April 12, 2013
CANTON, Mich. - In one of the most memorable days in the program's history, Vanderbilt ignored its No. 7 seed and plowed through a gauntlet of Fairleigh Dickinson, Arkansas State and Maryland-Eastern Shore, earning the right to bowl Nebraska Saturday night for the NCAA championship.
It was a thrilling trifecta for the Black and Gold, starting with the 4 games to 2 Baker win over FDU, then beating season nemesis Arkansas State 4-3 and then shocking two-time defending national champion UMES, 4-3, with the winning edge a single pin in the seventh game, 212-211. They can't come any closer than that.
As with any meaningful victory, there were many heroes. Vanderbilt employed a lineup of two freshmen (Tori Ferris and Robyn Renslow), two sophomores (Nicole Mosesso and Natalie Goodman) and one senior - Jessica Earnest - who perhaps had never been more dialed in than she was in her anchor spot today.
Many of the Commodores' wins came down to the 10th frame and the first-team All-American from Vandalia, Ill., showed the collegiate bowling world why she has been a dominant player for four seasons.
"After the FDU game I really felt that I had the confidence and the look on the lane," Earnest said in the emotional aftermath. "As the games went along, I was in a zone and I felt that if the game came down to the last frame somebody was going to have to take it from me because I wasn't going to give in."
Vanderbilt left no doubt that it had peaked at exactly the right time. After going through the motions during Thursday's seeding day, winning two of seven games, it exploded with high level play game after game. Significantly, the Commodores never opened two frames in succession and usually followed an open with a strike to get them back on track. The effort put continual pressure on the opposition.
Ferris, a Michigan native from Kalamazoo, had her best day of the season and showed a fierce competitive streak playing in the No. 3 spot of the rotation. When it was over, she was almost overcome with emotion. Dabbing tears of joy, she pointed to her teammates.
"We were playing for each other out there," she said, almost trembling with excitement. "I knew that if I made a mistake someone would have my back. That's why we were crying when it was over; we were fighting for each other and it was something to see the pins finally fall our way this season."
In the semi-final with UMES, the Hawks took the first game 218-192. Vandy won the second game, 203-202, when Earnest struck out and then the third, 209-203, with more Earnest heroics. UMES won a wild scoring affair in the fourth, 248-227, to even things but Vandy bounced back to take a 3-2 lead with a 218-168 victory. The gifted Hawks won the sixth game, 202-184, before the unforgettable seventh.
It was nip and tuck the entire game and once again boiled down to the 10th. Nebraska had put away Arkansas State, 4-1, and therefore the entire Super Bowl was gathered around lanes 35-36 to see the outcome.
Earnest had already finished her work and Vandy sat with 212 pins and could only watch as T'Nia Falbo of UMES could have tied the game on her last ball with a strike, something she has done many times in her outstanding career. Her ball was in the pocket but when the pins quit falling, the 10 pin sat untouched.
There was a momentary gasp from the crowd as it processed the scene and then Vanderbilt partisans broke out in wild celebration realizing that one pin made all the difference.
The Hawks were gracious in defeat with Falbo congratulating the `Dores on her way out of the bowling center and wishing them good luck.
The championship game will be Vanderbilt's third and second in three years. In 2007 the Commodores won the title in Orlando and two years ago lost to the same UMES team, 4-2, here in Taylor, Mich.
The title showdown will test for the Commodores' maturity as they will have to quickly come down from the emotional high to test the talented Huskers, who cruised through their three games with little problem today.
The game will be telecast live by ESPNU at 7 p.m. Central time, ironically following the Vanderbilt-Missouri baseball game being played in Hawkins Field.