ARLINGTON, Texas — After a sometimes frustrating string of four consecutive runner-up tournament finishes, Vanderbilt finally broke through to claim victory Sunday at the Prairie View Invitational.
The Commodores defeated Stephen F. Austin, 4-1, for the championship to win this coveted crown for the first time since 2012. To reach the title match, Vandy needed a memorable come-from-behind win in the semifinals over McKendree, erasing a 3-1 deficit to win, 4-3, in a thrilling finish.
“We made a few mistakes that extended the McKendree match but it was good to see our resiliency,” head coach John Williamson said. “Our level of confidence is high; we expected to make good shots and I thought our team expected to win.”
Vandy played its usual lineup of Alyssa Ballard, Victoria Varano, Paige Peters, Caroline Thesier and Mabel Cummins all day, although a switch in the order seemed to provide the Dores with a huge spark after falling behind 3-1 in the McKendree match.
The Commodores moved Peters into the leadoff spot and slipped Ballard and Varano into the 2-3 holes. The adjustment worked beautifully as Peters was lights out at the top, the middle stayed strong and Cummins was often spectacular as the anchor.
“Sometimes that lineup shuffle works and when it does you look wise,” Williamson laughed afterwards. “But we needed something different because we weren’t bowling badly at all.”
Stephen F. Austin had reached the finals by downing top-seeded Nebraska in the semis, setting up an interesting battle between the two Southland Bowling League powers. The Ladyjacks came out of the gate smoking with seven straight strikes to win, 259-211.
As was the case throughout the weekend, Vanderbilt didn’t crack or waver when opponents were crushing pins. The Commodores ground out a 195-180 win to even the match and then rattled off three straight winning 200-plus games. Vandy won it with a massive 245 that included a closing six-bagger despite the talented Jacks nearly keeping the frantic pace with seven strikes in their first eight frames.
The semifinal win against McKendree was one of several Sunday bouts this season with the Bearcats. Vandy had lost the second and third bakers despite scores of 223 and 227 but things changed after the seemingly minor rotation switch.
Game seven was intense. Vandy had lane choice and the teams exchanged strikes. Ballard had a big moment, converting an improbable 6-7-10 spare in the second frame to avoid an open and help keep pace
“Alyssa is a really good spare shooter,” Williamson said about the key spare pickup. “You don’t make the 6-7-10 very often and when you do it can major momentum shifter.”
The match essentially came down to a 10th frame showdown. Vanderbilt entered that frame with strikes by Varano and Thesier, setting up a dual between All-Americans Hope Gramly of McKendree and Vandy’s Cummins. Gramly went spare-strike but Cummins doubled and added nine more to provide the winning margin. The win was Vandy’s third straight over McKendree this month.
“Mabel had a lot of opportunities to impact the final results,” Williamson said. “When she was younger I’m not entirely sure she liked all those eyes on her but now in her senior season I think she is embracing the chance to put her stamp on the score.”
Almost overlooked considering the day’s intensity was an opening traditional game win over No. 2 ranked North Carolina A&T, 1,066-935, with all five Dores at or over 200. Vanderbilt would eventually end the tournament with a 10-3 won-loss record against a field that boasted nine of the nation’s top 10 teams and three other highly regarded squads.
Nebraska topped McKendree to finish third.
The tournament win was the 46th in program history. Vanderbilt is now off until Feb. 10 when it returns to Dallas for the Lady Techster Invitational.