Hamilton Township, N.J. (March 24, 2019) -- A resilient Mount St. Mary's team comprised of all freshmen competing in the program's inaugural season took No. 18 Sacred Heart to the wire in the Northeast Conference (NEC) Championship on Sunday, but the Pioneers were able to prevail and take home the title to earn the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Championship.
The Mountaineers close out their impressive first season with a 78-39 record, which marks the most wins ever for a first-year program in the NEC.
After losing their opening round match on Friday, the Mountaineers showed their resilience and took down defending NEC Champion No. 9 Saint Francis U and four-time NEC Champion No. 8 Fairleigh Dickinson in elimination matches on Saturday to earn a spot in the Championship round.
Entering Sunday needing to beat an undefeated Sacred Heart team in two rounds to claim the title, the Mountaineers continued to battle facing yet another possible elimination. The opening round on Sunday consisted of a mega match, with the Mount needing to win two of three legs to force a best-of-seven winner-take-all round.
The first leg of the mega match, which was traditional team format, came down to the wire. Tamera Stanton picked up a tough split conversion on her final ball, and Rebecca Dodson followed by knocking down nine pins on her first shot of the final frame to secure the 914-900 win for the Mountaineers and give them a 1-0 edge in the mega match. Danielle Milo led the Mount with a 213 in the match, while Barbara Hawes shot a 192 and Kayla Durbala registered a 181.
Sacred Heart was able to even up the mega match at 1-1 with a victory in the second leg, the quint baker format. The Pioneers held a slight 712-710 edge heading into the final game of the quint baker. The last game was even until the final frames when SHU took control with some clutch shots. After a strike in the ninth for the Pioneers, Rachel Bamford punched out the 10th frame to clinch the 935-911 win in the second leg for SHU.
With the mega match knotted up at 1-1, the decisive moments would come down to the third leg, which was the best-of-seven baker format. A victory by the Mountaineers would force a best-of-seven winner-take-all round, while a win from SHU would clinch the tournament title for the Pioneers.
SHU won the opening match of the third leg by a 216-167 margin to take the early advantage, but the Mount bounced back with a big 234-182 victory to even the best-of-seven at 1-1. Bamford came up big for the Pioneers in game three with a pair of strikes to begin the 10th frame, as the Pioneers pulled out the 176-168 win. In game four, Dodson countered with her own clutch performance in the final frame as she posted a turkey to secure the win and knot up the best-of-seven series at 2-2. The Mountaineers rolled eight strikes, including a stretch of six straight, in game five to post the big 235-211 win and take a 3-2 advantage, but SHU edged the Mountaineers by a 210-207 margin in game six to tie the series back up at 3-3 heading into the final game. In fitting fashion, game seven came down to the final frames once again. In the ninth frame, Stanton came up with a much-needed strike to keep the Mount alive. In the 10th, the Mountaineers got a bit of bad luck as Dodson's first shot hit the pocket but the ten-pin didn't fall, which secured the 211-193 victory and the NEC Championship title for Sacred Heart. The Pioneers will head to the NCAA Championship in Wickliffe, Ohio on April 11-13
Dodson paced the Mount with a 21.69 baker frame average on the day, while Milo and Stanton each posted a 20.50 baker frame average.
Dodson will represent the Mountaineers at the Intercollegiate Singles Championship (ISC) finals in Dayton, Ohio on April 17-21 after earning a qualifying bid earlier this month.