COLUMBUS - In the week leading up to the Division II state tournament, Champion senior Zach Zigmont said that if the Golden Flashes didn't win a state title, they at least wanted to be best finisher from northeast Ohio.
They did both - and beat a northeast Ohio school to prove that fact.
In thrilling fashion, Champion defeated Struthers, 3-2, in a best-of-five game baker series to claim the first ever Division II state bowling championship on Friday at Wayne Webb's Columbus Bowl.
"Wow - that's all I can say without choking up," Zigmont said. "Third time was the charm."
Zigmont was referring to the fact that this was the third straight year the Golden Flashes reached the state tournament, and while the team bowled strong and steady throughout the day, they definitely caught some breaks that led them to the first team state bowling championship in Champion history.
The Golden Flashes were the top seed heading into the championship round after qualifying with a pin total of 3,367. In the first match of the championship round - in which the top eight teams square off in a bracket tournament - Champion easily defeated Vermillion, 3-0. After that is when the day got interesting.
In the second round, the Golden Flashes matched up with Versailles, and each team won two games heading into the fifth and deciding baker game. In Champion's 10th frame, senior Danny Simmons - who finished fifth individually for first-team All-Ohio honors - bowled a seven, but it left a 2-8-10 split. With the seven pins he hit, Champion's score sat at a 171.
Knowing that it would be difficult to pick up, Simmons decided to wait to throw his final ball, as Versailles was still in its ninth frame. Champion had the lead, but if Versailles marked out in the ninth and 10th frames, Champion's season was over. However, Versailles left the 10 pin in the final frame, giving Champion the win and a date in the finals with the Wildcats, who rallied to defeat Coldwater, 3-2, in their semifinal.
"Once he missed that pin, I felt like this was it for us, we had this," Zigmont said. "You feel bad. Any other day of the week that kid picks it up."
The Wildcats and the Golden Flashes are no strangers on the lanes, so it was fitting the two met for the fourth time this season in the state finals.
The teams traded wins through the first four bakers, but in the final game to decide the state title, Struthers left four open frames to Champion's two, which proved to be the difference as the Golden Flashes won, 170-143.
"It came down to staying clean and picking up spares, whoever was going to do that more was going to win," Champion coach Dale Johnson said. "This is well deserved, I wanted this so bad for these kids.
"The parents went and made buttons that said 'third time is the charm,' and we ran with that. We got the kids believing that."
While Struthers came in as runners-up, the Wildcats had bowled well all day. They were seeded third heading into the championship round with a 3,523 pin total, and senior Danny DiLoreto was the medalist of the state tournament, individually throwing a 678 series.
"Champion is a good team," Struthers coach Bob Eisenbraun Jr. said. "We bowled well all day, I have no complaints on my end. A break here or there could have been the difference, but it's OK."
For Champion, the tears of joy and celebration were well deserved as its body of work on Friday was impressive to say the least.
During the individual games, the Golden Flashes rolled a 1,098 game, which is fifth best all-time at the state tournament. Also, later in the day during the qualifying bakers, Champion threw a 289, which is second best all time at state. And in the end, the Flashes were the best in the Ohio.
"This just feels amazing, we are state champs," senior Justin Cox said. "It's just everything we've worked for, we got it."
McCloskey fairs well at state: Maplewood's Mark McCloskey finished in 29th place out of 99 bowlers on Friday at the Division II state tournament at Wayne Webb's Columbus Bowl.
The junior, who was the first Maplewood bowler in school history to advance to the tournament, started off strong with a 225. He followed that game up with a 182 and a 177 for a 584 series.
His series was in the top third of all bowlers, and in the top half of bowlers that rolled all three games. Places 77 through 99 consisted of substitute bowlers that only threw one or two games.