The O’Fallon Panthers are in the trophy hunt once again at the IHSA Boys State Bowling Tournament at St. Clair Bowl.
Mark Hoerner averaged 216.3, and Matthew Doyle added an average of 211 for O’Fallon, which is in second place after the first day of competition at the 24-team event.
In search of its fifth top-three performance in the past six years, O’Fallon withstood a poor finish in the final game of the morning session and is 211 pins behind perennial contender Rockton Hononegah heading into the final six games Saturday.
Hononegath surged to a big lead on the strength of games of 1,127 and 1,245 to close out the first round. But after regrouping following a 943 third game, O’Fallon outscored the tournament leaders by 140 pins in the afternoon round to close the gap.
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“They (Hononegah) have a very strong team. They were up on us by 350 pins, but to the credit of our bowlers, we were able to get a little closer,” O’Fallon coach Mike Imes said. “(Assistant) coach John Solomon did a great in the pits of helping the bowlers make adjustments and keeping them positive.
“We want to just keep chipping away and give ourselves a chance. We need to keep bowling well to stay ahead of the teams behind us.”
Hononegah finished the opening day with 6,502 pins, while O’Fallon is second at 6,291. Lincoln-Way Central is third with 6,176 pins, while former champions Freeport (6,169) and Machesney Park Harlem (6,121) round out the top five teams. Collinsville (5,876) also qualified for the final six games and is in eighth place. The top 12 teams from Friday advance into the final two rounds.
Belleville East finished 17th with a score of 5,531, while Columbia (5,239) and Alton (5,181) placed 22nd and 23rd, respectively.
Individually, Freeburg senior Tyler Hunter averaged just more than 221 over six games Friday and is in seventh place after two rounds.
One week after winning the Mount Vernon sectional, Hunter continued to throw strikes on tough lane conditions. Sparked by a 275 performance in his final game of the morning session to finish with a 713 series, Hunter finished the day with a total of 1,328 pins, 114 less than leader Alec Buchaas, of Lockport.
Buchaas averaged 240.3 and had 1,442 pins after series of 712 and 730. St. Charles North’s Blake Miller (1,397) and Bolingbrook’s Alex Acosta (1,385) are second and third, respectively, heading into the final six games.
Also in contention for a state medal are Belleville West’s Sam Watson in 13th place (1,301) and O’Fallon’s Mark Hoerner in 15th (1,298).
Other individuals advancing to the final day of bowling were Freeburg’s Connor Gaby (203.5 average), Roxana’s Christian Bertoletti (200) and Althoff’s John Leshikar (195.2).
Competition continues with third-round action at 9 a.m. Saturday. Tickets are $10 and are available at the door.