CHESAPEAKE, Virginia — Three days of bowling for a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Championship came down to three balls from the right hand of a freshman who didn’t join the University of Maryland Eastern Shore until the beginning of the spring semester.
Trailing North Carolina A&T State 200-161 and building on a spare by junior Brigitte Jacobs (Freeport, Illinois) heading into the 10th and final frame of game seven, freshman Chloe Skurzynski (Carlisle, Pennsylvania) stared down the lanes needing a strike on the first ball and 20 total pins for the win.
She rolled the strike on the first ball, followed that up with a second and — after a brief explosion of emotion by the Hawks — finished out the game with seven pins on the last ball for a 208-200 score, a 4-3 victory, the MEAC title and a spot in the NCAA Championship.
“She carried those last two shots too,” Hawks coach Kayla Bandy said. “She didn’t just strike. She made two incredible shots as if she has done it a million times.”
With the Hawks playing catch up, the Aggies’ anchor bowler rolled a nine on her first ball of the 10th frame and then missed the single-pin spare leaving the Hawks the opening. Skurzynski knew the situation had changed, but had already established the mental approach she’d need to strike out in the 10th to tie the score.
“If she would have made that spare and then struck, I would have needed to punch out to tie,” Skurzynski said. “I had that mentality already when she went up for her first shot in the 10th. I wanted to go up and I wanted to punch out regardless of what she did because we are bowling our own game. It is not good for our heads to pay too much attention to what they are doing.”
Despite the approach, the emotion of the moment and the adrenaline on the last ball turned out to be too much to achieve the final strike, but the seven was more than she needed anyway. Skurzynski was named the tournament’s Outstanding Performer for her efforts and Jacobs joined her on the all-tournament team.
“Bowling has obviously always been a big part of my life,” Skurzynski said. “But this atmosphere is like no other. You are never going to experience this unless you bowl in college. When I came here, I don’t know if I want to say it was helpful that it was the middle of the season, but there was no awkward first encounters and it clicked so well right away.
“I was up there and I knew even if I didn’t do what I needed to do, these girls were still going to be behind me and love me and I love them so much. They are an amazing group of girls and I wouldn’t want anyone else behind me.”
The Hawks won their 10th MEAC title overall and second in three years. Two years ago, they defeated the Aggies 4-1 and then fell to them by the same score last season.
“I am just really impressed with how the girls worked together,” Bandy said. “We made a lot of change early in the match and this entire weekend. Our players who are usually really on, weren’t consistently on the whole weekend, so I knew I could make a change in the lineup today and the girls would be somewhat confident in it because we had made so many changes throughout the weekend.”
The lineup evolved throughout the day, but the seventh-game group was MEAC Bowler of the Year Cayla Hicks (Salem, Virginia), freshman Isabel Hughes (Raleigh, North Carolina), then Paulina Torres (Ponce, Puerto Rico), followed by Jacobs and Skurzynski.
The big finish was the culmination of what had been a tightly-contested, back-and-forth affair. North Carolina A&T State had strikes in frames 7, 8 and 9, before Ana Olaya struck and spared in the final frame to lead it to a 221-179 victory to begin the match.
But the Hawks bounced back to take the second game 189-185, before the Aggies won the third game, 212-156 — and did so without leaving any open frames.
Each time the Aggies pushed ahead, The Shore responded as the team physically and emotionally held each other together through the ups and downs. Every time there was a bad shot, every time there was a good one, they were there for each other.
“I feel like this team has been super close,” Jacobs said. “We were all nervous when we added Chloe because here was another person and how would she change things? But she just came in and has been great and it has been fun. She is a lot of fun and she helps us, but not just with her bowling also because she is just fun to be around and it lightens it up.”
Sturzynski shined in the end of the fourth game on the lanes, giving a preview of what was to come, going strike-spare in the final frame to give the Hawks a 192-184 win to tie the Baker best-of-seven match at two apiece.
Through that fourth game, the team playing on the right lane had won every game and the lane was playing more than 100 pins better over the course of the match.
The Hawks managed to carry momentum into the fifth game despite being on the left lane, taking advantage of the Aggies leaving the seventh frame open by recording strikes in frames 8 and 9 to win the game 200-178 and take a 3-2 lead in the match.
“Saturday, I felt like we weren’t taking advantage of any opportunity that we had,” Jacobs said. “Everybody had opportunities that we missed. I was just hoping that today we could just make good shots. The pins will fall as they may, but you have to make good shots to get there.”
But as the Hawks went back to the right side, they found that — perhaps due in part to the ESPN lights — the oil on the right lane seemed to be drying up quicker. They struggled to find their way on the lane and fell behind quickly.
Meanwhile, North Carolina A&T State converted on frames 1 through 9 in game six to win (203-118) and tie the match at 3-3, setting up the decisive fourth game.
“Personally I didn’t think I was making terrible shots during that game, but I threw it right more than I wanted to” Jacobs said. “I would have expected it to hit the head pin, but it just didn’t.”
Given lane choice heading into the final game by virtue of entering the final through the winner’s bracket, the Aggies elected to remain on the left lane they had just won on.
“We were like: ‘Now what?,’” Jacobs said. “We needed to figure it out, so it was essentially just hit the head pin and pick up your spare. That has been our thing the whole season, because if you hit the head pin and pick up the spare you are going to go places.”
Maryland Eastern Shore opened the final game with three straight strikes, before the Aggies stormed back with three straight strikes of their own in frames 5, 6 and 7 and took over the momentum and the lead. Hughes left the seventh frame open, seemingly opening the door for the Aggies. But her teammates were there to pick her up.
“Isabel was really upset about it, but we have all been there,” Jacobs said. “It is going to happen. You just have to learn how to rebound from it. At that point we were like: Let’s just fill the frames here and see what happens. Just be you, go out and bowl and it worked out for us.
“I feel like as team, we are close and we are tight. I feel like that helps us. Before, we might have hung onto that more than we should have and that would have resulted in more bad shots.”
Bandy was named the tournament’s Outstanding Coach. Joining Skurzynski and Jacobs on the all-tournament team were Delaware State’s Alexis Neuer, and Olaya and Ericka Quesada from North Carolina A&T State.