By Mark Meyer
Special for Second Half
LANSING – St. Louis senior Riley Smith ended her first and only season of varsity bowling with an MHSAA Division 4 Finals championship and a smile as wide as Lane 52 at Royal Scot Bowl.
Smith’s high game of 190 – more than 30 pins above her season average – helped the Sharks defeat Clinton 1,197 to 1,072 on Friday afternoon for the school’s first-ever team title.
“We were very nervous,” Smith said, “but in the end we were able to relax and have fun. As a team, I think that made a big difference for us.”
St. Louis advanced out of the qualifying rounds in seventh place, 92 pins ahead of Clinton. The Sharks defeated Sandusky (1,179-1,168) in the Quarterfinals and Tri-Valley Conference West rival Ithaca (1,143-1,122) in the Semifinals en route to the title match.
Clinton, meanwhile, dispatched top-seeded Rogers City (1,087-1,057) and Burton Bendle (1,111-1,072) after having qualified for the final eight by a mere 13 pins over Flint Beecher.
“Our goal was to come in and take it one step at a time,” said St. Louis coach Kyle Woodcock, “but we almost didn’t make it through the qualifying. We struggled in the Baker games early on.
“But I told the girls, once you get into the brackets it’s anyone’s game. We covered our spares and made the shots we needed.”
St. Louis rolled Baker games of 185 and 188 before closing with a regular game of 824. Clinton had Baker games of 177 and 178, and a team game of 717.
Smith had plenty of help from her Sharks teammates: Kodi O’Boyle (177), Kaitlyn Howd (176), Jasmine Lowe (148) and Kaycee Paksi (133).
Woodcock has led St. Louis to the MHSAA Finals four times in 12 years, but this was the first time the Sharks advanced beyond the round of eight.
“It’s a pretty special group of girls,” said Woodcock, whose team finished the regular season 14-2 overall and second in the TVC West behind Ithaca. “We had a really strong team last year and everyone graduated. So, with the exception of Jasmine Lowe, this was a completely new group.”
Junior Miranda Porath, who won the singles title at the Jackson Regional, tied Smith for high-game honors at 190. Alissa Ayling (147), Amanda Briggs (147), Elizabeth Heimerdinger (132) and Ashley Richardson (101) completed the scoring for Clinton.
Sophomore Zach White, meanwhile, helped Hanover-Horton complete its ‘dream’ season by defeating Bad Axe 1,319-1,273 in the Division 4 boys championship match.
White’s strike in the final frame closed out the victory for Hanover-Horton, which got off to a slow start in the qualifying rounds but finished seventh to secure a spot in the Quarterfinals.
Hanover-Horton edged St. Louis 1,277-1,266 to reach the Semifinals, and then took down Whittemore Prescott 1,125-1,114 to gain the Final.
“Back-to-back win by 11 pins each was a little too close for comfort,” said Smith of the first two rounds in bracket play.
His match-winning strike, though, was never in doubt.
“I’ve dreamed about holding the ball at that particular moment, on these lanes, for the entire year,” said White, who rolled a game-high 247 in the Final. “I wasn’t going to let it get away.”
Hanover-Horton coach Joe Childs said afterward he thought the Regional championship the week before was going to be the highlight of the season. Trailing Bad Axe by 54 pins in the Final after the two Baker games, he decided to flip his lineup from bottom to top.
“I was going to be either a hero or zero,” Childs said.
Scott Vacek’s 212 gave Hanover-Horton a strong pair of scores at the top, but Childs was also quick to praise the games of Sam Wyckoff (188), Alex Wyckoff (171) and James McVay (168) in the 986-886 title winner.
“Last year we were more talented and had depth on the bench,” said Childs, who has recovered fully after having suffered a stroke in December 2013. “This team really meshed well. They were happy to be here and performed well.”
Bad Axe qualified fifth and then defeated Dryden (1,402-1,302) and Niles Brandywine (1,260-1,123) in bracket play. The Hatchets, who rolled Baker games of 202 and 185 in the Final, combined for a balanced scoresheet led by Nick Kociba (185), David Errer (184), Jeryl Reed (181), Ethan Sobczak (176) and Jason Osantowski (160).