WICKLIFFE, Ohio -- The Sam Houston State Bearkats are one step away from a national championship. After a rough opening day on Thursday, the Kats, seeded 8th in the 8-team field, ran through the bracket undefeated to punch their ticket to the finals.

The Bearkats had to twice defeat top-seeded Maryland-Eastern Shore, including a 4-0 victory in the semifinals after opening the day with a 4-2 win against UMES. They beat No. 4 Wisconsin-Whitewater 4-2 to set up the rematch with UMES.

“We have worked hard for the last month for this moment,” head coach Brad Hagen said. “I can’t be more proud of our senior leadership on this team. Everyone played so well and made the shots they had to make.”

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Throughout the day, with the Kats needed a big shot, the two seniors Neishka Cardona and Kimi Davidson delivered. 

“The first two games we started from behind,” Cardona said. “We were able to come back and just fill frames and stay clean. We were just saying we needed two good games from everyone [in the fourth] and this is what we did.”

The Bearkats were able to close strong in the first game of the semifinal match against UMES to the started on the right foot. After leaving the fourth frame open, the Kats hit strikes on their next six rolls to take a 230-221 win.

They never looked back from there, winning the next three games by an average of 20 pins.

“It still hasn’t sank in yet,” Davidson said. “I’m still a little jittery.”

With the three wins on Friday, the Bearkats become the first eight-seed to advance to the national finals. Despite the odds being against them, Hagen said he liked his team’s chances heading into the day.

“I don’t care what anyone says, this team is not an eight-seed,” Hagen said. “I attacked things a lot differently than people did yesterday and what we did worked out in our favor. I’m happy the girls stuck to the game plan, trusted me and their abilities.”