MILLSBORO, Dela. — One day after being shaken by one of its poorest performances in memory, the Vanderbilt bowling team staged one of its finest comebacks – a rally that catapulted the Commodores into fourth place at the Hawk Classic and kept their hopes alive of repeating as tournament champions.
The Commodores bounced back from Friday’s 1-4 showing to win 4 of 5 matches and enjoyed the day’s best total pin count in their climb from ninth place into fourth, squeaking by tournament host Maryland-Eastern Shore in a near photo finish that had fans scrambling with bowling math to see which team would finish fourth .
Sam Houston State grabbed the top seed and will play No. 2 Arkansas State in Sunday’s best-of-seven Baker championship bracket while Vanderbilt takes on third-seeded Sacred Heart on the other side of the title bracket.
The Commodores had many heroes on a golden Saturday with senior Emily Rigney, junior Samantha Gainor, sophomore Angelique Dalesandro and freshmen Mabel Cummins and Amelia Kiefer all having big moments.
After opening the day by being upset by unranked Caldwell, whose 1,074 pins was not only its best score of the day but also was the best effort of the opening round, the Commodores bounced back by beating Sam Houston (1,109-929) Monmouth, Duquesne and Saint Francis University. Vandy slipped by UMES by 28 pins for the fourth seed, a margin not decided until the 10th frame of the final game.
“Our energy was a lot better today,” Rigney said. “After (Friday’s) matches (Vanderbilt coach John Williamson) pulled us seniors in for a chat and reminded us that this was our team now. We are finally the eldest ones and we need to lead this so we made we were going to set the tone and hold everyone accountable, make sure we were all on the same page, which was easy since everyone was bowling so well.
Added Rigney: “I knew this day was bigger than me. The shot suited me and I had to take advantage of it because we were so far behind.”
Williamson was also pleased with his team’s resolve and focus.
“We made better shots today, the girls gained confidence from the shots and we bowled much better,” he said. “It was a chicken-and-egg deal, hard to say if our energy was better because we were making better shots or if we were making better shots because our energy was better.”
One of the day’s ironies was that Commodore star Maria Bulanova, the defending NCAA Player of the Year and holder of several Vanderbilt records, was uncharacteristically off her game and was pulled from the rotation. Cummins, a 17-year old freshman, slid into the anchor spot and averaged 206.6, the team’s best individual finisher at 14th.
“There are people on the outside that might think we rely on certain individuals to prop us up, but actually we rely on the entire group we bring to the tournament,” Williamson said. “We had a number of people that stepped up when we called on them.”
Among that group included Kiefer, another freshman, who was inserted late in the fourth game and provided a major boost in the finale against SFU with a 228, a game that began by her nailing five of the first six frame strikes.
One could point to Dalesandro, who has been fighting an upper respiratory condition that sent her to a local clinic Friday evening, with another major contribution. The Illinois sophomore averaged 210 over four games.
“I actually felt better after going to the clinic. I figured out what was wrong,” Dalesandro said. “I was able to relax and make good shots. (Rigney) was making good shots ahead of me and I followed Adel (Wahner) part of the day so it was easy to settle in and make good shots.
“I knew it was going to be close in the standings but I didn’t know the specifics so I just focused on making as good of shots as I can and hope everyone else could do the same.”
Gainor gave the team a major lift in the day’s second game, the big win over Sam Houston State. The veteran started with the front seven in route to a career best 260 game and when coupled with Rigney’s lead off 248 – which also had a seven-bagger – provided a spark that produced a powerful 1,109 score.
“When you have anyone on the team that starts stringing strikes it always brings up the momentum,” Gainor said. “We thought one way to turn things around would be to beat Sam Houston, a very good team. (Rigney) had talked to me after the first game about my spares.
“We knew what we were doing and we had the right energy. (Kiefer) came in and made some big shots, (Cummins) did a good job.”
Sunday’s play begins at 7:30 CT and will be live streamed on Vanderbilt bowling’s YouTube site.