At the start of last week, the mission for the O’Fallon High boys bowling team was clear. In order to capture their sixth consecutive Southwestern Conference championship, the Panther keglers needed wins in their final three dual matches.
With that challenge in front of them, they also had to prepare for the IHSA regional tournament competition — a daunting task for Coach Mike Imes’ charges.
The Panthers, however, proved up to the task, sweeping to wins over Belleville West, Edwardsville and Alton to finish on top of the SWC regular season standings. Celebrating their continuing dominance in league play was tempered, however, by the regional tournament results that concluded Monday after icy conditions had moved the original date from Saturday, Jan. 14.
The Belleville East Lancers denied O’Fallon total victory by knocking down three more pins than the Panthers in the regional showdown on the Bel-Air bowling lanes. Despite outstanding series efforts by senior Matthew Toohey, who fired a 1389 and finished second overall in the individual competition, and junior Mark Hoerner, who posted a 1336, the Lancers had enough firepower to eke out the team victory by the narrowest of margins, 6483 to 6480. Belleville East earned the regional title with more consistent scoring throughout the line-up. The Lancers finished with three bowlers eclipsing the 1300-pin plateau, which proved just enough to derail O’Fallon’s bid for the title.
SWC Title Run
Earning a sectional berth was not the most pressing concern for the Panthers as the final week of the regular season began. Surviving challenges from Southwestern Conference opponents were roadblocks to O’Fallon’s sixth consecutive league championship.
The Belleville West Maroons provided the first obstacle. Toohey and Eli Rosenberg powered the Panthers to a 3238-3040 victory. Toohey carded a 729 series to lead the local keglers in scoring while Rosenberg finished with a three-game total of 676.
The Panthers cruised to victory over Edwardsville in their next match Jan. 11, steamrolling the Tigers by over 600 pins. Toohey was again O’Fallon’s top bowler, firing three consecutive games over 200, including a team best 279 in the first game. Rosenberg and Josh Bradshaw supplemented Toohey’s high scores by breaking the 200-pin plateau in two of their three games.
The early week victories put the Panthers in position to secure the SWC title when they faced off against Alton on Friday, Jan. 13. The OTHS squad did not experience any bad luck of the 13th. Instead, led by senior Andrew Orf, the Panthers plucked the Redbirds 31-9. Orf produced a team high 679 series, aided by a 655 series from junior Matthew Doyle.
“The team came through when the pressure was on during our last week of the regular season,” Imes said. “They are really excited about starting the state series. We haven’t bowled as strong as a team as we did last year. However, we have looked really good coming down the stretch in league play, and our effort in tournament competition has been good with a 10-2 record heading in to the state-qualifying rounds. Our junior varsity team also had an outstanding regular season and ended up as co-champions, finishing with a team high game of 931 against Alton and finishing 10-2 overall.”
On Saturday, O’Fallon will join champion Belleville East, third-place Columbia and fourth-place Mascoutah in the Collinsville sectional tournament, along with four other schools advancing out of the Alton regional. The teams will vie for the chance to qualify for the IHSA state finals, which will be hosted by OTHS at St. Clair Bowl, beginning Friday, Jan. 27.