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McKendree Athletics | April 14, 2018

McKendree returns to NCAA bowling championship

RICHMOND HEIGHTS, Mo. — For the second consecutive year, the McKendree University women's bowling team will be competing for an NCAA championship.

The Bearcats punched their ticket to the 2018 NCAA National Collegiate Bowling Championship contest Friday evening by sweeping past the top-seeded University of Nebraska Cornhuskers 2-0 in a semifinal contest held at Tropicana Lanes in Richmond Heights, Mo.

WATCH: 2018 Bowling Championship Day Two Recap

McKendree, which won its first NCAA national championship last April, will be looking to capture its second consecutive crown Saturday night against either Vanderbilt University or Sam Houston State University. The Commodores and Bearkats will meet Saturday morning at 9 a.m. to decide McKendree's opponent in the championship contest, which will air live on ESPNU beginning at 5:30 p.m.

"I'm just so proud of our girls," said McKendree women's bowling coach Shannon O'Keefe. "(McKendree director of bowling) Bryan (O'Keefe) and I told them at the beginning of the year that what we did last year just wasn't good enough. We needed to build on what we started last year. We had to raise the bar, had to work harder and smarter, and they really bought into that the whole year. It has been fun to watch them work. There were definitely hard times and tears of frustration along the way but that is what it takes. You learn from those tough times and don't let it defeat you. They have been resilient and I'm proud of the way they have carried that all season."

McKendree, the No. 2 seed in the eight-team field this year, won both its matches on Thursday to reach the national semifinal match Friday afternoon. Nebraska, the Bearcats' opponent in the 2017 NCAA Bowling Championship title match, was looking to avoid elimination against McKendree on Friday. The teams first battled in a traditional match, which was a tight contest throughout. Over the final six frames, the teams battled back and forth until McKendree forged a slight lead in the ninth frame.

FULL REPLAYS: Sam Houston State over Vanderbilt | McKendree over Nebraska

Then in the 10th frame, the Bearcats' final three bowlers of junior Lauren Pate, senior Jessica Mellott and sophomore Breanna Clemmer each threw two strikes to help seal the 1047-982 win to give McKendree a 1-0 lead in the match.

"The momentum started in the ninth frame," said O'Keefe. "We had a couple of ladies on strikes heading into the 10th frame and that's really what we needed to capitalize on. They did a great job of staying in the moment and taking it one shot at a time."

The second portion consisted of five Baker games, with the winner decided by total pin fall. Nebraska grabbed a 19-pin lead in the first game before McKendree grabbed the momentum. At one point in the second Baker game the Bearcats tossed nine consecutive strikes on their way to a 277-223 triumph to take a 35-pin lead. McKendree continued to increase its advantage and pulled away to win the second segment and finish off the sweep of the Huskers.

The 2018 NCAA National Collegiate Bowling Championship marks the Bearcats' third straight appearance in the national tournament field.