WICKLIFFE, Ohio — After Friday’s four Baker-style match-play sessions, we know that Maryland-Eastern Shore will be in Saturday night’s final match trying to be the first team to win back-to-back titles since Nebraska in 2004-05.
Who the Hawks’ opponent will be Saturday night remains very much in doubt.
That’s because top-seeded Vanderbilt defeated Arkansas State in the losers’ bracket Friday, then defeated winners’ bracket foe Fairleigh Dickinson 4-0. Therefore, Vanderbilt and FDU will square off Saturday at 12:40 p.m. ET to determine who will face UMES for the championship.
|More: Frahm gains new perspective|
|Day 1: Vanderbilt earns early lead|
UMES head coach Kristina Frahm knows one thing — she’s happy to have her team in the final.
“I’m really proud of the girls. They worked hard all day. They came back from our struggles yesterday. We’re going to relax the rest of [Friday] and all day [Saturday] and come in here Saturday night ready to roll.”
The Hawks struggled through Thursday’s qualifying, earning a modest No. 5 seed. Friday was a completely different story. After getting by Sacred Heart 4-3, the defending national champions defeated Vanderbilt 4.5-1.5, then got the 4-1 win against Nebraska.
Frahm, who was a competitor on UMES’ title team of a year ago, said a small change in lane conditions proved huge for her team.
“We could play the gutter today,” she said. “We could start a little further outside and then make small moves in. [On Thursday] we were in a little bit deeper. I think we were a little bit better on the [lane condition] transition today and we made better shots.”
UMES got into the final out of the winners’ bracket by defeating one-loss Nebraska 4-1. The Cornhuskers, who started Thursday qualifying round with four consecutive wins, went 2-5 since that block.
“Every day the tournament starts over,” Nebraska head coach Bill Straub said. “Every day they start the tournament over. The scores are thrown out. The wins and losses are thrown out. When you start the tournament over every day, it’s hard to predict what’s going to happen.”
Vanderbilt had a tough match with Arkansas State, winning in six games (235-212-, 226-219, 212-194, 176-214, 193-199, 203-189) to advance to face FDU on Friday afternoon. In that match, it was all Commodores, as the closest game between the two schools was the deciding game, which the Commodores won 199-192.
“Days like today never really get old,” Vanderbilt coach John Williamson said. “They’re stressful and they can be exciting and invigorating all at once. We bowled like we were capable of in the afternoon, so that was good to see.”
What was amazing to see was the performance of junior Sarah O’ Brien, who at one point Friday strung 13 consecutive strikes.
“She was just lights out for the majority of the afternoon,” Williamson said.
O’Brien’s feat is made even more amazing by the fact that she’s done very little bowling since December after having to two hip operations.
“It’s only been about five weeks since she’s been cleared to compete, so what she did was really amazing.”
Heading into Saturday afternoon’s showdown, despite the fact they come into the match from vastly different perspectives, both head coaches say they’ll give their teams very similar speeches before they head into battle.
“We’ll talk a little bit about tomorrow, but our mindset is that we go out and try to win four games and see if we can do something special,” Williamson said. “Our goal in every tournament is to make it to the last day with a chance to win. We’ve got that.”
Fairleigh Dickinson coach Mike LoPresti said the trick for him is to get his team off the emotional roller coaster it was on Friday after coming back from 3-0 down to beat Nebraska early Friday, then getting swept to end the day.
“We do well in this tournament,” LoPresti said. “We’ve made the semifinals in this tournament every time we’ve come here. We just need to win one match at a time and execute. Our fill-frame percentage has been excellent, but we have a couple of players right now that are spooked.”
So in LoPresti’s mind, the key is to minimize the pressure whenever possible.
“It’s one match, best of seven against Vanderbilt – a team we’ve played many times all year long, so we’re going to try and downplay this match as best we can and treat it just like a regular-season match,” LoPresti said.
“Hopefully we get a good night’s sleep and things will change.”