Manhattan bowling coach Chris George couldn’t put his finger on it.
Maybe it was the fact the Indians were at home. Or maybe it was because his team has flown under the radar most of the season. Maybe it was a surge in confidence after a solid outing the day before at Junction City.
Regardless of the reason, the Manhattan High boys’ bowling team dropped school records like it was going out of style on Wednesday, setting new school-highs for team score (2,720) and individual series (AJ Cabanatuan’s 722), while qualifying for the team’s first-ever trip to state. Oh, and they beat Washburn Rural, too, finishing in first place as a team at regionals for the first time ever in front of friends and family at Little Apple Lanes.
“It was a good day for the Indians,” George said, smiling. “I’m not surprised, but I’m extremely happy. I knew we were capable, but being capable and doing what you’re capable of are two different things. We just had a lot of guys bowl at their best level today.”
Manhattan finished six pins ahead of Rural for the team title, riding the backs of the team’s back-end bowlers. Cabanatuan, typically the sixth bowler in the lineup, set the school record with a 720 and a third-place finish, while Tucker Reffitt, normally in the five-slot, finished seventh overall with a 657.
“AJ and Tucker have been our five and six, and they came through today,” George said. “AJ’s our team captain, a senior, so for him to have a day like this was pretty special, I think for everybody on the team. We were all cheering him on.”
Cabanatuan didn’t have an open frame in any of his three games, which exemplified what the Indians did best on Wednesday. As a team, they knocked down spares with much more consistency.
“They just did not miss single-pin spares,” assistant coach Robert Regan said. “They covered their spares — we only had three single-pin spare misses today. Usually each guy will have five.”
Cabanatuan almost came a pin short in his quest to top Austin Boerger’s school-record 714, converting a tough spare in the 10th frame to earn one more roll that put him over the top.
“In the 10th frame of the last game, he had a nine, with the 10-pin,” George said. “Which has been his nemesis. And he needed two pins to beat it. But he just nicked it, and then he had the last frame to just hit anything to add to the school record. He had a little pressure on him there when it was on the line. We have a lot of kids miss that spare.”
Rural’s Hunter Weeks won the tournament with a 728 and Hutchinson’s Jon Hornbaker got second with a 726. Also medaling for the Indians was senior Alex Murph, who got ninth with a 646. Smitt Thirakul shot 631, Shon Eakes shot a 625 and Alex Huerta rounded out the scoring with a 541.
“It was just a perfect blend today, which is really nice to see,” George said. “I was back and forth on the computer, but when I would go out and sit for five frames or so, I could sense it. You could just feel their confidence today. Other tournaments, it’s been not quite so prevalent — but today, they wanted to win.”
While the girls’ team didn’t have quite the day the boys’ had, they did manage to send two to the state meet as individuals in Meghan Dooley (8th, 602 series) and Katherine Eimer (15th, 565).
“Kat was kind of like AJ, she’s been our fourth or fifth bowler and had a really good day,” George said. “And Meghan, she’s been our No. 1 bowler all along. For her, a 602 is a good score, but she can do better that.”
Wichita Heights shot a 2,621 to take the team title, with Rural (2,322) and Junction City (2,298) also qualifying. Manhattan took sixth as a team with a 2,199, with Krystyn Winiecki shooting a 528, Miranda Dooley a 482, Andrea Miller a 434 and Rachael Presley a 340 to round out the scoring.
Both girls were excited to be continuing their season one more week.
“I wasn’t even on varsity last year,” Eimer said. “I was surprised — I haven’t been doing as well at the other tournaments. Today I pulled through and got it together and was lucky enough to make it to state.”
Dooley said playing at home helped keep things comfortable.
“Last year I was a little bit nervous because it wasn’t our home,” she said. “This settled my nerves a little bit. I’m so excited. I’ve worked really hard on this, and I’m really happy to be going on to state. This is my first time.”
The Indians now have a week to keep polishing their game as a team, with a trip to Wichita in the plans for next week. The state meet is next Friday at Northrock Lanes in Wichita.