Megan Buja had a great run in her four NCAA Championships.

April 11, 2014

WICKLIFFE, Ohio - Sometimes a team just has your number. That was true today for the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES), who battled back from an opening loss to Sam Houston State, to face them in a rematch in the semi-final round that would end the Hawks' championship hopes in third place.

UMES returned from the lunch break firing on all cylinders. They were taking on the nation's top-ranked team and No. 2-seeded Arkansas State University (ASU). The Red Wolves battled with the Hawks, but in the end there was just too much fire power from UMES.

Coach Kayla Bandy inserted freshman Justyne Falbo (Greensburg, Pa.) into the lineup in the second spot for the match after seeing her warm-up well. The move paid off. The Hawks took game one 247-174, tossing all strikes to just a pair of spares and an open, which came on the first frame and did no harm.

In game two UMES continued to bowl well, shooting a 202, but ASU took advantage of opens from Falbo and Tatiana Munoz (Ibague Tolima, Colombia) to gain the edge and tie the match at one game each.

The third game was all Hawks. So much so, that the only blemish was a wobbly 10-pin in the first frame by Megan Buja (Rockford, Ill.). After that, no one missed, and UMES shot a tournament high 290, easily rolling past ASU who put up a respectable 248.

Game four went to the Hawks again as they rode the momentum of the 290 all the way to a 244, opening just one frame on a split by Munoz and one on a split on the second and third balls of the tenth frame from anchor Mariana Alvarado (Leon, Mexico). That was significant because until then Alvarado hadn't missed, tossing 14 straight strikes in the match.



Game five saw the Red Wolves make a charge and roll a 226. UMES split twice, once from Falbo and once from Valerie Riggin (Vista, Calif.) and although the team covered them with eight strikes, their 215 total was 12 pins shy of the win.

The final game was clean for the Hawks who tossed six strikes and five spares (including the fill), to shoot 228 and top ASU's 206, taking the match 4-2 and eliminating the Red Wolves from the championship.

"We bowled really well that match," said Bandy. "We were really in the pocket and when we missed a little the team had each other's back."

But the thorn in the side of the Hawks came a calling. The Bearkats of Sam Houston State, who had a bye in the previous round, was ready for UMES. On the same lanes that the Hawks lost to them the first match of the day, they would defeat Maryland Eastern Shore 4-0 to advance to the television finals and become the first eight-seed to ever make it that far in the 11 years of the event.

Game one was close all the way. The Hawks were clean until the ninth frame when Munoz split and opened the frame. Despite eight strikes and a pair of spares from Falbo, it was just enough for the Bearkats to take advantage of and win 230-221.

Game two wasn't pretty for either team. Sam Houston State shot just a 188, but the Hawks couldn't take advantage. The sure-firing Alvarado opened in the tenth, Falbo opened in the sixth and Munoz and Riggin both split but at least recovered to spare their frames. UMES mustered just a 166, tossing only three strikes and never stringing them together.

Game three was another nail-biter. Victoria Jones (Baltimore, Md.) subbed in for Falbo and tossed a strike and a spare. The Hawks threw six strikes, but back-to-back opens in the fifth and sixth frames could not be recovered from and Sam Houston jumped out to a 224-212 win and went up 3-0 in the match.

Game four was more of the same as the Hawks opened just once and tossed five strikes and five spares, but the Bearkats could anticipate their first trip to the championship match and pulled away to win 223-196.

"I can't complain," said Bandy. "I wanted to win and it's hard to talk about right now, but I think overall we bowled the best weekend of the whole season. We were amazing on Thursday and today we really dominated in our wins, but for some reason Sam Houston State gets amped to bowl us and while we had a few tough games against them we never bowled bad. But today was their day and I give them credit for making the finals, my hat is off to them."

The loss ends the NCAA Championship hopes of the Hawks in third-place in the semi-final round. It also ends the NCAA portion of the season for the lone senior Megan Buja. She had a pretty good run in the event, winning the title in 2011 and 2012 and this season shooting the high average and high game on the team games. She finished third her other two appearances, collected three NCAA Elite 89 awards and an All-America honors along the way.

But it is not over for the Lady Hawks, who leave Sunday for Reno, Nev. to bowl in the United States Bowling Congress (USBC) Intercollegiate Team Championships. Last season, after being bounced in the semi-finals of the NCAA Championships, they went to the USBC Collegiate event and claimed their fifth National Championship in school history.

They have one senior that can think of no better way to finish her career than with a sixth title.

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