SMYRNA, Tenn. --- It is not news that an Earnest led Vanderbilt into second place after the first day of the Columbia 300 Music City Classic. It might be somewhat surprising to some that this time the hot hand belonged to freshman Jessica Earnest, who finished a long day of competition in second place individually.
Fourth-rated Nebraska led the field of 20 by 76 pins over the Commodores heading into tomorrow afternoon’s quad-Baker games. Arkansas State is third and Sacred Heart had a good day and finds itself in fourth.
The Huskers’ Cassie Leuthold led all individuals with a 218.7 average, 49 pins ahead of Jessica Earnest. Vanderbilt’s Brittni Hamilton was third after a sharp day that produced a 209 average.
“I was not thinking about how I was bowling,” Jessica said afterward. “I’m trying to set a pace for our team from my lead-off position. I was able to have the right ball in my hand at the right time and made a correct ball change about the fourth game that allowed for more control and let me stay relaxed. I started off struggling to close frames but I kept my wrist band on and felt comfortable all day.”
While the Commodores shot four of their six games over the 1,000 standard and seemed to carry forth the momentum it gained over the past few weeks, Coach John Williamson was not entirely pleased.
“In the middle of the afternoon we just didn’t adjust when the lanes fluctuated,” Williamson noted. “I thought we let our struggles affect our mood and that just compounded our struggle. We need to manage our mental game much better than we did today.”
On the day, Vanderbilt won five of its six matches, including top 10 conquests of Fairleigh Dickinson, Delaware State and Adelphi. Nebraska was the lone unbeaten on the afternoon and also owned the highest team score of the day, an 1,115 in its fifth game.
Hamilton’s 209 average seemed silk smooth with the exception of a 158 blip in the fourth game. That was the only blemish on a day that also included 204-219-244-224 and 205.
Play begins Saturday at 1:30 (CT) with six quad-Baker games and concludes Sunday with best four-of-seven Baker bracket match-ups. The bracket will be based on total pin fall.
Yet another Commodore with a good afternoon was senior Brittany Garcia, who was in eighth place with a 201.5 average in six games.
“I was pleased I made nearly all of my makeable spares,” Garcia admitted. “My biggest focus is on being aggressive on each shot. Coach always tells us that if we’re going to do something, do it 100 miles per hour. That’s what I was trying to do.”
VANDERBILT MATCH CAPSULES
The morning got off to a solid and rousing start against fifth-ranked Delaware State. The Commodores were steady from the start and gained even more momentum with eight strikes in succession stretching over the fifth and sixth frames. They were able to end in style, too, with both Kayla Rhoades and Josie Earnest striking out. When it was over, Vanderbilt had posted five winning scores with four over 200, more than enough to out-distance the Hornets by over 100 pins.
Game two had a different script but a similar conclusion. The ‘Dores had moved from the extreme left lanes of completion to the far right. In the transition, the Commodores found the lanes playing a bit different, resulting in seven opens in 17 frames, many after tough split leaves. However, as VU kept working its right to left ball action, those lanes softened and better luck ensued. Jessica Earnest, for example, began with three opens in four frames before getting her groove back and registering seven strikes in a row to close at 221. Brittany Garcia had a strike-filled line (224) and Brittni Hamilton’s five-strike start resulted in a 219. What had begun as a struggle ended in a stroll and easy win over Morgan State.
Game three was the Brittni Hamilton Show. The Webster, New Yorker began with four in a row, ended with four more and filled the in-between frames for a 244, one of the higher scores of the afternoon. She got able support from Kayla Rhoades (206) and Brittany Garcia, who chimed in with her third 200 game of the day. Josie Earnest really struggled (for a three-time All-American), starting with three opens in four frames as it appeared her ball was not reacting to the lane as she would preferred. The 1,006 pins kept Vandy in the team lead, just ahead of Nebraska.
As the long afternoon began to wear, Vanderbilt found itself in a dog-fight with 10th ranked Adelphi, that still clings to hope it can somehow make the NCAA Championship field of eight. The Black and Gold seemingly tried to help Adelphi by leaving a dozen open frames, most of them early. As a result, Vanderbilt trailed much of the match and an upset looked possible until a furious Commodore rally of nine strikes in 10 balls in the eighth and early ninth brought the deficit within reach. A couple of costly Adelphi opens in the 10th and strong frame-filling work by VU pulled out a narrow win.
The score picked up in game five but the frustration appeared to continue as Vanderbilt slid down a few lanes to take on Arkansas State. While the Commodores struggled with three scores south of 200 and no less than 10 open frames, ASU enjoyed its finest game of the day and won easily, 1,084-962. Brittni Hamilton and Jessica Earnest combined to produce 439 of those pins but the others seems out of sync.
The afternoon finished on a good note; Vanderbilt continued to give third-rated Fairleigh Dickinson fits by topping the Knights by a hefty 188 pins. In the process, Jessica Earnest led the way with a fine 226 with Josie Earnest regaining her touch for a 211, Brittany Garcia finishing strong at 216 and Brittni Hamilton having a steady 205. There were just three Commodore open frames in the finale.