Early on at the Division I girls state bowling tournament March 8 at Wayne Webb’s Columbus Bowl, everything seemed to be going Stow-Munroe Falls’ way.
The Bulldogs saw freshman Jillian Martin win the Division I individual championship with a 664 series, becoming the first Bulldog to win an individual state crown. Stow also had senior Hayley Roberts finish ninth in the individual race, earning second-team All-Ohio honors with a 581 series.
Martin has won national bowling titles, but noted winning the state crown was special.
"It’s actually really cool because I was able to represent my school at the same time," Martin said. "I got to do it, and a lot of people I have been around since I was a little kid got to see me."
Behind Martin and Taylor, Stow landed first in the team qualifying round with 3,265 pins, setting themselves up for a run to finals.
In the finals, however, Stow fells two wins shy of its goal of a state title, as it was beaten in semifinals by eventual champion Centerville in five Baker games. Stow settled for third place in the state.
Stow girls coach Nikki Stiteler said finishing third was hard after dreaming of a team state title all year.
"To be honest, I am disappointed, but the season was successful," Stiteler said. "It’s the nature of the beast, too. I think it was a good season."
On March 9 in the Division I boys tournament, Stow hoped senior Alex Ridings also could earn an All-Ohio spot as an individual. However, Ridings was unable to duplicate his form from the district tournament, as he finished in a tie for 58th place with a three-game series score of 549.
In the girls tournament, Martin announced her intentions by opening with a score of 265, which was the high game of the tournament. Martin then put up a 213 in Game 2.
Heading into Game 3, due to the staggered nature of the tournament, Martin knew she needed to score a 186 to get past Massillon Jackson’s Kailey Bonniwell and claim the title. Heading into the ninth frame, Martin needed four straight strikes to win the title.
"Honestly, we’ve gotten to a position in her bowling that I know she’s gong to execute what she needs to," said father and coach John Martin. "That’s why I tell her what she needs to do. I told her, ‘You either throw four strikes or you lose.’"
Martin did just that, striking in the ninth and throwing three strikes in the 10th frame to claim the title.
"I had a ball change in the last four frames, because what I was doing wasn’t quite working," Jillian Martin said. "I just did what I needed to do. It was really good feeling at that point."
"I’m super proud of her," Stiteler said. "She works hard and is on the lanes all the time. She does the things she needs to do to be successful."
Roberts rolled her way to ninth place by scoring a 178 in Game 1, a 218 in Game 2 and 185 in Game 3.
"I don’t know that we ... expected that to be honest," Stiteler said. "We were ecstatic when her name was called."
Behind their All-Ohioans, Stow saw sophomore Jessica Lawrence roll a 545 series (214-182-148) to finish in 23rd place, while senior Taylor Roberts rolled a 517 series (162-179-176) to finish in 40th place. Junior Kayla Flake rounded out Stow’s scores, finishing 55th with a 485 series (156-181-146).
In team qualifying, Stow was consistent in its first two games, rolling a 975 in Game 1 and a 974 in Game 2. The Bulldogs cooled off a bit in Game 3 with a score of 845, but it still had the lead with 2,794 pins. Hubert Heights Wayne was the only team within 100 pins of Stow with 2,717 heading into the Baker games.
Stow didn’t have its best Baker game series, rolling games of 115, 195 and 160, but its 471 series score was still enough to hold onto the top qualifying spot. Wayne rolled a 531 Baker series and closed the final gap to 17 pins.
Stow took the top seed into the finals, where each match was best-of-five Baker games.
Stow faced eighth-seeded Massillon Perry in the quarterfinal match and won the first two games 162-147 and 202-157. Perry forced a fourth by winning Game 3 216-207, but Stow advanced by winning Game 4 171-135.
The semifinal with Centerville was a back-and-fourth affair.
"I had watched them bowl," Stiteler said. "They had some really good girls. They made the shots when we didn’t."
The Elks won the first two games 190-176 and 157-146, only to see Stow rally to win Game 3 257-183 and Game 4 225-184.
With a berth in the state final on the line, Centerville edged Stow 191-177 in Game 5.
"I think they wanted it so bad that they were gripping the ball too hard," Stiteler said. "Some nerves came into play. We had a couple splits. We didn’t get the greatest carry from the ball."
"It was pretty heartbreaking," Jillian Martin said. "In the last game, it just didn’t work out."
Centerville went on to defeat Beavercreek in five games in the state final, claiming its second state bowling title and first since 2008.
Although Stow will lose the Taylor twins to graduation, Stiteler believes the Bulldogs will have a strong team again next winter.
"Kayla has done some great things and Jessica has turned a corner this winter," Stiteler said. "We’ve got a couple really good JV kids that we just need to work with. I think we’ll be a contender again next year."
As for Ridings, he started with a 198 in Game 1 March 9, but could not break 200 in any game, as he rolled a 181 in Game 2 and a 170 in Game 3. He tied with North Ridgeville’s Dylan Mishak for 58th place.
Vandalia Butler’s Drew Sacks ran away with a 752 series to win his second straight Division I individual title.
"The shot wasn’t that much more different from up north," coach Martin said. "Alex really didn’t have enough equipment to match up with the lanes. When the lanes start to break down, you’ve got to adjust.
"He’s been a great bowler for us," he added. "He’s a great kid. We switched him to two-handed and he’s going to get some opportunities in college."
Reporter Michael Leonard can be reached at 330-541-9442, email@example.com or @MLeonard_RPC