Bowlers rally with five wins
March 17, 2012
SMYRNA, TN---They won't win the eighth annual Columbia 300 Music City Tournament or come anywhere close for that matter but the Vanderbilt Commodores got a lot of what they needed Saturday - head-to-head wins against strong teams.
The `Dores went 5-1 on the day and while the aggregate pin fall over the two days put them well down the leader board in 11th position, Coach John Williamson found a good reason for optimism after wins over No. 1 ranked Fairleigh Dickinson and No. 2 Arkansas State. Include Friday's win over No. 3 Nebraska and Vandy was perfect versus the top three rated teams.
"Yesterday I was a little disappointed in our upperclassmen," Williamson said, "but today they came to play. They gave us tremendous leadership and a huge boost in some tight matches. We made some mistakes against St. Francis to keep us from a perfect day (six missed makeable spares) but hopefully we will continue with momentum tomorrow and that can lead to something better in the future."
One of the seniors who spurred things forward for the Commodores was Samantha Hesley, who pulled nearly a 180 degree turnaround from her Friday struggles to place fifth individually in the tournament.
"We had a lot of team energy today so it was much easier to bowl well," the modest Hesley said, noting that 10 hours of sleep were helpful. "I was a lot more relaxed today; yesterday I was a bit too high strung."
The Commodores confounding season-long habit of stumbling to underdogs continued. While taking down two of the nation's giants, they were tripped up by a good St. Francis team but one not rated in the Top 20.
It was a true marathon day with the six team games requiring about seven and a half hours; an Olympic marathoner could have hypothetically run the 26.2 mile course three times, showered and polished off some yogurt in the same amount of time.
The championship bracket will be spotlighted on bowl.com with play beginning at 8:30 Sunday. Arkansas State, Central Missouri, Nebraska and FDU will go for the title while Vanderbilt will have to be content well down the bracket, where the best it can hope to finish is ninth.
Nebraska's Kristi Mickelson averaged an impressive 223 over the demanding conditions to win individual honors by a 13-pin per game average.
Vanderbilt and other teams will now await the NCAA's March 29 announcement of the eight teams that will vie for the national championship in Cleveland next month.
Coach John Williamson had an early decision to make and that was when to use Sarah O'Brien and Nicole Mosesso, both on limited duty coming off injuries that have sidelined them since the start of the semester. He opted to give with them early and put a line-up of Hamilton, O'Brien, Mosesso, Earnest and Hesley on the lane against Kutztown.
Wearing Irish Green jerseys in honor of St. Patrick's Day, the Commodores jumped out to a healthy lead of around 50 pins by mid-game but the Golden Bears chipped away and the lead slowly shrunk as the 10th frame neared. Brittni Hamilton's 212 lead the way but it wasn't decided until anchor Samantha Hesley went strike-strike and Vandy fans exhaled.
An early afternoon show-down was next with No. 1 rated Fairleigh Dickinson. It was another grind-it-out game; Vanderbilt stuck with its same lineup and gradually edged to a modest lead - 22 pins after six, 16 after seven and 48 heading into the ninth. That's when it got sticky. The Commodores lost their edge in the ninth with a flurry of opens to give the Knights hope. Once again it boiled down to the anchors and Hesley once again came to the rescue, getting a huge strike while FDU's star Danielle McEwan could have won it by striking out but left a 7-pin on her first ball.
It was the battle of green shirts and the first-year Green Wave were not able to keep the pace. Vanderbilt used a new lineup, taking our O'Brien and Mosesso who had reached their daily limit, and inserting freshmen southpaws Rebeca Reguero and Natalie Goodman in their place. The Commodores were led by Hesley (215) and Earnest (214).
Long since removed from contention in this tournament, the Commodores only realistic objective is to win head-to-head games and in this one, they took a step backward. The St. Francis Terriers, winners of just two of their first nine games, grabbed the early lead and made it hold up. The `Dores were in striking range by the ninth but a combination of untimely opens and a strong St. Francis 10th in which it had six strikes in a row proved decisive. Vandy used the same lineup of Hamilton-Reguero, Goodman, Earnest and Hesley with only Earnest's 196 getting north of 180.
The Commodores picked a good time for their best game in two days. Second-rated Arkansas State was one tournament leaders but on the strength of its "Big Three", Vanderbilt ground out a slim lead and carried it home for the victory. While its two freshmen struggled to find the line, Hamilton (224), Earnest (238) and Hesley (243) were strike machines. Earnest ended with five in a row while Samantha started a three-bagger, then opened and followed it with five more.
Kim Carper was put into the rotation for Goodman and the junior responded with a team-leading 208. The `Dores led wire-to-wire and were noticed stealing glances at a television set tuned to Vanderbilt's NCAA Men's Basketball game.