By Chip Mundy
Special to Second Half
JACKSON – Fremont junior Sam Brandt fell a little short of perfection Friday afternoon in the championship match of the MHSAA Division 3 Boys Bowling Final at Airport Lanes in Jackson.
However, Brandt did not come up short in terms of a championship.
Brandt opened the final game with the first seven strikes before a 7-pin stopped him in the eighth frame. He went on to a 268 game to lead Fremont past Pinconning 1,296-1,203 for Fremont’s second MHSAA title in three years.
“It felt great – although the smash seven wasn’t a great feeling, but it happens,” Brandt said. “I got a little light with the ball.”
Brandt, a right-hander who was using a Storm IQ Tour Fusion ball he had just bought Thursday, is the younger brother of Zach Brandt, who was the Division 3 individual runner-up for Fremont in 2010 and the MHSAA champion in 2011.
“I feel the pressure having to win state because I’ve been bowling with him and all of his friends all my life, basically,” Sam Brandt said.
Fremont nearly did not get out of the qualifying round. The Packers were 11th entering the final game of qualifying and used a 913 team game to climb to eighth and grab the final spot in the Quarterfinals by just five pins over Ishpeming.
“At first, we were half and half on whether we were going to make it or not, but once we found out we made it, we knew we had to finish,” said Fremont senior Jeremy Pikaard, who bowled in the MHSAA Final two years ago for Fremont with Brandt and Mike Margol.
Seeded eighth, Fremont knocked off No. 1 seed Jackson Lumen Christi 1,252-1,200 in the Quarterfinal and No. 5 seed Grand Rapids South Christian 1,312-1,259 in the Semifinal.
Fremont stumbled early in the first Baker game against Pinconning with three open frames to start. But the Pioneers followed with six strikes in a row for a 225 and went on to a 93-pin victory.
“All year long we’ve been a very resilient team,” second-year Fremont coach Tom Elmer said. “We kind of start slow sometimes, but we battle and battle and battle. We have a strong group of kids.”
In the final game when all five individuals bowl an entire game, Brandt led the way with a 268 while Pikaard added a 231 and Margol had a 203. All three will be joined by teammate Sean Vincent in the Individual Final today, also at Airport Lanes in Jackson. Brandt lost in the Semifinals a year ago.
Meanwhile, the Croswell-Lexington girls had to get past their nemesis, Richmond, in the Semifinal, to get to the championship match. The Pioneers knocked off top-seeded Richmond 1,312-1,256 and then rolled over Ishpeming 1,190-1,082 in the championship match.
As far as the Pioneers were concerned, beating Richmond was almost as thrilling as winning the championship. Richmond and Croswell-Lexington both compete in the Blue Water Area Conference, and Richmond finished first and the Pioneers third in the same Regional last week.
“It was amazing that we beat them,” senior Victoria Bender said. “It’s one of the first times we’ve ever beat them, and we’ve never beat them by that margin.”
Senior Megan Geiser had similar feelings.
“I felt more pressure against Richmond than anything because they’re like our family,” she said. “But when it came to being against them – we don’t normally beat them like that – we came in feeling good and pulled it off and got first.”
The match against Ishpeming was almost anti-climatic. The Pioneers won both Baker games (171-163 and 163-137) and then used great consistency in the team game as all five girls rolled between 166 and 179. Bender led the way with a 179, while Charity Mosher had a 174, Geiser 170, Katie LaPorte 167 and Kelsey Lodge 166.
“We were very nervous going into it, but the girls came to bowl,” Croswell-Lexington coach Anita Mifsud said. “They did a good job.
“There was nice consistency all the way through, and they all stepped up to the plate this year. It was wonderful.”
The Pioneers qualified fourth and beat Wyoming Kelloggsville 1,221-1,149 in the Quarterfinal to set up the match with Richmond, which had a 3,473 qualifying total – 362 pins ahead of No. 2 seed Battle Creek Pennfield, the defending MHSAA champion.
Bender, Geiser, Mosher and LaPorte all will compete today in the Individual Finals. Bender, Geiser and Mosher all are seniors, while LaPorte is a junior.
“It’s pretty amazing that we actually did it,” Bender said. “It took a lot to get here and to overcome the nerves that we had early in the day.”
PHOTOS: The Fremont boys bowling team and Croswell-Lexington girls bowling teams pose with their MHSAA championship trophies. (Photos by Chip Mundy.)
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.)