Jack Pine Powers Shepherd, Gladwin Sweep D3 Championships
By Tim Robinson
Special for MHSAA.com
March 5, 2022
JACKSON — Dave Carson’s Shepherd girls team had been knocking off higher seeds all afternoon long, but seemed to hit a wall against Cheboygan in Friday’s Division 3 Girls Bowling Final.
“After the two baker games, we were up by about 60 pins, he said. “In the fifth frame, we were still up by about 30, and I pulled my girls together and I told them, ‘Forget about how the first five frames went. I don’t care about your scores now. Just win me the last five frames.’ And they did.”
As a result, the Bluejays, who had never competed in the MHSAA Tournament, or even won a conference championship, are Finals champions.
“It was closer than it needed to be,” Carson joked.
The Bluejays, who squeaked into the quarterfinals by 18 pins over Boyne City, ousted top seed Kent City by 12 pins and No. 4 seed Flint Powers by 23 before downing sixth-seeded Cheboygan in the final, 1,041-987.
“We started faltering a bit in the middle of the last game,” Carson said. “They were getting tired. Both teams did. You could see it. We just weathered the storm a little longer than they did.”
It was the first bowling state title for Shepherd, and Carson admitted it came as a surprise to him.
“They had the potential to do it,” he said. “They had the potential last year, but didn’t gel as a team. This year, they gelled as a team all season.”
The Bluejays won the Jack Pine Conference title for the first time, then finished third in their Regional to punch a ticket to Jax 60, site of the Finals.
There was a certain bit of familial ties as well.
Carson’s cousin, Kendra Walch, was one of the Bluejays’ top bowlers, and he went to high school with Josh King, the coach at Mid-Michigan Community College whose daughter Amelia was a team member.
Amelia King was in the starting lineup for Shepherd, while Walch rolled a 187 to lead Shepherd in the final. Walch and Sara Montney took turns leading the team throughout the day.
“I told them throughout the season they had the potential to do it,” Carson said. “This was beyond my expectations to bring a team here the first year and win the whole thing.”
The future looks bright for Shepherd. Montney is a sophomore and Walch a junior.
“It’s a great feeling,” Carson said, laughing. “Everything seemed to come together this year. They started acting as a team, more than as individuals.”
Shelby Rolston was the only senior on this year’s Shepherd team.
“I’ve had her for four years and watched her grow,” Carson said. “It all came together, and I’m glad I was able to win it with her.”
It was the first trip to the final for Cheboygan as well. The Chiefs downed No. 3 Jonesville by 30 pins and rolled past No. 2 Hudsonville Unity Christian in the semifinals.
Jenna Knaffle had a game-high 210 and Izzy Portman rolled a 171 for Cheboygan.
Gladwin’s boys bowling team was the top seed after qualifying and the Flying G’s acted like it down the stretch, beating Midland Bullock Creek by a wide margin to take their second Finals title in four years.
“The first match (against eighth-seeded Armada) was kind of close,” Gladwin coach Kent Crawford said, “but we persevered and kept picking up spares.”
Gladwin then dispatched Standish-Sterling by 126 pins in the semifinals before taking the title with a 1,287-1,110 victory over Bullock Creek.
It was the third overall Finals title – all sports included – for the Flying G’s, who won the Class C girls basketball title in 1975.
Friday’s title had a family connection. Ethan Weston was on the 2019 champ, while Brady Weston is a mainstay on a Gladwin team that saw four bowlers roll a score of 200 or more. Weston had a 200 in the final.
But it was a freshman who led Gladwin on Friday.
Brayden Phillips rolled a 211, second only to JR Phillips’ 225. Gladwin rolled a 993 as a team in the final round, which was more than enough to overcome a 72-pin deficit after Baker play.
“We said, ‘Man, we need to get to work,” Crawford said. “They’re going to give us a run for our money. They were ahead of us for a little while until about the fifth frame, and then we started striking and you could tell they were getting fatigued.”
Meanwhile, the Flying G’s were getting a little too quiet for Crawford’s taste.
“I started to raise my voice to keep them pumped up,'' Crawford said. “Our guys started to sit down, and I said, ‘Boys, you’ve got to stand up. Let’s go!’ I wanted to keep everyone moving, and they came through. They started striking and having a good time and hollering and yelling and we passed them.”
But, Crawford said, the match wasn’t decided until the 10th frame.
“It could have gone either way if (Bullock Creek) had gotten more strikes,” he said.
Instead, the Flying G’s went home with a trophy and Crawford with a good feeling about Brayden Phillips, whom he called his “horse.”
“He kind of came out of the woodwork,” Crawford said. “He was getting spares and strikes, and he was just on course today.”
Crawford feels good knowing he’ll have Phillips for three more seasons.
“Especially with him,” Crawford said. “The rest of the group is sophomores, so I get a couple more years with them, too.”
The Flying G’s finished second in the Jack Pine Conference.
Gladwin lost to Sanford Meridian in league play, but got its measure of revenge during qualifying. Meridian was the No. 7 seed, but was eliminated by Madison Heights Bishop Foley in the quarterfinals.
The key, Crawford said, is team chemistry.
“Most of these boys have grown up together,” he said. “Most of them are sophomores. They’ve played football together since they were 5 or 6 years old. They hang out together. They support each other 110 percent.”
Coaching is a cooperative affair as well.
Crawford, who describes himself as “the CEO,” is assisted by Dan Hagar and Kevin Van Tiem.
Bullock Creek, which was in its first Final, got there as the No. 6 seed.
The Lancers downed No. 3 Jonesville and No. 2 seed Bishop Foley to advance.
Cole Gilbert had a 158 to pace the Lancers, who saw four of their five bowlers roll a 150 or better in the final.
PHOTOS Shepherd and Gladwin bowlers send shots during Friday's Division 3 Team Finals at Jax 60. (Click to see more from Champions Photography.)
Gobles' Brunner Closes with 3rd Title, Nouvel's McCarthy Locks Up No. 1
By Tim Robinson
Special for MHSAA.com
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.”