ROWLETT, Texas — Vanderbilt lost a tense, four-hour mega match to Sam Houston State in the second round of the Southland Bowling League Championship Friday, dropping the Commodores into the loser’s bracket of this double elimination event.
Uncharacteristically sloppy spare shooting was the easily identifiable culprit in the 2-1 defeat. Vandy lost the traditional game, won the 5-game baker set and lost 4-3 in the best of seven tiebreaker to the late blooming Bearkats, who just a week ago won Vanderbilt’s Music City Classic.
Vanderbilt, the two-time defending conference champion, now faces a tough task in sixth-ranked Youngstown State at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday with the losing team facing elimination. Arkansas State meets Sam Houston in a winner’s bracket showdown.
“We didn’t execute our first shots well and that left us too often with harder spare conversions,” head coach John Williamson said. “We had 20 missed-makeables – which isn’t us. We began the day a little nervous and I don’t think we ever got comfortable. We still have the opportunity to do what we came here to do; we need to forget some of the things that happened today. We need to be aggressive, not passive.”
The No. 1 seeded Commodores had polished off eighth-seeded Valparaiso, 2-0, in the first round and looked crisp in the process. They employed their late-season rotation of Amanda Naujokas, Alyssa Ballard, Caroline Thesier, Victoria Varano and Mabel Cummins in cruising to comfortable wins.
But the comfort vanished in the afternoon as Sam Houston, appearing less stressed in its underdog role, won the opening traditional game, 1,010-978. During much of the following baker set, the left lane appeared tricky to navigate. In the second game, for example, the Commodores ended with six opens in their last seven frames – the final five in a row! It was an ironic situation as statistically, Vanderbilt led the SBL in every team spare shooting category during the regular season.
Gamely battling to avoid the loser’s bracket, just 30 minutes later Vandy tallied exactly 100 more pins on the same lane to win 237-215 to complete a back and forth tussle and take the point.
That set up the best of seven. Vandy won the first game and seemingly gave away Game 2 with three missed-makeables to lose, 173-172. After winning the third game, Vandy again ended with three opens to square the match at 2-2. One could certainly argue that it could have been 4-0 and over but in this rugged league against quality opponents, ‘could have’ doesn’t cut it.
The Dores went down 3-2 and things looked bleak when in the sixth game Vandy once again suffered three consecutive opens – two being missed-makeables. However, Vanderbilt reached down deep and closed with six straight strikes to even the match at 3-3.
Sam Houston started Game 7 with a three-bagger and while the Bearkats wobbled a bit later in the match, a pair of split-opens were too much for Vanderbilt to overcome, bowing 194-191.
Vanderbilt’s Paige Peters was inserted into the rotation for Thesier four games into the best of seven. The sophomore, last year’s national Rookie of the Year, has been hampered by left knee pain which has limited her practice and playing time.
Before the day’s action began, Cummins was honored as the SBL’s Bowler of the Year and Ballard was saluted as the Newcomer of the Year, the awards a result of voting by the head coaches.
Matches are being streamed on Vanderbilt’s athletic YouTube site and Inside Bowling YouTube.