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WICKLIFFE, Ohio — The University of Maryland Eastern Shore fought with everything it had on Friday evening (April 12) against Stephen F. Austin in the NCAA Championship semifinals. But for the first time this postseason with their backs against the wall, the fight the Hawks had just wasn’t enough.

Eastern Shore (77-46) dropped the opening Traditional match 974-852 and just couldn’t seem to find the game that pushed them to victory in the morning. The Hawks got it together and dug deep, coming out of the Team Baker match with a 1001-938 win to knot the Mega Match at 1-1.ncaa bowling

“We gave it all we had and you can’t do much more than that,” junior Brigitte Jacobs (Freeport, Illinois) said. “You just hope that it falls in your favor.” But the Ladyjacks got hot at precisely the wrong time for The Shore averaging a 218.25 over four Baker matches to sweep the Best-of-Seven Baker tiebreaker and move on to Saturday’s Championship final.

“Going into this tournament — I’ll be totally honest with you — our expectations were not very high,” senior Danielle August (Mililani, Hawaii) said. “We were just happy to be here and we were going to make the best out of this. We lost in the first round to McKendree and we thought ‘we have to get back in there and fight harder.’ Fighting is what got us through that Sam Houston match and then we showed up this morning and we had to fight harder again to get by a really scrappy Sacred Heart.

“We made it out alive and we came to this SFA match knowing that we were going to have to show up and we were going to have to give it our all, put our heart on the line and just go for it. We did that and it just didn’t fall in our favor. I’m O.K. with that. It sucks. I’ll probably go back to the hotel room and Brigitte and I will probably cry for a couple of minutes, but I’m O.K. with knowing that our efforts today went that way and that I can leave the program knowing that we are all fighters here and we don’t back down.” It was the last NCAA match for August who may have done the best bowling of her career this week, and classmates Quianna Macares (Willemstad, Curacao) and Alexandra Hernandez (Maracaibo, Venezuela). But the trio will compete at the United States Bowling Congress Championships April 17-20 in Dayton, Ohio.

It’s one more chance for this special group of young women to support one another through a last shot at a Championship before three move on and the five returners reload with a new class of freshman who will have to learn how to fly.

Head coach Kayla Bandy will be ready for that challenge, but isn’t ready yet to turn the page on this special season.

“This program has done a lot to me as a human,” Bandy said. “I have learned so much in six years that I can’t even begin to explain it in a two-minute segment. But the goal of this season was number one to make a schedule where the girls could learn to win by March because that is when it is important.

“Number two was ‘Kayla you are doing this all wrong.’ Every team here, we design our lives around athletics. It’s so hard not to and when we fail it is so hard. The last five seasons were just debilitating when we would lose. So my goal was to teach these girls that there is a healthy way to balance being competitive and surviving a year compassionately doing what you want to do.” This was Bandy’s third team to make it to the NCAA Championship in just six years at the helm and each has advanced all the way to the semifinals. They went in her first season (2013-14) and the juniors and seniors on this squad made a run in 2016-17 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Falling short again was nothing any of them wanted, but they were so much better equipped to deal with it this time around.

“I was crying because I told myself it was O.K. to lose, but I hate losing and it’s not O.K,” Bandy said. “But I told my little circle before I came here that, win or lose, I am at peace with this season. We accomplished goals this year. These girls learned how to win, they learned how to fight and they became better humans in the process.”

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