ARLINGTON, Texas — A gallant Vanderbilt team finished third at the Prairie View A&M Invitational on Sunday, but what that doesn’t say is how the Commodores nearly put themselves into position to win their third consecutive tournament despite struggling for three days to find their A-Game.
To place third in the star-studded field, Vanderbilt had to rally in the waning frames to pass Nebraska for the coveted fourth seed. Vandy required a gifted McKendree team to shoot 299 in the deciding seventh game to bat back the stubborn Dores and, finally, it needed to rally with their backs to the bowling wall to topple Maryland-Eastern Shore in the consolation final.
“I thought we were subpar the whole weekend with a few exceptions,” Vanderbilt head coach John Williamson said afterwards. “We showed a lot of resiliency. I thought we would have had momentum coming off that Saint Francis rally but we roll two 150-games against McKendree and start in a hole. They are way too good to give them two games.
“Overall, and taking our struggles into consideration, I thought it was a good weekend. We should have learned a lot.”
Midway through Sunday’s opening traditional team game, prospects looked dim as Vandy trailed Saint Francis University and seemed out of rhythm. Multiple lineups were tried in keeping with the first two days.
The Commodores rattled off seven straight strikes to enter the 10th with momentum, then each Dore nailed a strike in the final frame to not only nip the Red Flash 1,000-985, but also to pass Nebraska in pin count.
That set up the first of two best of seven Bakers with top-seed McKendree. Burdened by splits and unable to double, victory again looked out of reach. After dropping behind 2-0, Vandy rallied to tie it up and it stayed that way until Game 7.
The Bearcats reminded everyone that you can’t play defense in this sport and proceeded to rattle off 11 consecutive strikes, just missing perfection when Breanna Clemmer left a 10-pin on her final ball. Vandy’s 231 would have won many matches – but not this one.
That dropped the disappointed Commodores into the consolation match against UMES, which had been one of the tournament’s hotter teams. The two squads traded wins while Vandy also swapped lineups, still looking after all this time for a lineup that peaked.
The Hawks could have won the match outright with a strike but left three pins, an often fatal mistake against Vandy’s All-American anchor Maria Bulanova, who came through again 197-196 to push the match into another seventh game.
Williamson was questioned about his late substitutions in the match.
“We thought the right side on one lane was so bad that our left-handers would have a better opportunity,” he said. “(Ross) had never been in a best-of-seven but we have faith in all of our bowlers and we believed she would come through.”
The Commodores used one of their rare triples from the third to fifth frames and a closing strike to claim third place, 204-177.
McKendree defeated Sam Houston State 4-1 to win the championship. Cayla Hicks of UMES was the Most Valuable Player based upon her team game pin count. Bulanova’s sixth-place individual finish led VU.
Vanderbilt now has an off weekend before traveling west for the Arkansas State Mid-Winter Classic on Feb. 14-16.
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