Boys bowling: South Brunswick goes wire-to-wire for Tournament of Champions title (PHOTOS)

The South Brunswick boys bowling team finished its season in dominant fashion Wednesday, carding a 2,988 pin total to secure a Group 4 state title before taking down Jackson Memorial in the Tournament of Champions final at the NJSIAA Team Championships at Bowlero in North Brunswick.

The Vikings came out of the gate hot, rolling a 1,080 Game 1 that was one of just a handful of four-digit scores recorded and the only one to come out of its group on the day.

Holding a 200-plus-pin advantage after two games, South Brunswick rolled a 912 in Game 3, finishing 192 pins ahead of second-place Howell to secure the Group-4 state championship.

In what may be the final Tournament of Champions in the state’s history of the sport, South Brunswick nearly saw its T of C title run cut short in the semifinals. Earning the top seed for the tournament after carding the top score of the day, the Vikings would face fourth-seeded Group 1 state champion Roselle Park in the semifinal matchup, a team it outscored by 312 pins in the morning session.

The best-of-five Baker-format matchup came down to the final game, with South Brunswick winning two games before Roselle Park evened things up, but the Vikings outlasted the Panthers to earn a 181-109 Game 5 win. South Brunswick needed just about every pin in the semifinal victory, which was highlighted by a Game 2 that came down to the final frame, with the Vikings eking out a 161-160 win to take a temporary 2-0 advantage on the way to the win.

“We were Mountain Conference champs in our county, we were sectional champs, and then we were Group 1 champs,” Roselle Park coach Vincent Fucci said after the T of C loss. “No matter what happened after that, we were leaving here a winner…. We had a great season. I want to say good luck to all the seniors that are graduating.”

The other semifinal matchup between third-seeded Group 2 champion Montville and second-seeded Group 3 winner Jackson Memorial was not as closely contested as one might have expected, with Jackson Memorial earning a 3-1 win, as Montville only went over 170 once, to set up the championship match against South Brunswick.

“To win a state championship is what we came here to do,” Jackson Memorial Drew Gibson said after the T of final. “It’s been a great thing to do. … I’m very proud of these guys. We lost at sectionals, came in second, so to come back and win today, it shows a lot of character, a lot of heart.”

South Brunswick wins the boys NJSIAA Tournament of Champions team bowling event at Bowlero in North Brunswick on Wednesday, February 16, 2022.John Jones | For NJ Advance Media

In the Tournament of Champions final round, South Brunswick earned a 3-1 victory, bouncing back from a disappointing 155 in Game 3 to put things away with a 211-181 win in Game 4 to secure what may be the last TOC title in New Jersey bowling history.

“We have a plan all year long,” South Brunswick coach Kelly Forthun said after the win. “It’s strikes, spares and get whatever pins you can get, in that order. So, that’s what I tell them. Go back to the basics of what I’ve told you about the whole course of the year. Strikes, spares and then pins if you get splits, because every pin counts.”

After securing the championship, the South Brunswick bowlers demonstrated their even-keeled nature, shaking hands with the opposing bowlers instead of displaying the typical exuberance that one would expect from a group of teenagers celebrating a state-title-winning performance.

While one could easily mistake the Vikings’ lack of outward elation following the title as a lack of passion, it was rather a demonstration of what makes this South Brunswick team so great on the biggest stage — avoiding getting too high or too low at any moment, an absolutely vital skill in a sport as emotionally driven as bowling.

“They never have shown any emotion,” Forthun said. “You see the parents trying to get them to say something, and they never say anything. They literally just keep focused on what they have to do.”

Senior Charles Soriano agrees with his coach’s assessment.

“I think it keeps us calm and prepared for the match,” Soriano said of his team’s energy level on the lanes. “Keeps us all in place, not letting us get too cocky or anything, and I think it helped us win the group.”

While many of the top teams around the state have a clear-cut hierarchy featuring a no-doubt anchor bowler, South Brunswick rotated its lineup throughout the Baker-style T of C, with Soriano holding the anchor spot for the decisive fourth game.

“That’s the thing about this team,” Forthun said about frequently switching her lineup. “All of them are about the same, so it depends on who steps up on that day. There’s really no true anchor on my team. They all bowl about the same. So again, it’s who’s bowling best at that point. That’s why we had to make some switches — just to find a combination that worked.”

While other top teams around the state sent three or even four bowlers to the state individual tournament being held this Friday at Bowlero in North Brunswick, the Vikings had only one bowler qualify for states, a fact that is emblematic of just how balanced the team was on the way to its title-winning showing.

“It’s great,” Soriano said of his team’s top-to-bottom talent. “You know you can rely on your teammates, and as we saw, we put up good numbers and we won the match.”

The most closely contested group in the morning session was Group 3, which was decided by just eight pins, as Jackson Memorial overcame a seven-pin deficit after two games by carding a 941 in Game 3 to beat second-place Westfield, which earned a spot in the team tournament as a sectional wildcard selection, 2,952-2,944.

Group 2 saw the Mustangs go wire-to-wire in their state-title performance before falling to Jackson Memorial, while Group 1 also saw a team overcome a deficit. Sussex Tech led Group 1 by 23 pins after two games, with Roselle Park carding a 937 to come all the way back from a 104-pin deficit following Game 1.

“Our program is relatively young,” Montville coach Rick Crescente said. “We started in 2013 and here we are less than 10 years later and it’s our second group championship. I couldn’t be prouder of our guys or for the program. … An awesome opportunity for our kids.”

Despite the disappointing finish in the T of C final, Jackson Memorial is on the short list of teams expected to make it to next season’s state team championships, expecting each of its top five bowlers, all of whom still have a year remaining at the high -school level, to return for the 2022-23 campaign.

“We’re five juniors and we came here and won a state championship,” Gibson said. “So we’ll be back again next year. … This is kind of the first time we’re in the mix. Now that they know they can do it, we plan on being back here.”

BOYS BOWLING: NJSIAA Team Tournament of Champions

Matt Harney of Jackson Memorial reacts after a strike during the boys NJSIAA Tournament of Champions team bowling event at Bowlero in North Brunswick on Wednesday, February 16, 2022.John Jones | For NJ Advance Media

Jackson Memorial also became the first team to win a state championship on both the boys side and the girls side since Manchester Township accomplished the feat in 2010.

Kieryn Knox of West Orange capped his day in the ultimate fashion, rolling a perfect 300 in Game 3 to finish with a 747, behind only Westfield’s Perry Cuccaro (750) for the top series of the event, with Seneca’s Jack Pearson finishing third overall with a 688.

The perfect game was the seventh of his career and the second this week for Knox, who also had a 300 in his Saturday league this past weekend. The senior standout will be attending Savannah College of Art and Design next year, where he will compete on the bowling team while pursuing his intended major of graphic design on a full scholarship.

“I was pretty nervous during the one in league,” Knox said on his perfect game. “Obviously there’s a lot more people here today, so it was a little nerve-wracking, but I knew if I focused on what I needed to do and made a good shot, I’d be alright.”

Knox made the stepladder tournament as a sophomore and will look to make it back as a senior after last year’s postseason tournaments were canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, with 2020 champion Tommy Burns of Eastern, who also qualified once again, standing in the way and looking to defend his title on friday.

The elimination of the T of C in all sports is a decision that several bowling coaches around the state are disappointed in. While most sports would require another day of competition at another venue, and all the planning that goes along with it, the teams that would compete in a bowling T of C are already at the venue, meaning that the only difference would be another three games on the lanes and an extra hour or so of time.

“The TOC is so awesome,” Crescente said. “In a sport like bowling, when every team is here already, adding another four teams to just finish out that day, I don’t understand why it can’t be done. I understand basketball and other sports, you’ve got to come back another day.

“We’re here already, let’s get it done. I know that’s how a lot of coaches feel.”

If Wednesday’s tournament does wind up as the last one in state history, it will go down as a good one.

NJSIAA STATE TEAM CHAMPIONSHIPS COMPLETE RESULTS

TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS FINAL

1-South Brunswick def. 2-Jackson Memorial 3-1

190-199, 217-176,155-209, 211-181

TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS SEMI-FINALS

1-South Brunswick def. 4-Roselle Park 3-2

176-128, 161-160, 141-159, 181-209, 181-109

2-Jackson Memorial def. 3-Montville 3-1

179-168, 197-161, 173-185, 195-161

GROUP 4

1-South Brunswick 2,988

2-Howell 2.796

3-East Brunswick 2,740

4-West Orange 2.649

5-Union 2,615

6-Eastern 2,609

7-Mons Tech 2,586

8-Seton Hall Prep 2.486

9-Mons Catholic 2,449

10-Washington Township 2,442

GROUP 3

1-Jackson Memorial 2,952

2-Westfield 2.944

3-Woodbridge 2,769

4-Gloucester Tech 2.654

5-Brick Memorial 2,626

6-Camden Tech 2,622

7-Warren Hills 2,600

8-Shawnee 2,491

9-Scotch Plains-Fanwood 2.468

10-Pascack Valley 2,447

GROUP 2

1-Montville 2,828

2-Seneca 2.702

3-Brick Township 2,690

4-Medford Tech 2.623

5-Burlington Township 2,581

6-St. Joseph of Metuchen 2,559

7-Indian Hills 2,317

8-Delbarton 2.235

9-Mahwah 2,216

10-Millburn 2,127

GROUP 1

1-Roselle Park 2,676

2-Sussex Tech 2.631

3-Wallkill Valley 2,592

4-Oratory 2,554

5-Bordtown 2,547

6-Gloucester 2.543

7-Overbrook 2,419

8-Keansburg 2,406

9-Wallington 2.405

10-Bogotá 2.233

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