On Friday morning, the Pennfield girls’ bowling team scored like a defending state champion.
But in their first game of quarterfinal-round match play Friday afternoon, consistent streaks of strikes and spares by the Panther tenpinners suddenly became scarce.
And before long, Pennfield’s dream of defending its MHSAA Division 3 title was over.
After earning the No. 2 seed out of the original field of 18 squads during morning qualifying action at Jackson’s Airport Lanes, the Panthers were upended 1,155 to 1,092 by seventh-seeded Flat Rock in the quarterfinals.
The ninth-ranked Panthers — who a season earlier became the Cereal City’s first MHSAA team bowling champ — had an opening Baker game in the quarters of 166 while the Rams shot 180. In Baker No. 2, Pennfield rolled 175 to Flat Rock’s 165 to cut its deficit to four pins heading into the regular and final game of the set.
But in that final regular game, Flat Rock won by 59 — 810 to 751 — to claim the match by 63 pins.
“We just kind of fell apart in the quarterfinal. It’s hard to explain. Just like during the regular season, we’d have really good games followed by some bad ones. It was disappointing,” said Pennfield senior captain Kira Tyler.
“But overall, with how poorly we started the season, just to get back to the state finals and have a chance at defending our championship was pretty amazing. And this morning, we bowled well. But it just wasn’t there for us in the quarters.”
Coach Mike Roach’s Panthers had won their second straight regional and third in the past four seasons a week earlier at M-66 Bowl in Battle Creek to get back to state. Pennfield also finished runner-up at state in 2011.
And during Saturday morning’s qualifying block at Airport Lanes, Pennfield had Bakers of 166-209-167-130-134-171-204-168 and regular games of 889 and 873 to finish three pins ahead of Coloma for second place (with Richmond first at 3,473).
Pennfield freshman Joni Wirtz — pretty much replacing graduated Loretta Hinds in the lineup from a year ago as the Panthers returned four starters from last year’s title squad — shot a 244 in Pennfield’s first regular game of morning qualifying. That meant that in her last three regular MHSAA tourney games, she had 234-244-244 for a 723.
But in the regular game of the quarterfinals, Tyler had a 165, senior Taylor England a 159, Wirtz a 132, junior Kadee Bechman a 133 and senior Taylor Elwell a 162 (with junior Tabitha Haskins rolling Elwell’s final ball) — and the Panthers’ season came to a close.
“I guess the best way to put it is, it just wasn’t meant to be. It just is what it is,” Roach said.
“We did pretty well in qualifying … but in the quarterfinal, we just didn’t execute our shots when we needed to. We didn’t get a lot of strikes, and we missed a lot of spares. But we did make it back to state again. We had an up-and-down season, but still made state … and that just goes to show how hard it is to repeat as a state champion.
“I wish we could have done better here,” added Roach, “but it was still a good season for us. We have a bunch of great young ladies on this team. I’m proud of them all.”
Pennfield’s girls’ squad was the lone local team to qualify for the state tournament this year.
Pennfield’s Wirtz and England will compete in the D-3 singles finals at Airport Lanes on Saturday, as will Marshall’s Zak VanArman on the boys’ side.
In D-2 at Century Lanes in Waterford, the area will be represented by Coldwater’s Austen Reichhart (regional champ) and Dana Bailey; and Gull Lake’s Jared Edgerton, Collin Rickey and Samantha Knight.
And, in D-4 at M-66 Bowl (the site of Friday’s D-4 team finals), bowling singles will be Galesburg-Augusta’s Joshua Wayne and Dylan Whitney.
For complete MHSAA bowling tourney results, please see mhsaa.com.