Making its seventh consecutive state tournament appearance, O’Fallon hopes to finally break through and win that elusive state championship when it competes against the other top 23 teams in the state Friday in the first round of the IHSA State Bowling Tournament at St. Clair Bowl in Fairview Heights.
Coach Mike Imes, who has led O’Fallon to five straight top-five finishes at the state finals, made it clear what the Panthers’ goal is this weekend.
“The goal is to win it. We’re tired of coming close and being in the top 5. We’d like to win it this year,” he said Thursday. “Realistically, I think there are eight teams who are coming in here with a chance to win the state title. But it’s the state tournament, and you have the top 24 teams in the state competing. Its the best of the best this weekend.”
Former state champions Freeport (2008), Lake Park (2009), Lockport (2013) and Rockton Hononegah (2015) are also in the tournament, which will begin at 9 a.m. Friday. Round two is set for 1 p.m. Friday with the top 12 teams and top 30 individuals advancing to the final two rounds Saturday at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m.
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Tickets are $10 both days and will be available at the door. Doors open to the public at 8 a.m.
Belleville East on a roll
Belleville East, which hasn’t had a top-10 finish at the state finals since 2013, when it placed ninth, may be bowling as well as any team in the state heading into the first round.
Coach Marcus Barriger’s squad won the regional two weeks ago, then posted the top score in the state last week with a score of 6,519 pins in winning the Collinsville Sectional at Camelot Bowl.
East is also looking for a better showing after placing a disappointing 22nd at state a year ago.
“Last year this team entered the state tournament, and we just couldn’t quite put up the numbers needed to compete with some of the big dogs,” said, Barriger, a former standout pitcher in the Mon-Clair League. “However, one year later we return with the same players in place and one more year of experience under our belt. We were very young last year, and not one of the bowlers last year had any state experience. Now all the bowlers with exception of one have experience at the state tournament.”
Seniors Doug Gray and David Barrett-Ness lead a strong Lancers team that features five bowlers capable of averaging over 220 per game.
Last chance for Orf and Toohey
Making their fourth and final trip to the state finals are O’Fallon seniors Andrew Orf and Matthew Toohey. Both all-state bowlers a year ago, the Panthers duo needs to be at their best this weekend if the Panthers have a chance of becoming the first team state bowling champions in school history.
“It’s going to take two good days of bowling. When one team member has an off game, we need someone to pick them up. We’ve had that all year,” Imes said. “Favorites this weekend? I think you have to say Hononegah and Machesney Park Harlem. They have been ranked 1-2 in state all season. Then, I think ourselves, Columbia, Triad and Belleville East all have a chance.”
The best of the rest
The Columbia Eagles, Triad Knights and Mascoutah Indians look for top-10-or-better finishes this weekend.
The Eagles got clutch efforts a week ago from sophomores Jacob Amos (1,339 total) and Justin Budde (1,294) to finish a strong second behind Belleville East at the Collinsville Sectional. Cade Stein and Seth Harris also both averaged over 210 for Columbia last week.
Triad, which won a regional title for the first time in school history, is led by senior Gavin Pisetta and junior Nick Beeler, while Mascoutah received big performances from Bryan Stevens and Chad Hardin to grab the sixth and final spot for the state tournament.
Sectional champion Collin Korte, of Highland; Clayton Hartman, of Collinsville; Tyler Hunter, of Freeburg; and Sam Watson, of Belleville West, will compete as individuals.