Home lanes treated the Rhinelander area club bowling teams well this week. The problem was the lanes were equally friendly to the opposition as both the Hodag boys' and girls' squads spilt matches in a Wisconsin High School Bowling Club District 9 meet Sunday at Hodag Lanes.
Despite averaging roughly 197 pins per game in its two matches, the Hodag boys went 1-1 on the day. Following a 9-0 sweep over Edgar/Athens the Hodags dropped the final four games of their second match against Merrill to fall to the Bluejays, 5-4.
The Hodag girls won six straight at one point to knock off Marshfield 6-3 in the opening match, but dropped the first five games in a 7-2 loss to Wittenberg-Birnamwood in the nightcap.
"If you look at our scores, we're above our season average on both the girls and the boys," coach Mike Bourcier said. "Both bowled well. You look at the fill percentages and we're right on pace with where we've been. The outcome was not what we wanted. We both should have been 2-0 at the end of the day. From that point, go back to the drawing board and try to keep them set up."
The Hodag boys came out hot in their opening match against Edgar, with games of 201, 225 and 224 to take a commanding 3-0 lead. Though the team cooled off in the middle games (180, 191 and 169), they won each of the three by fewer than 20 pins, before closing the match with games of 192, 199 and 210. The Hodags finished with a season-high 36 strikes in the match and filled 80 percent of their frames (72 of 90) overall.
"We won all nine games, averaged 199 for the day," Bourcier said. "There was a lot of strikes by all the guys. This was our highest strike total for one match. When you have 36 strikes out of the 90 frames, we're better than a third of our frames were strikes. We were doing really good."
Rhinelander came out firing in the second match against Merrill as well. The Hodags rolled 200 or better in four of the first five games (200, 223, 225, 228) to take a 4-1 lead. The only game Rhinelander lost in that stretch was a 189-181 decision in Game 4.
But Merrill caught fire late with games of 221, 202 and 226 while the Hodags rolled their three lowest scores of the game to tie the match at 4-4.
"From there on out, it was just like we just lost it," Bourcier said. "We couldn't carry. We couldn't hit our mark consistently. And they just stayed hot. They bowled well. They were consistent."
Merrill stayed hot in Game 9 and the Hodags could not overcome opens in two of their first three frames as they fell 217-199.
"We averaged 195, which was great, but Merrill averaged 200 and they hit at the right times," Bourcier said. "Did it let the kids down? Yeah, I think so. They knew they needed it ... When you're up 4-1 and you only need one game to win the match, it's a little let down.
The Hodags had strong days from all of their bowlers, including Jacob Wagler, who returned to the lineup against Merrill after missing the first seven matches of the season. Wagler filled 15 of his 18 frames with 12 strikes against the Bluejays. Meanwhile, senior Calvin Schneider and sophomore Kody Litzen both finished the day filling 33 of their 36 frames. Litzen had 21 strikes while Schneider had 18.
"Jacob, I feel he has one of the stronger games of all my kids. Him, Kody and Calvin had the three strongest games," Bourcier said.
Jeremiah Braun went 23 of 30 with 14 strikes. Cody Bednarz and Eric Jones were each 20 of 30 with 14 and nine strikes, respectively.
On the girls' side, Rhinelander settled into a groove following a slow start against Marshfield, with six straight games of 157 or better as they neat the Tigers, 6-3. The Hodags dropped the first two games 156-117 and 199-142, but turned it around with a 157-126 win in Game 3 and followed with games of 171, 186, 188, 168 and 181 before Marshfield took the final game 224-145.
"They started out a little slow against Marshfield, missing some spares and just not carrying," Bourcier said. "Marshfield bowled good, especially the second game, but then they made some adjustments, got lined up and got a little more pep back into them and they went on that winning streak."
The momentum did not carry over to the second match. Wittenberg, which entered the day 1-3 in league play and averaging 149 pins a game, started with games of 202, 176, 163, 175 and 177 to clinch the match. Rhinelander lost three of those first five games by 11 pins or fewer.
"It was like they could not miss," Bourcier said. "They bowled one of their better matches. It's not that our girls bowled horrible. They averaged 150 for the nine games, but they just could not get going."
Rhinelander finally won a close game with a 158-150 win in Game 6, but Wittenberg bounced back with a 212-127 win in Game 7. The Hodags won Game 8 165-152 but the Chargers took the finale 136-129.
Katrina Blasius led the Hodags on Sunday. The junior from Elcho was 31 of 36 on the day with 17 strikes. Rhinelander junior Mackenzie Bourcier was 27 of 36 with 18 strikes and Bella Walkowski went 26 of 26 with four strikes.
"Bella did all right with 10 opens. Mackenzie was a little high with nine and then Katrina did well," coach Bourcier said. "She only had five opens. Both of them could have had one or two opens on the day, but they were just missing the easy stuff."
Alexis Kreisel was 18 of 36 with seven strikes and Paige Bailey was 7 of 36 with one strike.
The number of state qualifiers that District 9 will have for the WiHSBC state meet has been announced. The league will send three Division 2 boys/co-ed teams and two Division 2 girls' teams to state. Individually, the top eight boys and top six girls in fill percentage by season's end will qualify.
With a couple of matches not yet reported to the district's website as of Tuesday afternoon, the Rhinelander/Elcho was tied for first with Antigo in the Division 2 girls' standings (4-2) while Rhinelander/Three Lakes was sixth in the D2 boys'/co-ed standings (3-2-1). Waupaca sat third in the boys' standings, only one match ahead of the Hodags.
"Both of them still have plenty of options to go (to state)," coach Bourcier said.
Individually, Blasius sits third (.829) and Mackenzie Bourcier sixth (.765) in fill percentage in the girls' standings. On the boys' side, Schneider sits in third (.875) and Litzen is 11th (.813) in the individual standings.
The bowlers are off this week, but return to action with a non-conference match Jan. 26 at Coral Lanes in Rothschild. The final two conference matches of the season will take place Feb. 2 in Marshfield and Feb. 16 in Plover.
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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