By Chip Mundy
Special to Second Half
JACKSON – Fremont junior Sam Brandt’s opponent in the MHSAA singles bowling championship match Saturday seemingly had a hometown advantage.
However, despite living 150 miles away, Brandt feels right at home and has had plenty of success at Airport Lanes in Jackson, and he became just the third male to win an MHSAA team championship and a singles championship in the same season in bowling. The other two were Peter Duran of Sandusky (Class C-D in 2005) and Trevor Jackson of Hudsonville Unity Christian (Class B in 2004).
On Friday, Brandt led Fremont to the MHSAA team championship with a 268 in the final game, and Saturday he qualified ninth and swept four two-game matches to win the singles title. He defeated Zach UIicny of nearby Jackson Lumen Christi 414-332 in the championship match.
Last November, Brandt won a Youth Masters championship at Airport Lanes on nearly the identical pair of lanes, and last year he finished third in the MHSAA Finals singles event also at Airport Lanes.
“The shot was almost similar to Friday, but every pair was different,” said Brandt, whose brother Zach Brandt won the Division 3 singles championship in 2011 and was runner-up in 2010. “Everybody throws different, so it shifts different ways, and you play different lines. But nobody was playing the outside, so I kind of took that as an advantage.”
Brandt averaged 200.5 pins in six qualifying games to earn the ninth seed in match play. He averaged 199.2 in the next three two-game matches, setting up the championship clash with Ulicny, who had averaged 204.2 during the same stretch.
However, Ulicny had trouble striking on lanes 35-36, and Brandt took an early lead. Ulicny grabbed his only lead in the 10th frame of the first game when he struck three times – his first strikes of the championship match – to take a two-pin edge. However, Brandt, who was working on a strike in the ninth, also struck out in the 10th to take a 203-185 edge after one game.
“I just made sure that I had my line,” Brandt said of the key 10th frame. “I had to execute it, and I knew what I had to do.”
Ulicny started the second game with three consecutive open frames while Brandt had a double and a spare to build a huge lead. Brandt poured it on with three strikes in a row late for a 211-147 edge.
Brandt, a right-hander with a high backswing, is patient on the lanes and takes considerable time before starting his approach.
“I’m just trying to clear my head and focus on my mark,” he said. “I know what I have to do; I just have to focus.
“I just run through the steps in my head and just relax – you have all the time in the world until you throw your shot.”
Heather Bruci of Richmond came close to duplicating Brandt’s double-championship weekend in the girls singles. Although she won that event, her Richmond team lost on Friday in the Semifinals after outdistancing the field in qualifying by more than 300 pins to earn the No. 1 seed.
“This doesn’t make up for it – yea, it’s awesome to be a state champion, but it would have been even greater to be the team state champion,” said Bruci, a senior. “We really worked hard at what we do, and it was really close. I honestly think we could have won it, but we just got lazy.”
Bruci averaged 199.5 pins in the six-game qualifying session and was seeded No. 2 for match play. After an 89-pin victory in the round of 16, Bruci had to face teammate and good friend Noelle Scheuer in the Quarterfinals. Bruci had games of 202 and 243 to sideline Scheuer 445-382.
“Bowling my teammate was hard because I’ve bowled with Noelle since I was 3 years old,” Bruci said. “We’ve always worked up to this; it’s always been me and her. We always said we were going to bowl each other in the state championship, and it happened.
“I knew I wanted it that bad, so I went out and got it.”
That set up a Semifinal match against Victoria Bender of Croswell-Lexington, which defeated Richmond in the Team Semifinals on Friday and went on to win the team championship. Bruci won with a two-game total of 334-313, but a split in the ninth frame of the second game made it interesting.
“I was just thinking to save myself, and I have a chance to win it,” she said.
Richmond and Croswell-Lexington are members of the Blue Water Area Conference, and the girls on the bowling teams know each other well.
“I have a lot of respect for them; they’re great friends of mine, and they’re always nice to me and say congratulations and cheer me on, and I cheer them on, too,” Bruci said of Croswell-Lexington. “Victoria and I are really good friends, but when it comes to competition, there are no friends. You have to do what you have to do, and you can get together after.”
In the championship match, Bruci had a strike or nine-count on 19 of her first 20 first-ball deliveries before leaving a split in the final frame of the second game.
“My coach told me I had already won, so I wanted to go out like a champion should go out,” said Bruci, who defeated Hannah Chase of Alma 428-323 in the championship match. “I threw a split, but I’m still happy with everything.
“I pretty much threw the same shot all day. I made an adjustment of three to four boards all day, and my shot was in the oil, so I was good all day.”
Bruci averaged 199.4 for 14 games on Saturday.
“I’ve been here all four years, and this is the first year I qualified for singles,” she said. “I walked in and thought I was not going to walk away without a state championship.”
PHOTO: MHSAA Division 3 singles champions Heather Bruci of Richmond and Sam Brandt of Fremont.