Softball

Bowling team ends Eastern's 35-year state title drought

Lansing Eastern's boys bowling team ended the school's 35-year state championship drought at last weekend's Division 2 state bowling tournament.

Lansing Eastern’s boys bowling team ended the school’s 35-year state championship drought at last weekend’s Division 2 state bowling tournament.

Michelle Morris didn’t want her son’s talent to go to waste.

So when Kyle Lewis entered Eastern High as a freshman last year, she approached the school about resurrecting its bowling program, which had dissolved after the 2012-13 season.

“I was kind of with it and kind of not,” said Lewis, a sophomore. “It’s cool to do it, but the thing is, with school, you get teased a lot because it’s not a popular sport.”

These days, the six members of the team are the big men on campus. The Quakers dethroned two-time defending state champs Flint Kearsley to become the school’s first state title holder since the softball team in 1981.

Eastern opened the Division 2 state bowling tournament with a victory over Sturgis, which won the state title in 2013, and followed up with a victory over conference champions, Owosso.

“Those were three powerhouse teams,” said second-year coach Billy Salazar, who was approached by Morris, a family friend, to coach the team. “I’m a 1988 alumni, and to win a state title for the school …”

Finding out it had been 35 years since Eastern’s last state championship made it “even more special,” he said. “I’m a bowler, so I’m at the (alley) two or three times a week, and I’ve seen these guys in the youth ranks since they were nine, 10, 11 years old.

“I knew there was talent (at Eastern)…” he added. “It would have been a shame for these kids not to bowl.”

One of the Salazar’s main contributors, Victor Rojas, is fairly new to the sport. The senior, who also plays on the varsity basketball team, started hitting the lanes competitively only three years ago.

Rojas recorded a perfect game in late January, which Salazar said was “unreal” for someone who recently picked up the game.

“Bowling is what I’m truly talented at, but I’ve always played basketball,” said Rojas, who averaged 218 this year and was third team all-state in 2015. “In basketball, we’ve never really (won) anything since I’ve been here. Us just becoming a bowling team and winning a state championship is almost unreal.”

Lewis wasn’t totally blindsided by his team’s quick success. He saw the potential last year when the Quakers won the CAAC Blue in their first season back and, at regionals, fell just 30 pins short of qualifying for the state tournament.

Salazar made his team stay to watch the ceremony for three teams who did qualify for the state tournament. It was meant as motivation.

But Lewis, who was first team all-state last season, said Eastern didn’t start this year the way it had anticipated, and it wasn’t until the postseason that he saw everything come together.

“This year, when we got to regionals, you could see a whole change in attitude,” he said. “Everyone was into it more, we were playing as a team, and, after regionals I knew that we had a good chance at states.”

Eastern will lose only one starter next season, Rojas. It’s hoping to continue the success it’s had since the program’s resurrection. Lewis believes the Quakers won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.

“I’m not worried,” Lewis said. “I’m feeling really good about next year.”

Contact James L. Edwards III at jledwards@lsj.com. Follow him on Twitter @JLEdwardsIII.