IRVING, Texas — Vanderbilt gave it the old college try but came up short in the title match of the Southland Bowling League Championship on Sunday, losing by five pins to Sam Houston State in the seventh and deciding Baker game after the two teams split segments in the mega-match format.
Playing before a big throng of Sam Houston fans, the fifth-ranked and second-seeded Bearkats strung six strikes in a row from the fourth into the ninth frame of the deciding game. The valiant Commodores kept it close and exciting, closing with three strikes of their own and forcing SHSU anchor Bea Hernandez to convert a spare and add a four-count on the last ball of the tournament to clinch a well-played 230-225 game.
Because of the double-elimination format, had Vandy managed to emerge with a win the two teams would have played another best of seven to determine the league champ.
Vanderbilt found itself in the championship round of the Southland tournament having beaten Stephen F. Austin, 2-0, in the early semifinal on Sunday morning, winning the traditional game 1,040-1,006 and the 5-Game Baker set 1,036-910.
Commodores coach John Williamson congratulated Sam Houston on the victory and pointed to missed opportunities at his team’s downfall. The Commodores had an 18-pin lead after four Baker games but couldn’t match Sam Houston’s three-strike finish to lose the 5-game total by a mere three pins.
“The ultimate difference was going to the best-of-seven where anything can happen,” Williamson said. “It would have been very beneficial if we would have finished the game off in the 5-game Baker set but we didn’t. It becomes a crapshoot in a best-of-seven and then we didn’t start off very good, losing the first two.
“It’s hard to start off in a 2-0 deficit against a good team. They made shots when they needed to. We had some breaks, they had some breaks. When you are making decent shots you tend to have more luck and they made more shots than we did.”
Vandy had edged Sam Houston in the traditional game, 921-907, behind Jordan Newham’s team-leading 209. As was the case Saturday, the normal explosive firepower the Commodores had demonstrated over the past several months was not on display.
From a distance, the match statistically seemed pretty even but the Kats were able to string strikes in a more strategic manner, much like a baseball team that gets its base hits with runners in scoring position.
With the victory, Sam Houston State secures the league’s automatic qualification to next month’s NCAA Bowling Championships. The second-place finish, which snaps Vandy’s three-tournament winning streak, will not impact its ticket to NCAAs, where some insiders believe the Commodores will have the No. 1 seed based on their season’s body of work.
Maria Bulanova and Samantha Gainor were named to the all-tournament team while the Bearkat’s Hernandez earned tournament Most Valuable Player honors.
The NCAA selection show takes place Wednesday at 3:00 p.m. CT and will be live-streamed on NCAA.com.