By Chip Mundy
Special to Second Half
JACKSON – After the first of the two-game championship match Saturday afternoon, Sam Brandt of Fremont had a 28-pin lead in his quest to become the first back-to-back boys singles champion in MHSAA history.
Sophomore Tyler Kolassa of Warren Lincoln had other ideas.
Kolassa struck in seven of the first eight frames of the second game and went on to defeat Brandt 429-403 to win the MHSAA Division 3 boys singles championship at Airport Lanes in Jackson.
It was a little closer than the final score indicates, however. Brandt stormed back into contention with five strikes in a row, and while a tough task, could have won the match with a double and decent count in the 10th frame.
Brandt’s delivery came in high and left a 6 pin, which he missed. Kolassa won the second game 245-191 to earn the 26-pin victory.
Unlike some who choose not to watch their opponent in a situation like that, Kolassa could not take his eyes off Brandt at the match-deciding moment.
“I watched him; I was right there with him,” Kolassa said.
Kolassa was seeded sixth after averaging 200.8 in the six-game qualifying session. He started with 134 but never went below 198 in the remaining five games of qualifying.
“After that 134 I came back with 246 and just carried on my day,” Kolassa said.
He shared the same pair with Brandt during qualifying and saw first-hand what the smooth right-hander and defending champion was capable of on the lanes.
Brandt qualified fourth and only a 146 final game kept him from being the top seed. He averaged 205.1 in qualifying and was just 16 pins behind qualifying leader Adam Wojtylko of Flat Rock. Brandt had his toughest match en route to the Final in the round of 16, where he won by two pins over Matt Hammer of Armada, while Kolassa edged Brennen Proudfidt of Grand Rapids South Christian by seven in the Semifinals.
In the first game of the championship match, Brandt filled all 10 frames and had two doubles to finish at 212. Kolassa, who had 184, picked up the rare 3-4-6-7 split in the seventh frame but missed a 10 pin in the ninth.
“That first game, I thought he had to miss, but he didn’t miss,” Kolassa said. “I thought it was game over right there.”
Kolassa started the second game with three strikes in a row, and Brandt had open frames in the second, third and fourth. Although Brandt had a chance to win it in the 10th, he didn’t regain the lead.
“I got a little hope there early and took it all the way,” Kolassa said. “It was neck-and-neck and a lot of fun. I thought I might lose, but I held on.
“Honestly, coming into the day I didn’t think I was going to win. I knew I was going to make the cut to the first 16, but I didn’t plan on winning.”
Kolassa’s style makes him stand out on the approach. He uses a six-step approach with a backswing that takes the ball well above his head.
“When I first started to bowl, I was shoulder high,” Kolassa said. “I used to throw the ball so slow, and I complained about not having enough speed. My coach told me to try the high backswing, and I guess I never stopped going higher.”
There was not as much drama on the girls side of the Division 3 singles. Senior Kadee Bechman of Battle Creek Pennfield used a 219 first game to build an 89-pin advantage on Breanna Johnson of Dundee and roll to a 406-346 victory.
It literally was a dream come true for Bechman.
“Last night I had a dream that I would take first place,” she said.
Bechman was seeded sixth after qualifying and, like Kolassa, she struggled in her first game in the morning qualifying session with a 162.
“I just built off of it from there,” she said. “When I found out that I had qualified, I knew that I had to grow on that and not get frustrated with myself and have confidence in myself.”
Bechman shot at least 199 in each of her three matches prior to the championship and won all of them by more than 40 pins. Johnson, a sophomore who was seeded eighth, had a little tougher road as she won one match by five pins and her Semifinal by 22.
However, Bechman grabbed the early lead and never looked back. She had an early double, two in a row in the middle and a late three-bagger for 219, while Johnson had three splits among five open frames as she struggled to a 130.
The second game was academic, and Johnson got back on track with a 216, ending the game with five strikes in a row, while Bechman shot 187.
“I knew if I got that far that I would be able to finish it,” Bechman said of her 89-pin lead after one game.
Bechman has been a life-long bowler, starting the game at age 3. She is a four-time all-conference selection and hopes to attend Olivet College or take a year off and coach bowling. She also aspires to become a professional in the future.
A right-hander with a four-step approach, she has been bowling this year while wearing a knee brace, but that did nothing to slow her down.
“At the beginning of the year, I fell on the gutter in practice and busted my knee,” she said. “It wasn’t too serious, but I’ve just been wearing a knee brace and getting stronger with it.”
The season – and her high school career – culminated in an MHSAA Finals singles championship.