NA Boys Crowned State Champions

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“Who Do You Think You Are?  I am….. “   a STATE CHAMPION.

Nine years ago, probably the most infamous catchphrase in recent sporting history was posed by legendary PBA Hall of Famer, Pete Weber.  With his last throw in the 10th frame, in order to win his 5th U.S. Open Tournament, he had to throw a strike.  After almost 7 million views on YouTube, anyone familiar with the bowling world knows that Weber executed the strike and won the match by one pin.  His exclamation, “Who do you think you are? I am!”  will live forever in sporting folklore and is the composition of numerous gifs and memes on the internet.

Flash forward to Saturday March 20, 2021.  The scene, North Versailles Bowling Center as the North Allegheny Tigers took to the lanes to compete in the Pennsylvania State High School Bowling Team Championships. Twenty-one games later, NA escaped the qualification round and was one of the three teams to move on to the State Finals, by the narrowest of margins.  Qualifying first with 3976 pins was Pennsbury High School East out of Bucks County, northeast of Philadelphia.  The second position, also from Bucks County and a rival of Pennsbury, went to the Tigers from Harry S Truman High School.  The Truman Tigers finished qualifications with a score of 3886.  Both schools are part of the PIAA Suburban I League Athletic Conference.  Your NA Tigers, a member of the WPIBL, pulled together a 3875 for the third and final bid into the stepladder competition, outscoring the Exeter Eagles from Reading, Pennsylvania by one pin.  The Eagles, from Berks County Interscholastic Athletic Association (BCIAA), finished the day with a score of 3874.

Six teams from Pennsylvania qualified for the championships.  Representing the Eastern Region were Pennsbury, Truman, and Exeter and from the West:  NA, Hempfield, and Pittsburgh’s Central Catholic.

The teams were organized on the lanes according to their placement in their respective regional tournaments.  As Regional Champions, Pennsbury was coupled with Hempfield, then came the Runners-up: Exeter with NA, and then the third-place qualifiers, Truman and PCC.

Like the Regional Team competitions, multiple game formats are used during the qualifying rounds to determine who moves onto the finals.  The first round of qualification began at 10am with each team of five bowlers completing three traditional games.

Pacing the Tigers through the first game, was junior Noah Sostmann (236) with a five-bagger in frames 2-6 and a double in the 8th and 9th frames.  Joining Sostmann in the hunt was senior Dylan Scheidler (221), who threw a 6-pack, in frames 2-7.  Also contributing strong games were seniors Andrew Cook (185) and Joey Lydon (184).  The fifth game was thrown by combination of juniors –  Jeb Jorden, Gavin Rush, Marc Sostmann.  All three struggled with the challenging oil pattern with Sostmann exiting the gauntlet with a turkey in the 10th frame and a final combined score of 139.  The team total of 965 was the second highest game thrown to start the match, bettered only by Truman’s 991. From the West, Hempfield threw an 839 and PCC a 706.

As was expected, the lane conditions changed quickly.  NA started the second game missing numerous spares and the Tigers needed to make their maneuvers.  The Senior contingent of Scheidler, Cook, and Lydon were able to keep on the prowl and captain the team through the transition.  Scheidler was perfect through the front five filling each frame with a strike and adding a double in the final two frames.  Cook struck in 3 out of the 5 first frames to keep pace with Scheidler.  Lydon continued to close out his frames like a well-oiled machine making crucial spares and earning bonus for the team.  Scheidler finished Game 2 with a 218 and Cook a 194.  NA put together an 837 for the team total.  It was the lowest game thrown by the six teams, but the Tigers were able to secure a 3rd place ranking after two games.  Leading all teams was Truman with a 2011, followed by Pennsbury with an 1897, and NA with 1802.

As the Tigers have shown all season, they are able to persevere; oftentimes bowling their highest scores of the match during the third traditional game.  Fresh off of the bench, Jorden took over the third position in the lineup and led the Tigers with a 234.  He threw seven strikes, but none timelier than the hambone in frames 6-9.  Adding seven strikes of his own, Cook’s turkey in the 10th frame put an exclamation point on the 963-team total.  Only Exeter (964) was able to better NA in the 3rd game.  After three, the standings remained the same:  Truman in the king seat at 2847 with Pennsbury closing in at 2837, and NA rounding out the top-3 with a 2765.  Exeter was in 4th with a 2693.  Solidly in fifth place was Hempfield with 2615 and PCC was in last place and essentially out of contention with 2466.

For Round 2 of qualifications, the format changes from the traditional bowling game, into 3 sets of two Baker games.  The Baker format comprises of a team of bowlers who rotate bowling in each frame in a game. The leadoff person bowls frames one and six, the second person bowling frames two and seven, and so forth. In a Baker format, a higher emphasis is put on bowling as a team as each shot is crucial to the team’s success; emphasizing the idea of performing as a team by capitalizing upon each other’s strikes and spares for team count.  To bowl a strong Baker game requires consummate teamwork and a lot of mental perseverance.

In the first Baker game, the trio of Jorden, Scheidler, and Cook combined to throw a turkey in frames 3, 4, and 5.  The Tigers then proceeded to make four consecutive spares, finishing Game 1 with a 186.  In game 2, North Allegheny threw three untimely splits (aka whammies) in the 1st, 2nd, and 9th frames that squashed the formation of any momentum.  Highlights of the game were the double thrown by Jorden and Scheidler in frames 3 and 4 as well as the turkey that Cook served up in the last frame of the game.  A 163 would prove to be the lowest Baker game that the Tigers would toss in the competition.

After round 1 of the Bakers, Pennsbury took over first place with a 3234.  Truman dropped into the second position with 3136 and NA held steady in 3rd place at 3114.  The bottom three positions were occupied by Exeter (3042), Hempfield (3001), and Pittsburgh’s Central Catholic (2745).

The Tigers started strong in the 3rd Baker game with M. Sostmann and Lydon filling frames 1 and 2 with a double.  Sostmann added another in the 6th frame.  Jorden filled his final frame with a strike, too.  Scheidler and Cook closed their respective frames.  The Tigers knocked over a total of 177 pins.  In game 4 of the Bakers, the Tigers spare shooting went on full display, highlighted by the conversion of the 5-10 split by Lydon in the 7th frame.  The Tigers marked in every frame except for the 6-7-10 whammy in the 5th frame.

With two sets of Bakers games complete, the standings remained unchanged:  1-Pennsbury (3624), 2-Truman (3483), 3-NA  (3463), 4-Exeter (3415), 5-Hempfield (3382), and 6-PCC (3047).

Onto the final set of bowling in the qualification round   The 5th Baker game would prove to be the highest scoring Baker game for the Tigers.  They threw a complete game with no open frames.  Each Tiger contributed at least one strike to the pinfall.  The spare shooting was on par again especially when Noah Sostmann substituted into the 8th frame to convert a 10-pin.  A difficult spare for a right-handed person, but the southpaw converted it flawlessly.  The Tigers ended game 4 on a high note with a 213.

The Tigers continued to ride the momentum into the 6th and final Baker game with a hambone (M. Sostmann, Lydon, Jorden, Scheidler) to start the final game.  Jorden added another strike in the 8th frame. NA threw a 199 for their final game of the qualifying round.

Andrew Cook was selected for the All-State team.  His 594 series was the fifth highest series for the day.

To recap, at the end of qualifications the results were: 1-Pennsbury (3976), 2-Truman (3886), 3-NA (3875), 4-Exeter (3874), 5-Hempfield (3743), and 6-PCC (3403).  Only the top three teams move on to the stepladder finals.

It is a common saying in bowling that “Every pin counts.”  This has never been truer.  In 2021, NA defeated Hempfield by one pin in the final Baker game in the semi-final round WPIBL Team Championships and has now qualified for the State finals by the same margin.

Pennsbury’s first place qualification granted them a bye into the Championship Round.  They would await the semi-final winner between NA and Truman in a best of three head-to-head Baker match.

The format of these matches is simple.  The higher seed bowls on the left lane and starts the game.  The lower seed starts on the right and always throws their shots after the left lane.  A frame must be completed by both teams before another can be started by the higher seed.  This sequence of alternating frames adds to the intensity and the importance of each shot.  Both teams know the score and what they must do to contribute.  Again, a strike is the goal, but multiple strikes in a row can make the difference.  A spare is the minimum requirement.  At this level, anything less can cost you a title.

Truman started the game by throwing a nine count and leaving the 10-pin.  They were able to convert the spare.  Marc Sostmann led off for NA by leaving the 10-pin and converting the spare.  The second bowler for Truman proceeded to throw a nine count with the 5-pin left standing.  Up second for NA was Lydon who also threw a nine count with the 5-pin left standing.  Both bowlers converted their spares.  The 3rd bowler for Truman threw a nine count with the stone-9 mocking him, daring him to be knocked over.  On deck for NA, Jorden threw a nine count with the stone-9 also taunting him.  Up to this point, both teams not only had identical scores, but threw identical frames ball for ball.  The bowler from Truman than proceeded to tug his spare shot left and opened the frame.  Jorden’s marksmanship was on point, converting the spare with ease.  Undaunted by the minor mistake by his teammate, Bowler #4 from Truman followed up the miss with a strike.  Scheidler’s 8-count was easily converted.  Truman’s anchor followed up with a 9-count spare.  Cook then did what he does best and threw a strike to fill his frame.  Through the front 5, NA had executed their game plan and had a slight lead going into the latter half of the first game.

Truman then upped their efforts and threw a 9-count spare and a strike in the 6th and 7th frames.  NA blinked and faltered a little, opening the 6th and 7th frames.  In the 8th frame, Truman experienced some misfortune when the ball cut through the pindeck leaving the difficult to convert washout, 1-2-6-10.  Unable to make the spare, Truman was sitting with a 130 at the end of 8.  Jorden was able to convert his 6-pin spare, resulting in NA taking the upper-hand once again.  Truman finished the game with two more spares, but the 1-2 punch (strike in the 9th by Scheidler and again in the 10th by Cook), proved to be enough for NA to win the first game of the semi-final match, 182-167.

Sostmann started off Game 2 with a strike placing the pressure on Truman to match his shot. Without fail, Truman met the challenge. Lydon then spared this frame as did Bowler #2 from Truman.  Jorden and Scheidler then teamed up in the 3rd and 4th frames with a double.  Truman did not convert the baby split in the 3rd frame but did spare the 4thCook converted his spare in the 5th.  NA again took the slight advantage through the first half of the game.

Both teams traded open frames in the 6th frame.  In the 7th Lydon threw a 9-count with a 7-pin remaining.  Junior Gavin Rush joined the melee and easily converted spare, keeping NA rolling.  Truman failed to convert their spare, again, over-shooting the pins.  Jorden then put the pressure on Truman by adding a strike and bonus to NA’s score.  Truman responded with a strike of their own.

Scheidler then threw a 9-count with the corner 10-pin standing.  NA called on junior Noah Sostmann, to make the spare.  Without fail, Noah made the conversion.  Truman made their spare as well.  In the ever-important anchor position, Cook provided a double in the 10th frame sealing the victory for NA, 204-155.  All seven members of the NA Bowling team, working in tandem, were able to knock out the higher seed in two games.

Moving into the State Championship match the Tigers were taking on the #1 qualifier, the Pennsbury Falcons.  The Tigers took an early lead when M. Sostmann threw a strike in the first frame.  The Falcons were whammied with an 8-split in the first frame.  North Allegheny took the opening and ran with it; never allowing Pennsbury to gain their footing.  Lydon filled both of his frames, first converting the 2-7 baby split and then a 9-count spare.  Jorden converted both of his spares.  Scheidler threw a strike and a spare.  Cook filled his frames with two spares and a strike.  NA escapes with Game 1, 179-171.

In Game 2, M. Sostmann kicked off the game with a 7-count spare.  Pennsbury countered with a 7-open.  Lydon quickly pounced and added a strike to the Tiger offensive.  The second bowler from Pennsbury added a 9-spare to their total.

Jorden added to the attack with an 8-spare.  Pennsbury matched it with a 9-spare.

Not taking any chances, Scheidler added a strike to the North Allegheny team total.  On the counter-offensive, Pennsbury left a 7-count but then chopped off the spare by only knocking down one additional pin, thus opening up the frame.

This was just the opening that Cook needed.  He sauntered up to the line and threw a boisterous strike that ignited the NA fan base.  The double strike combination (Scheidler and Cook) was just what the Tigers needed to take the early lead.  The anchor bowler for Pennsbury then proceeded to throw a split and opened another frame.

In the 6th frame, Pennsbury would throw a strike and gain some much-needed momentum.  M. Sostmann threw the first ball in the 6th frame for NA leaving a spare that would be easier for his brother, lefty N. Sostmann to pick up.  Noah entered the game as a spare specialist and converted the frame to retain the small lead for the Tigers.

NA opened the 7th frame and Pennsbury converted the double.

In the 8th frame Jorden converted the 9-spare.  Pennsbury countered with a 7-spare.

For the last ball of his senior season, Scheidler filled his frame again with the ever-important 9th frame strike setting up the foundation for the 10th frame.  Not going down without a fight, Pennsbury also served up a strike in the 9th frame.  Cook opened in the 10th frame, but NA had built a large enough cushion to overcome the double strikes thrown by Pennsbury to finish the game.  NA wins game 2 184-177 and the Championship match, 2-0.

This is the first Bowling State Title for the Tigers.  The last time North Allegheny Boys made the state playoffs was ten years ago in 2011, finishing in 10th place.  The NA Girls last participated in the 2013 tournament.  Their best finish was 7th place in 2012.

The last time the state title was won by a school from Western Pennsylvania was in 2011.

Now, when anyone asks the NA Boys Bowling team, “Who do you think you are?”  They can reply, “I am a State Champion.”