The metro-east is accustomed to Arctic blasts sweeping from the north during the winter months, but local bowling teams experienced a chill of a different sort last weekend with high school bowling powers from northern Illinois descending on St. Clair Bowl for the 2016 OTHS Panther Challenge.
The northern invaders took the top three team spots in the 40-team OTHS bowling showcase. Rockton Hononegah captured the team title, with Rockford East and Harlem finishing second and third, respectively. The Belleville East Lancers topped the list of area entrants, finishing fourth overall.
The host O’Fallon Panthers managed a respectable fifth place, but could not shake off the residual effects of a disastrous final week of regular season play before the holiday break. O’Fallon Coach Mike Imes’ squad lost their final two dual matches prior to Christmas, the first time in over four years that the Panthers misfired in back-to-back league contests. The double whammy dropped the OTHS squad out of first place in the Southwestern Conference race.
Imes and his crew were hopeful of a bounce back performance in “The Challenge” to set the stage for the second half of their regular season. They got it — sort of — keeping pace with the northern contingent of schools through the first three games of the tournament. Bowling a team score of 1034 in game three, the Panthers jumped into third place. However, it was the only time the OTHS boys were to lead the pack during the day, eventually falling into fifth.
“We decided to use a challenge pattern for the tournament, which made it a little tougher than a normal house shot,” Imes said. “There were only three 1,000-plus games bowled during the first three games, and our kids had one of them, but we couldn’t sustain the pace.”
Hononegah, Rockford East and Harlem continued to bowl consistently through the afternoon session, while the Panthers faltered.
The bowlers had to work a little harder to find the pocket and pick up spares,” Imes said. “It was a fun tournament and tougher than most formats. Our team made some progress in recovering their early season form, but we still have work to do if we want to regain the top spot in our league standings.”
Mark Horner turned in the top score for the Panthers, finishing ninth after three games with a 206.67 average. The rest of the OTHS squad was well off the pace with Eli Rosenberg and Andrew Orf finishing 24th and 25th, respectively.
“Our relatively slow start forced us to scramble and added pressure to each game as we moved through the baker format,” Imes said.
The OTHS boys’ team was scheduled to return to regular season action today, Thursday, Jan. 4, with a home match against the Collinsville Kahoks. The Lady Panthers were also beginning the 2017 portion of their season against the Kahoks in preparation for their own Lady Panther Invitational, which will be held this Saturday at St. Clair Bowl.