Photo: Southside High girls bowling team members Ashlee Hull, Jennifer Clontz, Rose Losco and Cheyanne Bohannon (pictured, from left) celebrate during the AHSAA state championship match on Jan. 25 at Oak Mountain Lanes in Pelham. (Dennis Victory/al.com)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
The Southside High girls bowling team found itself in unfamiliar territory on Jan. 25 in Pelham.
After rolling through the competition in the seeding play and the first three rounds of championship play with relative ease, the two-time defending state champions found themselves trailing Thompson by 69 points following the 10-pin tradition game portion of the title game.
It was the largest deficit that the Lady Panthers had faced in the four-year history of the program.
But SHS head coach Zack Blume knew his squad possessed the mental wherewithal to pull out the win.
“I could see the girls were a little down (after the 10-pin segment), but the leaders on our team
took over and basically said that the hanging of heads had to stop right then and there.”
Southside followed that directive to the letter en route to a third straight AHSAA championship with a 1,329, to 1,326 victory at Oak Mountain Lanes.
Grace Ann Clontz and Cheyanne Bohannon sparked the Lady Panthers’ championship rally with respective 171 scores. Those two performances helped Southside remain within striking distance, and in the game’s final frame, Clontz had the opportunity to give the Lady Panthers their first lead of the Baker format. The junior came through with a spare that stood up as the winning points when the Lady Warriors subsequently bowled a seven.
“I could see Thompson getting a little nervous, and I didn’t sense any [nervousness] from our girls,” said Blume. “It wasn’t anything new for us. All our girls know is that it’s the state championship and that this is where we shine. Our girls just don’t know how to lose.”
Clontz totaled 736 in her four traditional games. Her combined score of 736 for the four traditional games was second behind Thompson’s Jillian Hulsey. Clontz was also the individual runner-up with 222 in the semifinal round, where Hulsey bowled a state girls record score of 289.
Clontz and her teammates held an impromptu meeting prior to the Baker rounds against Thompson.
“It was a realization that we had to do our best at that point in time,” said Clontz. “I think in that moment, we became more of a team than we ever had been before. We told each other that we’d done it before and we could do it again and that it didn’t matter how many [points] behind we were. But Thompson put up a good fight; that was some of the best bowling I’ve seen from them.”
Clontz felt the pressure before her winning roll but was able to tune out the distractions and outside noise.
“I wasn’t even really thinking about bowling at that point; I was focused on what I had to do at that moment. I was shocked I was able to do that, because it was so loud. It turned out to be a really bad bowl, but I was just happy that I got the pin action that was required.”
Grace Ann Clontz, Jessica Clontz, Jennifer Clontz and Ashley Hull made the all-state tournament team.
“Grace Ann got us to the place where we needed to go,” said Blume. “Big-time players make big-time plays when it counts, and she was outstanding for us throughout the tournament. I’ve watched that kid grow up before my eyes, and she made it her team last week. I’ve been saying since Grace was in the eighth grade that she’ll be the best female bowler in the state of Alabama. If she’s not the best right now, she is in the top two.”
The Lady Panthers opened Friday’s single-elimination tournament with a 1,265 to 1,002 victory over Oak Mountain. Southside then posted a 1,081 to 1,035 win over Gulf Shores in the quarterfinal round and a 1,334 to 1,140 victory over Hartselle in the semifinals.
“I’m calling this [championship] a little more special than the others because the other two times, we didn’t face anywhere near as much adversity during the [state] tournament,” said Blume. “We had a tough march in the quarterfinals, where we had our worst performance ever, and then we had a mount a comeback in the finals against a really good team.
“Starting with the seeding rounds (on Jan. 24), it looked like our girls came in there to make a statement, and the statement was made. It’s an incredible feeling, and my favorite part to tell people is that none of our girls is graduating.”
On Jan. 24, the Lady Panthers earned the top seed in championship round play with 2,599 pins in seeding play in three rounds of traditional bowling. Thompson finished a distant 200 pins behind Southside at 2,399.
Four Southside bowlers finished in the top five series leaders. Grace Ann Clontz was second with a 562 total, followed by Ashlee Hull in fourth with 545, Jennifer Clontz in fifth at 533 and Jessica Clontz in sixth with 525.
Southside’s won all three rounds of seeding play with respective scores of 860, 857 and 882. The Lady Panthers’ third set total was the best single round total of the day for the girls’ competition. In individual play Grace Ann Clontz and Jennifer Clontz finished second (201) and fifth (190), respectively, in the first round; Jennifer Clontz and Ashlee Hull came in third (196) and fourth (188), respectively, in the second round; and Hull took fourth place (198) in the third round.
Grace Ann Clontz acknowledged how special it was to win three straight state championships in light of the fact that most high school sports programs never win even one.
“Before we started winning, people around here would hardly know what bowling was. Now, we can go anywhere and people are recognizing us and congratulating us. I honestly think that we’ve brought more light into the sport of bowling in this area.”