One baker game in to the Division II Southwest District Boys Bowling Championship tournament, Clinton-Massie’s season teetered on the brink.
“I was kinda getting a flashback to previous years,” said CM junior Brandon Moritz. “The previous year, we were fourth after three games then our first baker game was terrible. Everything went downhill from there.”
Others felt the same Moritz.
“First baker … that was horrible,” said Wyatt Smith, a sophomore.
Cooper Huddleson, another sophomore, was not ready to have his season end at Beaver-Vu Lanes but that thought kept bugging him.
“I didn’t want to think it but after our first baker game, I was like … eh, I don’t want this to be it.”
Sam Massie, another of the five sophomores on the team, said a little “pep” talk inspired the Falcons.
“Our coach (Tyler Hayslip) got on us just a little,” Massie said of the post-game chat following the first baker game. “We either finish strong, or we don’t finish at all.”
Following a 148 baker opener, the Falcons averaged 186 over the next five games and held on to qualify for the state tournament. This is the first time a Clinton-Massie bowling team has qualified for the state.
Now, the thinking is go ahead and win the whole thing.
“Looking at previous scores, we’re saying at least top five, if not win,” Massie said.
At Saturday’s state tournament, at Wayne Webb’s Columbus Bowl, the schools will bowl three team games and three baker games. The top eight teams will advance to a bracketed head to head championship round to determine the winner.
Gavan Hunter, the lone senior on the team, is a powerfully-built football linebacker firing bowling balls at 10 pins. He is the emotional leader of the bowling team.
He was not happy as the baker games started last week.
“I was kinda mad at myself for not stepping up during the game,” he said. “I decided afterward it was time to rally back together.”
Following the baker opener, “our worst,” Hunter said, the chances of advancing were slipping away.
But Hunter harkened back to a football game, the state championship game in 2021. The Falcons trailed Youngstown Ursuline 28-7 late in the third quarter. Nothing was going right for Clinton-Massie that day and a blowout loss seemed to be the coming result.
“The guys that were leading that team never gave up,” Hunter said. “I’ll never forget those seniors. There was no quit in their eyes. Now I’ll never give up. There better not be any quit in anybody’s eyes on this team.”
Clinton-Massie won the state championship football game that year and with it the school’s third state title.
Hayslip said the team was a bit too pumped for the baker games after a strong finish to the team games. Clinton-Massie started the district tournament with a solid 948 team game but followed with a disappointing 847.
They bounced back, though, with a 1,002 and were back in fourth place and seemingly in good shape for a state berth.
That first baker game, though, sent thoughts spiraling toward the abyss.
“The team came in to baker game one amped up,” Hayslip said. “Every bowler sped their ball up and that explained the 148. The boys took a breath … and grinded out each and every game. The mindset of the day was perseverance.”
Back on track, the Falcons continued their march toward Columbus.
“The running quote from the pre-season to the post-season has been ‘It’s not where you start. It’s where you finish’,” said Hayslip. “If we bowled a bad set or a good set, I would always say ‘It’s not where we start, it’s where we finish, and we will finish our season in Columbus’.”
As things turned out, Hayslip was right.
Clinton-Massie will bowl 10:45 a.m. Saturday at Wayne Webb’s Columbus Bowl on South High School.
Shadow balls begin 10:30 a.m. with competition for the team qualifying rounds set to start at 10:45 a.m.
The qualifying round will consist of three team games and three baker games. It should tentatively end around 2:30 p.m.
Individual awards, which Clinton-Massie bowlers are eligible for in this tournament, will be presented around 3:15 p.m., depending on the time the team qualifying concludes.
The championship round, head to head four-game baker matches with the top eight teams, will begin after a 10 minute practice session upon conclusion of the awards presentations.
The Falcons will be team games on lanes 34, 30 and 26 then six baker games on lanes 21-22.
Reach Mark Huber at 937-556-5765, via email [email protected] or on Twitter @wnjsports