READING, Pa. -- Sacred Heart was living in the 200s nearly all day long and won each of its first three matches at the 2012 Northeast Conference Bowling Championship.
The No. 2 seed Pioneers are the lone undefeated team remaining in the eight-team double-elimination playoff bracket. They’ll face either top-seeded Fairleigh Dickinson or No. 5 New Jersey City in the event’s final round on Sunday.

North Jersey rivals FDU and NJCU will open play on championship Sunday with an elimination best-of-seven baker match that is slated to start at 9:35 am. The winner will advance to take on the Pioneers with the NEC title hanging in the balance.

SHU clinched a spot in Sunday’s title tilt by posting a 4-to-1 victory against the No. 1 ranked team in the latest edition of the National Tenpins Coaches Association Top 20 Poll -- Fairleigh Dickinson – in what began as a battle of 2-0 teams.

“I thought we played well all day, but, in the third match, we got beat by a team that raised the bar on its level of play,” said FDU head coach Michael LoPresti, who picked up his second consecutive NEC Coach of the Year honor during a midday awards ceremony. “We weren’t able to match it.”

Not many teams would be able to match what Sacred Heart accomplished on Saturday at Bowl-O-Rama. The Pioneers won 12 of 13 baker games and reached the 200-pin mark in all but two of those contests.

Although it was a special performance, it was not something SHU head coach Becky Kregling hadn’t seen before.

“In our first conference meet, we bowled like this for nine straight matches,” said Kregling, whose Pioneers went 8-1 at the first of three NEC regular season meets back in November.
Sacred Heart swept No. 7 seed LIU-Brooklyn in its first match on Saturday and followed by doing the same to LIU’s intra-borough rival St. Francis (N.Y.), which held the No. 6 seed.

SHU junior Jackie Carbonetto and sophomore Nicole Trudell both earned spots on the All-NEC First Team, which was unveiled during the break between rounds 2 and 3, but it Jacqueline Willy’s performance that left Pioneers’ head coach Becky Kregling in awe.

Willy, who occupied the No. 4 spot in SHU’s lineup, struck on 13 of her 16 attempts over the day’s first two matches and strung together 10 consecutive strikes at one point.

“That [Willy’s performance] stands out to me,” said Kregling. “I’m not trying to take away from our great team effort, but Willy was tremendous.”

Sacred Heart’s No. 4 bowler wasn’t done either.  Willy came back after intermission and threw strikes on each of her last eight balls in the Pioneer’s best-of-seven baker triumph over Fairleigh Dickinson.

After dropping the first two games to SHU, FDU fired a 236 in Game 3 and still found itself on the short end of the score as the Pioneers were 20 pins better. In Game 4, it was Fairleigh Dickinson who turned in a 256-pin performance to notch a win before Sacred Heart put away the match with a 225-198 Game 5 triumph.

Accounting for 224.8 baker game average, SHU seemed to have little trouble with the NEC’s custom-created championship lane pattern that made for some difficult shots.

“They [the lane conditions] were tough, but I guess we didn’t make it seem tough [Saturday],” said Carbonetto, who served as SHU’s anchor for the whole day. “We just fed off each other. We picked each other up after open frames. We were constantly talking and we made the right moves today.”

Carbonetto and Co. will have the chance to play for its second NEC Tournament crown on Sunday, an opportunity that eluded the Pioneers in 2011.

“It feels great to move onto the final after not making it that far last year,” said Carbonetto who was a freshman when SHU won a modified baker roll-off to top FDU for the 2010 title.

Last season, however, the Pioneers were one of the first two teams eliminated from championship play.

Monmouth and Adelphi were the first two teams to suffer elimination at the 2012 tournament.

For Adelphi, it was the team’s earliest exit ever from the NEC Championships.The Panthers made it to championship Sunday each of the first three seasons the league sponsored a title meet and had their best showing as the tournament’s runner-up in 2011.

Meanwhile, the Hawks, who are only in their second season as a NCAA program, are still searching for their first NEC tournament win.

New Jersey City opened the day with a win against No. 4 seed Kutztown, the event host, before falling to FDU in a winner’s bracket match. Relegated to the loser’s bracket with little margin for error, NJCU found a way to survive and advance.

Fresh off eliminating Adelphi, No. 7 seed LIU Brooklyn pushed New Jersey City to the brink in a Round 3 elimination match. Bowling 200 or better during each of the match’s first four games, LIU built a 3-1 lead over the Gothic Knights.

With its back against the wall, Frank Parisi’s team responded. NJCU strung together three victories in a row, none coming by less than a 24-pin margin, to escape.

The Houdini act landed New Jersey City a spot in the last match of the day against a one-loss Kutztown team that had just staved off elimination by sending St. Francis (NY) home with a 4-2 defeat.

In a stark contrast to its previous match against LIU, New Jersey City’s bout with Kutztown was much less taxing on the cardiac health of the numerous Gothic Knights’ fans who made the trip out the Berks County, Pa. NJCU jumped out to a 3-0 lead and closed out the victory in Game 5.