READING, Pa. -- UMES likes Reading, Pa. and Heister Lanes, the site of the Kutztown Invitational. Some would say it's been good to them, others might suggest even renaming the event after the Hawks.
That's because Sunday, the Hawks won their third straight and fourth overall tournament title in the six years Kutztown has been hosting the event. They also have an individual and team 300 at those lanes and a second-place finish for good measure.
But in the 2014 version, UMES, seeded fourth heading into the final bracket, topped second-seeded Wisconsin-Whitewater 4-2 in the finals to claim the title and along the way knocked down top-seeded Fairleigh Dickinson (FDU) and third-seeded Vanderbilt.
"Our girls are tough," head coach Kayla Bandy said. "I'm proud of them, they never stopped fighting, they have a killer instinct and a never-say-die attitude."
That can be easily witnessed in one glaring statistic this season. In Baker matches UMES now stands at 33-0, undefeated in the team format.
"I wasn't even aware of that," said Bandy. "But I'm not surprised. Our girls not only band together. We have a great bench. Our six, seven and eight bowlers are always ready and can compete with other teams' starters."
They did more than compete Sunday. UMES opened with the third-seed, Vanderbilt and the two rivals traded blows like heavyweight fighters. The Commodores took Game 1, 204-193 but the Hawks rebounded to take Game 2 235-213. Vandy struck again in Game 3, 218-201. UMES quickly tied the match in Game 4 with a 204-186 win. They took the lead in Game 5 with a 204-171 win. Needing one more to win the Hawks were in a position to get it but missed a spare and tied Game 6 at 190. Vanderbilt won Game 7 168-160 and force a tiebreaker. UMES dominated the five-frame set 129-103 and advanced to the second round.
In the second match of the day UMES would face top-seed FDU who fell in the opener to Wisconsin-Whitewater. The Hawks would trot out the same lineup to face the Knights. Megan Buja, Victoria Jones, Tatiana Munoz would again lead-off the Hawk attack. Mariana Alvarado and Sara Pelayo would switch places in the fourth and fifth spots.
They were shaky to start with FDU taking Game 1 222-159. UMES rebounded to take Game 2 205-198 despite struggling on the lanes. Alvarado went back into anchor in the second game and it paid off as she doubled in the 10th frame to secure the win.
In Game 3, the Hawks took advantage of a pair of missed spares from FDU to win 199-189. Game 4 went to FDU to tie the match at two apiece. Both teams missed spares late in the game but a Knight strike in the ninth secured the win.
Game 5 looked to be going FDU's way with four consecutive strikes. But things looked up as the Knights then missed four spares in a row. UMES took advantage with a double in the 10th to leave FDU without numbers and it was a 202-190 win.
Game 6 saw the Hawks post a turkey early and an impressive 3-6-7 spare conversion from Jones. They looked ready to win but Pelayo left an 8-pin in the ninth and FDU threw their own turkey to close the gap. Like she did all day, Alvarado stepped up big again and struck in the 10th to give UMES the 205-203 win and a ticket to the finals to meet UWW.
"Those were great wins," Bandy said "Marianna [Alvarado] was struggling a little in those, which for her still means she was doing good, but Vikki [Jones] and Tati [Munoz] were striking like crazy. They were a big part of the wins."
Next up was Wisconsin-Whitewater, the alma mater of assistant coach Tyler Schmitz. UMES got off to a rocky start. Despite starting with four in a row, the Hawks left three splits in a row to end the match and fall 216-183.
Game 2 was more to UMES' liking. They took that game 208-171. Game 3 went back and forth. When it came down to the 10th, UWW could win by striking out. That would have given them a one-pin win, but it wasn't to be and the spare and strike combination meant UMES won 203-193.
In the next game, the Hawks took a commanding lead, so commanding that they split in the 10th and still won 182-173. Up 3-1, UMES struggled in Game 5 and fell 182-168.
Game 6 was a pressure cooker. The two teams went back and forth but UWW held a slim lead throughout. Every time UMES marked, the WarHawks matched them. It seemed like the match was heading toward a Game 7. But Munoz, now bowling in the fourth spot, struck in the ninth and Wisconsin-Whitewater spared. That left the door open for Alvarado, who calmly drilled the first ball into the pocket for a strike. UWW needed a strike to ensure a win. They didn't get it. Alvarado walked up again and the arm was on repeat, drilling the pocket for a second strike. UWW had to convert. They did, setting up a dramatic fill-ball fight.
If Alvarado stuck, Wisconsin-Whitewater could do the same to force a tie at 206. If Alvarado missed, UWW had to get more to win. Alvarado made sure that was impossible, again drilling the pocket and ensuring at least a tie. The WarHawk anchor wasn't as confident, throwing a good shot, but getting just nine and giving UMES the 206-205 win.
"It was a great team effort today," said Bandy. "It is a great way to start off 2014."
UMES heads to Arlington, Texas this coming weekend for the Prairie View Invitational a tournament they took runner-up honors in last year.
For her efforts, Alvarado was named to the All-Tournament Team of the Kutztown Invitational. She was seventh overall with a 211 average. Munoz, who only bowled five of the six team games was also top 10 in average, sporting more than 210.