WICKLIFFE, Ohio – Vanderbilt is one win away from its second straight NCAA title.
The top-seeded Commodores clinched their second berth in the NCAA Bowling Championship match in as many seasons with a win over Nebraska in Saturday’s morning session at the RollHouse Wickliffe. The Dores beat the Cornhuskers in a best-of-seven tiebreaker, 4-2, and advanced to face Stephen F. Austin for the NCAA title. The championship match will take place at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, live on ESPNU.
The semifinal victory was another pressure-packed contest with momentum swings back and forth. The opening traditional game got off to a quick start for the Commodores, who filled frames while Nebraska struggled with five opens in two frames. But that changed abruptly as the match smoothed out through the middle frames, Vanderbilt clinging to .a precarious 10-15 pin advantage The margin shrunk to just two pins (810-808) heading into the decisive 10th. Vandy’s Emily Rigney relieved some of the pressure with three strikes to close with a quality 218 and Adel Wahner finished with five strikes in a row for a timely 215. With momentum tilting back to Vanderbilt, the score widened to a deceptive 992-947 win and mega-match point.
As was the five-game Baker yesterday against McKendree, Vanderbilt got into a quick and ultimately fatal hole by losing the first Baker game, 203-146. Down by 57 pins, the Commodores tried to whittle the deficit but never got close and lost the point, 984-913. That set up a wild finish in the best of seven Bakers.
Sticking with a rotation of Rigney, Wahner, freshman Angelique Dalesandro, Samantha Gainor and Maria Bulanova, the Commodores jumped out to a 2-0 lead, winning the first game in a classic 254-244 donnybrook. Vandy had a seven-bagger in the game but Nebraska, with its season on the line, responded with five in a row for a thrilling finish. As Vandy fans breathed some relief with the 2-0 advantage, the wheels came off the tracks for two games of 157, making it too easy for the talented Cornhuskers.
Now tied at 2-2, several starters appearing to struggle and the warmup lanes busy with potential Commodore substitutes, Vanderbilt coaches stuck with their same five and that unit ground out a hard-nosed, 200-181 win for a 3-2 margin. Perhaps smelling blood in the water, the Commodores opened Game 6 with eight strikes in a row to overwhelm the out-gunned Huskers. The clinching score was 267-195.
As the final frame was coming to an end, head coach John Williamson got his two seniors into the match; Kristin Quah responding with a strike and Jordan Newham finishing a game that will long be remembered in NCAA Championship history. The Vanderbilt team also gave Nebraska superstar anchor Meghan Straub a rare standing ovation that spread over the entire Rollhouse center, a tribute to a truly outstanding competitor as she finished her college career.
“We had one job to do when we arrived this morning and that was to come here and bowl Nebraska,” Wahner said later in the press conference. “We needed to do what we’ve done all year, that made us successful and that was to make good shots and pick up our spares. When you do that all day, even if you don’t come out successful you know you have given it your best effort.”
The win capped a brutal Commodore haul through the elimination bracket. After Vanderbilt was upset in the opening match by Sacred Heart, the Commodores have eliminated in order fifth-ranked Arkansas State, second-ranked McKendree and third-ranked Nebraska. In the championship match, it will be winner-take-all despite Stephen F. Austin’s unbeaten status.