If anyone should know about throwing strikes its Belleville East bowling coach Marcus Barriger.
One of the top high school pitchers in the metro-east in the late 1990s, Barriger also bowled while attending Belleville West.
On Saturday, Barriger was nearly awe-struck as he watched his Lancers post a two-pin victory over O'Fallon, which featured a memorable final game at the Cahokia Sectional at Red Bird Lanes.
"I wasn't surprised we won the sectional. Just impressed,'' Barriger said. "The numbers that were put up that day was just a case of two teams that really wanted it.
"The excitement, the atmosphere in that (bowling) center that day was just really something special. We were just fortunate to come out on top.''
Led by junior Thomas Peters and freshman Justin Hess, the Lancers will be out for similar results beginning today, when they lead the way for local bowlers at the IHSA boys state bowling tournament at St. Clair Bowl in O'Fallon.
Posting the state's highest team scores during last week's sectional competition, the Lancers (6,561 pins) and O'Fallon (6,559) will battle the likes of Southwestern Conference rival Granite City, three-time state champion (Tinley Park) Andrew, Rockford Guilford, Freeport, Minnoka and others, when competition begins at 9:30 a.m.
Round two is set for 1 p.m. Friday, with the final two sessions of the tournament set for Saturday.
The trip to state is the fourth overall and first since 2009 for East, which like host O'Fallon may have a slight advantage over the other 22 competing teams.
East won O'Fallon's Panthers Challenge at St. Clair Bowl three weeks ago.
"If anything, it gives a little confidence. But the shot will be different than it was three week ago,'' Barriger said. "Our goal? We're going in with the idea that we can win it, and if you ask any of these kids they'll tell you the same thing.
"But bowling is a team game and we have to continue to work as a team if we are going to have a good tournament.''
Also hoping to contend this weekend is host O'Fallon, which enters the state finals as perhaps one of the favorites.
The Panthers boast one of the state's top 1-2 combinations in senior Tommy Frost and junior Billy Goodman, excellent depth, the home-lane advantage and a point to prove after a disappointing final day at the 2012 state tournament.
O'Fallon led after the first six games last season, only to finish fourth.
"It was just one of those days where nobody bowled up to their potential," O'Fallon coach Mike Imes said. "We just didn't make the proper adjustments. I think what happened last year will motivate us.
"Kids like Tommy (Frost) and Billy (Goodman) remember what it was like and they don't want it to happen again. This group of kids is different than last year. They're much closer and they are focused on bowling well.
"They want to be the first group in school history to win a state team title.''
Frost won the individual sectional title last week, averaging just over 238 for his six games. While senior Jason Lewis also had a good day, finishing fifth with an average of 220.
"Tommy (Frost) had an excellent day and we had some others also step up and bowl well,'' Imes said. "Billy (Goodman) struggled a little bit, but I expect him to bounce back and bowl well this weekend.
"I think you'll see some very good scores shot this weekend.''
Granite City, which won the Alton Sectional, is led by Nathan Lijewski.
Defending champion Andrew, which also won the state tournament in 2005 and 2006 is one of five former team champions in the field, along with Salem (2007), Freeport (2008), (Roselle) Lake Park (2009) and Guilford (2011).
Lockport, which was second in 2009 and Vernon Hills, which has been the runner-up the past two years, also qualified.
Rounding out the 24-team field which will compete at St. Clair Bowl are (Biggsville) West Central, Centralia, Chicago Brooks, Chicago DeLaSalle, Chicago Mount Carmel, Chicago St. Patrick, Chicago Whitney Young, Dixon, LaGrange Lyons, (Lansing) Thornton Fractional South, Glenbrook North, Oak Lawn and South Elgin.
While most of the local attention will focus on Granite City, Belleville East and O'Fallon, several local individuals also could be in the hunt for state medals.
Among the individuals are Alton's Cody Netzhammer, Columbia's Cameron Touchette, Mater Dei's Travis Ripperda, Highland's Spencer Mueller, Mascoutah's Anthony Betcher and Matthew Flanagan of Collinsville.
The top 12 teams and top 30 individuals not on those teams qualify for the final six games on Saturday.
Tickets are available at the gate and are priced at $10.