Champions of the Stallings Invitational

Vandy beats host North Carolina A&T for tournament title

by Rod Williamson

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Vanderbilt withstood a pair of torrid opening salvos from two of the nation’s top teams and went on to win the championship at the Stallings Invitational, defeating host North Carolina A&T 4-2 in the title match.

Before the Commodores would win the program’s 43rd all-time championship, they had to recover from a “photo finish” loss to the same A&T team that put up scorching pin counts and then battled back from an imposing 3-0 deficit in the semifinals to beat a talented Sam Houston State team by taking four straight Baker games.

“It was a resilient day,” Vanderbilt head coach John Williamson said. “We competed hard. Where we were last time out compared to this one – we competed. It was a team effort. We rotated the lineup and hung in there.”

The Commodores won on a day when it could be fairly said that no one in the lineup had their “A” game. The Dores used five different rotations alone in the dramatic Sam Houston comeback, finally finding a spark in freshman Kaylee Hitt, the Cold Spring, Kentucky, product who shined off the bench Saturday and came through once again.

“Kaylee came in and was really good,” Williamson said. “It is cool to see a freshman get in and come through like that. She hasn’t bowled that much this season but she stays attentive in the match, even when it appears she won’t get in. She’s going to learn from this experience.”

Vanderbilt finally settled on a rotation down 3-1 in the semifinal of Mabel Cummins, Hitt, Angelica Anthony, Caroline Thesier and Paige Peters and kept it the rest of the tension-filled competition.

The championship match was anything but easy and far from pretty at times. The Dores jumped out to a 3-1 game advantage after posting powerful 243 and 258 games but had to survive the last two games in which the striking evaporated.

Vandy won the deciding sixth game 182-134 without notching a strike until Peters punched out in the 10th. The marquee game of the match was the third one in which Vanderbilt won 243-226 after creating a pair of four-baggers.

“The lanes got very screwy those last couple of games,” Williamson said. “We normally don’t have to get that far left but there was a glut of oil on that short pattern and if you didn’t handle it correctly the result was a split. We grinded away. Aside from Paige’s split in the fifth we were clean in that last game and that wasn’t easy.”

The highlights of the day are somewhat unusual from Vanderbilt’s perspective. Normally the championship match produces the fireworks but on this day, people will rehash the wild finish in the quarterfinal loss and the remarkable comeback in the semifinal win.

The inspired Aggies, hoping to win on their home lanes, had taken a 3-1 lead in the quarters behind lofty scores of 233, 257 and 258. Vandy shuffled its original rotation to Cummins, Thesier, Samantha Gainor, Anthony and Peters and managed to eke out a 238-231 win to stay alive – then won comfortably in Game 6.

Game 7 was a white-knuckler. A Vandy four-bagger snared a tiny lead through nine but a timely double by Aggie anchor Lauren Tomaszewski and a 9-count was enough for an A&T win 217-214.

Peters was named to the all-tournament team on the basis on her third place individual finish Saturday. Williamson noted that she was able to get some high-stakes experience during the day that can’t be created in practice and was pleased that she, “got better as the day progressed.”

Vanderbilt is now off until it hosts its annual Columbia 300 Music City Classic March 18-20 in Smyrna.  The event currently has 34 teams entered and is the largest tournament in the country.