Undefeated Day 1

Vandy defeated Carthage and Youngstown in the opening rounds of the NCAA Regional

by Rod Williamson

LANSING, Mich. — Vanderbilt used a massive baker game to rally from behind and overpower Youngstown State to advance to the fourth round unbeaten at the NCAA Regional Friday.

The Commodores defeated Carthage and Youngstown by 2-0 mega-match scores and will now await Saturday morning’s consolation round match winner between Maryville and Youngstown. That contest that will be played at 2 p.m. CT. Should Vandy win that match, it advances to next week’s NCAA Final Four; should it lose that match, there would be a rematch as the tournament is double elimination.

“It wasn’t necessarily the cleanest day of bowling we’ve had but it was a good team effort,” head coach John Williamson said. “We made shots when we needed them, the energy in the settee was good and all in all a pretty good day.

“The girls stayed patient,” Williamson continued. “The lanes played a bit different in the afternoon and the girls trusted us and kept patient and in doing so, created some breathing room.”

The top-seeded Commodores opened play by easing by CCIW champion Carthage, winning the traditional game point, 1,047-917, and the 5-game baker point, 1,043-1,019.  Vandy’s rotation produced balanced scoring; Amanda Naujokas led the way with a 225, Alyssa Ballard had a 197, Victoria Varano contributed a 218, Caroline Thesier had a 205 and Mabel Cummins added a 202. Vandy would cruise in the baker match with Paige Peters entering for Thesier in the second game.

Youngstown State, a morning winner over Maryville, would prove to be a formidable opponent – no surprise since the sixth-ranked Penguins had ousted Vanderbilt from the Southland Bowling League tournament two weeks ago.

The Commodores fell into a small hole in the early frames of the traditional point, plagued by three splits and a missed-makeable. However, the Dores steadied the ship over the last five frames with improved spare shooting and some timely strike-throwing. Thesier got back in the mix for Peters in the sixth frame.

Vanderbilt would go on to take the hard-fought traditional point, 1,018-991, with the All-American Cummins getting the front five and the closing four for a sturdy 245. Naujokas doubled in the 10th for a helpful 222 and Ballard cracked the 200 barrier with a 205, striking out in the final frame.

The baker games were as one would expect from two of the nation’s better teams. Youngstown grabbed a 25-pin lead after two games, but Game 3 is where the worm turned.

Vanderbilt began strike, missed-makeable and then reeled off 10 straight strikes for a flashy 268, turning the 25-pin deficit into a 29-pin advantage. The baker point was essentially insured in Game 4 when the talented Penguins could must just 147 pins while the Commodores piled on 203 pins, creating a nearly insurmountable 85 pin edge heading into the last game.

“When you can apply some pressure, it can often force the other team to press,” Williamson said. “We’ve been on the other side of that ourselves.”

Naujokas was once again outstanding from her leadoff spot. Not only did she post the 225-222 traditional games, the Long Island junior had six strikes and four spares in the baker games.

“What we’re asking for in our leadoff is someone to provide a spark and show the way,” Williamson said. “Amanda did that throughout the day. It’s important to throw repeatable shots so the rest of the team can make good moves and not be guessing. And she also threw a lot of strikes.”

Stop me if you’ve heard this before but Cummins was also instrumental in victory, going 202-245 in traditional games and adding nine strikes and five spares in the Youngstown baker match.

“It’s nice to play the game with the best player,” Williamson said. “The shot here plays to her strength, and she was very confident. When she is confident, she’s going to make a lot of shots.”

Vandy’s two freshmen bowled like veterans during the day. Ballard, the SBL Newcomer of the Year, and Varano both contributed five strikes that pushed the Commodores’ final baker margin to 1,071-1,013.

Williamson was also complimentary of the Carthage Firebirds.

“They controlled the pocket, which is what we hope to do. I thought for their first time in the NCAA tournament they handled themselves quite well. We had some early nerves ourselves.”

Saturday’s action will be streamed live by the regional’s host institution, Mount Olivet’s YouTube page.