By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
BATTLE CREEK – MacKenzie Johnson wanted to thank Vandercook Lake girls coach Todd Reichard for making her into a championship bowler. And she wanted to thank assistant Kenla Kelly, her “emotional coach.”
But after feeling her spirits dive with a 125 game to start match play at Saturday’s Division 4 Singles Finals, she needed a little more help.
“I said to myself, what would Dad say to me, because freshman year he passed away four days after this event,” Johnson said. “And he’d tell me to calm down and really just be myself, and if I was myself, I could beat anyone.
“I just became myself, I made my shots, I calmed down and I let my emotions go.”
Brad Johnson died after a fight with inoperable brain cancer March 9, 2016. Just under two years later, his daughter came back to average 186 over her final seven match play games at M-66 Bowl and win this season’s championship.
“He’d say he’s very proud,” Johnson said. “This is all he ever wanted for me, to give it my best, and today I gave it my all.”
Johnson defeated Beaverton senior Victoria Ivey 410-323 in their championship match, rolling a match play-best 231 in her final game.
On the boys side, Genesee senior Luke Cantrell claimed the title with a 356-354 win over Vandercook Lake senior Keegan Campbell.
Campbell led the match 204-157 after the first of the two-game series. But Cantrell improved 42 pins over his final 10 frames for a second straight close finish – he also won his semifinal by just 10 pins.
Cantrell closed his career with four Finals singles appearances and had finished runner-up to St. Charles’ three-time champion Kyle Tuttle in 2016.
“I struggled, but I picked myself up,” Cantrell said. “In the qualifying (I) shot a couple 170s that kinda hurt me. My coaches helped a lot. I made a couple ball changes, and controlled my speed a little bit more.
“(I) just throw the ball good and never give up. In the ninth frame I had a really good feeling, and it came my way I guess.”
Johnson rolled her team’s high regular game as the Jayhawks won the team championship match Friday against Brown City.
She’d clinched the singles victory by the 10th frame Saturday, but still banged through three strikes to finish the day.
“I couldn’t believe our team did it yesterday; we all did it as one. Today, I surprised myself by doing this,” Johnson said. “At any point I could’ve opened, and she could’ve got me. It wasn’t over until that third shot in the 10th frame.
“I never count myself out, but I never count myself in until it’s done, either.”