ARLINGTON, Texas — File this one under the category, “one that got away.”
After earning the No. 1 seed at the Prairie View Invitational, compiling the best won-loss record of any team, sporting two members of the all-tournament team including the tournament Most Valuable Player and winning the semifinal with a 237.25 average, Vanderbilt’s stint in Arlington ended with a frustrating thud, as it dropped a 4-2 loss to Arkansas State in the Prairie View title game.
In the sport of bowling, one cannot play defense, which means an opponent can sometimes “go off” and chalk up high scores. But on Sunday, Vandy could muster just an anemic 182.8 average while watching their Southland Bowling League sisters walk out of the International Training and Research Center with the biggest trophy.
Whether it was a case of some jitters, two more lanes that seemed to have their own personality or simply fate, the Commodores goofed up more than a Super Bowl halftime rehearsal. Missed makable spares – in one game Vandy had three opens in a row while two others featured back-to-back opens – proved fatal as potential wins in this best-of-seven Baker format evaporated time and again.
As is usually the case, Arkansas State won because it made more shots. It also figured out the mystery of losing left-hand lane Number 9 in the decisive sixth game. The Red Wolves closed with six strikes in their last seven balls to get the only win of the match on that side of the ball return.
“The lanes were transitioning but we just didn’t make shots,” Vanderbilt head coach John Williamson said. “What we did all weekend we didn’t do when we needed to in the last game. We had a couple of games within our grasp and then let open frames allow them to slip away. And when you give good teams an out, they will take advantage of it. We’ll regroup and move on.”
The bridesmaid finish took the luster off a tremendous performance by Maria Bulanova, the Vanderbilt anchor who was named tournament MVP by topping all 78 bowlers with her 227.67 traditional game average. The junior from Moscow, Russia was also instrumental in insuring many wins in Baker play with her blazing finishes. The individual win was her third career MVP award.
“I was executing really well for the most part,” Bulanova said. “I also had some good ball choices that matched up and saved me a few times. I was having fewer splits and the spares I had were easier because they were simple leaves. I think it was the best I’ve bowled this season.”
The tournament was also a season’s high-water finish for Adel Wahner, whose fifth place finish (204.33) earned her a berth on the all-tournament team.
Prior to the title game, Vanderbilt was gangbusters in blitzing Stephen F. Austin in the semifinals, 4-0, by averaging 237.25 and not having any open frames with a rotation of Emily Rigney, Wahner, Jordan Newham, Samantha Gainor and Bulanova. That unit at that time and on those lanes was loose, confident and on target. Ninety minutes later, most of that had disappeared and the bowling appeared to be labor intensive.
Vanderbilt has little time to reflect; it heads to Orlando next weekend for the Sunshine State tournament.