CLAYTON, Mo. – After dropping into the elimination bracket following a loss to Arkansas State Thursday morning, North Carolina A&T’s bowling team made a few adjustments.
The adjustments worked and the Aggies defeated the St. Francis (Pa.) Red Flash 2-0 in an elimination mega-match to stay alive in the 2018 NCAA Women’s Bowling Championship Tournament at Tropicana Lanes.
Next up for A&T will be the No. 1 seed in the tournament and the No. 1 team in the nation, the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
The Aggies and the Cornhuskers will meet at 9 a.m. Friday at Tropicana. Nebraska, who has won five national championships, was knocked into the elimination bracket by No. 4 seed Vanderbilt 2-0.
“The good thing about this tournament is that it is double elimination, and we reminded them of that after our loss,” said N.C. A&T coach Kim Terrell-Kearney. “I have a group of athletes that never give up so losing earlier didn’t scare us. I think that showed this afternoon. A little more was called for, we needed to play better and we did.”
Terrell-Kearney did pick up on lessons learned after losing to Arkansas State 2-0. Late in the Bakers quad format, she inserted sophomore Tyra Merritt as her lead bowler and put sophomore Mia Pope into the lineup. Merritt had two strikes, a spare and an open frame as the lead bowler over Games 4 and 5 against the Red Wolves. Pope entered the lineup late in the morning and bowled a strike her first time out.
In the first game against the Red Flash, a traditional team contest, Merritt opened as the lead and Pope earned the No. 2 spot. Merritt served as the accelerant for the Aggies bowling six spares and five strikes to post a 225 as she led the Aggies to a 935-884 win over St. Francis (Pa.) without leaving an open frame. Pope chipped in with a 175 as she posted four strikes.
“Ty bowled amazing all day,” said Terrell-Kearney. “I would venture to say this is the best we’ve seen from her and this is the place to do it. Putting Ty first is really good because Ty gets fired up and keeps our energy going. Mia came in off the bench and bowled amazing. We have to find ways for her to get comfortable because when she gets comfortable she can play with anybody out there.”
The other strategic move for N.C. A&T was aimed against the lane patterns. N.C. A&T watched Thursday morning as ASU got off to a fast start. St. Francis (Pa.) did the same, posting five straight strikes to start the game. N.C. A&T needed to find a way to cease the momentum.
“This morning we started from the right based on our ball reaction on our practice day,” said Terrell-Kearney. “We were too slow getting adjusted and Arkansas State just kind of ran away from us. But this afternoon we started farther left. We’re good from in there. We also made ball changes and some surface changes during the breaks and it paid off.”
N.C. A&T also got a nice showing from their No. 4 and No. 5 bowlers in freshmen and Ana Olaya and Cameron Strombeck. Olaya posted a 195 that included seven spares and four strikes, while Strombeck scored 190 from her anchor position as she opened traditional team play with two straight strikes.
St. Francis (Pa.) recovered to win Game 1 of the Bakers quad, 169-157.
But nothing could deter Merritt. After opening Game 1 with an open frame, Merritt bowled nine straight strikes in leading the Aggies to the 1,083-925 win as the Aggies won the remaining four games, 201-193, 259-207, 220-155 and 246-201. Pope posted six strikes and four spares including four straight strikes to end the Bakers quad. Senior Brianna Boze also had a span where she bowled four straight strikes and Strombeck closed out Game 3 with four straight strikes.
The Aggies are 1-1 against the Cornhuskers this season with matches coming in traditional team play. “There is a sense of urgency with the mega-matches,” said Pope. “In a traditional format, all you have to worry about on the first day is seeding. But in the mega-match format, you either have to do this or you’re out.”
The Aggies did it and they’re still in.