough Hesley, who seldom threw a ball in her anchor role that wasn’t important to the cause.

“I have enormous confidence in Sam,” Williamson said. “She averaged 57% strikes during the season in Baker play – best on our team – and when we need a strike I can’t think of anyone I’d rather have with the ball than her. We tell our team that the goal is to only ask her to have to make one big shot a game so today she probably got in a little over-time today.”

Hesley took her part of the tie-breaker hard since the team came up two pins short. But she selflessly ignored her heroics in striking three times to tie the first game.

“I was a bit down after that FDU game,” Hesley said, “but Britt, Jess and Lauren (Rhein) pulled me aside and reminded me that one game wasn’t everything. My team is so supportive. And it really was fun getting to play out there today.”

The advance into the NCAA semis is Vanderbilt’s best since the 2008 squad made it that far. The 2007 squad won the national championship.

The semi-finals will be live-streamed in high definition on The championship game will not be available as ESPN has the rights and will televise it on a delayed basis Sunday at 1:30 p.m. CT.

Complete tournament results can be found on the official tourney link on this article.