LANSING, Mich. — Vanderbilt breezed past Alabama State and then survived a mighty tussle with Arkansas State to advance in the winner’s bracket of the NCAA Regional Bowling Championship on Friday.
The Commodores will play the winner of the Youngstown State–Arkansas State at 2 p.m. CT Saturday for the regional title.
Vanderbilt had no problem with SWAC champion Alabama State in the first round, winning both mega-match points with comfortable margins in the traditional and 5-Game Baker set. But the top-seeded Dores had to come from behind to beat their Southland rivals in the second round, losing the traditional point 975-942 before rallying to win the Baker point, 1,028-1,022.
Vandy then won the best-of-seven tie-breaker, 4.5-2.5 for the victory.
“The two wins were polar opposites,” Vanderbilt head coach John Williamson said. “We played fairly clean against Alabama State and in the Arkansas State match we were a little tighter and missed some shots. I thought we played really good in the first four games of the tiebreaker, then we took two games off but I was really proud of how we finished Game 7.
“It was not pretty but it was two quality teams making quality shots, it was fun to watch.”
Vanderbilt started the day with its late-season rotation of Mabel Cummins, Amanda Naujokas, Angelica Anthony, Caroline Thesier and Paige Peters. It stayed that way with the brief exception of inserting Angelique Dalesandro and Samantha Gainor into the rotation late in the Alabama State match.
Thesier ran into some trouble midway through the Arkansas State traditional game and Dalesandro, seeing her first competition in two months coming off surgery on a broken left foot, entered the fray and was outstanding. Tiger Woods is not the only athlete coming back from a foot injury this weekend.
“I give her a lot of credit, she breaks her foot the end of January and everything she did in rehab for two months was pointing to this weekend being a big weekend,” Williamson said. “I give her credit for capitalizing on that. I don’t know if we win that match if she doesn’t play like she does.
“It was a good physical effort and a phenomenal mental performance. She’s only gone our full practice twice but she was mentally preparing herself for this moment.”
Dalesandro, a senior with a reputation as a top substitute, was modest but humble after it was over.
“I was surprised in practice this week how I didn’t feel that rusty,” Dalesandro said afterward. “My foot is a little sore now but not as much as I thought it might be. I was comfortable with what I was doing and I was so excited to be back on the lanes again – eight weeks out and having to sit and watch. I knew I wanted to come back and come back like I never left.”
The Red Wolves did not go gently into the Michigan afternoon and the crucial 5-Game Baker point came down to the wire. Vandy nursed a 23-pin lead into the fifth game but Arkansas State, bowling several frames ahead of a spare-shooting Vanderbilt, posted a 206 score, which appeared as though it might be enough to snatch the match.
Enter Peters, who stepped up after a tough-luck split/open by Naujokas. The Southland Newcomer of the Year struck out as a tense Royal Scot Lanes crowd held its breath. The first two pressure strikes plus “big count” kept Vandy alive in the match.
“That’s the thing about Paige,” Williamson said, “for being a freshman she tends to come through when it matters even when she’s not comfortable. She struggled today repeating shots in the afternoon but when it mattered she settled down and made big shots.”
In some respects, the dual was much like the semifinal round at the recent Southland Bowling League championship in which Vanderbilt downed the talented Red Wolves. In the best-of-seven, there were some terrific games, such as the opener when ASU’s posted 235 looked good until Peters once again struck out to tie the game and keep the match tied.
Vanderbilt won the fourth game in the best of seven, 214-212, to take a 3.5-.5 lead, but Arkansas State roared back to win the next two before Vandy ended it with a 206-158 win. The victory was the sixth time in eight meetings this season that Vandy has topped ASU.
Cummins was her typical high-octane self during the day, notching a 246 traditional game in the opener and adding a team-leading 213 in the afternoon match.
Vandy fans should know that there are Wifi challenges in the facility and that it is hoped both the livestream and the Twitter feed will be improved Saturday. Williamson said that the signal was so weak that he was unable to get Twitter updates sent, especially in the afternoon match.