By John Bassetti
Pizza, pressure, pain.
Entering the day’s final two games, Hubbard was gunning for the top spot, while Austintown Fitch was trying to jump into fifth place.
When it was over, Hubbard claimed the NEO district girls bowling crown, but Fitch fell four pins short at Twin Star Lanes on Sunday.
It was a heartbreaking ending for a program whose girls team had missed only one state tournament appearance in 12 years.
“It’s a hard loss,” a tearful Don Morrison said of his sixth-place Falcons, who sat sobbing on the approach after narrowly losing to fifth-place Massillon Jackson.
The top five teams advanced to state next week at Wayne Webb’s Columbus Bowl.
Hubbard won its second straight district and returns to Columbus where it was state runner-up a year ago.
“I knew my girls would have it in them,” Hubbard coach Carol Kozbial said of the Eagles, who fluctuated between first and second all day.
Hubbard’s total was 3761, followed by Massillon Perry’s 3689, Green with 3687, Wadsworth (3567) and Jackson (3553). Fitch rolled 3549.
Liberty’s Marissa Simon was runner-up as an individual not on a qualifying team.
Powered by her 650 series that included a day’s-best 269, the junior is making a return trip to Columbus.
Trailing Perry by 30 pins after four Baker games, Hubbard rolled 194 to Perry’s 157 in Game 5 to go up by seven, then the Eagles out-shot Perry, 213-148, to claim the crown.
Fitch, meanwhile, trailed Jackson by six pins prior to the final two Bakers. In Game 5, the Falcons nipped Jackson, 167-156, to gain a five-pin advantage. But Jackson outscored Fitch 196-187 in the final Baker.
In the opening game of the afternoon, a 906 put the Falcons in second place.
“We did well our first three games, but our first two games of Baker hurt us,” Morrison said of scores of 152 and 147 that dropped the Falcons to fifth.
Then the shocker, when Fitch rolled a 113 in the third Baker game.
“That No. 3 game buried us,” Morrison said.
Part of the problem may have been equipment delays.
“We had breakdowns and repairs and had to wait so long that the girls got tight,” the coach said of machine shut-downs on lanes 5 & 6.
“We didn’t bowl the way we know how to,” Morrison said of the early Baker games. “We made a run at the end, but it wasn’t enough.”
Aside from the pressure facing the Falcons and the pain afterwards, there was plenty of pizza served throughout the 40-lane house and empty boxes piled high as evidence during the five-hour session.
Rather than pizza, it was position that counted for Hubbard.
“One or two is where we wanted to finish,” Kozbial said. “That gives us a good grouping [at Columbus] because it puts us on a pairing at the lower end with the ones and twos [from various districts] and we get to see who’s bowling what. It’s a good position to be in.”
The coach said top teams from various districts bowl on lower-numbered lanes of a center.
“That’s where we wanted to be,” Kozbial said. “We know who we’re going to bowl against [the teams to beat] and we know what we want to do.”
She also spoke of lane conditions.
“They were tough. They broke down fast, but we adjusted a little — not enough, but good enough that it didn’t hurt us.”
The Eagles, too, had a poor first Baker score of 126, then came back with 194 and 213 to finish strong.
“One twenty-six is really unacceptable,” Kozbial said. “They could step it up and they knew better.”
The scoring of Hubbard’s personnel was balanced, but one Eagle was singled out for helping.
“Once you get into the Baker games, average doesn’t matter; it’s caliber, experience and the upperclassmen stepping in and the same for a couple ones [like Lauren Miller] who didn’t bowl in the regular games, but came in the Bakers and did nicely.”
Of the machine breakdown, Kozbial had mixed a reaction: “We don’t like being slowed-up,” Kozbial said of her girls waiting to get on 5 & 6. “We like keeping a steady pace and that did slow us up a little bit. But the [roughly 15-minute] rest was nice, too.”
The same pair of lanes broke down for the Eagles three times at the beginning.
“We held up and waited. Sometimes, the wait is a little good because the kids can refocus and we scored well after that.”
Hubbard’s lineup included seniors Samantha Dudley and Amanda Wess, juniors Brittany Ferrara, twins Jenna and Sarah Wise, Lauren Miller and Christina Leckfor, and sophomore Miranda Romano.
Simon’s 269 was a blockbuster, but it was downhill from there on lanes 39 & 40.
“I made good shots [good first ball], but I couldn’t carry a shot and always left a pin or pins standing,” she said.
Of the first game, she said that “the ball was getting to the pocket nicely and I stayed consistent.”
In her second game, a 202, she had an open frame in the 10th.
“I had an 8-count but missed both [remaining pins] on my spare shot,” she said.
Simon encountered the nasty 7-10 split in the fifth frame of her last game, but she said she wasn’t rattled.
“I tried to make a comeback from it.”
LaBrae, Boardman and Struthers also failed to advance.
“I hope they gain some experience out of this,” said Boardman coach Al Dohar, “so that next year when they come this way, it’ll be better.”