READING, Pa. — Becky Kregling saw it on her bowlers’ faces. National No. 1 Fairleigh Dickinson was in the midst of a furious rally at the 2012 Northeast Conference Bowling Championships, but the Sacred Heart Pioneers were not shaken.
After surging out to a 3-to-0 lead in the best-of-seven championship round match on Sunday at Bowl-O-Rama, Sacred Heart watched FDU fight back to even the match a 3-to-3 and force a deciding Game 7.
“The looks on their faces were ones of belief,” said Kregling. “They never stopped believing that they were going to win this match.”
And win, they did.
Sacred Heart opened Game 7 with a five-bagger as all five bowlers struck the first time through the order.
SHU senior Savannah Zientara, who had lost her footing on a couple of occasions earlier in the match, started the string. Throwing the first ball of Game 7, Zientara knocked them all to the ground.
“I couldn’t have been prouder of my teammate [at that moment],” said SHU graduate student Erin Weinmann. “[After that strike] I couldn’t wait to get up there and throw the next ball.”
Weinmann, SHU’s No. 2 bowler, followed Zientara by throwing her ninth strike of the match.
FDU was unable to recover from the Pioneers’ fast start and SHU posted a 235-189 title-clinching victory against the defending NEC champion Knights.
“We were hungry for this,” said Weinmann. “We knew it was ours to have, and we had to take it.”
Weinmann was a key reason why the Pioneers were able to “take it.” She carried the team in the match’s first three games, starting 6-for-6 on strike opportunities.
“Erin [Weinmann] was great today,” said Kregling. “Nicole [Trudell] was, too. In fact, no one bowled poorly today. You are not going to beat a team like FDU with two or three hot bowlers.You need everyone bowling well.”
Had the Pioneers lost Game 7, an “if necessary” match would have been needed to decide the NEC champion being that Sacred Heart had not yet suffered a match loss in the double-elimination tournament.
“We had motivation to not have to bowl another match,” said Kregling. “We didn’t want to stay here for another hour and a half if we didn’t need to.”
One can understand why Kregling’s keglers wouldn’t want to be forced into another best-of-seven baker match with a FDU team that had clearly found its groove.
It wasn’t until they fell into the 3-0 hole, but the Knights began clicking and Kregling was not surprised.
“FDU is a team that is always going to be there. Basically, a 3-0 lead means nothing when you are bowling against them,” said SHU’s veteran head coach and former Team USA member.
Fairleigh Dickinson was the lone team to take a game from Sacred Heart during Saturday’s opening rounds. SHU swept its first two tournament matches before dropping one game to FDU in a 4-to-1 victory that guaranteed the Pioneers a spot in Sunday’s final round.
Meanwhile, after incurring the loss to Sacred Heart in its last match of Saturday, FDU had to work a little harder in order to make it back to the NEC Tournament’s final round for the fourth straight year. The Knights opened play on Sunday in an elimination match against long-time North Jersey rival and No. 5 seed New Jersey City.
Fairleigh Dickinson burst out of the gate in its semifinal match against NJCU and never slowed down. The Knights opened with a 248-175 victory in Game 1 and posted a 239.5 average in the eventual sweep.
New Jersey City came alive in Game 4, hoping to stave off elimination with a 234-pin performance, but FDU was 14 pins better.
Looking everything like the two-time NEC Bowler of the Year she is, FDU anchor Danielle McEwan was absolutely on fire during the semifinal round. McEwan’s first 10 balls resulted in strikes. She struck 14 times during the 4-0 sweep with her lone non-strike being a 9-spare.
Despite falling in the championship round, McEwan, who was the 2010 NCAA Tournament MOP, hopes to bring FDU back to the national championship tournament once again come April 12-14. The Knights will wait to hear if their name is called when the NCAA hosts its Bowling Selection Show at 4 p.m. ET Thursday.
Since there are no automatic bids for conference champions in the sport of bowling, Sacred Heart will also be anxiously awaiting the unveiling of the eight-team NCAA Championship field. The Pioneers were as high as No. 2 in the NTCA Top 20 Poll this season, but slid down to the No. 8 spot in the poll’s March edition.
“We knew we needed to bowl well here to have a chance at nationals,” said Kregling. “We kept our composure and I’m so proud of the team.”
Kregling and Co. won’t know until Thursday whether their season will continue, but for now they have their second NEC Tournament title in three years to celebrate.
“It’s a good feeling,” said Kregling.