Now entering its 15th year as a sanctioned Illinois High School Association interscholastic sport, boys’ bowling has been dominated by schools from the Quad cities and the metro-east. Dominating the lanes has been standard practice, particularly among Southwestern Conference schools.
The O’Fallon Panthers have figured prominently in the mix, having reeled off five consecutive top five finishers in the state finals. Pre-season polls put the current OTHS boys’ squad in the top five in the state, but in their Southwestern Conference opener last week, the pre-season hype was trumped by a concerted effort by the Belleville East Lancers.
In the league-opener for both squads, the outcome was up in the air until the final frame of the third game. The Panthers gutted out the victory with pressure-packed shooting in the final round to defeat the upset-minded Lancers by a slim two-pin margin, 3252-3250.
“What a way to start conference play,”said veteran O’Fallon High coach Mike Imes. “We went to Bel-Air expecting a good match; however, we got a lot more than we bargained for. The match cane down to the final frame of the third game before we were able to pull out the victory by the slimmest of margins.”
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Behind Matthew Toohey’s 278, the Panthers were able to jump to a 59-pin advantage in game one. Mark Hoerner, Eli Rosenberg and Andrew Orf also finished above the 200-pin plateau to help pad the Panther lead. However, Belleville East responded to the challenge, blasting their way back into contention and taking the lead by 23 pins at the end of game two. Kurtis Murphy’s 298 and a 235 posted by Brandon Lacy led the Lancer surge.
O’Fallon was able to overcome the 23-pin deficit in the rubber game of the match — barely. The Lancers had four bowlers posting 200-plus games. The Panthers were just a little bit better, led by Josh Bradshaw’s 239 and Hoerner’s 232.
“Our matches against Belleville East have turned into a pretty intense rivalry,” Imes said. “Coach (Marcus) Barringer has had his team ready to compete against us for the last two seasons, and they came about as close as you can come to knocking us off. The match should serve as a wake-up call for our kids. Any time you have had the success our program has had — especially over the last five years — you come into every match, every competition — with a big target on your back. I thought our kids responded very well to the challenge. It should help us prepare for the rest of the season — make us a little more aware of the challenges we will face.”
In securing the victory, the OTHS squad was led by Orf’s 676 series, followed closely by junior Hoerner’s 673.
The OTHS junior varsity squad had a little easier time in collecting their first win of the 2016-17 campaign, rolling past the junior varsity Lancers 2381-2144. Matthew Doyle with a 678 series led O’Fallon.
Next up for the Panthers are two scheduled dual matches versus Plainfield North and Collinsville followed by major tournament appearances at Triad on Nov. 26 and in the Abe Lincoln tournament in Taylorville on Dec. 3.