McKendree University earned its first-ever NCAA national championship Saturday night with a 4-0 victory over the University of Nebraska in the title match of the 2017 NCAA Women’s Bowling Championships at the Raising Cane’s River Center in Baton Rouge, La.
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.
“I just can’t describe the feeling,” said McKendree women’s bowling coach Shannon O’Keefe said following the post-game 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.”
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 University 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 (NTCA) 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.
To reach the finals, McKendree had to defeat Sam Houston State University Saturday morning. In the final Battle of the Bearcats for the weekend, McKendree built a 3-1 lead only to see Sam Houston State win games five and six to tie things at 3-3. However, McKendree found a way to hold off Sam Houston State to win the final game by 13 pins to reach the championship contest against Nebraska.
In game one, McKendree opened strong with seven consecutive strikes. It turned out they needed every one as Sam Houston State rallied in the later frames before McKendree notched a 258-252 win.
Sam Houston State got on the board in game three, edging McKendree 208-200 to get within 2-1. McKendree controlled play in the fourth game and took advantage of an open frame by Sam Houston State in the ninth frame to collect a 192-168 victory to grab its 3-1 advantage. Sam Houston State regrouped by winning games five and six to force a winner-take-all contest in the seventh game.