Dores Start Strong at SBL Championship

Vandy beats Tulane, Arkansas State

by Rod Williamson

HARAHAN, La. — Vanderbilt bolted into a winner’s bracket showdown with Youngstown State on the strength of impressive wins over Tulane and Arkansas State, respectively, on the first day of the Southland Bowling League Championship on Friday.

Vandy and Youngstown will square off at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at the Colonial Bowling Lanes with the winner advancing into the championship match. The event is being livestreamed by Inside Bowling.

The second-seeded Commodores shut out Tulane in the opening mega match by taking both the traditional game and the Baker and then subdued an explosive Arkansas State team by winning four straight Bakers in the best-of-seven tiebreaker for a 2-1 victory.

Vanderbilt head coach John Williamson’s mind after the unbeaten day seemed more about what his team needs to be thinking and doing than on the big wins it racked up.

“We came out OK against Tulane, except for a couple of frames that allowed that score to make it closer than it should have been,” Williamson said. “And we were flat starting the 5-game set against Arkansas State. In my opinion, the biggest moment of the match came when Paige (Peters) stuck out in the second game of the best-of-seven to give us a close win. We were losing energy, taking on water, at that point.”

Vanderbilt came out white-hot against the potent Red Wolves, recording the fourth highest traditional game in program history with a 1,205-1,005 romp. Arkansas State fought back to win the 5-game Baker set 1,079-1,030 to set up the best-of-seven showdown.

There can be no low scores in a 1,205 game and a lot of high ones. Mabel Cummins led things off with a blistering 268 and Amanda Naujokas followed with a 255. Samantha Gainor was in the three-slot and the veteran added a 231.

Caroline Thesier chipped in with a 215 and Peters anchored things with a 236.

Williamson said striking in the 1,205 game became, “contagious and we fed off each other.”

The school record for a traditional team game is a 1,236 by the 2015-16 team. The last time Vanderbilt hit 1,200 was three years ago at the Blue and Gray Vegas Classic.

Vandy quickly went from the mountain top into a deep valley as ASU began the 5-game Bakers with 236 and 223 scores while the Commodores went 190-165 – a 104 pin deficit. The Dores tried to rally and managed to cut the lead down to 38 at one time but could never get closer.

“We need to do a better job in-between sets (Saturday),” Williamson said, referring mostly to the Arkansas State match. “We came out flat in that 5-game Baker and dug a hole. We’re not used to sitting and waiting five minutes to start but we were a little better heading into that best-of-seven.”

In the best-of-seven, Arkansas State kept the momentum through one game, winning 218-191 before Vandy changed up its rotation to Angelica Anthony, Thesier, Naujokas, Cummins and Peters. Things turned around, first with a narrow 173-169 win on the strength of a Peters strikeout in the 10th, then gathering steam with scores of 208, 224 and 267 to finish things off.

“We weathered the storm and stayed in a position to win,” Williamson said, noting the outcome was a near-flip of what happened five days ago when ASU rallied to beat Vandy in the Columbia 300 Music City Classic.

The win in the second round over-shadowed a solid opening win over the Green Wave. Cummins’ steady 226 led the way in the team game with Peters (216) and Thesier (214) lending good support. Vandy nearly touched 1,100 in the Baker set, netting five or six bullseyes in a row in three of the five games.

With the lineup hitting on nearly all cylinders, Vanderbilt’s only lineup change came when Gainor and Anthony traded playing time, once early in the Tulane match and later in the ASU Baker set.

“Mabel gets overlooked sometimes on just how consistently good she is,” Williamson said. “She had as good a day today as she’s had all year. She was so consistent when she was leading off that the rest of the team could make moves off her. And when we put her in the 4-spot she was lights out setting up Paige.”

Williamson also said Naujokas seems to come alive in big events.

“Amanda was very good last year in the postseason,” he said. “She rises to the occasion and today was a lynch pin to our success.”

Naujokas said she spent the day focusing on keeping her steps and tempo in order, “keeping it simple.”

Cummins deflected her coach’s praise, although she granted she was, “very consistent.” She preferred to talk about Naujokas, claiming she thought the sophomore was, “going to strike every time she threw it.”

In the crucial best-of-seven, Cummins followed up her nine strikes in 10 frames effort in the 5-game set with five strikes in 10 tries. Naujokas had six bingos and Peters contributed 13 strikes from her anchor spot.

It was a typical bruising first day in the nation’s premier bowling conference.

Top-seeded and third-ranked Sam Houston State was beaten by Youngstown, Tulane rebounded from its loss to Vanderbilt to bounce eighth-ranked Stephen F. Austin out of the double-elimination tournament and seventh-ranked Louisiana Tech had to scramble to eliminate Valparaiso. Six of the nation’s top nine ranked teams reside in the SBL.