North Brunswick, N.J. ---Vanderbilt fell to top-seeded Nebraska in the third round of the NCAA Championship and as a result, earned a fifth-place finish for the second straight year.
The Commodores had jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven Baker format, winning 217-177, largely on the strength of an excellent second half of play. It was mostly downhill from there with Nebraska running off four consecutive wins as the Black and Gold seemed to suffer one costly error or bad break each game where mistakes proved very expensive.
The fourth game was a back-breaker. Vanderbilt carried a tiny one pin lead into the tenth frame as the two outstanding anchors reached for their final balls of the game. Josie Earnest appeared to throw gold but when the wood cleared, the 10 pin stood as if nailed to the floor. Nebraska's standout, Cassie Leuthold - the NCAA Player of the Year - in turn saw her last pin wobble and teeter before falling for a strike that settled things for all practical purposes. Instead of a possible 2 game to 2 deadlock, the Huskers led 3-1. A rattled Commodore squad couldn't fashion a rally together in the next game and it was time to leave the house.
The Final Four here was akin to the recent men's basketball tournament when bracket-busting was an art form. While every team in this tournament had its moments during the season, not many on-lookers would have suspected Fairleigh Dickinson, Arkansas State, New Jersey City and Nebraska would be left to battle for the big trophy.
Vanderbilt, by luck of the bracket, faced the nation's No. 1 rated team in the first game of the morning (losing a well-played and hotly contested match) and the defending national champion and tourney's top seed in round three. Nobody would suggest that was an easy road but the route to any national championship never is and never will be.
Match 3: Nebraska 4, Vanderbilt 1 VU 219-177 NU 206-182 NU 225-185 NU 236-216 NU 213-159
North Brunswick, N.J. ---Vanderbilt battled back from a heart-breaking loss to Maryland-Eastern Shore in the opening game of the 2010 NCAA Championship to defeat Delaware State and will face top-seeded Nebraska in an elimination game to start the afternoon session.
Most expected the Vandy-UMES match to be a donnybrook and it certainly was, going down to the last ball of the seventh and deciding game. When the dust had settled, the Hawks had eeked out a three-pin victory to take the Baker series, four games to three.
It was a disheartening defeat as the Commodores had jumped out to a 2-0 lead and posted "winnable" scores in six of the seven games against the internationally-dominated UMES lineup. Vanderbilt, the three seed here and No. 2 rated nationally, then dropped three in a row to the sixth-seeded but No.1 nationally ranked Hawks.
A lineup of Jessica Earnest, Kayla Rhoades, Ashley Belden, Brittni Hamilton and Josie Earnest then fought back in Game 6 to win, 223-191 to set up the seventh and deciding game. As the higher seed, Vanderbilt chose to stay on the right lane (70) since it had been kinder than its left side counterpart. A costly split in the second created the only open of the game by either team and put VU into a small hole. However, it wasn't decided until the 10th when Vandy's tremendous anchor Josie Earnest narrowly missed a strike on her first ball, then converted and threw a final strike. UMES All-American Maria Rodriguez needed a strike and a seven count and she produced that and more.
In six of the seven big games, the team with the fewest opens emerged victorious. The exception was the Game 5 where VU's clean game against UMES' one open was offset by a strike of UMES strikes.
Match 1: UMES 4, Vanderbilt 3 VU 205-187 VU 226-220 MES 202-160 MES 210-201 MES 214-205 VU 223-191 MES 218-215
The body language showed disappointment as the Commodores headed to the loser's bracket and an elimination game with Delaware State. The teams rotated wins over the first five games in a match that lacked the intensity despite a loser-leaves-town situation.
As is often the case in bowling, one lane typically "scores better" than the next and in this case, the teams playing the right lane won all five games. Leading 3 games to 2, Vanderbilt finally ended the streak by taking Game 6 on the left side by a modest 185-165 margin.
Freshman Kim Carper was in the lineup for keeps by Game 3 after getting some clean-up throws in the first couple games once the match was decided. True to her form, the Fort Ripley, Minn., product filled all but one of her frames and helped keep Vanderbilt in the matches.
Match 2: Vanderbilt 4, Delaware State 2 VU 170-147 DS 245-178 VU 241-185 DS 198-184 VU 200-171 VU 185-165
A pair of streaky and surprising teams - Fairleigh Dickinson and Arkansas State - came through the morning round with 2-0 marks while the remaining four teams are all fighting for survival in the double-elimination play.