The #16 Valparaiso bowling team is one of just three squads still alive at the inaugural Southland Bowling League Championship, as the Crusaders will bowl for the right to hoist the first league title trophy on Sunday.
Valpo will face top-seeded Arkansas State, the nation’s third-ranked team, on Sunday morning at 9:35 a.m. With a win, the Crusaders would advance to take on #6 Vanderbilt, the tournament’s third seed, and would need to take down the Commodores twice to earn the league championship. Valpo owns a 1-4 record this season against Arkansas State and is looking for its first win this year versus Vanderbilt as well.
The Crusaders opened the inaugural league championship event, held in Houston, Texas, against #7 Sam Houston State and dropped a 4-2 decision in the best-of-seven baker format. Valpo bounced back from falling in the first two games to claim games three and four, posting a 235 in the latter game to even the match at two games apiece. But the Bearkats would edge out the Crusaders by three pins in game five and then six pins in game six to send Valpo into the back draw.
“We started out slow today against Sam Houston State,” said Crusader head coach Matt Nantais. “We made some inconsistent shots and missed some easy spares, which contributed to the loss.”
The double-elimination tournament continued for Valpo against Louisiana Tech in the second match, and while the Crusaders claimed game one, they would fall behind 2-1 in the match. But Valpo would not go down that easy, earning a 26-pin win in game four and then coming through with a couple of big efforts, posting scores of 237 and 244 in games five and six to finish off a 4-2 win and stay alive.
“The next match against Louisiana Tech, we started out slow against them as well,” said Nantais. “We were not attacking the lane pattern, but once we changed our mindset, we turned things around and went on to the win.”
The win moved the Crusaders into a second back draw match against Monmouth. Valpo wasn’t at its sharpest, as the Crusaders finished the first three games all below 190, but it was enough to take a 3-0 lead over the Hawks. A 214 in game four closed out the four-game sweep and advanced the Crusaders into a rematch with the Bearkats for the right to advance to Sunday.
“Against Monmouth, it was a grind,” said Nantais. “We won the match 4-0, but all four games went down to the end. They are a much improved team over previous years.”
The rematch with Sam Houston State got off on the wrong foot, as Valpo fell in each of the first two games. A 193 was enough for the Crusaders to win game three, but Valpo dropped a 207-187 decision in game four to teeter at the brink of elimination. Games of 201 and 199 gave the Crusaders comfortable wins to send the match to a winner-take-all seventh game, and in that contest, Valpo took home a 202-174 win to finish up the 4-3 come-from-behind win and send the Crusaders to the final three.
“The Monmouth win set us up for a rematch against Sam Houston, a team which we have struggled against over the last two years,” said Nantais. “We did not execute well the first four games, and found ourselves down 3-1. I told the team that we were not done with what we came to accomplish, and we had more than us to bowl for. They came back and won the next three games to defeat the reigning national champions, and move us on to tomorrow against Arkansas State.”
Valparaiso (50-61) looks to claim the league title on Sunday. Should the Crusaders advance to the championship round against Vanderbilt, the match(es) would be streamed live on Bowl.com.