Tonawanda News — CHEEKTOWAGA — After three games, North Tonawanda was atop the standings in the Section VI girls high school bowling championships, while their toughest Niagara Frontier League rivals Niagara Falls had slipped into third place after trailing by only three pins to open the day.
By late afternoon, the Lady Jacks could only watch with heartbreak as the Wolverines rallied with strong games to overtake North Tonawanda and win the title at Thruway Lanes in Cheektowaga.
"Second place overall is a good finish but we had it in our grips and we lost it," said North Tonawanda coach Bill Rohring. "It's disappointing, and I'd be lying to say that I wasn't. The girls are disappointed, too."
There was one consolation prize for the Jacks. Cassidy Powers qualified individually to compete at States, which begin March 1 in West Babylon, NY.
"I think just the experience of winning last year and coming in first, and then coming into today knowing I had to live up to what I did last year, was my driving force," she said.
Powers had the hottest start to the tournament, rolling seven consecutive strikes to open her first game. In the eighth frame, she again placed the ball in the right spot but as the pins fell the 7-pin wobbled but just wouldn't drop. She finished with nine pins downed that frame but followed up with a strike. She finished in the tenth frame with a spare and a strike to roll a 247.
She finished the day with 1192 pins dropped, the second-best individual result.
"When you start off on a few strikes, it really does give you the confidence that you're going to finish the day strong and hope that your team will finish with you," Powers said.
Unfortunately, they didn't. As the afternoon games got underway, North Tonawanda rolled team scores of 910, 873 and 786. Niagara Falls, meanwhile, rolled 984, 848 and 940 to pull away and win the tournament by 52 pins.
"The afternoon session turns into survival instead of bowling," Rohring said. "Everybody gets tired, the lane conditions become terrible, the team that survives the best ... is the team that wins.
"Niagara Falls has been outstanding in doing that all season long."
Also earning a trip to States as an individual was Lew-Port's Alexis Wade, who was unsure if she had qualified until she finally got the word from her coach.
"I was waiting around outside with my friends. I was really nervous because I know I didn't bowl my best today," Wade said. "Then he came out and said 'you're in.'"
Among the other schools taking part, Niagara-Wheatfield went into the lunch break in seventh place, 249 pins behind North Tonawanda. The Lady Falcons slipped to 10th after the second session. More heartbreaking for the team was team member Julia Brown missed out on qualifying for States by just five pins.
Tonawanda High School found itself in 19th place after the morning games but at the end of the day climbed to a respectable ninth place finish.
When it was over, when Niagara Falls scored more than enough pins to take the Section VI championship, there were plenty of cheers among their families and supporters. There were just as many tears, as the emotion of the moment set in.
"We knew it was going to be tough because NT has been one of our closest competitors all year," said Gabriele. "But I think we really wanted this bad because four of our seniors are graduating. It's four girls we've been with for the past four years, so we wanted to make it and make sure we could have that last moment together."