By Tim Robinson
Special for Second Half
CANTON – It was like old times for Battle Creek Pennfield’s boys bowling team at Friday’s Division 2 Team Finals at Super Bowl.
Winning the title was nothing new; the Panthers did it last year in Division 3. That made Pennfield the first school to win back-to-back bowling championships in different divisions.
The Panthers’ opponent in the Final was familiar, too. Pennfield and Coldwater are both members of the Interstate 8 Athletic Conference.
This season included, however, the first wins over the Cardinals in coach Rick Hinds’ career at Pennfield, and the Panthers took three of four matches – two during the regular season and the third Friday.
“It was tight all season,” Hinds said. “One of our wins was by one pin. We see them a lot.”
But it was a little nerve-wracking for the Panthers after a strong start.
Pennfield won the first Baker game 223-137, by an 86-pin difference, and as it turned out the Panthers needed all of them.
Coldwater made a furious comeback, winning the next Baker game by 25 pins and taking the regular games by 54.
But Pennfield’s strong start held, and the Panthers won by seven pins, 1,264-1,257.
That came in part due to a strong performance by freshman Carson Dyer, who was put in the lineup and finished with strikes in each of his final four frames.
“I plugged him in, and he finished,” Hinds said.
Senior Nick Hohnberger played a key role, having only one open frame during qualifying, while senior Sean Young and junior James Ruoss carried the team during a semifinal win over top seed Tecumseh.
“The competition was stiffer in Division 2,” Hinds said. “Nothing against Division 3, but the schools are bigger and a lot more competitive. I was told we were the smallest Division 2 school to win it. That’s a really good thing.”
On the girls side, the Division 2 trophy will find plenty of company at Flint Kearsley.
The top-seeded Hornets won their fifth consecutive Division 2 title and sixth in the last seven years by beating Tecumseh 1,186-990 in the title match.
Kearsley led by just 10 pins after the Baker games, then won by nearly 200 pins in individual play.
“What happened was I have girls who have experience and knew what to do when we got to the Finals,” Kearsley coach Rob Ploof said. “We filled a lot of frames in the first individual game.”
With the outcome determined, Ploof asked for volunteers among his starters to sit so senior Mary Wheeler and freshman Allison Robbins could get a chance to bowl in the Final.
Without hesitation, junior Alexis Roof and sophomore Imari Blond volunteered.
“They wanted to let our seniors finish,” Ploof said. “I preach all season long it’s about the team. I quote Bo (Schembechler, the late University of Michigan football coach) all the time. It’s the team, the team, the team. No one cares how you scored, as long as you win.”
Kearsley held off Sturgis in the quarterfinals.
“They gave us a run for our money,” Ploof said, “but Emma Boychuk, a senior, struck out in the 10th and won us the match. I give her a lot of credit.”
In the semifinals against Carleton Airport, senior Karlee Griffin led the way, with senior Barbara Hawes making a solid contribution as well.
The Hornets then knocked off Tecumseh, a team that gave Kearsley fits at the beginning of Ploof’s tenure. The first year his team bested the Indians was 2012, the first year Kearsley won the Division 2 title.
Ploof said his program has a strong feeder system at the elementary and middle school levels.
“When they get to the varsity level, they’re ready,” he said.
And for the fifth year in a row, the Hornets finished with a win.
“It never gets old,” Ploof said. “Never.”