Grand Rapids Christian's Heerema, Charlotte's Portillo Arrive with 1st Finals Wins

By Keith Dunlap
Special for

March 4, 2023

WATERFORD – Sometimes, being young and oblivious to surroundings has its advantages.

Such was certainly the case for Charlotte’s Savannah Portillo at the Division 2 Singles Bowling Finals on Saturday.

Just a freshman, it was Portillo’s first time competing at an MHSAA Finals tournament. But the thought of going up against more experienced upperclassmen didn’t deter her when she walked into Century Bowl. 

“The seniors and the juniors, they have so much pressure,” she said. “I didn’t have any. If I didn’t win, I had next year.” 

If Portillo is back at the tournament next year, she’ll return trying to repeat after winning the individual title with a 413-384 victory over Fruitport senior Brynna Hanson in the final. 

Winning as a freshman brought about some facetious comments – that Portillo should just retire from high school bowling now that she has already reached the pinnacle – but she had a good response for those jokes. 

“I can just come back and win next year,” she said. 

Portillo finished sixth out of the qualifying block, and then started her run with a 450-359 win over Flint Kearsley senior Sara Ritchie in the round of 16. 

Portillo then defeated Dearborn Divine Child senior Amber Ligenza in the quarterfinals (405-263) and Cedar Springs senior Chloe Fisk in the semifinals (437-296) to set up the championship match with Hanson.

Portillo bowled a 242 in the first game to take a healthy 48-pin lead into the second, and did enough in the second game to hold on.

Four matches against seniors, four wins for the freshman. 

Portillo said her family owns a bowling alley in her hometown, so she has been around the sport since she was a toddler. 

Charlotte head coach Pat Landry said he saw Portillo’s development during her years before high school and was anxiously awaiting her arrival in the program.

The entire state now knows why. 

“We’ve seen her coming up through the stages,” Landry said. “She bowls a lot of youth tournaments in the state and out of the state.”

On the boys side, Grand Rapids Christian junior Zeke Heerema won a close championship match over Tecumseh junior Owen Williams, prevailing by six pins, 388-382.

Heerema held a five-pin lead after the first game, and entered the final frame of the second game needing at least a mark to preserve his lead.

Admittedly nervous for the shot, Heerema let go of the ball and essentially said “uh-oh.”

“I threw it pretty bad, and I thought I was going to get a split because I threw it pretty high,” Heerema said. 

But the No. 9 pin fell forward in between the No. 6 and No. 7 pins, knocking them both down and giving him an unorthodox strike. 

Heerema then knocked down nine pins on his next ball to clinch the title. 

“We’ve been working toward this all year,” Grand Rapids Christian head coach Dan VanderPloeg said. “He’s just got nerves of steel and is so focused.” 

Heerema finished second out of the qualifying block, and started his run in the round of 16 with a 435-369 win over Gibraltar Carlson sophomore Jordon Bryson.

Heerema then defeated Waterford Kettering senior Cole Peters in the quarterfinals (503-484) and Howie Hammond of Flint Kearsley in the semifinals by a score of 483-457. 

Heerema advanced out of the qualifying block at last year’s tournament, but lost in the round of 16 because he wasn’t as familiar with match play. 

He was more ready for it this time around. 

“I learned how to deal with the pressure, shut everything else out and make the shots,” he said.

Division 2 Final Results - Boys | Girls

Gobles' Brunner Closes with 3rd Title, Nouvel's McCarthy Locks Up No. 1

By Tim Robinson
Special for

March 4, 2023

BATTLE CREEK — A few minutes after making history, Gobles senior Morgan Brunner was calm.

No loud celebration, just smiles all around Saturday after becoming the first competitor in the 20-year history of MHSAA girls bowling to win three Singles Finals titles in a row.

“She’s very even-keeled,” said her mother and coach, Karrie Brunner. “She knows she’s got a job to do, and she comes to do it. But she comes to have fun. That was a big part of today. She relaxed and had fun.”

Morgan Brunner rolled to the title, taking first in qualifying and defeating Traverse City Christian’s Brooke Smith 415-303 in the Division 4 final.

But that’s not to say she was expecting an easy time of it.

“I clinched it early, but I was definitely nervous,” she said. “I was nervous all day.”

Brunner dealt with the nerves by concentrating on the task at hand.

“I just tried to stay calm and make my best shots,” she said.

Brunner helped organize the Gobles program, and Saturday’s third-straight title was the latest achievement in a journey that began when she was 2 years old.

“As soon as she could walk,” Karrie Brunner said. "She was pushing the ball down there. I don’t know how many strikes she threw, but she was knocking pins down.”

Morgan hasn’t stopped since.

In the moments after the feat was accomplished, she said it felt like a weight off her shoulders.

“I don’t think it’s going to set in for a while,” she said of her accomplishment. “But it's nice to win.”

Saginaw Nouvel sophomore Alex McCarthy, meanwhile, jumped for joy as he threw the final ball of his boys match.

“It’s unbelievable,” he said afterward. “It’s hard to put it into words right now.”

McCarthy defeated Bryce Cadaret of Allen Park Cabrini, another sophomore, 433-393 in the final.

McCarthy finished 10th in qualifying, then won two matches before meeting Cadaret in the championship.

Cadaret came out hot, starting the match by rolling three strikes in a row.

“It got me back in the match mentally,” McCarthy said.

After a conversation with coach Brian Montini, McCarthy found his groove and never looked back, right through the final ball, which knocked down six pins as he celebrated.

“I had all these thoughts of my coach and all the other coaches and all the hard work I put in through the years,” he said.

Montini, for his part. wasn’t entirely surprised.

“The experience last year helped him,” Montini said, noting McCarthy’s quarterfinal run as a freshman. “We had it in our minds that he was going to do this. And he pulled through.”

Division 4 Final Results - Boys | Girls