WICKLIFFE, OH— Survive and advance is now a cliche tournament adage but it seems appropriate for Vanderbilt’s bowling team, which completed a big Friday by downing previoisly unbeaten Nebraska, 2-0, in the mega-match format, setting up a semi-final rematch Saturday morning for the right to play Stephen F. Austin for the national championship.
The top-seeded Commodores continued their battle through the elimination bracket Friday morning by eliminating No. 2 seeded McKendree in what was a rematch of last year’s championship game while Stephen F. Austin downed Maryland-Eastern Shore to stay unbeaten and punch their ticket into the finals.
“We survived yesterday and we survived today so that gives us a chance,” said Vanderbilt Coach John Williamson. “At the beginning of each year, our main emphasis is to be bowling on the last day of the year. If you can do that you have a chance. We haven’t won anything yet and we understand we have one more to go to have that opportunity. I told the team to enjoy these wins through dinner and when we get back to the hotel it’s all about tomorrow.”
The Nebraska match was masterfully played by both teams. The traditional match was up in the air until late in the 10th frame as Vandy tried to offset Nebraska anchor Meghan Straub’s outstanding 267 game. They did so using an equally superb 254 from lead-off Emily Rigney and a 258 by anchor Maria Bulanova. Vandy won the game point, 1,089-1,066, with Adel Wahner adding a 213 and Samantha Gainor chipping in a 212.
With that important first point in its pocket, Vandy looked to stop Nebraska by clinching the match with a win in the 5-Game Baker set but as could be expected, nothing came easily. The Commodores capitalized on a subpar Husker 175 to grab a quick 46 pin advantage but that quickly shrunk to just 10 pins after three games. The Dores finished with powerful 231-230 efforts to win another high scoring dual, 1,068-1,036.
Possibly lost in the glut of high scores was a strike by Wahner and a momentum-saving spare by freshman Angelique Dalesandro.
For the second time in the day, the third-team All-American covered a rare Rigney split with a strike, which led to two more in succession and helped allow the Commodores to swell their lead from 10 to 29 pins.
“If you can find a way to double after an open it kind of evens things out,” said Wahner. “I’m not really thinking about a particular shot because I try to place an equal importance on every shot..”
Dalesando’s spare conversion came in the fifth Baker game and the Commodores protecting a modest lead. The freshman knocked down just six pins on her first attempt but coolly cleaned the deck with her second, helping maintain the lead.
On a day when Vanderbilt stuck with a rotation of Rigney, Wahner, Jordan Newham and then Dalesandro, Samantha Gainor and Bulanova, they were united in thought of what made the difference.
“I’m happy how we came together and found a way to execute even when it was really tight and the pressure was high,” Bulanova said. In both matches, both teams had strings of strikes so it was really important to stay in the moment and execute.”
It was a day in which everyone in the rotation made shots when needed. Rigney was once again brilliant in her lead-off role, her left-handed shot cutting through pins and her exuberance igniting her teammates. Gainor was at her best when it was needed the most, setting up Bulanova time and time again.
Williamson liked the toughness his team showed.
“We try all season to do things that make them mentally tougher,” he says. “At the end of the day I hope they look at things like running stairs in our football stadium and understand that makes them mentally stronger and they are able to do things they don’t think is possible. If you can do that you can compete on this stage.”
Saturday’s match begins at 8:00 a.m. CT, live streamed on ncaa.com. The national championship match will occur at 5:30 p.m. CT and be televised by ESPNU.
For more information, visit the NCAA Championship page at https://getsomemaction.com/
Round Three Summary – McKendree Match
Vanderbilt withstood a withering barrage of McKendree strikes and rallied to beat the Bearcats in the best-of-seven Baker tie-breaker, 4-0, to advance to the fourth round of the NCAA Bowling Championship Friday morning. The top-seeded Commodores will play unbeaten Nebraska in this double-elimination tournament at 2:00 p.m. CT at the Rollhouse Wickliffe.
There was some bowling irony at work that Vanderbilt and McKendree, the nation’s top two ranked and seeded teams, would be meeting in an elimination contest for fifth place but that is how things shaped up after Vandy had been upset yesterday by Sacred Heart and McKendree was beaten by Stephen. F. Austin.
The Commodores won the traditional game in the mega-match format, 1,035-999, using a steady and balanced rotation. All-American Maria Bulanova led the way with a 227 and got ample help from Adel Wahner’s 221 and Samantha Gainor’s 207. In this game, McKendree held a tiny lead through the early frames before Vanderbilt took over with five strikes in the sixth. And while strikes seemed the order of the day, some might suggest that Vanderbilt’s edge in spare shooting played an instrumental role much of the morning.
The 5-Game Baker set was almost over before it got heated up. With their backs to the wall, McKendree – national champs two years ago and second to the Dores last April – unloaded nine strikes in a row en route to a torrid 279 in the second game to grab an 81-pin lead. In a match where total pin fall is the deciding factor, it was too big a deficit against a quality opponent to overcome and this was never close.
The match would move to the best of seven Baker games. The Vandy lineup remained the same – Emily Rigney, Wahner, Jordan Newham, Gainor and Bulanova – and with momentum seemingly on the McKendree side, began to turn things around.
The Commodores won Game 1, 194-192. Wahner’s strike in the seventh after Rigney had split in the sixth was a big shot in the game. The Commodores took Game 2, 212-193, and Game 3, 214-191 to seize what felt at the moment like a comfortable advantage.
Incredibly, a tense match got even more so in Game 4, even after Vanderbilt started with six strikes in a row. But a proud and talented Bearcat team rallied with five strikes of its own and thoughts of a big cushion and easy win vanished. As with all terrific collegiate bowling duals, there was absolute silence as the last three members of each rotation stepped up, just eight pins separating the two powers. Newham and Gainor delivered spares before Bulanova went spare-strike to insure a 232-221 victory.
For bowling fans, the match was not only one that sent blood pressures sky-rocketing but also served as a study in strategy. Vanderbilt often was bowling one or two frames ahead of the Bearcats and when it was striking, kept applying pressure on McKendree to match it. The win was Vanderbilt’s eighth of the year over McKendree in 11 matches and this one came on the grandest stage.