For the second time in as many weeks, the O’Fallon High girls bowling team challenged for the top spot in an IHSA state series event when they and 11 other squads battled it out in last Saturday’s Belleville East sectional tournament.
The top four teams qualified for the trip this weekend to Rockford’s Cherry Bowl, and the Lady Panthers secured one of the spots, finishing second overall with a superlative team effort that resulted in the best score compiled by a Metro East team.
The Herrin Tigers roared out of the deep south to capture the team championship with a total pin count of 6,341. OTHS posted a 5,961 for second place. Salem (5,848) and Collinsville (5,776) were the other schools to earn a slot in the state final prelims which will get under way this Friday.
For the Lady Panthers, it was business as usual as they started strong and finished with a flourish to challenge Herrin for the sectional championship, leaving the rest of the Southwestern Conference schools in their wake. O’Fallon outscored Collinsville, Belleville East and Belleville West in claiming their second-place finish, eliciting praise from OTHS coach Garrett Spencer.
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“Our girls continue to come up big in pressure situations,” Spencer said. “Whenever we need a boost, someone steps up to give us a little extra. It’s virtually a different bowler in every tournament. Mary Orf led us to the title in the Abe Lincoln tourney. Natalie Heltne and Lauren Tomaszewski have been our leaders in other major in season tournaments, and in the sectional it was Hayleigh Williams coming up with the big series to fuel our rise to near the top of the leader board.”
Williams, a sophomore, was at the top of her game, blasting her way to a team-leading 1,355 total pin count, 67 pins off the pace of individual champion Lauren Hays of Salem. After shooting a 711 opening series, she came back in the afternoon to fire a 644, good enough for a fourth place in the individual competition. Williams super sectional totals were augmented by solid rounds from teammates Orf (1,252) and Tomaszewski (1,201).
The trio spearheaded the OTHS attack, which also included contributions from Heltne (934), Maddi Thornton (860) and Grace Braswell (359).
“Every pin counts in elimination tournaments like this one,” Spencer said. “So we needed the contributions of all of our girls, but our top three really carried the day for us. They came through with outstanding series. The great thing about our team is that any of our bowlers can lead the team on any given day. In the sectional, it was Hayleigh’s turn.”