Falcon boys, Boardman’s Burkey roll today in Columbus
By Greg Gulas
The Austintown Fitch boys and girls teams, along with Boardman senior Ben Burkey will represent the area at this weekend’s Division I state bowling tournaments, which begin Friday at 10:30 a.m. when the boys roll at Wayne Webb’s Columbus Bowl.
There were no individual qualifiers out of the recent girls district at Wedgewood Lanes with action set for Saturday, also beginning at 10:30 a.m.
The Fitch boys went 11-2 this past season, tied Warren Harding (each posted 8-2 league marks) for the All-American Conference Red Tier regular season title but finished third in the conference tournament.
“We’re a tight knit group comprised of bowlers that would run through a brick wall in order to make the team better,” head coach Matt Clemens said. “I played for the Falcons from 2006,-07, we qualified for state my junior and senior years so I feel like I know what it takes to win.”
Currently in his second year, Clemens said this year’s sectional and district tournament for his team were polar opposites from a season ago.
“Last year we didn’t bowl well at sectionals. The lane patterns were demanding, we didn’t pick up our spares and as a result didn’t advance to district.” Clemens added. “This year, we had our ups and downs but by the end of the season it just clicked. They simply got it.
“We started slow and right about the halfway point we began to turn things around. We’ve been consistent ever since.”
The Falcons (3,829) were district runners-up to Wadsworth (3,938) with Tallmadge (3,821), Walsh Jesuit (3,794) and Stow-Munroe Falls (3,761) rounding out the five-team state qualifying field.
Mitch DeSiato (190 average) set the pace for Fitch at district, finishing ninth overall with a 600 set. He was 10 pins behind Burkey, whose 610 set was good enough for an eighth-place finish.
Rounding out the squad is Kevin Howard (188), Larry Iagulli (185), Seth Welch (191), Seth Harper (174), Dom Veltri (195), Preston Miller (175) and Dane Smith (172).
“It’s a great opportunity to continue the legacy of this program,” stated Welch about qualifying as a unit. “As a team, we’re very excited and ready for the chance to bring a title back to the Valley.”
The Falcons return to state after a five year absence.
“It’s our first trip to state since 2013,” Clemens said. “The goal is to get to the top eight because anything can happen after that.”
Burkey, who became an Eagle Scout this past summer and was a first-team AAC Red Tier pick, carries a 209 average and rolled a 234 his first district game.
“I am excited to have been given the opportunity to compete in the state bowling tournament for a third time,” Burkey noted. “The support from my teammates, friends, family, coaches and school mean so much to me. My overlying goal is to give it my all on the lanes and represent Boardman to the best of my ability.”
Kevin Randolph is Burkey’s coach.
“The key for Ben will be consistency,” he said. “He needs to make good first shots and then pick up his spares. At 85 percent, he has a good conversion rate, plus he is more of a down-and=in player and doesn’t have a big hook so it will be easier to adapt to the lane patterns.”
The Fitch girls (3,233) finished fifth at district, 27 pins ahead of sixth and final state qualifier Westlake (3,206).
They went 15-0 overall, breezed to the AAC Red Tier crown with a 10-0 mark and will be making their first team appearance since 2014.
Erin Harper was named AAC tournament Most Valuable Player and will join brother Seth, as participants this weekend.
“This team showed their grit when conditions were brutal and things most difficult,” head coach Brian Umstead said. “Averages don’t always tell the whole story as scores are relevant to the day, so accept them. That has been the key to our success.”
There are two seniors, four juniors and a sophomore and in addition to Harper (167), Umstead will count on Alysha Harris (178), Samantha Learn (172), Renee Seebacher (170), Rachel Hoffman (167), Maegan McLaughlin (150) and Gloria Hartzell (142).
“I am very excited about going to state,” added Harper, who is one of two seniors. “What makes this very special is the fact that our boys team is going as well so my brother and I will both be competing this year.”