IRVING – For the first time in program history, the Sam Houston bowlers are Southland Conference champs. The Kats outdueled top-seeded Vanderbilt in Sunday’s championship to claim their first league title in five tries. 


In a match that was fitting of the top two teams in the conference, the Bearkat and Commodores went the distance in the mega match, going to a seventh game in the baker match before a winner was determined.


After the two teams split the first two rounds of the match, they faced off in a best-of-seven baker match. Sam Houston won the first two games to take the early lead. Vandy bounced back and took the next two to level the match. The Kats took game five and Vandy won game 6 pushing to the decisive 7th game.


Vanderbilt, who had come out of the losers bracket, took the early lead and looked to be in position to force the final if necessary match. But then Bearkats caught fire. Madysen Keller had a strike in the fourth frame to start a run of six in a row, with Keller capping it with her second strike of the game. They needed everyone one of those strikes as well, holding off Vanderbilt 230-225 to clinch the title.


“All weekend, that team had a never-say-die attitude and approach,” said head coach Brad Hagen. “It was a long grueling match and to be able to dig in a make those shots we did, with that on the line, says a lot about this group. I’m so proud of what they were able to do today.”


Keller was named to the all-tournament team and Bea Hernandez was tournament MVP. 


In the opening round of the championship match, Vanderbilt took the early lead and built it to 61 pins heading into the final frame. The Kats made a late charge, but the Commodores held on for a 921-907 win.


In the second round, five total pin baker games, Vandy jumped out to a big lead of 34 pins after the first game. The Kats quickly regained the lead with a 215 in game two to take a 14-pin lead. Vandy chipped away in game three and after a monster game in the fourth, the Commodores took a 14-pin lead into the fifth game. Three strikes early and four late were enough as the Kats edged out the win by just two pins.


With the win, the Bearkats will receive the automatic bid to the NCAA Championships in April. On Wednesday they will learn if they will be one of the four teams invited to the final site in Cleveland or will have to play a qualifying match the week before the championship.