BATON ROUGE, La. — McKendree earned its first-ever NCAA national championship Saturday night with a 4-0 victory over Nebraska in the title match of the 2017 NCAA Women's Bowling Championships at the Raising Cane's River Center in Baton Rouge.
Freshman Breanna Clemmer threw two strikes in the 10th frame of the fourth game to close the door on the Huskers' changes and started the celebration for the McKendree team. The Bearcats made history on several other levels as they are the first NCAA Division II program to lay claim to the championship since the organization started sponsoring the sport in 2004. McKendree's 4-0 triumph also marked the first sweep in the 14-year history of the event.
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"I just can't describe the feeling," said McKendree coach Shannon O'Keefe following the postgame celebration."It's just been an incredible feeling and time watching these ladies stay composed, connected and believe in each other throughout the season, and especially this week. This must be how a parent feels because I love these girls like they are my own. I just can't say how proud I am of them on this accomplishment."
That moment when you win your first national championship...CONGRATULATIONS @McKBowling!!! #BearcatsUnleashed #NCAABowl #MIAABOWL pic.twitter.com/DqfZj2eKg0— McKendree Bearcats (@McKBearcats) April 16, 2017
McKendree earned the top seed in the eight-team field after seven games of qualifying play Thursday and Friday. The Bearcats then began play in the double-elimination, Baker format bracket Friday afternoon with victories over Sam Houston State and Nebraska. McKendree then held off Sam Houston State in a tight seven-game contest Saturday morning before meeting Nebraska once more in the Saturday night finals televised live on ESPNU.
The first game was tight early between McKendree and Nebraska until the Bearcats forged a slight lead later in the contest. A strike in the ninth frame by junior Jessica Mellott helped push McKendree to a lead it would not relinquish on its way to a 182-169. In game two, sophomore Lauren Pate picked up a 2-7-8 spare in the third frame to help spark the Bearcats, who later threw strikes in each of the final five frames for a 244-192 triumph to seize a 2-0 lead over Nebraska.McKendree moved to the brink of the championship with a 224-212 decision in game three for a commanding 3-0 lead in the match. The fourth and final game started out as a high-scoring affair early as the teams were separated by just pins over the first six frames.
In the eighth frame, Pate helped the Bearcats take advantage of an open frame by Nebraska as she collected a spare to put McKendree on top. Mellott followed with a strike in the ninth frame. Clemmer, who was named the National Tenpin Coaches Association Division II/III Player of the Year days earlier, then stepped up and tossed the first two strikes in the 10th frame to lock down the hardware for McKendree. Clemmer was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player, and she was joined on the All-Tournament team by fellow freshman Taylor Bailey.
"That's what they do, they all pick each other up throughout the match," O'Keefe said. "It was beautiful to watch this week, because once you get to the [national] championship, you are competing in a different element."