O'FALLON — The O'Fallon Panthers were disappointed when they came up just short of a state bowling championship a year ago at St. Clair Bowl in O'Fallon
Bowling on their home lanes, the Panthers battled through 12 games before stumbling late and finishing second, 74 pins behind Lockport at the boys state bowling tournament.
In the 2013-14 season, the Panthers are taking no chances.
With the leadership and steady play of senior Billy Goodman and the brilliance of freshman Andrew Orf, the Panthers are rolling up near record numbers on a nightly basis in racking up a 7-0 record during the first half of the season.
O'Fallon's top five bowlers are averaging 222 per game.
"Never. I've had teams with all five bowlers averaging 205 or even 210. But 222? These kids have been on a roll,'' O'Fallon coach Mike Imes said. "I think they felt like they let it (the state title) slip away late on the second day and if they had to do over again, they would do some things differently.
"They want another shot, but right now, they're just having fun bowling and putting up incredible numbers.''
Top-ranked in the latest Illinoisbowling.net state poll, O'Fallon recently bowled a game of 1,269 -- one pin short of the IHSA state record. Its highest team series of the season -- 3,454 -- is the third best in state history,
One of the state's top bowlers for the last three years, Goodman has a 219 average. That ranks ranks him among the top 10 bowlers in the Southern Illinois High School Bowling Conference. But it's only the fourth best on O'Fallon's roster.
Daman McIntire leads O'Fallon with a 231 mark, followed by Orf (229), Mikaid Stewart (221), Goodman (219) and Josh Brown (210). The Panthers' No. 6 bowler -- Justin Peacock -- averages 203 per game.
"And our junior-varsity also has several bowlers averaging in the 200 range. I think a lot of it has to do with our junior high program and youth programs we have at St. Clair (Bowl),'' Imes said. "But these kids have a lot of ability and they bowl in summer leagues and in clinics all year long. They do what needs to be done to be successful.''
Goodman has been doing what needs to be done for four years. Third at the state finals a year ago and 11th as a sophomore, the Panthers' standout said the major difference between this year's team and past squads is chemistry.
"We all get along well. It's fun when you get to bowl with some of your best friends,'' Goodman said. "To be honest, I'm not even thinking about the individual state championship.
"O'Fallon High School has never won a state team title in any sport. We'd like to be the first. That's what we're aiming for.''
A major factor has also been the play of Orf. Grandson of Ray Orf and son of Rich Orf, both former Professional Bowling Association tour players, Andrew Orf has been better than advertised.
"What can I say? Andrew comes from a bowling background and his knowledge of the sport is just incredible,'' Imes said. "But honestly, it's been a team effort. When one of us has a rare off night, we've had another person step up.''
O'Fallon will need to step up when it travels to Rockford on Dec. 27-28 for the PBA Shot Tournament and the Rockford Boylan Classic. Among the Panthers' challengers will be Rockford Guilford, (Tinley Park) Andrew, (Rockton) Hononegah and (Machesney Park) Harlem. All four are ranked in the top 10.
"I think the kids are anxious to go and to make a statement,'' Imes said. "It's always a fun weekend and its good for us to see who we'll be up against at the state level.''
The 2014 IHSA boys state tournament will be held Jan. 31-Feb 1 at St. Clair Bowl in O'Fallon.