Bowlers from Central Hardin and John Hardin are looking to slide a few into the pocket come Thursday and Friday at Executive Strike & Spare in Louisville.

The Bruins earned the Region 2 boys’ championship with a five-game triumph over Russell County, while the Lady Bulldogs lost in the championship in three to Taylor County earlier in the week in Campbellsville.

Central Hardin’s Rachel Langford, Skylar Weekley and Cameron Driggers qualified for the individual championships after finishing in the top four.

John Hardin’s Blayke Brunner and Michael Eads were the regional champions in the Unified Team Bracket.

In the unified brackets, a partner bowls the odd frames and the unified bowler takes the even frames. The frames are combined to equal a game score and the students move up the bracket.

The Unified/Adapted/Ambulatory Division championships will begin at 8:30 a.m. Thursday, with the singles competition starting at 11:30 a.m.

The teams will battle it out on Friday, with the girls beginning at 8:15 a.m. and the boys at 2 p.m.

Central Hardin’s boys defeated Bardstown 181-180, 175-161, 225-243, 208-184; Taylor County 252-165, 174-184, 214-203, 184-233, 220-153; and Russell County 188-178, 191-194, 203-203, 189-178, 237-174 to claim the trophy.

Jeff Crady and Dayton Epperson are co-coaches with the Bruins’ program.

“As Dayton Epperson said, ‘These guys really wanted it more than anyone else, and didn’t stand down from anyone,’” Crady said. “Alex Ash was huge in both of those wins, striking out to force ties, and then to win matches. We can’t say enough about these guys. They did well this year, but sometimes lacked consistency. On Tuesday, they were consistently great, confident, and tough as nails the whole day. It was awesome for both of us to get to watch them bowl.”

The Lady Bulldogs defeated North Hardin 124-145, 160-135, 165-147, 160-117 and Nelson County 176-137, 161-180, 133-120, 163-136; before going up against Taylor County and falling 174-108, 137-99, 235-108.

“The road to state began with a one-game bracket seating where freshman Leia Souza led with a 205 in spite of her left-hand boxer’s fracture,” Coach Jenny Brown said. “The eight-game series yielded a combined score of 917 which landed us in fourth place and gave the team a bye. Bowling North gave us an initial scare when they won the first baker match. However, the team turned it around and took the next three to move forward.”

John Hardin then faced Nelson County, the No. 8 seed, which upset No. 1 seed Central Hardin 136-128, 171-155, 145-143.

“I knew the ladies were up to the challenge because each baker was a little bit higher and they were all pretty consistent,” Brown said. “Seniors Lilly Delk, Meg Slatton, and Jessica Beardsley led the charge in the final baker rounds. I just had a sense they were going all the way in the third baker. Coach Bob Hack and I looked at each other and knew we were going to state.”

• In the girls’ singles competition, Langford, a senior, made a huge jump from finishing 17th last year to place second this season. She rolled a five-game series of 989 (162-278-173-177-199).

“Rachel had some nagging injuries last year at the time of region which really hampered her bowling,” Crady said. “At the beginning of the year, she was consistently in the 200s, but as her arm injury got worse, so was her consistency. After regions last year, she took off an extended amount of time, let her arm heal, and came back this year with a healthy body and the same confident attitude.”

The sophomore Weakley rolled 188 and 199 in the final two games to erase a 55-pin deficit to Tatum Hamilton of Taylor County and grab the final qualifying spot. Last year, Weakley’s final two games were 150 and 126 to finish sixth, 31 pins out of a tie for fourth.

“Last year as a freshmen, Skylar let the moment get to her a little bit,” Crady said. “She was in fourth place heading into the last round of qualifying, then got too focused on a couple mistakes and let her scores get away from her. This year she managed her emotions much better, and kept making spares putting herself into a position to be successful. She learned a lot from last year, and applied that throughout this entire season.”

The coaching staff was looking at two bowlers who were trying to accomplish the same thing, but were going through different avenues to do so. Langford was trying to become the region champion and was sitting in first by seven pins through 30 frames.

Cherith Brockman of Taylor County won the rolled a 214 in the fourth game to Langford’s 177.

“We just tried to keep both girls focused, but on different things,” Crady said. “Rachel, we wanted to stay loose and aggressive with her strike ball as she had a large lead going into the second half of qualifications. Skylar, we wanted to trust herself and focus on letting her ball roll and using her natural power to blow up the pocket. Both girls got in the zone and did a great job.

“Rachel never cracked a moment in any pressure. She struck out to force a tie in the second round of step ladder, then won the roll off to get into the championship. Skylar made up all that ground and then forced the girl who beat her to bowl 190-something to win. Both were really present and amazing in the big moments.”

In the singles step bracket, Taylor County’s Sara Bright edged Weakley, 191-189, then lost to Langford 182-182 (47-28, rolloff); and Brockman topped Langford, 233-200.

• Driggers battled out with teammate Ash for the fourth and final qualifying spot.

Driggers had a 17-pin lead through qualification, but Ash came back with a 199 to Driggers’ 182 to tie things at 797 with 10 frames to go.

Driggers got the edge, 191-181 in the final game.

“That was a tough situation for Coach Epperson,” Crady said. “He just told both boys to do their best, and we were hoping they would both sneak in the top four. Coach helped get Alex into the second round of qualifying with some great advice, and then watched Alex and Cam fight for their state birth. The two guys are best friends, and it was a hard situation to watch one be so excited, and one be so gutted, but it was also a great sight to see them sitting on the bus together on the way home, being the bros they are not letting that come between them.”

Driggers then dropped the first game of the single step bracket, 176-164, to Eric Rogers of Taylor County.

• Outside of the top four in the girls’ singles division, but in the top eight, were Elizabethtown’s Kassidy Richter, who bowled a 572 through qualification, and John Hardin’s Jessica Beardsley, who grabbed the final qualifying spot at 515, 19 pins ahead of Bardstown’s Sophia Sharp and 22 in front of Central Hardin’s Cierra Crocker.

“Jessica Beardsley had a personal goal to break top eight,” Brown said. “In a very tight competition, she did exactly that. Her next two bakers were solid (166 and 199) but not enough to recover the pins her opponents were ahead of her. As her coach, I’ve never seen her so determined nor have I ever been as proud of her.”

Richter, who sat in third place after three rounds of qualifying, bowled 145 and 170 to eventually finish in sixth place, 24 pins out of a tie with Weakley.

Beardsley finished in seventh at 874, 13 pins behind Richter.

“Moving forward, the weather has definitely put a damper on practice plans,” Brown said. “However, we will resume on Monday and work hard to all be on our best game for state. For the seniors Meg and Lilly, this is a return trip. For the rest of the team, this will all be a new experience. I look for our seniors to lead us through the brackets but I expect they will get lots of support from the rest of the team.”

Mike Mathison can be reached at 270-505-1758 or mmathison@thenewsenterprise.com.

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