By Mark Meyer
Special for Second Half
LANSING – The Division 4 runner-up banner hanging in the Ithaca gymnasium served as a reminder for coach Dan Macha and his bowlers.
A gentle reminder that there was still some work to be done in order to climb that final step toward an MHSAA girls bowling championship.
“We finished second in 2010 after having finished third in the Regional, just like we did this year,” said Macha, now in his eighth year with the program. “We didn’t want a repeat. We wanted to come here (Royal Scot) and finish the job.”
The Yellowjackets won their first MHSAA Finals bowling title in school history Friday afternoon by defeating rival New Lothrop by three pins in the championship match, 1,141-1,138.
“When we were up 50 pins after the two Baker games we felt pretty good,” said senior captain Channing Gulick, “but we knew we had to stay focused. We know them (New Lothrop) and how they bowl, and they weren’t going to make it easy for us in the final game.”
Gulick, who played the role of super-sub all season long, bowled what Macha called “an incredibly clutch game” in the final game of the qualifying round to vault the Yellowjackets into the second seed for the match play Quarterfinals. Gulick rolled a 229 – 80 pins above her average – to help Ithaca leapfrog five spots prior to the start of match play.
And when freshman Bethany Slater struggled in the first three frames of the Final against New Lothrop, Gulick came off the bench to complete a 160 game. Junior Hayley Sigafoose – who reached the Semifinals as an individual on Saturday – led Ithaca with a 176 in the championship match. Sigafoose had plenty of support from Shannon Whitaker (161), Heidi Seeley (154) and Arianna Woodrow (139).
New Lothrop worked its way to the championship match with victories over top-ranked Vandercook Lake in the Quarterfinals (1,178-1,081) and Sandusky in the Semifinals (1,142-1,125). Kelsey Moore led all bowlers in the championship match with a 236 while teammate Mattie Stewart rolled a 171.
“I think Coach (Macha) might have been a little concerned after we finished third at the Regional, but we knew we had the potential to turn it around here,” Slater said. “We had a lot of confidence and very little drama all season long.”
Macha said team unity played a big part in the MHSAA championship run.
“Trust Everyone and Myself (TEAM), that’s what we preached,” said Macha. “The coaches trusted each other and so did the girls. I could not be more happy or proud of what we accomplished.”
For Sandusky senior Brett Hancock, the path to his team’s first MHSAA title since 2005 was a smooth and laughter-filled ride, built around inside jokes shared by teammates and a mutual respect for their talent and ability on the lanes.
“You don’t think about it (state title) too much when you’re bowling,” Hancock said, “but then you wake up the next day and realize you’re the state champion. That’s a pretty good feeling, no question about it.”
Sandusky’s route to the title match victory over St. Charles (1,331-1,233) went directly through Bad Axe, a team with which the Redskins had split two previous matches this season.
“We lost to them at Regionals so it was definitely time to make up for it,” Hancock said. “We were feeling good all day, cracking a few jokes and staying loose.”
Hancock, who averaged 211.5 during the season, rolled a 266 in the final game of the Quarterfinal match against Niles Brandywine. Hancock’s only regret was not striking out in the 10th frame. However, junior teammate Cody Johnston completed his 10th frame triple to roll an identical 266 and give the Redskins the momentum they needed heading into the Semifinal match with Bad Axe.
“We had a very good week of practice and we were as ready as we were going to be,” said Johnston, whose older brother Tyler won the Division 4 singles title in 2012. “Our starting five all averaged 200 or better this season, so we knew we had the talent to win it if we concentrated on filling the frames.”
Senior Logan Hughes led Sandusky with a 245 in the championship victory over St. Charles, while Hancock and Johnston rolled 207 and 194, respectively.
Sandusky coach Jeremy Johnston, Cody’s father, singled out Hughes and freshman Dakota Pallas as key contributors to the victory over St. Charles.
“We put Dakota in the lineup because one of our regular starters was struggling,” Johnston said, “and he responded by doing exactly what we needed. Logan’s 245 gave us a strong game at the top of the lineup, and so it all worked out well.”
St. Charles junior Kyle Tuttle, who won his third straight singles title Saturday, led his team with a 214 in the championship match. St. Charles had advanced to the Final with a Quarterfinal victory over third-seeded St. Louis (1,213-1,184) and a Semifinal win over second seed Vandercook Lake (1,442-1,297).
Johnston, head coach since 2009, was an assistant coach for Sandusky’s runner-up finishes in 2004 and 2008.
“We thought coming out of Regionals that we had a pretty shot to win it all,” Johnston said, “but you still have to execute the shots when they count. This team had good chemistry, and they fed off each other. When we needed a strike or big shot to get us going, we got it.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Ithaca girls bowling team. (Middle) Sandusky boys bowling team.