MILLSBORO, Del. — Vanderbilt nearly pulled off a memorable rally, but the big effort was seven pins short as it fell to North Carolina A&T 4-3 for the championship of the Hawk Classic on Sunday.
The Commodores were out of the comfortable groove they enjoyed Saturday and, as a result, had fallen behind the talented Aggies 3-1 in the title match. They clawed their way back to a 3-3 deadlock by winning Game 5, 190-181, and then coming out on top of a 234-221 shootout in Game 6, setting the stage for a dramatic finish.
Vandy’s rotation of Mabel Cummins, Caroline Thesier, Alyssa Ballard, Victoria Varano and Paige Peters produced nine strikes in the decisive seventh game, but back-to-back opens in the fourth and fifth frames proved fatal in the 227-220 game.
It was a nail-biter to the very end as Peters, who was brilliant all day, struck out to put big-time pressure on Aggie anchor Lauren Tomaszewski, who needed to double to win the game and the tournament. The All-American senior did just that and A&T prevailed 227-220.
In Sunday matches leading up to the championship, Vandy had fallen to the same A&T team 4-2 and then blanked Fairleigh Dickinson 4-0 in the semifinals. It was the second tourney in a row where the Commodores had carried the No. 1 seed into the bracket play and placed second.
“From a competitive standpoint today was better than last week,” Vanderbilt head coach John Williamson said. “We were down 3-1 and made some shots, showed some grit. Give A&T credit, they made some big shots when they needed them. It comes down to who makes the fewest mistakes in matches like this.
“Sometimes with a young team it takes stubbing your toe before you actually get that winning edge. We are still learning to control things we can control and when we do we’ll be in a better position to win a championship. Hopefully the disappointment of the fall will produce results this spring.”
Similar to last week’s runner-up finish at the Ladyjack Classic, Vandy had plenty of bright spots. Freshmen Ballard and Varano were named to the five-person all-tournament team based upon their top-five individual finishes Saturday. It was Ballard’s second straight all-tournament honor team as she added this week’s fifth-place finish to last week’s win.
Varano narrowly missed the individual title, finishing second. Cummins was her steady self, placing sixth.
Vanderbilt is now off for exams and the holidays, resuming its schedule Jan. 8 at the Stormin’ Blue & White Vegas Classic.