By Rubin E. Grant
The Vestavia Hills boys bowling team is not dwelling on its 2019 state championship.
“That happened last year,” Vestavia Hills coach Todd Evans said pointedly. “We’ve moved on to a new challenge.”
That new challenge will be the Alabama High School Athletic Association State Bowling Championships Thursday and Friday at Oak Mountain Lanes in Pelham.
The first round will be Thursday and the championship round Friday. The final day’s competition will be live-streamed over the NFHS Network.
On day one, teams will play three traditional 10-pin games to determine seeding for day two. The day two matches will be elimination rounds and teams will be placed in 16-team, single elimination brackets. They will bowl one traditional game and three Baker games. In the traditional game, five bowlers from each team bowl a full 10 frames. In a Baker game, five bowlers combine to bowl a single 10-frame game.
Bowling starts at 12:30 p.m. on Thursday and 8 a.m. on Friday. The finals are scheduled for 5 p.m. on Friday.
The Rebels will have three seniors competing who were part of the 2019 championship team: Mason Maners, Nick Watts and Reese Merritt. Maners is a Jacksonville State baseball signee and Watts plans to bowl in college.
Junior Walter Reed, whose older brother Beau starred on the 2019 team, and sophomore Smithson Yielding round out the Rebels’ starting five. Seniors John Christiansen and Josh Turner and junior Riley Giardina provide depth.
“We have a really good, deep team,” Evans said. “Everybody has something they do really good.
“But this team is different from last year. Last year’s team would try to outscore you individually and hold their own in the Baker. This year’s team is a better Baker team and not as good individually.”
Last week, the Rebels were knocked out by Spain Park 1,448 to 1,397 in the semifinals of the South Regional at Camelia Lanes in Mobile.
Spain Park went on to win the regional title, defeating Auburn 1,601 pins to 1,313 in the final. The Jags totaled 1,010 pins in the traditional round and posted a 235 team score in the second game of the Baker series.
Cameron Park led the Jags’ championship match win with a 238, the top individual total in the traditional round. The Jags’ Austin Gothard rolled a 211 in the final. Cooper Kelley had a 254 in Spain Park’s semifinal victory against Vestavia Hills.
Reed rolled a 279 in the Rebels’ quarterfinal victory against Oak Mountain, ending with 1,640 to 1,390 for the top single game of the day.
Oak Mountain and Hoover also will be competing in the boys state tournament.
The Vestavia Hills and Spain Park girls teams advanced to the state tournament from the South Regional.
Watts knows the Rebels’ boys face a stiff challenge as it attempts to successfully defend its title.
“It’s hard to repeat,” Watts said. “We don’t have as much talent or good athletes as we had last year, but we have good competitors. We come at different angles.”
Evans is optimistic about the Rebels’ boys chances despite their regional loss to Spain Park.
“We’ve been to the state tournament the last four years and only once have we won regional,” Evans said. “I feel pretty good about our team. We had a kid, Reese Merritt, who couldn’t bowl at regional because of a stomach virus, but he’ll be fine for state.
“All that said, Spain Park played a heck of a game against us. They hit shots, but we didn’t do what we’re supposed to do. They’re talented and they’re definitely playing well, but anything can happen. If we do what we’re supposed to do it doesn’t matter what they do.”