By Greg Chrapek
Special to Second Half
MUSKEGON – The MHSAA Division 1 Finals at Northway Lanes in Muskegon were not a place for the faint of heart Saturday.
In both the girls and the boys divisions, the eventual champions needed to win a roll off en route to winning a singles bowling title.
For Grand Ledge junior Barbara Lawson, her roll off came in the Semifinals against Nicole Mikaelian of Macomb Dakota. After battling to a 334-334 tie, Lawson was on her game in the roll off as she won 48-26 to make it into the championship match.
“That match was really scary,” Lawson said. “I was worried in that one.”
With that behind her, Lawson started her championship match in high gear and never let her foot off the pedal. She turned back senior Alyssa Meade of Macomb L’Anse Creuse North 419-323. Lawson won game one 200-121 as she rolled strikes in four of the first five frames and marked in all but one frame.
Lawson snuffed out any hope of a comeback by Meade in the second game as she opened with four straight strikes en route to a 219- 202 win.
“It feels awesome,” Lawson said. “I felt I got a little lucky, but I threw the ball well all day.”
“It helped getting the big lead in the first game,” she added. “It was kind of all bonus points after that.”
Lawson just missed making the Finals match play last season as she finished 17th in qualifying, one spot short. This time, she finished 12th in the opening block.
Meade, who finished third in qualifying, reached the finals by turning back Heather Baur of Davison 349-312. A senior who has made three trips to the Finals, Meade was proud of reaching the last match of the day and capping off a memorable high school bowling career.
“I’ve been to states three years and this was the first time I qualified for the finals,” Meade said. “It was my goal the last four years to make it to the finals, and this means a lot to me. This has been a great experience for me. High school bowling has made me a new person. I have so many memories and it was such a great experience. I fell a little short today, but this is what I worked for and no matter what I am proud of myself.”
If Jeff Pietryka of Clinton Township Chippewa Valley High School didn’t have a nickname coming into the Division 1 Boys Final, he certainly could’ve left with one.
Cardiac Kid would be one appropriate moniker for Pietryka, who lived on the edge Saturday, but came away with the championship.
Pietryka gave the packed house at Northway Lanes plenty of chills and thrills as he wound his way to a victory in a roll off against Alex Zarbaugh of Belleville.
“It was my goal to win it before the season,” Pietryka said. “It was definitely a tight match at the end, but a couple of breaks went my way.”
Pietryka’s title match with Zarbaugh was a see-saw struggle with both bowlers getting on hot streaks, but neither able to pull away. Pietryka won the first game 180-166, marking in all but one frame and totaling seven spares.
Adding to the tension of the match was the fact that Pietryka was battling a physical problem and needed to have his arm massaged between frames.
“It was the first time it popped up,” Pietryka said. “I was able to work through it after a while. It was a kink in a tendon in my arm that would cause a couple of my fingers to cramp up.”
Pietryka started the second game strong, but was unable to shake the determined Zarbaugh, who would not let him expand on his lead. Zarbaugh posted a strike in the fourth frame, and after a spare in the fifth, rolled three consecutive strikes to take a 21-point lead in the eighth frame and a seven-pin overall lead.
Pietryka, however, continued to battle away and posted strikes of his own in the sixth, seventh, ninth and 10th frames.
Pietryka still held the overall lead going into the 10th frame, but the door was open for Zarbaugh to tie the match. With a spare in the 10th, Zarbaugh needed a strike to tie, and he delivered to the roar of the crowd.
The match then went to a two-frame roll off. Pietryka rolled a strike in his first frame, and Zarbaugh countered with a spare. Zarbaugh then opened the next frame with a strike but left one pin standing on his next roll, finishing the frame with a spare and a score of 40.
Pietryka answered with a strike on his next ball and then fell nine pins and finished with a strike for a 49 to win the roll off and the title.
“It was a back and forth match the whole way,” Pietryka said. “We were probably never more than 20 pins apart.”
The title match was just the capper on a thrilling day for Pietryka, who virtually walked a tight rope to the championship match. Pietryka made the match play with little room to spare, as he finished 13th in qualifying with a 1,225 total, nine pins above 17th place and falling short.
Pietryka won his round of 16 and quarterfinal matches with room to spare, but his semifinal match with Brad Wozniak, the No.-1 seed from Traverse City West, was as close as it gets. Pietryka edged Wozniak 377-373 but needed to throw strikes on both of his first two balls in the 10th frame.
“I always love to bowl under pressure,” Pietryka said. “I bowl in the anchor spot for my team and I love having the pressure on me.”
For Zarbaugh, coming up just short was a disappointment, but it could not dampen what had been a tremendous tournament run.
“You can’t end it any better then in a roll off,” Zarbaugh said. “He won it fair and square. I came into this tournament hoping to qualify for the finals, and I made it all the way to the championship match. I exceeded all my goals, and next year I want to come back and do it even better.”
A junior, Zarbaugh finished third in qualifying with a 1,261 total. Zarbaugh reached the finals by turning back Derek Nyenhuis of Wyoming 394-373 in the semifinals.
Girls Top 8, from left-to-right: Alyssa Meade, Macomb L'Anser Creuse North; Heather Baur, Davison; Madalyn Klein, Walled Lake Western; Shamonica Simon, Flint Carman-Ainsworth; Alicia Babicz, Lake Orion; Nicole Mikaelian, Macomb Dakota and Barbara Lawson, Grand Ledge.
Boys Top 8, from left-to-right: Jack Herndell, Howell; Jacob Kersten, Clarkston; Zach Schneider, Grandville; George Wade, Jackson; Brad Wozniak, Traverse City Central; Derek Nyenhuis, Wyoming; Alex Zarbaugh, Belleville; and Jeff Piertryka, Clinton Twp Chippewa Valley.
With a season to go, Gobles senior Morgan Brunner finds herself already in elite company as one of only three bowlers in MHSAA history to win two Finals girls singles titles – and with an opportunity this winter to become the first to win three girls championships.
Brunner is coming off her second-straight Division 4 Finals triumph, won in March. She and her mother Karrie – who coaches Gobles’ teams – helped start the school's bowling program, and over these first few seasons Morgan also has bowled during the regular season as part of the boys team before joining the girls bracket for the MHSAA Tournament.
"Being on the boys team, and people thinking I’m going to bowl with the boys, it was nice to be able to bowl with the girls and it felt more normal. I bowl so many outside tournaments, obviously all on the girls side, and there’s just as much competition on the girls side as there is on the boys side.
"I feel like I am (a role model). I’ve definitely had people tell my parents that their kids are watching. I haven’t personally had anyone come up to me, but I do see people watching me sometimes."
Second Half's weekly Title IX Celebration posts are sponsored by Michigan Army National Guard.
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