— Southland Bowling (@SouthlandBowl) March 27, 2022
HARAHAN, La. — Vanderbilt successfully defended its Southland Bowling League championship Sunday, shutting out Youngstown State with consistent scoring and several long strike strings.
The Commodores took the team game point 964-946 and swamped the Penguins in the 5-game Baker set 1,122-991 to win the coveted league title for the fourth time since the tournament was conducted in 2015.
“Both teams started a little nervous,” Vanderbilt head coach John Williamson said. “I felt like we got more comfortable in the middle of the match but the traditional game wasn’t played particularly well on either side but we regrouped and played really well in the Baker game. That was more what we were accustomed to this weekend. We threw some good shots.”
Mabel Cummins was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player and teammate Amanda Naujokas was selected to the All-Tournament team. But the Commodores ultimate power came from its balanced lineup that showed few flaws over the three-day tourney.
“Amanda didn’t play the entire event but when she was in there she was very good,” Williamson said. “Sometimes coaches can be too smart for their own good. Amanda was a huge reason why we were successful this weekend.”
Cummins has become the Old Faithful in the Commodore lineup and that was not lost on the Vanderbilt coaching staff.
“You can almost set your watch to Mabel,” Williamson continued. “If you need something, more times than not she delivers it. She’s steady and you know what you are going to get. She’s unflappable and doesn’t let the environment around her dictate what’s happening. She’s not very demonstrative in her actions but she is very demonstrative in the way she plays.”
Cummins wanted to share the spotlight and pointed to the magnitude of the victory.
“Winning anything the second time proves to you and others that you should be there, that you have what it takes,” Cummins said. “We are in such an incredible conference, there is so much talent. Our conference is absolutely stacked. To win it back-to-back is incredible.”
Senior Samantha Gainor added: “It’s the first time in our bowling program history that we’ve won the conference back-to back and that’s something to be proud of.”
Cummins and Gainor led the way in Sunday’s traditional team game — Cummins with a 212 and Gainor adding a 202. The fireworks were just beginning as the Dores shot 248 in the opening Baker game, ending with a six-bagger to grab a 31-pin lead.
The lead was still 31 after three games but Vandy blew it open in the fourth and closed Game 5 by going off the sheet from the fourth frame to notch a 246 clincher.
“Momentum is so important and it’s also finicky,” Williamson said. “We won the first point but by no means was there a lot of momentum in that win. For us to come out strong in that first Baker game, it set the tone for the next four.”
As with the prior day’s matches, Vanderbilt bowled just six people. The starting lineup Sunday was Cummins, Angelica Anthony, Gainor, Caroline Thesier and Paige Peters. Naujokas entered for Gainor in the Bakers and the rotation stayed steady until the senior Gainor came in to throw the fill ball in the 10th frame of the fifth game.
The veteran Gainor pointed to the team’s depth.
“Knowing you have people behind you is such a help,” the senior said. “If someone was struggling, our lineup transitions were smooth. When we subbed it was as if they had been bowling the entire day. Knowing if things weren’t going great there is someone to step in. Today I couldn’t get the 10-pin out. We have a lot of depth and it showed.”
Peters had been outstanding in earlier matches but Saturday’s strikes became Sunday’s spares for much of the match.
“It’s hard to be at a super high level for multiple days in a row and the line of success and failure is so slim — an inch here, an inch there and some of those shots are strikes,” Williamson said. “For a freshman bowling in a lineup for the conference title she did what we needed.”
With the victory, Vanderbilt claims the league’s automatic qualifier invitation to next month’s NCAA Championship. The NCAA will announce the participants in the four regional tournaments at 3 p.m. Wednesday. There will be eight automatic conference champion qualifiers and eight at-large teams selected.
The championship is the 44th team tournament title in program history. The complete All-Tournament team included Brooklyn Buchan of Arkansas State, Allie Leiendecker of Louisiana Tech, Emma Dockery and Emma Wrenn of Youngstown State in addition to Naujokas and the MVP Cummins.