NORTH BRUNSWICK, N.J. - Over seven hours of intense bowling concluded about sunset with Vanderbilt earning the third seed in tomorrow's double-elimination championship bracket. The Commodores will face Maryland-Eastern Shore in the opening game.
"I don't know how much stock to put into a seed," Coach John Williamson said after the cheers and the crack of falling pins had ceased. "The only thing a seed guarantees you is your first opponent and every team here is very capable. Playing well today doesn't assure you will play well tomorrow and playing poorly doesn't mean all hope is lost."
Williamson recalled that his team was a three seed in Orlando in 2007 and that one ended with a title. In 2008 the Dores were second seeded and were a semi-finalist. Last year as a four seed the tourney ended quickly in a tie for fifth position.
Nebraska cruised through the day unbeaten but otherwise most teams were closely bunched. The top seed faces the 8 seed, #2 plays #7 and so forth in best four-of-seven Baker play.
Vanderbilt captain Josie Earnest says the team feels good at day's end.
"The second half of the day gave us momentum; we're in a good position with our seed," she said. "We got off to a slow start because we weren't making good shots but other than a glitch making some spares in the Arkansas State match we were pretty good the last five games."
Earnest says things change when the format swings from Team Games to Baker.
"It's a very different chemistry in Baker," the four-time All-American reasons. "You can't rely on one person in a Baker game like you can in a Team game when one hot bowler might carry the group. We have been pretty successful in four-of-seven Bakers this year and are looking forward to tomorrow."
One Commodore who had her share of ups and downs was sophomore All-America Brittni Hamilton, whose scores ranged from an opening 144 to a spectacular 279. She anticipated the question after it was over before it was asked.
"I was over-thinking to start with," she explained, "and also made the wrong ball choice. I never got into a groove and when I was taken out of the lineup in that third game I went to the warm-up lane and found a new line. Then when I got back in I felt really comfortable for several games; I was really lined up well. I had some mental lapses with spare conversions in the sixth game."
Williamson said his team encountered some jitters early-on but worked through them. He was pleased with the performances of senior Ashley Belden and Kim Carper, two Commodores that came off the bench to provide needed spark.
Carper, a freshman in her first NCAA tournament, was put into the starting rotation to lead off the afternoon block against UMES and she came through in flying colors. Her impressive conversion of an 8-10 split provided a big boost in the game and she went 18 frames without an open.
"I had a lot of fun out there," Carper admitted. "I thought I'd be more nervous than I was. I had made that 8-10 combination before - once at the Junior Golds two years ago that got me into the round of 16.
Friday's action starts at 9:30 a.m. Games will be streamed live over ncaa.com and this site will offer brief updates after each round.
1. Nebraska (7-0)
2. Arkansas State (5-2)
3. Vanderbilt (4-3)
4. New Jersey City (4-3)
5. Fairleigh Dickinson (3-4)
6. Maryland - Eastern Shore (2-5)
7. Delaware State (2-5)
8. Central Missouri (1-6)
Thursday's Game Summaries
Fairleigh Dickinson 1,047 VU 958
This one had a déjà vu feel to it although the consequences were not as damaging. Last year the Knights opened the elimination day against Vandy and were red hot in tossing the `Dores into the loser's bracket. This year the pins were falling for the home staters while Vanderbilt struggled with six opens - four by first-team All-American Brittni Hamilton, who struggled against splits the whole game. FDU had steady play and was aided by a booming 252 by Joely Carrillo, its No. 3 performer, despite closing with an open tenth.
Vanderbilt had terrific production from Kayla Rhoades in the two slot. The sophomore seemed to have the line and tempo and churned out a nice 243 that had eight strikes. Josie Earnest was the only other Commodore at or above 200 with an even 200.
As with the opening game, Vanderbilt dug itself into a quick and deep hole against the Huskers. There was just little rhythm to the Black and Gold attack and 13 open frames are testimony to the struggle. Strikes were a scare commodity with Rhoades' 200 the only score with a happy face.
Fans quickly reminded each other that it is won-loss records and not total pin fall over the day that will seed the field. Also, it should be noted here that this is two of seven games today and both opponents constructed outstanding games that would have been difficult to top even If things were running smoothly.
This game was a back and forth tussle with a number of lead changes along the way. Despite 11 more open frames, the Commodores found themselves in the game as the 10th frame drew near. Coach John Williamson had pulled Hamilton from the lineup temporarily and inserted senior Ashley Belden into the rotation. That moved paid dividends as Belden responded with a steady 181.
With the game close, Williamson put his sophomore ace back into the lineup in the eighth frame for Brittany Garcia. Hamilton's finish of strike-strike-spare-strike proved huge but it still came down the the anchors. Vanderbilt star Josie Earnest came through in the biggest possible way with three strikes and cementing the team's first win of the day.
VU 1,009, Delaware State 941
The Commodores led almost wire-to-wire but it was never comfortable until the last frame. The big difference maker was Hamilton, whose start of five in a row was interrupted by a pesky one-pin leave in the sixth. The Rochester, New Yorker then polished off six more strikes in convincing fashion for a 279 - a whisker from perfection.
The game was clinched late and gave the Commodores a chance to substitute freshman Sarah O'Brien, making her varsity debut, an opportunity to roll the last ball for Kayla Rhoades. O'Brien responded with a strike, as did Amanda Halter when given a shot to clean up for Josie Earnest. That meant everyone dressed out for the tournament has gotten into the action.
The Commodores came off the midway break with their finest game of the day. Kim Carper was used in the two slot and she came through with a 194 that was clean (no opens). In her line was a shining conversion of an 8-10 split in which the 8 pin bounced off the back wall and took out the corner 10. It seemed to be a momentum builder as VU moved ahead by a 40-pin margin in that seventh frame.
The `Dores had rallied from a small early deficit behind the balanced attack. Josie Earnest's 201 included a nifty 1-10 conversion, which allowed for the substitution of Sarah O'Brien since the match was clinched.
Jess Earnest 225 Kim Carper 194
Josie Earnest/O'Brien 201
Arkansas State 975, VU 950
Just when it appeared the Black and Gold machine was running smoothly, the wheels came off a bit.
At one point over the past two games, Hamilton had rolled 18 strikes in 22 attempts. She struggled in the middle of this game, however, with three opens in five frames. Except for Jessica Earnest's solid lead-off 219 and her sister's 224, struggle was the word of the game. It was close the first half, then ASU built a 50-pin lead and a modest 10th-frame rally proved too little, too late.