By Tim Robinson
Special for Second Half
CANTON — The Division 2 boys bowling championship came down to the final frame Friday, and when it was over, Lowell had completed a three-year plan that culminated in the school’s first MHSAA title.
Trailing by 46 pins after Baker games, the Red Arrows turned it on during regular play, outscoring Eaton Rapids by 90 pins to take the 1,117-1,073 victory at Super Bowl in Canton.
“It came down to the end in every match,” Lowell coach Chris Clark said.
Lowell senior Logan Smith said when the Red Arrows began the 10th frame in regular play, they realized they were close to winning.
“A couple of their guys had open frames in the ninth, and all of us had marks, which was huge for us,” he said. “But it came down to the last guy before it hit us. It was amazing. I cannot believe it.”
Lowell’s success was the culmination of a plan put forth when Clark took over as coach three years ago.
“The first year,” senior Ben Stewart said, “we had the idea that we had some kid who could bowl pretty well. Let’s just make the state meet. Last year, our plan was we knew we could get there, let’s make it to match play.”
The Red Arrows fell just short of that second aspiration, but had a source of motivation this season.
“The third year would have been the plan to take home the trophy, and this year we came through on our goal,” Stewart said.
Lowell was the No. 3 seed after the qualifying round, while Eaton Rapids was No. 8. The Red Arrows downed No. 6 St. Clair Shores Lakeshore in the Quarterfinals and No. 7 Tecumseh in the Semifinals.
Eaton Rapids, the No. 8 seed, rolled past top seed Flint Kearsley in the quarters and No. 4 Byron Center in the Semifinals.
“This whole year, we had great scores all around,” Stewart said. “We took first in (the Ottawa-Kent) conference, we took first at Regionals. I think from the start, we had this mindset that our whole year was for this weekend.”
The Lowell team’s reaction was subdued in the moments after the win was completed.
“If we were in the other team’s shoes, we wouldn’t want them cheering and screaming in your face,” Stewart said. “You have to have respect for the people you’re bowling against, especially if they make it as far as you did.”
The Lowell bowlers celebrated by staying in their rooms and being together as a team.
“We didn’t sleep much last night,” senior Logan Smith said Saturday. “We all roomed together, having fun and cracking jokes. It was a fun time.
“It was pretty unbelievable,” he said of winning the Division 2 title. “My whole life, I never expected to be a state champ. It was something I never expected to get.”
For the Flint Kearsley girls, winning MHSAA championships is something they’ve come to expect. The Hornets’ title-worthy performance Friday was their fourth in a row and fifth in the last six years.
“It never gets old, that’s for sure,” Kearsley coach Robert Ploof said.
His team held off a game Bay City John Glenn squad in the Final, 1,299-1,217.
“Their coaches did a fabulous job,” Ploof said of the John Glenn team. “We bowled that team a couple of times earlier in the season, and they were nowhere as good as they were (Friday). They pushed us right to the end.”
The Hornets won, in part, due to a key substitution in the Final.
Karlee Griffin, who is Kearsley’s No. 2 bowler, was having an off day and feared she would hurt the team. So she asked Ploof to replace her in the lineup, giving Mary Wheeler, a sophomore, a chance to step in.
“I didn’t have a lot of confidence in myself to pull it any further,” Griffin said. “I wanted my team to win, and I didn’t have the faith in myself that I could pull through, and who knows what would have happened?”
Wheeler stepped into the moment and thrived.
“She came in and threw a big double that helped us win,” Ploof said.
It’s a group of Hornets that Ploof says gets along with each other like no team he’s had in 12 years at Kearsley.
“There’s no drama,” he said. “They’re having a good time and they enjoy it, and they fight for each other.”
A strong feeder program helps, too: Kearsley’s middle school program has five teams, and the junior varsity also thrives.
“That’s what you’ve got to have,” Ploof said. “We’re pretty fortunate as far as that goes.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Lowell’s boys pose with their MHSAA championship trophy. (Middle) Flint Kearsley’s girls, holding up their trophy from winning a Division 2 Regional last weekend.
WATERFORD – All Waterford Mott head boys bowling coach Rob Hanson wanted to do was have a personal practice session.
Little did he know it would randomly plant a seed that would eventually produce some state high school bowling history.
More than two years ago, after finding some rare time outside his coaching duties to work on his own game at a local center, Hanson noticed a kid coming in with his grandmother to bowl.
Hanson immediately took notice of how well the kid was bowling and the fact he had a pair of Waterford Mott soccer shorts on. So he asked the kid, then-sophomore Brendan Riley, if he went to the school.
After Riley told Hanson that he did, Hanson had another question for him.
“Why didn’t you try out for bowling?” Hanson said.
Riley said at the time, his mother wasn’t familiar with the bowling team’s schedule and thought it would take too much time away from school.
Once Hanson explained the schedule to the family, Riley ended up trying out after all and made the JV team.
Weeks later, Riley worked his way up to varsity.
The rest, as they say, is history.
After bowling on the varsity for a majority of his sophomore year, Riley as a junior last year won the Division 1 Finals singles championship, capping a rapid rise to the top that might not have happened if not for that chance encounter.
“It was quite surprising,” Riley said. “I wasn’t expecting to see the coach that day. I was just going up to have a good time with my grandma.”
Last year for Riley turned out to be all about his individual success, as he led the Lakes Valley Conference with a 217 average and ended up seeded No. 8 out of the Finals qualifying block.
Riley then rolled to the title, earning a 14-pin win over Mattawan’s Charlie Johnson in the final.
For Riley, his success at the MHSAA Tournament boiled down to one thing: Composure.
“I think the only reason I won was because I had the best attitude,” said Riley, who also was a member of Mott’s soccer team in the fall. “Everyone I bowled in the match play started to get upset at themselves every time they got a split or when they didn’t get a strike.”
As a senior, Riley’s average actually has been down a little compared to last year’s 207, but what his teammates have done has been a bigger testament of his success – and made it even more enjoyable than what he accomplished last year as an individual.
Riley enters Friday’s Regional tournament third on Mott in average behind teammates Dylan Keating and Zechariah Thomas, but that is more a reflection of the improvement those two have shown and how they were inspired by what Riley did last year.
“He hasn’t had a bad year,” Hanson said of Riley. “It’s just that his success is breeding desire for everyone else. His leadership quality is amazing.”
Mott will travel Friday to Century Bowl with four tournament titles, including winning the LVC championship, and a 15-1 record.
Bowling is as fickle a sport as any, but no doubt the Corsairs are contenders if they bowl as they’re capable.
“As a team, it feels a lot better to get more things accomplished beyond just myself,” Riley said.
Riley also has a college future, as he has signed to bowl for Goshen College in Indiana as part of the first recruiting class for the new program.
An individual title last year, team domination so far this season and a future in college bowling? That’s a great crop of greatness that was planted simply by running into Hanson that one day.
“It’s a great story,” Hanson said.
Keith Dunlap has served in Detroit-area sports media for more than two decades, including as a sportswriter at the Oakland Press from 2001-16 primarily covering high school sports but also college and professional teams. His bylines also have appeared in USA Today, the Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press, the Houston Chronicle and the Boston Globe. He served as the administrator for the Oakland Activities Association’s website from 2017-2020. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties
PHOTOS (Top) Waterford Mott’s Brendan Riley finds his shot during a match. (Middle) Riley takes a post-tournament photo after winning last season’s singles championship. (Top photo courtesy of the Riley family.)