Gritty Bowlers refuse to lose;Saturday's NCAA semifinals at 4:30 CT

April 11, 2008

camera1.jpgWatch Webcast (Semifinals Only) | NCAA Tournament Central | Live Stats

Semifinals at 4:30 p.m. CT – Best of Seven Baker Games (Watch on Webcast Link Above)
Game 13: Vanderbilt vs. Maryland-Eastern Shore
Game 14: Arkansas State vs. New Jersey City
Championship at 7 p.m. CT – Best of Seven Baker Games (TV only on ESPNU)
Winner of Game 13 vs. Winner of Game 14

Game 4 Recap: Vanderbilt 4, Maryland-Eastern Shore 2 (Read Below)
Game 3 Recap: Vanderbilt 4, Central Missouri 2
Game 2 Recap: Vanderbilt 4, Sacred Heart 3
Game 1 Recap: Maryland-Eastern Shore 4, Vanderbilt 0

Story Updated Friday at 8:25 p.m. CT

OMAHA, Neb. —After losing the first game at the NCAA Bowling Championship, the options were pretty clear to the Vanderbilt Commodores.

Lose and go home or grind it out and advance. They chose the latter.

On a day when there seemed to be an equal number of goats and heroines, Vanderbilt put on a gritty effort that saw it advance to Saturday’s semi-final against Maryland-Eastern Shore, a team it split with Friday. A win pushes the `Dores into their second straight national championship game Saturday night.

Vanderbilt opened by losing four games to none to MES, a team revved up and red-hot. With its back to the wall and its form off a bit, the Commodores battled past a valiant Sacred Heart team by a narrow four to three advantage.

The afternoon session saw VU win a tense, four to two fight with powerful Central Missouri and the day concluded with a resounding win over MES, four to two.

“It was a matter of us not letting losing be an option,” said Commodore veteran Karen Grygiel. “We had to grind it out all day and we did, one shot at a time.”

Teammates Michelle Peloquin and Josie Earnest agreed with that assessment.

“Today showed the heart of our team and our desire to win,” said Peloquin, another junior. “There were a couple of times we could have just tossed in the towel but we hung in there tough and made other teams beat us if they were going to. That resulted in some big breaks against Sacred Heart and Central Missouri.”

Earnest, the team’s anchor and sparkplug, admitted the day was tiring.

“I am emotionally spent,” said the sophomore All-American. “We put everything on the line today since it became win or go home quickly. But we know we can win late because we condition so hard at home. Those last wind sprints we run paid off, our hard work paid off because we picked each other up all day and had our best showing of the year as a result.”

For as thrilling as the day ended, nobody said it came easy. It appeared each member in Vanderbilt’s strong five-woman rotation had some lapses, only to rebound quickly with inspired performance.

Coach John Williamson liked the heart he saw on the state-of-the-art Thunder Alley lanes.

“If losing can ever be good, that early loss opened our eyes that we just couldn’t cruise through this tournament,” he noted. “Yesterday with two exceptions we just coasted but we had to change gears because that loss was an eye-opener. We had to gut it out and we did.”

Williamson noted that with the exception of the first two Baker games of the day, each Vandy loss came when the team’s total dipped under 180.

“The lane conditions force teams that want to advance to fill frames,” he said, “and like most games, the team making the fewest mistakes generally wins. We realized that and our fortunes changed when we got to grinding.”

There were improbable events that boosted the `Dores, such as when the Sacred Heart anchor needed just an eight pin count for victory in one critical game, only to throw a four pin split and convert just one pin on her spare attempt. It gave VU a one pin win in a best-of-four system.

Later in the day, in the midst of the struggle with Central Missouri State, Jenny All-American anchor Bryanna Caldwell needed only to tally a closing spare to tie or throw a strike on her second attempt to win the game. To nearly everyone’s surprise, she failed to convert a single 10-pin spare and Vanderbilt escaped with a one-pin win.

While Vanderbilt’s lineup is laden with juniors and the talented sophomore Earnest, the performance of redshirt freshman Brittany Garcia was noteworthy.

Coming into the national finals, the New Hampshire transfer student had only bowled nine competitive games in the long season. Williamson had shuffled the fifth woman in and out of the lineup most of the year and Garcia’s presence in the rotation surprised some.

“I didn’t make my decision on putting her in the lineup until right before Thursday’s first qualifying game,” Williamson says. “She had bowled well the last few weeks in practice, then she was lights out during Wednesday’s practice here. She came back and was strong Thursday morning and told me that this was her shot. She has progressed miles this year, really matured and she was a real asset for us.”

Saturday’s semi-final begins at 4:30 CT and will be webcast by the NCAA. A win in the rubber match with MES would propel Vanderbilt into the title match, which is at 7:00 p.m. and will be live on ESPNU.

Complete match statistics on as Nebraska, which shockingly was the first team ousted from the eight-team field today, is the tournament host.

In the other semifinal, Arkansas State and New Jersey City will also square off at 4:30, both hoping to make their first national title berth.