By Michael Wojtychiw
Morgan Park has ruled the sport of boys bowling in the Chicago Public League. Coming into Monday’s city championship at Waveland Bowl, the Mustangs had won 16 of the last 20 Chicago Public League Championships and were looking to win their second consecutive title.
And going into the third and final game of the three-game series, it looked like the Mustangs would be bringing home another title, up by 24 pins over Lincoln Park and 28 over Lane.
But the Champions stepped up with a championship-high 987 series to storm past both the Mustangs and Lions and finish with a total of 2,675 pins, 51 ahead of Morgan Park and 160 ahead of Lincoln Park.
“It feels great to win it,” Lane coach Justin Perez said. “I’m so glad for them and all the work they’ve put in. They didn’t get down after not shooting what they felt like was to their potential. To see them stay focused and step up, relax and throw shots was great to see. This is why we bowl.”
“I just told them that ‘Hey guys, we’re still in it.’ I didn’t tell them what the scores were, I told them that if we spare we’re good. I told them all we needed was spares, we didn’t need all strikes. One shot at a time, execute.”
“We want to set up a dynasty, like what Morgan Park is. Morgan Park is the gold standard, so we’re just trying to mimic the same thing on the North Side.”
The Champions, who are reigning regional champions, lost three key bowlers from last year’s squad, so going into the season, Perez knew he had a good squad, but wasn’t sure how the new bowlers would do in expanded roles.
“They were big holes to replace for sure,” he said. “I figured it was going to be a little tough, but I knew that if they had an entire season to work on their games, they could really step it up and they did it. They put in the work in the offseason and when we got into the season, it didn’t feel like we lost anything.”
Matthew Gomez, the Champions’ captain and four-year member of the bowling squad, knew that the team was close going into the third game and that it could still make a comeback at the end.
But there was one thing that really helped the squad pull through at the end: cohesiveness, something that has been working for the Champions all season long.
“This is cloud nine, this is amazing,” he said. “The unity we had on the lanes was just next level. It was amazing, we came together to win that and I’m really proud to be a part of that.”
“One of the things, as a senior, that I wanted to improve on the team was I knew we had skilled players but I really wanted to hone in on team camaraderie. And I think the reason we won is because we were a true team out there. I wanted a way to pump up our players, knowing that they’re just one shot away from a breakthrough.”
Despite missing out on the team title, Lincoln Park’s program did get to bring home a trophy because junior Sam More won the individual title, finishing with 666 pins, edging out Von Steuben’s Romeo Andrade, who took second with 632 pins.
In fact, the Lions had three finishers in the top 10, as teammates Oliver Cook and Charlie Silver joined him after finishing ninth and 10th with scores of 574 and 572, respectively.
“This is surreal to be honest,” More said. “I never imagined that I would be top 10, let alone winning. Last year I didn’t do so well, but the amount of progress I’ve made is insane.
“I put in so much work through the offseason. I’ve just got to keep up the practice, keep up the mentality. Consistency is key.”
More got out to a hot start, bowling a 256 in his first game, helping the Lions keep it close with Morgan Park, his team down just four pins after the first game. His 256 would be the second-highest overall score behind Andrade, who rolled a 257.
“Definitely my hammer, being so consistent going down the lane,” More saod about what was working for him in the first game. “With the team motivating me, hyping me up, it worked so well.”
All boys bowling teams now prepare for the state playoffs with regionals this week. Lane and Lincoln Park will both be at the Lake Park Regional, while Morgan Park will be at the Oak Lawn Regional and Kennedy, which finished fourth, is at the Naperville Central Regional.
Lane was the lone CPL regional champion and ended up making it downstate, somewhere where Gomez believes his team can go again.
“We just have to build on our team cameraderie,” he said. “We have the skill to get back to state. In my opinion, we have the skill to make it to state day two and the sky is the limit.
“We can even win state, we just have to stay together, shot by shot.”