Stockbridge's Keene, Onsted's Nichols Make Every Pin Count

By Jeff Bleiler
Special for

March 4, 2023

Onsted's Sydney Nichols knows the value of a single bowling pin.

At last year’s Division 3 Singles Finals, Nichols missed the 16th and final match play spot by that smallest of margins.

She turned that disappointment into determination and entered this year’s Finals with a goal of making the top eight. Instead, she won the whole thing.

Nichols, a junior, threw four straight strikes late in the second game of the two-game final match to defeat Coloma senior Savannah Hamilton, 375-370, on Saturday at Jax 60.

On the boys side, Stockbridge senior Mason Keene defeated Gladwin junior Harvey Zelt, 407-353.

“I wanted to at least make it to the top eight to be all-state, and now somehow I made it here,” Nichols said.

Nichols safely qualified ninth with a six-game total of 1,102 after starting things off with a 201. She won her first match — and accomplished her goal — by a 347-306 count over Midland Bullock Creek senior Brooklynn Marshall before advancing to the semifinals with a 393-349 victory over Cheboygan senior Izzy Portman. Nichols’ 224 game to open that match was the highest score of any of the games bowled in the match play portion.

She then earned a 15-pin victory over Hillsdale junior Chloe Manifold, 330-315, before taking on Hamilton. In the championship, Nichols trailed by 15 after the first game and trailed by two pins in the sixth frame of the second game before catching the clutch four-bagger to seal it. She had nothing but strikes or single-pin spares in that game.

“That was really important,” Nichols said.

Her coach, Roger Clark, said her mental approach to the sport showed all day.

“If you don’t have a spare game, you don’t have any game,” he said. “We told her, ‘You’re in control of your own game. I’m just here for guidance.’ She pulled through.”

Nichols, who has been bowling since she was about 8 years old in nearby Hudson, said her mental acuity was important.

“If you get in your head, you’re going to start pulling it, and I got in my head and would pull it, but I came back with a spare for the most part,” she said.

When asked what her senior year might entail, she responded: “Two-peat maybe?”

Hamilton qualified as the 10th seed and defeated 2021 champion and 2022 runner-up Elizabeth Teuber in the opening match by nine, denying the Flint Powers Catholic junior a team and individual Finals title in the same weekend.

While Nichols has been bowling for many years, Keene only picked up the sport a year and a half ago. He nearly did not have a senior season to enjoy since the Stockbridge program had no coach.

He didn’t have to look far to find one.

“I didn’t think we were going to have a season and the only thing you can do is ask, so I asked my dad and he agreed to be a coach and it’s awesome,” Keene said of his father, Nathan. “He’s been bowling for 20-plus years so as soon as he saw me pick it up, he was super happy.”

Keene nearly had his day end early Saturday. He rolled 1,144 for the six games of qualifying — boosted by a 265 third game — to snatch the 16th and final spot by three pins. That earned him a match against top-seeded Dustin Moeckel, a Napoleon senior who averaged 215 during qualifying.

Keene won 403-337 to jumpstart a match-play session during which he never shot below 200 and averaged 213 for eight games. He saved the best for the quarterfinals where he shot 224 and 246 to oust Armada junior Ryan Ching, 470-312.

He rolled games of 202 and 225 in the semifinals to deny last year’s runner-up, Ogemaw Heights senior Tyler Downs, a shot at redemption, 427-386. For his part, Zelt took out the reigning champion, Cheboygan senior Cole Swanberg, in the other semifinal to further prevent a rematch of the 2022 final.

In the championship, Keene led by 17 after the first game, taking advantage of an open 10th frame by Zelt. A three-bagger in the fifth through seventh frames of the second game secured the title.

“I just had to keep my head in it, keep my spare game strong and make good shots,” said Keene, the lone left-hander among the quarterfinalists. “That definitely helped. I didn’t have to move much, and when I did it was small. I just kept my shot in the entire time.”

Division 3 Final Results - Boys | Girls