ALLEN PARK – The bowling season that almost wasn’t saw a first-time champion and a 2020 runner-up take the next step Friday at the Division 1 Team Finals at Thunderbowl Lanes.
Hudsonville’s girls earned their first Finals title in this sport by defeating Belleville in their championship match, while the Salem boys clinched their third team title against Macomb Dakota after finishing runner-up to Utica Eisenhower a year ago.
Dakota previously won Division 1 in 2011 and 2012. But Salem – the champion in 2017 and 2013 – ledfrom start to finish to capture the 2021 title.
Salem’s boys led 347-315 after the Baker round, and the Cougars would need a big game in singles to wrestle away the lead.
Connor Rogus came through with a 259, but it wasn’t enough as Zander Craft’s 253 and Brendan Chorian’s 227 paced the champs to a 1,404-1,309 win.
“We had our lows and our highs, but we started striking in the finals,’’ said Craft. “My shot was there for the entire finals. I shot 221, 223, 253 so I had a good look all day.’’
Hudsonville’s girls had fallen behind 301-297 going into singles play, but their ability to make shots proved to be the difference as it captured the school’s first bowling title. Belleville had eight straight opens during singles play and couldn’t stay in contention.
McKenna Hendrickson, the only senior in the Hudsonville lineup, was in tears after her team came through with the 1,149 to 1,122 win.
“This was my last game, and I wasn’t worried,’’ said Hendrickson. “The girls knew what to do. I’ve lost so much this year because of the COVID. I didn’t even have a prom. This is such a great way to go out. It means so much.’’
Brownstown Woodhaven dominated the boys qualifying round with a score of 3,530 to finish first ahead of Waterford Kettering’s 3,399, which was just three pins better than Salem’s 3,396.
Woodhaven’s run was short-lived. Belleville, the eighth seed, jumped out to an early lead in the Baker format, and the Tigers were great in singles, eliminating the top seed, 1,312 to 1,151.
Dakota had used a 1,030 in the last game of team qualifying to jump into fourth place as three Macomb Area Conference schools – Dakota, St. Clair Shores Lakeview and Utica Ford – made the top eight. Belleville squeaked into eighth with 3,228, 19 pins better than Holt.
Dakota defeated Lakeview, 1,208-1,159 to face Belleville in the semifinals. In the other semi, Salem – which had eliminated Plymouth 1,419-1,208 – took on Waterford Kettering, which had bounced Utica Ford 1,309-1,286.
Dakota sophomore Dylan Maurer shot 276 in the semifinals to lead the Cougars to a 1,499-1,398 victory over Belleville. Salem advanced to the final with a 1,306-1,277 victory over Kettering.
In the girls division, Westland John Glenn was the high qualifier at 3,316 to outdistance Davison at 3,243.
Glenn avoided any possible upset in the first round by extending its Baker lead in singles play, taking out eighth seed Salem, 1,320-1,032. Belleville advanced to the semifinals with a convincing victory over Zeeland, 1,204-1,153. Davison, a perennial threat, eliminated Holt, 1,290-1,111, to advance to the semifinal against Hudsonville, which pounded Midland 1,189-1,101.
The westside school prevailed in the semis, dousing second-seed Davison 1,335-1,250 as Hendrickson led the winners with a 248 score.
Hudsonville became the third straight Division 1 girls champion from the Ottawa-Kent Conference.
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.)