MILLSBORO, Dela. — When Vanderbilt began Friday with an uneven but comfortable victory over Delaware State, Commodore fans nodded and expected more of the same.
And why not? Vanderbilt is the Hawk Classic defending champion and has won the tournament more times (six) than any other program. But that opening win would be the Commodores’ last of the day.
Vanderbilt would be upset by unranked Saint Francis College by two pins in the second match after All-America anchor Maria Bulanova missed two makable spare attempts, then the Dores dropped consecutive matches to ranked foes Arkansas State, Fairleigh Dickinson and Youngstown State, respectively, to finish the day with a 1-4 mark and in ninth place based on total pin fall.
The Commodores (4,775 pins) are far behind leader Sam Houston State (5,268), but within sight of fourth place Duquesne (4,970). A climb into fourth Saturday would give the Dores a fighting chance to defend their title in Sunday’s bracket.
Anything less and Vanderbilt will playing for consolation prizes.
It was a day when little, if anything, went right for Vanderbilt – somewhat surprising since the team consensus was that it’s Thursday practice session went well. Putting a finger on the problem was difficult as there were multiple factors, including solid play from the opponents’ anchor bowlers, the inability to string together strikes, the occurrence of untimely splits during possible rallies that resulted in open frames and shaky spare shooting all the way around.
“We did a poor job of coaching today,” Vanderbilt head coach John Williamson said. “We got trapped by the lanes and didn’t do a good job of adjusting. Our execution was not up to our standards and that often left us with difficult spare conversions.
“In spite of that we made our matches close several times coming from way down to close the gap. Our team takes pride in what it does and I expect we will come back (Saturday) a much better unit.”
After the discouraging loss to Saint Francis College, 963-961, the Commodores fell behind Arkansas State 35 pins after two games of the 5-Game Baker set. The Red Wolves essentially iced the win in the third game by winning 248-186. Vandy won the last two games but only succeeded in closing the gap.
Ninth-ranked FDU got out by 58 pins and withstood Vanderbilt’s rally in a low-scoring affair that ended 897-862. Youngstown State followed a similar script and, although Vandy gamely shot a 245 in its fourth game to cut a 95-pin deficit to just eight, it was too little, too late.
After the final game and the facility emptied, Vanderbilt’s team huddled a long time with Williamson who then dismissed the underclassmen and talked with the team’s three seniors. After he adjourned, the seniors were seen talking among themselves as the team struggles to regain its equilibrium for the next two days.
The five traditional team games begin at 9:05 CT Saturday at the Millsboro Lanes.