When the Pennsylvania State High School Bowling Championships roll around each March, programs from around the Commonwealth expect to see a lot of stiff competition coming out of the Central Susquehanna Valley and the Heartland Athletic Conference.
This year won't be any different.
Midd-West junior Jenna Yarger leads a strong group of area bowlers into the state championships in two weeks by claiming the girls individual title at the Eastern PA Regional Championship held over the weekend in Reading.
Yarger defeated Cedar Crest's Brittany LaBarre, 201-179, for the title. It is perhaps the most unexpected finals pairing the regional tournament ever saw.
Yarger and LaBarre were the finals' 11th- and 12th-seeded bowlers after they both rolled their worst games of the tournament at the least opportune time. Yarger threw a 154 in her fifth and final qualifying game to almost keep herself out of the finals.
But after they redeemed themselves following a series of big games, Yarger and LaBarre met in the end to decide it all.
The Mustang began her roll to the finals with a 195-164 win over No. 10 Brittany Ritzman of Elizabethtown in the first round. She followed that up with a 211-164 win over third-seeded Brynn Musser of Selinsgrove in the quarterfinals. Despite the loss, Musser still advances to the state championships.
Then in the semifinals Yarger threw a 204 to beat second-seeded Cydnee Toland-Holmes of Penn Wood, who rolled a 176.
Shikellamy coach Bill Snyder had his hands full with what was happening to his boys team, but he managed to catch what turned out to be the second straight title won by an area girl after the Braves' Shelby Derr captured the title a year ago.
"Yarger hangs on with her worst game of the tournament to make the top 12, then moves through the bracket to become the champion. I saw only her final game, but she had it won before the final frame," said Snyder. "This makes the second year in a row the Eastern Regional girls singles champion was from the PHAC."
In the girls team event, Milton was the lone squad from the Heartland Athletic Conference to qualify for the finals. However, the Black Panthers fell in their quarterfinal round of baker games to District 1's Muhlenberg, 2-0, but they still advance to states.
Cheyenne Caldwell, Megan Sherman, Emily Benfer, Brittany Badman and Halie Snyder are the Black Panthers' starting five. Rachael Noaker and Kasey Stahl are the alternates for the state qualifiers.
Individually on the boys side, sophomore Noah Thomas advanced to the semifinals for the Braves. The No. 11 seed fell to No. 2 Rodney Rippy from Conestoga Valley, 234-178.
To get there, Thomas defeated 10th-seeded Milton junior Mark Artley in the first round, 226-198. In the quarters Thomas beat Father Judge No. 3 seed, Dan Matase, 179-139.
Thomas and Artley both advance to the state championships.
"Noah now has the opportunity to match his skills with the top 24 bowlers in the state. It will be a great experience for him. His teammate Zack Williams can give him a few tips from his take last year (bowling in the state championships)," said Snyder. "Noah started out with a 167, then got in the right area and executed shot after shot averaging 238 over the next four games. In head-to-head match play, or team baker, the key is momentum. If you have the hot hand and carry the strikes it puts pressure on the other player, usually causing them to press."
In the team event, both Milton and Shikellamy qualified for the finals, with the No. 2-seeded Black Panthers advancing all the way to the championship match.
In the finals top-seeded Conrad Weiser defeated Milton, 2-1. The scores of the baker games are as follows: 237-229, 235-235, 210-245 and 192-221.
Prior to the finals the Black Panthers beat No. 3 Lampeter-Strausburg, 2-1.
For his part, Artley rolled a 726 series (235-232-259) to help Milton be among the final six teams, and he was named to the all-tournament team for his efforts.
Shikellamy, on the other hand, beat Governor Mifflin, 2-1, before falling to Conrad Weiser, 2-0, in the semifinals.
"We finished fourth, and we're going to the state finals," said Snyder. "Milton was waiting in the wings to face the winner of our match. They would fall to Conrad Weiser in a very entertaining battle. The match could have ended early. Conrad Weiser hung on and managed a tie in the second game and went on to win games three and four for the title."
Team members for the Braves and the Black Panthers that are advancing to states, held March 15 and 16 in Ephrata, are for Milton, Artley, Sheldon Leon, Jeff Levitan, Bryan Brennan, Colby Reichenbach and Justin Crawford; while Shikellamy's representatives are Thomas, Williams, Jake Kratzer, Randy Ripple, Earl Malick, Brett Bowersox and Dylan Heller.
Until next time, stay out of the gutters.
n Brian Holtzapple is a correspondent who covers bowling for The Daily Item. Email him at email@example.com.