WICKLIFFE, Ohio -- Sam Houston State’s amazing run at Game of Wickliffe culminated with the school’s first national championship Saturday night, as the Bearkats upset last year’s champion Nebraska 4-2.
The title is the first in any sport for the Bearkats since the team moved to Division I in 1986. The bowling team wins its first title in just its fourth year of existence.
“This has been the dream from the beginning,” head coach Brad Hagen said.
Strikes were tough to come by in the early games, doubles even more so. The teams traded the first four games of the match, Sam Houston winning the first 181-166 and the third 193-190 while Nebraska took the second 187-182 and the fourth 197-189.The momentum seemed to turn in the fifth game, when Sam Houston started with four consecutive strikes and six strikes in the match, including a clinching strike by the program’s first recruit, senior Kimi Davidson, to give Sam Houston a 205-191 victory – and the momentum.
“Coach and I made a couple of adjustments,” Davidson said. “After that, I just took a deep breath and let the ball roll.”
Even with the win and the lead, Hagen knew more tweaking was needed.
“We had to get a little more aggressive,” Hagen said. “It wasn’t so much the equipment as it was operating error. We had to really settle down.”
“We did make a little move, but then we had to trust it. We had to stay aggressive mentally and stay in the moment and play our game. In the fifth game, Nebraska suffered three open frames in the first seven while Sam Houston rolled a clean 195 to claim the title.
“We stuck to our gameplan,” Hagen said. “We knew if we could grind it out and stay in the moment, that we had a pretty good chance.”
The team’s other senior and member of the school’s first team, Neishka Cardona said the fact that the team went through the entire final game without an open frame wasn’t lost on them.
“It was the first thing we said before that game,” Cardona said. “We said ‘hey guys, clean game.’ We told each other that if you leave something, just take a deep breath and go for the spare.
“We just tried to stay in our routine,” she said. “When we practice, whenever we get a clean game, we get to do 10 less single pins [at the end of practice]. So we just stuck to it and tried to joke the entire time and stay loose.”
And in the end, again, it was Davidson with the ball in her hand with a chance to win the championship. And again, she struck.
“It was a matter of making a little adjustment and just going after it,” Davidson said.
Nebraska was foiled in its attempt to win the school’s fifth bowling title and second in a row. Head coach Bill Straub said it came down to one thing that always seems to spell the difference between victory and defeat.
“It all about how you adapt to the playing conditions,” Straub said. “We simply did a bad job of doing that and Sam Houston did a much better job.”