TC Christian Girls Follow Anchor to Title Win Securing School's D4 Sweep

By Scott DeCamp
Special for

March 1, 2024

MUSKEGON – Competing for a state title is not a given, let alone winning one.

Traverse City Christian’s Rebekah Burch has bookend championships now in girls bowling – won as a freshman and as a senior – and she was a big reason for the Sabres’ second title in program history Friday.

In the 10th frame, Burch fired two strikes and followed with nine pins on her final ball to rally the Sabres. In a five-game thriller, Traverse City Christian defeated Bronson 3-2 to capture the Division 4 Finals championship at Northway Lanes.

It’s the second state title in four years for the Sabres’ girls, who shared in the excitement with their boys team Friday as Traverse City Christian pulled the championship sweep with a victory on that side as well.

“It’s so surreal. Like, today, I was going into it and I couldn’t even believe that it happened. When I was in (ninth) grade, I couldn’t believe that it happened,” Burch said. “It’s just crazy and I thank the Lord for everything that he has provided me with, giving me these opportunities.”

Traverse City Christian finished first in the 16-team qualifying block with a total score of 3,066, while Bronson was second at 3,005. Both teams edged their Quarterfinal opponents by 3-2 margins (TCC over Ithaca, Bronson over Ravenna), and both won Semifinal matches 3-1 (TCC over Jonesville, Bronson over Allen Park Cabrini).

The championship match was fittingly a back-and-forth battle with Traverse City Christian and Bronson alternating wins in the first four games. Bronson won the first (158-153) and third (125-100), TCC won the second (178-160) and fourth (166-154). That set the stage for the dramatic final game, which the Sabres rallied to win 191-184 thanks in large part to Burch’s heroics.

“It was mainly just keeping up the energy. Mrs. Radtke, my coach, she always says, ‘It’s not over ‘til it’s over.’ And that’s kind of been one of the main things we’ve been saying throughout the season,” Burch said. “It’s not over ‘til it’s over, ‘til that last ball is thrown.’ Just keep on going until it’s over.”

Traverse City Christian coach Andy Radtke had his doubts at moments during the championship match. But having an anchor bowler like Burch, who was allowed to bowl on the Sabres varsity team as an eighth-grader because of the small-school exemption, meant that anything was possible.

And Burch delivered.

“They never quit. Every time I thought we were out of it, all of sudden, ‘No, we’re not,’” Andy Ratdke said. “Started adding up (the score), ‘Wait a minute, if Rebekah strikes, we win.’”

Burch’s strikes and those of her teammates were the big separator between the teams, according to first-year Bronson coach Leah Friedel, who said her team felt good throughout the match until the very last frame.

Bronson was aiming for a fourth Division 4 championship in six years.

“We had spares, but they had the strikes, which overtook us in the end,” Friedel said. 

“This has been an amazing season. We went undefeated before getting here, so I am super proud.”

Traverse City Christian’s boys bowling team seized its first state championship in the middle of the afternoon. As soon as the Sabres wrapped it up, TCC coach Brent Wheat hustled down several lanes to get caught up with the girls in their Semifinal match versus Jonesville.

Wheat, who calls himself the “mechanical guy” of the three Sabres coaches, had to calm himself down and re-focus on the girls team.

“I had to try and calm down, focus on what they had going on, and try and help them get through to the Finals,” Wheat said. “I would love to say it’s me (who was more riled up) but I’m not the one up there throwing the ball. I know what that feels like, too.”

Traverse City Christian traveled to Muskegon on Thursday, practiced at Northway Lanes, and stayed overnight. 

The MHSAA Singles Finals are Saturday, and four members of the Traverse City Christian girls team will be competing along with three from the Sabres’ boys squad. 

In Wheat’s mind, anything that happens Saturday is a bonus.

“We knew Bronson had a really tough team and if we were able to make it to the Finals, we figured it would probably be against them,” he said. “We knew it was going to be a hurdle in the Finals just because they have a lot of good bowlers. They’re mechanically sound, they’re good spare shooters.

“We got hot there at the end of the game. Our anchor bowler, Rebekah, she’s been with us since eighth grade because we’re such a small school, we’re able to have eighth-graders in our program. She was able to come through big and bury two big strikes to win it.”

Burch was in disbelief about Traverse City Christian sweeping girls and boys titles a mere 90 minutes apart.

“Oh, it’s so cool,” she said with a hearty laugh. “It’s so exciting.”

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