NILES - Canfield's Ben Shoman expected something special of his team.
The Cardinals boys team was set to take part in the Martin Luther King Bowling Invitational Tournament against nine other teams at McKinley Lanes, and despite the team's recent struggles, it seemed like something was different on Monday.
"I just felt special from the beginning of the day," Shoman said. "It was just something. I guess it was (the vibe of the team)."
Special it was, as the team nearly bowled a clean game in the final game of the tournament to clinch the championship. Canfield recorded a spare or strike in each frame except one, totaling 258 total pins.
The Cardinals started off strong in the game, but the way the team finished was the most impressive. Canfield rattled off nine consecutive strikes to finish off the game, including a turkey, or three strikes, in the final frame that allowed the team to amass the highest total pin count in a game during the tournament.
After each strike, the bowlers became more and more excited, almost expecting every ball to end in a strike.
"Once we threw three in a row, I knew that we were going to throw the rest of them," Andrew Letscher said. "The vibe of the team, it was there."
The performance couldn't have come at a better time, with Hubbard right behind the Cardinals.
After struggling in two of the first three games, the Eagles found a rhythm and erased an 81-pin deficit to take a five-pin lead into the final two games.
That's when Canfield returned to its form from early in the final round, knocking down 460 pins in the final two rounds. Hubbard knocked down 323.
"These last two games were monstrous," said stand-in coach Howard Mancini, who coached the team because coach Carl Hurd had work obligations. "Hubbard took us in the seventh and eighth games. We got most of our pins back here in the ninth game, but (the last game) was just an exclamation point."
Although the final game was the highlight, the Cardinals found their play throughout the tournament more important.
The team had struggled with its spare game, not taking advantage of the chance to get extra pins, but during the tournament, Canfield missed on a small number of those chances.
"We came through with the spares today," junior Paul Harris said. "We missed less than a handful, which is really good on our mark for bowling 15 Bakers. We were 50-50 before, but we really came through today."
Unlike with the boys tournament, the Austintown Fitch girls team didn't leave it late to claim the crown.
The Falcons led from start to finish, qualifying in first place and leading the entire final round, and scored the highest-game total in all but three games.
Fitch won by 218 pins over second-place Girard.
"We came in with a good attitude," Lynnette Seebacher said. "We all had a good look on the lanes, and we bowled the best we could."
According to coach Matt Clips, the team has been dominant for much of the season. Fitch had struggled multiple times in the Baker games, or ones in which each team member bowls two frames in a game, but the Falcons showed no signs of weakness in the final, where all 10 games were Baker games.
"It depends on our lineup," Clips said. "Whoever we got in, they just flow together. They go as a team - once one goes, the other ones go."
Having lost to one team all season, the Falcons expect to go far in the postseason.
"We've had a great season so far," Seebacher said. "We're a good team. We have a lot of potential, and we have the potential to go far in all of our tournaments."