Photo: The Etowah High boys bowling team gather for a photo after finished first at the AHSAA Class 1A-5A North Regional Tournament on January 20 in Tuscaloosa. Pictured, from left: assistant coach Kevin Hunt, Brayden McClain, Ben Beitel, Garrett Gibbs, E.J. Teal, Brandon Underwood, Jaxon Bush, Chris Beitel, Kaed Bradley, head coach Shawanna Roper. (Submitted photo)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
The Etowah boys, the Southside girls and the Southside boys bowling teams finished first, second and third, respectively, at the AHSAA Class 1A-5A North Regional Tournament on January 20 in Tuscaloosa.
All three teams advanced to the AHSAA State Championships this Thursday and Friday, January 26-27, at The Alley at the Gadsden Mall. Thursday seeding play will be held in the traditional format, with the boys starting at 9 a.m. and the girls at 1:30 p.m. Friday’s elimination round in the Baker format beings at 8 a.m. for the boys and 1 p.m. for the girls. Admission for the state tournament is $12 per day. Tickets may be purchased at www.gofan.com.
The Blue Devils defeated West Point, 962 to 857 in the championship match, the Lady Panthers fell to East Limestone, 1,051 to 1,137 in the finals and the Panthers lost to West Point, 893 to 811, in the semifinals.
It was the second straight regional title for Etowah.
“I felt that this was the first time [at regionals] that all eight teams brought their A games,” said Etowah head coach Shawanna Roper. “I told my kids and I told them to stay humble and stay focused and to fight to the end. After we lost the first game to West Point, I brought them together and told them to remember that the score is 0 to 0 in in every Baker game. They pulled it out, and I can’t tell you how proud I am for our boys. They’ve put in so much work, and I couldn’t ask for a better team and a better group of kids.”
Both the Gadsden City girls and boys fell to Sparkman in Friday’s Class 6A-7A Baker round. The Lady Titans lost 622 to 420, while the GCHS boys came up short by a score of 976 to 846.
Etowah opened last Friday’s Baker format action with an 865 to 740 quarterfinal win over Fairview, followed by a 989 to 901 victory over Corner in the semifinals.
Etowah junior Kaed Bradley finished as the top 1A-5A individual bowler at the tournament. The Blue Devils (10-1) are undefeated since a region-opening loss to Southside in October.
“We didn’t go up against any lightweight teams (at regionals,” said Etowah head coach Shawanna Roper. “We beat Fairview four games to one, but against Corner, it was like we’d win a game and then they’d win a game. It went back and forth, and we ended up beating them four to three. Kaed was absolutely phenomenal for us.”
Roper pointed out that Bradley is the only returnee out of the five starters from last season.
“These kids had some big shoes to fill coming in, and they really executed,” she said. “They’ve put in a lot of work. We had a few freshmen who came up with a few much-needed spares (against West Point), so we’re really happy about the progress of our younger players.”
Roper noted that Bradley stepped up to fill the leadership void left by the four graduated starters.
“I told him before the season that he may be only in the 11th grade, but he had to set the tone.
Kaed and Garrett Gibbs have done such a great job in sharing that leadership role. They’re always talking to the rest of the guys and trying to get them motivated.”
The Southside girls opened Friday’s elimination round with a 565 to 434 win over Southeastern, then defeated John Carrol Catholic, 627 to 442, in the semifinals.
“We played great until the very last match,” said Southside coach Zach Blume. “We had to wait around for about 40 minutes until it got started, and we got cold. We gave away a couple of games, but if we were going to give away games, that was the [tournament] to do it in, not this week. Sometimes you’re cruising and lose your focus, and it bites you. But [the state tournament] is going to be a fun couple of days, and hopefully we’ll do what we’re capable of doing and take it home.”
Blume pointed to eighth grader and 2022 All-State performer Cora Clontz as a key factor in the Lady Panthers’ runner-up showing. She bowled a personal best and a school record 255 in the semifinals against John Carroll Catholic.
“Cora’s been good for a long time, and she really stepped up this past week,” he said. “Kiera [Phillips] had a slow start, but she picked up her game as the day went on and finished really strong. Kelsey [Hull] will tell you herself that she didn’t have a really good week, but her bad week is still better than most everyone else’s.”
The Lady Panthers won five straight state championships from 2017 to 2020. Southside finished as state runner-up in 2021 and third last season.
“I’m really looking forward to what we can do back here in Gadsden with the chance to hopefully start a new dynasty,” said Blume.
The Southside boys defeated East Limestone, 678 to 555, in the quarterfinals before coming up short to West Point.
“It wasn’t so much of what we didn’t do [against West Point]; it was that [West Point] bowled so well,” said Blume. “They just got more bounces than we did. We came out on fire after we did so well in Thursday’s seeding round, and that carried into our game against East Limestone. I think we had a little bit of a letdown after we qualified for state but give credit to West Point.”
Roper is excited about hosting the state tournament later this week.
“I’m so thankful that the [AHSAA] considered our small town,” she said. “We’ve been working with [The Alley manager] Emily Gibbs with making we have the layout we need. Us, Gadsden City and Southside always come together when it comes to hosting state, and we’re all pitching in. Just bringing it back to Gadsden for another year is awesome.”
Blume is confident that all three local teams will enjoy an edge Thursday and Friday while competing on their home turf.
‘The Alley is a great equalizer,” he said. “It’s a tough place to play, and it’s always been tough. But that’s how it should be for a state tournament.”
The Southside and Etowah boys’ teams split their two games in the regular season. The Panthers won by 120 pins in the first match, while the Blue Devils took the second match by 118.
“I think that when we’re right and when Etowah’s right, we’re two of the best teams in the state,” said Blume. “We’re so evenly matched, and it could very well come down to the two of us [for the state championship.”
“To get to the end [of the tournament] with Southside would be something to see,” said Roper. “I’m also rooting for the Southside girls to finish in the top 2. We have three strong teams coming in, and I think we’re going to make history.”
In Class 1A-5A traditional round seeding round on January 19, the Southside girls and boys both placed first, while the Etowah boys finished third.
The Lady Panthers finished with a combined three-game score of 2,337, edging East Limestone by 33 pins. Clontz placed first in individual scoring at 622 (157-255-210), while Phillips bowled a 469 (123-158-188) to take fifth place and Hull 434 (140-143-151) to place ninth out of 27 competitors.
The Panthers rolled up 2,674 total points, 106 more than second-place John Carroll Catholic. The Blue Devils finished with 2,474 points.
Southside’s Dalton Suther was the leader in local boys individual play with a fifth place showing of 597 (211-186-200). He was followed by Bradley in seventh place with 574 (186-206-182), Gibbs in eighth place with 565 (241-156-168), Southside’s Jack Kilgo in 11th place with 524 (191-176-157), Etowah’s Jaxson Bush in 13th place with 519 (147-172-200) and Etowah’s E.J. Teal in 21st place with 452 (157-136-159).
For Gadsden City in Class 6A-7A seeding, Gabriel Brito finished ninth out of 32 participants with a score of 606 (221-191-193). Derik Henson came in 24th with a score of 476 (156-138-182). Aaliyah Bostick paced the Lady Titans with a 16th place score of 378 (175-90-113). Halie Arrants and Jai’Dence Guyton finished 22nd and 27th with respective scores of 358 (127-105-126) and 325 (109-015-11).