WICKLIFFE, Ohio — The University of Maryland Eastern Shore had its back against the wall Thursday (April 11) afternoon against Sam Houston State at the NCAA Championships. Facing elimination with a loss, the Hawks (76-45) picked up a 2-0 victory and sent the Bearkats home instead.
But they did so in dramatic fashion.
After winning the Traditional match (987-897) behind a 237 in the No. 3 hole by junior Cayla Hicks (Salem, Virginia) and a 202 in the leadoff spot by senior Danielle August (Mililani, Hawaii), the Baker battle with the Bearkats got tight.
San Houston State jumped out to a quick 203-169 lead after one game and it went back and forth from there until the two teams entered the final game with The Shore holding a one-pin advantage (727-726).
Nine frames later, Hicks was standing on the approach trying to find the line and the strikes she needed to prevent a best-of-seven Baker match as a tiebreaker.
“I just tried to stay within myself,” she said. “I was trying not to listen to anything except for my own thoughts and just go through my pre-shot routine, do the same things, breathe and just make the shot and hope it does what it was supposed to do.” She tacked the first strike on the back of August’s spare, then followed that up with another to clinch it by the slimmest of margins before a seven on a fill shot gave the Hawks the final eight-pin victory.
“It was kind of like in the MEAC Championship — that winning moment,” Hicks said. “It is as important as that is because you are advancing another day. It’s cool to know that now you have one win under your belt. You know what it feels like. You know what to do under the pressure situations. It’s an amazing feeling to know that this hard work we have had this entire season is paying off as long as we keep doing our job.” That job was done a far cry better in the afternoon than in the morning’s loss to McKendree. After getting buried mathematically and mentally under a barrage of strikes by the Bearcats in the morning Eastern Shore regrouped over Burgers, fries and pact to get back to what got them this far.
“I think the second match we really were behind each other more,” Hicks said. “We were more focused on the person before us rather than ourselves and the moment. That helped the momentum build throughout the lineup rather than each individual person. The second set when we started bowling, I was just making better shots overall. I was able to use that energy into my teammates rather than trying to focus on what I could do better.” August set the tone from the start at leadoff, and Brigitte Jacobs (Freeport, Illinois) followed behind with a 192, but it was Hicks’ start to the match as well as the five strikes she strung together in the middle of it (frames 4-8) that resulted in the high score and momentum heading into the second part of the Mega Match.
“After (Traditional), I knew that I was in the right place in the lane, but it was just a matter of gaining the confidence that I was doing my job and that I knew what I was supposed to be doing,” Hicks said. “Going into the second match, I just needed to find the confidence, so it was a matter of throwing it as hard as I could and letting the ball do the work.” After not starting that way, Hicks found herself bowling anchor late in the second match — a result of how she had been throwing the ball all afternoon. It’s not a role she finds herself in often, but she tried not to let it alter her approach.
“I try not to look at it any differently,” Hicks said. “It is the same bowling first as it is bowling last. They are all important. I knew that I needed to make not necessarily better shots, but I knew that they meant more at the end if we needed it, so I tried to encourage my teammates to make those good shots in the beginning of the game, so that it didn’t come down to the end.” Of course, it did. But she came through.
All of the Hawks in the lineup came up big at one point or another against Sam Houston and in the Baker match no bowler left more than two opens. Those not in the lineup at any given time were a big part of keeping the energy up and encouraging the momentum to build.
The Hawks enter play in the morning (April 12) knowing that one Mega Match loss still sends them back to Princess Anne without the elusive championship, but the path to winning instead is very clear.
The next step is to defeat Sacred Heart at 9 a.m. then comes whoever still stands in their way.
“We need to keep making good shots,” Hicks said. “That’s really all it is. On fresh, we have a really good look. It’s just making our spares staying within ourselves.
“We know what to do and we have prepared the entire season for this.”