WICKLIFFE, Ohio – Vanderbilt broke open a pair of tight games with Arkansas State in the late frames and advanced to the third round of the NCAA Bowling Championship with a 2-0 victory over the Red Wolves on Thursday.
The top-seeded Commodores will next play McKendree, which lost to Stephen F. Austin in the second round. Vanderbilt and McKendree have been the top two rated teams most of the season and were the finalists a year ago in St. Louis.
“It wasn’t our best day but we were able to advance and be playing on Friday,” Vanderbilt head coach John Williamson said. “We had an excellent performance from Emily [Rigney] and timely contributions from everyone to get the job done.”
After being upset in the opening round by Sacred Heart, the stakes were high for Vanderbilt in Round 2 as the losing team would be ousted from the double-elimination tournament. With the Red Wolves facing the same fate, the two powers battled back and forth and after four games, Vandy trailed by a single pin.
However, a lineup of Emily Rigney, Jordan Newham, Adel Wahner, Samantha Gainor and Maria Bulanova ignited for eight strikes over the last two frames of the traditional game to win that mega-match point, 995-944. Rigney was outstanding with seven strikes and a flashy spare conversion to post a team leading 230.
The following 5-Game Baker – determined by total pin fall – was also tense. After four games, Vandy trailed the Red Wolves by a single pin. With the pressure on, four straight strikes by Newham, Gainor and a pair by Bulanova put the game on ice, making the final score a deceptive 996-956 margin and allowing the top-rated Commodores to bowl another day.
Vandy’s rotation in the Baker was not its normal one. With Kristin Quah’s tender wrist feeling sore and Adel Wahner off her game, the Commodores turned to their deep bench and inserted freshman Angelique Dalesandro into the fray, bowling in the 2-hole behind the torrid Rigney and in front of the veteran Newham.
“Angelique has never been afraid of the moment,” said Williamson, who expressed no reservations about using Dalesandro, who had seen limited playing time during the spring season.
Everyone mentioned Rigney’s play; she threw eight strikes in 10 frames in the morning loss to Sacred Heart and maintained a high strike percentage in the afternoon match.
“I was definitely feeling it, and the lane condition was good,” said Rigney, last year’s NCAA Championship Co-MVP. “I just knew if I was keeping it left and using my legs I’d be alright.”
She credited lots of spare practice with picking up the 3-6-7 and scoffed at the notion that she’s got the magic at this tournament.
“I seem to like it here, although it’s not in my brain or something I think about, because I’m team-forward right now,” Rigney said. ” We had plenty of others making shots. I think Sam made some big shots today to set up Masch [Maria]. All in all there’s much to pick up on and improve tomorrow but collectively we came together at the right time.”
Dalesandro admitted some surprise at getting into the action but says she quickly settled in.
“I was definitely a little nervous when I first got in, it was a dream come true to bowl here,” the Illinois-born freshman said. “Some of the pressure was relieved once I got into the flow. My teammates made it easy to settle in. Em was great striking ahead of me, there was not a lot of pressure. The team was helping me; Jordan was always reminding me that they had my back and Masch kept telling me to keep my feet slow and post on every shot. I didn’t have to worry.”
The win came after a rough morning in which the Commodores were upset by a hot-shooting Sacred Heart team that won the best of seven Baker tie-breaker, 4-2. Vandy got off to a sluggish start, during which the eighth-seeded Pioneers began to loosen up and throw strikes. The final pin count in the traditional match was 1,027-968 before Vanderbilt bounced back to take the 5-Game Baker by 1,037-1,027. The best of seven against Sacred Heart got off on a winning note but the Commodores dropped four straight games to lose the match.
“The afternoon felt a lot better,” Newham said. “Our problem in the morning was not the lanes; I know I was guilty of bowling tight because I was anxious. I worked to change my mindset in the afternoon and focus on being more present and to just throw the best shots I could. I think we all got better at that.”
Bulanova, the newly named Division I Player of the Year, was in peak form during the morning’s traditional game, rolling a 239, but she became a grind-it-out spare maker in the afternoon. She said Coach Williamson gave some helpful advice between games.
“I think in the morning we didn’t start well and it got into people’s heads and we only got tighter as it went,” Bulanova said. “But Coach [Williamson] told us between matches to just enjoy this tournament. He said if you just bowl like you enjoy it the pins will fall. He said we have nothing to lose, we are not protecting anything – nobody can take away last year’s championship from us so you can’t defend what can’t be taken.”