Dores Bowl Seventh 300 Baker Game in Program History

Vanderbilt finished second at the Mid-Winter Invitational

by Rod Williamson

JONESBORO, Ark. — Vanderbilt’s determined run at taking down the nation’s top three ranked teams in succession fell just short Sunday afternoon, losing the Mid-Winter Invitational championship match to host Arkansas State, 4-2.

The Commodores had already felled No. 2 Youngstown State and No. 1 rated Jacksonville State earlier in the day and had the third-ranked Red Wolves on the ropes, 2-1, before a couple of ill-timed opens cost Vandy momentum and ultimately, the title.

A 300 Baker game is always a showstopper, and Vanderbilt scored the program’s seventh all-time midway in its semifinal victory over Jacksonville State. The rotation of Caroline Thesier, Kailee Channell, Alyssa Ballard, Paige Peters and Victoria Varano accomplished the feat in an incredible match in which—believe it or not—the game itself was not clinched until the 10th frame as the talented Gamecocks shot 267…and lost!

There is much to unpack after the pins stopped falling.

The Commodores began their day pitted against Youngstown State in the best-of-seven Baker bracketing. A lineup of Thesier, Channell, Amanda Naujokas, Peters and Varano jumped out to a 2-0 lead before dropping the third game. Ballard entered here for Naujokas and stayed the rest of the day.

Vanderbilt seized a 3-1 lead, but Game 5 was strictly blue collar. The Dores seemed poised to win it until opens by Channell and Peters appeared to hand the win to the Penguins. However, Youngstown State’s anchor split-opened and the gritty Varano struck out for a 182-175 game and match win.

Vanderbilt’s match with Jacksonville State was one of its best efforts in a long time. The Commodores triumphed, 4-2, and averaged 241.3 over the six games with torrid scores of 215, 247, 243, 300, 205 and 238. The Gamecocks mostly kept the scoring pace in a match where spares were sometimes a liability. Game 3, for instance, ended 245-243 in favor of Jacksonville State.

At one point in this match, Vanderbilt recorded 18 consecutive strikes and at another juncture, Varano had made 11 strikes in a row from her anchor spot. Vanderbilt had just three opens in the match, two of those coming on splits.

The championship match, being played on Arkansas State’s Hijinx Lanes, saw Vanderbilt swap Thesier and Peters in the rotation for three games, then reverting to the original order.

The left lane was scoring much higher in this match, even though Vanderbilt had managed to win one game on the right lane. With the Dores playing on the friendly left side and leading 2-1, things looked hopeful when they held an advantage after five frames of Game 4. A 3-1 lead would seem to negate the downside of negotiating the low scoring right lane but just as Vandy fans began getting ahead of themselves, missed makeable spares in the sixth and 10th frames proved fatal in a demoralizing 189-183 loss that evened the match.

Momentum was lost, as was the lane advantage, and Arkansas State scooted away to win, 4-2.

“I thought all in all it was a good weekend for us,” head coach John Williamson said. “We competed hard in every match. We sort of ran out of gas late in the Arkansas State match, but we had some encouraging things happen during the tournament.”

Channell was named to the all-tournament team, based upon her fourth-place individual finish Saturday.

Vanderbilt’s next tournament starts Friday at North Carolina A&T’s Stallings Invitational.