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LOUISVILLE— Just two pins separated the John Hardin Bulldogs from a date Friday afternoon with the big bad wolf.
However, having drawn a first-round meeting with established Louisville power Pleasure Ridge Park, the still fledgling and 16th-seeded Bulldogs found their house of a season blown down by the top-seeded Panthers.
PRP, which went on to earn the runner-up trophy, didn’t trail in the first two games as it beat the Bulldogs, 3-1 (227-155, 196-166, 174-194, 189-148) in the boys’ team portion of the second Ebonite/KHSAA State Bowling Championships at Executive Strike & Spare.
PRP earned the top seed with a six-player total of 1,355 in the qualifying round – an average of 225.8. The Bulldogs, in only their second year of having a program, didn’t have any of their eight players even hit 225. The Bulldogs’ scorers were Daniel Miller (214), Brandon Shugan (160), Steven Ray Vittitoe (153), Lucas Ward (193), Aaron Gunter (158) and Alex Humes (155).
“I think we were less nervous than last time, but I think we got frustrated when nothing was falling during qualifying,” Humes said.
Sean Diezman’s 140 and Lucas Ray’s 128 were dropped and Gunter, who was a starter on last year’s State team, had to sit out after qualifying due to a thumb injury on his rolling hand.
John Hardin’s qualifying score was 1,033. With just two pins more, the Bulldogs would have surpassed 15th-seeded Graves County (1,034) and avoided the Panthers, who have eight players who finished the regular season with averages of more than 200 – and return three of those next year.
“I don’t know if we could have drawn a tougher opponent. Probably not, but those kids are insanely great,” Diezman said. “But we still went to State twice and at least we didn’t get swept either time.”
John Hardin was the 2nd Region Tournament runner-up this year to Taylor County and again last year to the Cardinals. In last year’s state tournament, the Bulldogs dropped a 3-1 decision to northern Kentucky power Campbell County in the first round.
The Bulldogs had a hard time getting on track against PRP, which marked in every frame but the seventh in its opening-game win and took a 2-0 lead by marking in every frame but the sixth.
The third game didn’t start well – an open nine in the first frame was the Bulldogs’ 12th open frame in their first 21 – but John Hardin finally got something going. It put together eight consecutive marks (five strikes, three spares) and stunned the Panthers. PRP didn’t bowl badly with once again only one open frame, but the Panthers’ only strike in that game came in the very first frame.
“It is very important to mark. They would only beat us by 30 pins and we would have three opens. Those opens would have made us win,” said Humes, who had a spare and a strike in his two frames in the third game. “But it wasn’t too bad. We still made history for John.”
A pair of splits led to open frames to start the fourth game for the Bulldogs. The Panthers took advantage with a spare and a strike as they marked in every frame. PRP, which had a season-best of 277 and an average of 196 entering State, marked in 37-of-40 frames. The Bulldogs marked in just 24.
The Bulldogs’ spare conversion percentage was just 46.7, going 9-of-13 on one-pinners, 3-of-12 on two-pinners, 0-of-2 on three pinners and 2-of-3 on four-pinners.
John Hardin made 2-of-8 spare opportunities in the first game, 3-of-8 in the second game, 3-of-6 in the third game and 6-of-8 in the fourth game.
“They’re really good, but we still had to bowl,” said Ward, the Bulldogs’ anchor. “Opens just killed us. Open frames really killed us and if we had just spared, we would have been all right.”
Nathaniel Bryancan be reached at (270) 505-1758 or firstname.lastname@example.org