IRVING, Texas – Stephen F. Austin Assistant Coach Steve Lempke had seen enough. As Vanderbilt anchor Maria Bulanova left a pin standing to interrupt her barrage of strikes, temporarily keeping his Ladyjacks a wee bit closer to the streaking Commodores, he turned from the lanes and wiped his forehead in mock relief.
Bulanova and her teammates can do that to opposing coaches. On this opening day of the Southland Bowling League Championship, Vandy brushed back challengers Valparaiso and SFA by identical 2-0 scores in the mega match format and advanced in the winner’s bracket to face Sam Houston State Saturday at 1:30 p.m. CT.
(In the mega match format, teams play a traditional game followed immediately by a five-game Baker based on total pin fall. If one teams wins both, the match is over. If they split, they move to a best four of seven Baker series to determine a winner.)
All the Commodores felt they let their foot off the gas after winning the traditional game with eighth-seeded Valparaiso, giving the Crusaders some early hope in the Baker round. Coach John Williamson agreed.
“We may have felt in the first couple Baker games with Valpo that showing up was enough and we’ve preached all year that we are not good enough to just show up unless we have a purpose,” Williamson said. “The last three games we executed and made some shots. In the SFA match we played with a purpose. It’s hard to quantify or define but right now our kids have a purpose.”
Bulanova, the newly crowned SBL Player of the Year, was on her A game once again with traditional games of 230-234 and a big basket full of strikes in Baker play.
“When we first started I couldn’t execute, I was tight,” Maria says. “I reminded myself to just make a good shot and if they fall, they fall. I tried to focus on making good shots first, striking second.”
Bulanova had plenty of good help much of the day. Gainor, blazing the way right in front of her, had games of 200 and 243 while Jordan Newham and Adel Wahner each notched a 200 game and Emily Rigney recorded scores of 179-175. Kristin Quah got into the fray for the last Baker set with SFA and had six strikes in 10 frames.
“After we won the first game by quite a lot,” Newham said, “I think instead of regrouping we got complacent. We huddled and decided to fight for something. We’ve been talking about competing for something bigger than just this moment, bigger than ourselves. In the SFA job we did a good job of staying present.”
Gainor has been superb this spring and she was focusing on the positives.
“Looking back on today we need to remember the positives,” she said. “The Valpo match wasn’t pretty but we won and we fought for it. We need to clean up our spares, we had too many missed makeables so cleaning up the spares would change a lot.”
Gainor noted the lift Quah provided in the SFA Baker match when she was put into the lead off spot.
“Kris was awesome off the bench,” she said succinctly.
Williamson is looking forward to seeing how his charges react now that they are in an identical situation as they were a year ago on the same lanes. Last season, the Dores didn’t play well on Saturday and finished in third place.
“We were in the same position last year and the question for tomorrow is have we grown up and matured – will tomorrow be a duplicate of today or last year?”