Unfocused Commodores Drop Match at SBL

IRVING, TX—-As Vanderbilt left the USA Lanes Friday, upbeat after winning a pair of matches in the Southland Bowling League Championship, Coach John Williamson said he was eager to see if his veteran team remembered the lessons of the 2018 league championship when his team was flat on Saturday after a strong opening day.

Unfortunately for the Commodores, they flunked the test. Turning in two mediocre scores in the traditional game (920) and 5-Game Baker (955), Vanderbilt lost close matches to second-seeded Sam Houston State and as a result, got tossed into Sunday’s loser’s bracket, where the pathway to the championship is more challenging.The Commodores will play Stephen F. Austin – who eliminated Arkansas State – at 8:00 a.m. CT. The winner of that match will then face Sam Houston and have to beat the unbeaten Bearkats twice in this double-elimination format.

“We didn’t come here to play,” said a disappointed Williamson. “That’s frustrating because we have a group of upperclassmen that have experienced this sort of letdown at the ’17 national championship and at this tournament last year.

“We were tight the whole time,” Williamson continued, “and you are not going to make shots when you are tight. Yesterday we had a lot of carry; Maria threw a lot of quality shots but she flat-10’d some today. And we have to figure out how to get four other people playing because it was spotty at times. We have to learn something from this.”

With the exception of senior Kristin Quah, no Commodore performed at the same level as they did 24 hours earlier. The top of the rotation suffered seven opens in 10 frames in the 12-pin Baker defeat and the potent combo of Maria Bulanova and Samantha Gainor were just shells of the women who led the entire tournament in pin fall yesterday.

“It feels different when we start in the afternoon,” Quah observed. “You’d think otherwise since we often practice in the afternoon but when we got here we didn’t have the same routine as usual. We didn’t get into the flow of things; I don’t know why. When things don’t start off right and you start to press it doesn’t help. We were trying to strike instead of making a good shot and letting it happen.”

In the opening traditional game, the first leg of the mega-match format, the Commodores nursed a lead that varied from 30 to 50 pins through the first eight frames despite being off-form. But back-to-back 7-10 splits to start the ninth and another open later in the order cracked the door for the faster-finishing Kats, who were entering the 10th with a double and a triple deep in their rotation. It was enough to doom the Dores, 938-920. 

Quah did her best in the fateful 10th, striking out to keep Vandy’s slim hopes alive.

“I felt like in my Baker I was throwing it better,” the three-time All-American who has battled an unusual wrist issue this spring said. “This last week and this week is the best I’ve felt in a while – since the Arkansas tournament. I think I’m getting used to how my hand feels. I’m throwing it a lot better than I was a month ago.

Kris was striving to set up her talented teammates with the strikeout.

“We have Sam and Maria at 4 and 5 and I’m super confident in what they do. I was just trying to put them in the best position; they’ve shown time and time again that if you give them a chance more often than not they will take it.”

In the Baker set, once again Vandy had a lead ranging from 3 pins to 16 but saw it slip away with erratic play. In the deciding fifth game, for example, Vandy sustained three opens, at least one if not two too many to beat a good Sam Houston team ranked fifth in the country.

Quah repeated Williamson’s assessment on what Vanderbilt needs to do if it hopes to compete Sunday.

“We don’t want to dwell on today’s mistakes but try to learn from them.”