JONESBORO, Ark. — Vanderbilt stayed steady and strong through much of Saturday’s team play at the Mid-Winter Classic and that was good enough to grab the No. 2 seed, setting up another Sunday bracket showdown with top-seeded McKendree.
The Commodores, 50-21 on the season, averaged 997.2 over five matches by defeating second-ranked Sam Houston State, Jackson State, No. 16 Tulane and Drury after an opening-day loss to third-ranked Nebraska.
In some basic ways, Saturday’s results mirrored those of Friday’s opening round. The Huskers came out of the chute firing on all burners, knocking down 1,099 pins to win the first match handily.
From there the Commodores methodically posted scores north of 1,000 until another late afternoon swoon produced a 920-902 win over unranked Drury.
“It seemed like a carbon copy of yesterday from our perspective,” Vanderbilt head coach John Williamson said. “We weren’t executing well in the Nebraska match but then bowled pretty well most of the day. In that last match we probably lost some focus as McKendree was bowling right next to us and we got caught up a bit going for the lead.
“We had to refocus on beating Drury and Maria (Bulanova) once again bailed us out with three strikes in the 10th.”
Bulanova once again led the Commodores by averaging 221.8 (212-202-224-247-224) to place second individually. Her father Max Bulanova, a resident of Moscow, Russia, was among the fans in the Vanderbilt section.
Samantha Gainor was also impressive, averaging 212.2 with a pair of 233-230 gems leading her worksheet.
Adel Wahner, the nation’s leading spare shooter, saw her remarkable streak of clean frames snap. The senior All-American finally opened after 80 straight filled frames – 73 of them in this tournament.
With things going well, Vanderbilt once again did not resort to its deep bench with one exception. Veteran Emily Rigney got into the action for the last three games – otherwise the rotation was Wahner, Gainor, Angelique Dalesandro/Rigney, Mabel Cummins and Bulanova.
The marquee matches came early in the day. Vandy got into an early hole against Nebraska when the Huskers threw 10 strikes in their first 12 frames. The impressive 1,099 pin count was their best effort of the day by 112 pins.
The Commodores couldn’t recover in that match but did immediately following with a solid win over powerful Sam Houston State 1,028-956. While strikes seemed in short supply against Nebraska’s Big Red, Gainor had a five-bagger to highlight her 233 against SHSU while Bulanova had four straight to begin the game and Cummins and Dalesandro each had turkeys at different points.
If there is a déjà vu feeling toward another Vanderbilt-McKendree bracket opener, there should be. The two powers have become very familiar in Sunday play over recent years and especially of late.
The rivals have split in four matches since Jan. 1, Vandy beating the Bearcats in Las Vegas, splitting with them at the Northeast Invitational before winning the title match and then losing two weeks ago at the Prairie View Tournament in Arlington, Texas.
The winner of Sunday’s match punches its ticket into the championship match while the loser must beat the winner of the Stephen F. Austin–Arkansas State contest for a rematch.
Bracket play begins at 8:30 a.m. Sunday and will be live streamed on Vandy Bowling’s YouTube site.