Photo: Member of the Etowah boys bowling team celebrate a strike by Tyler Dobbs (right) during the AHSAA Class 1A-5A boys state tournament last Friday (January 28) at The Alley at the Gadsden Mall. (Chris McCarthy/Messenger)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
If the Etowah High boys bowling team was a relatively unknown quantity entering the postseason, that is no longer the case.
The Blue Devils came within two games of winning the school’s first team state championship in 23 years last Friday (January 28) at The Alley at the Gadsden Mall
One week after capturing the North Regional title in Tuscaloosa, the Blue Devils rode that momentum into the AHSAA Class 1A-5A state tournament on their home court. In the best of seven Baker format, Etowah posted a 4-1 win over Marbury in the quarterfinals before rallying from an 0-3 deficit to edge Elberta in the semifinals.
In the finals, American Christian Academy edged the Blue Devils, 191-190 in the opening game. Six straight strikes in both games 2 and 3 helped Etowah take a 2-1 lead before ACA tied the match at 2-2. The Blue Devils won Game 5 at 216-186 with another six-strike streak. However, ACA won in the final two games at 178-117 and 205-152 to capture the championship.
Head coach Shawanna Roper said there was no shame in finishing runner-up in the state.
“We started from the bottom, and nobody knew who we were until regionals,” she said. “People were like, “Where did that Etowah team come from?’ I’ve got four amazing seniors (Tyler Dobbs, Bear Stevens, Hunter Wilder and Lucas Bradley) who really fought for this, and they came really close. I know they’re hurting right now, but I’m so proud of them and I couldn’t ask for a better group.”
Roper was particularly proud of how her team fought back in the semifinals after being one game away from elimination.
“My boys are fighters, and they weren’t stressed about it. We’ve learned to persevere through adversity this year, so it was nothing for them in that situation. They just calmed down and kept pushing, and pretty soon things started to go their way.”
Dobbs agreed that the Blue Devils had no intention of throwing in the towel with their season on the brink.
“That showed that we have a lot of team bonding, and we trusted each other that we’d get back on our feet. We knew that one strike would change everything, and it did when Bear got [a strike].”
Dobbs appreciated the fact that the Blue Devils finished as the top public school in Class 1A through 5A.
“I think that shows that you don’t have to go to a big private school to be the top one two or three schools in the state. It also brings a lot of respect to our name.”
Bradley gave credit to ACA for weathering the Blue Devils’ rally.
“They outshot us at the end,” he said. “It’s most definitely a tough loss, but it’s over and done with. We had a team to win [a championship] but it didn’t work out.”
Etowah edged ACA, 2,683 to 2,464, in the traditional round three-game seeding play on January 27. Medaling for the Blue Devils were Kaed Bradley at 623 and Jaxson Bush at 565.
“It’s very disappointing, but I thought we came a long way this year,” said Wilder. “I wish we could have gone all the way, but it was a great experience for us four seniors. Hopefully next year the younger guys can come back and do what we couldn’t do.”
Stevens enjoyed the experience being that it was his first year on the team.
“Being here and going through the season with all these guys has been nothing but fun. I love the competitiveness of this sport.”
In the January 27 traditional round for seeding, Etowah posted the top pin total in all three games. The Blue Devils bowled 931, 892 and 860 for 2,683 pins to earn top seed heading into the elimination in the best-of-seven Baker format. Etowah finished 219 pins ahead of second-place American Christian Academy. Etowah sophomore Kaed Bradley earned the top medalist with rounds of 234, 204 and 185 for a 623 series. He ended up 30 pins ahead of ACA’s Jacob Conway. Also medaling for the Blue Devils was Jaxon Bush with a combined score of 565. Bush placed second in Game 3 at 196, followed by Stevens in fourth place at 192.
Dobbs said the team relished its underdog role throughout the postseason.
“The first thought of the other teams when we first walked in at regionals was like, ‘What are those folks doing here?’ But we showed out and won the regionals and made it here. I’m so proud of this team and how far we’ve come since freshman year up until now. We had the chance to bowl for a state championship, so it was a pretty good run.”