Jags repeat as AHSAA State Champs

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor

PELHAM – As we have rung in a new year, a lot has changed since the start of 2017, but one thing that has remained the same and will for another 365 days is that the Spain Park boys’ bowling team will remain AHSAA State Champions.

After several thrilling matches to get all the way to the finals, the Jags made it to the championship match where they met the Vestavia Hills Rebels in a matchup of the top two seeds in the tournament. Spain Park got the better of the Rebels with a strong final three games to win 1,036-899 in the championship match and complete the repeat.

“As Nick Saban kinda proved this year, it’s very hard to repeat because the target is on your back,” Spain Park head coach Stephen Hobbs said of his team’s stellar performance. “We are actually a stronger team this year than we were last year, so it was really nice to finish this out.”

With the sport still being only two years in, more bowlers are starting to come forward, and teams across the state are becoming better, making this year’s run by Spain Park maybe more impressive than last year’s, at least that’s what Hobbs said.

“The competition has elevated since last year,” he said. “Vestavia is an excellent team and beat us twice in the regular season and have been bowling lights out here. All of these teams have been bowling lights out, so to repeat is really an accomplishment.”

Things started out intense in the championship match as the Jags came out firing in the first of five games hitting a strike in six straight frames at one point to bowl a 237 and take a 237-205 lead at the conclusion of one game.

SPHS struggled to maintain that in the second game as they ended up with the lowest game total of their four matches at 133. Vestavia took advantage scoring a 186 to take a slim 21-point 391-370 lead heading to the third game.

It looked like that trend was going to continue as the Jags’ struggles lingered into the third game, but after trailing by a good chunk through the first half of the game, Spain Park ended with four straight strikes to win the game 197-183 and trim the Rebels lead to just seven at 574-567.

You could tell at that moment in the match that momentum had shifted in the Jaguars favor and it clearly showed in the fourth. They started the fourth game with a spare before reeling off seven straight strikes. That streak ended in the eighth frame, but with a spare, which was immediately followed by another strike.

After everything was said and done, Spain Park had seized control of the match bowling their highest game of the tournament 258. The Jags had gathered a little cushion and taken an 825-762 lead as they were all of a sudden one game away from repeating as state champs.

“That game got everybody up,” Hobbs said of the incredible run. “As long as we bowl loose we bowl well, it’s when we get tight that we struggle, so it was nice to see them be a little more loose.”

In the fourth, they didn’t have to do anything spectacular, but they followed their 258 performance up with another 200-plus game, bowling a 211 as a team. With the Rebels bowling their lowest game of the tournament at 137, Spain Park had sealed the match and state championship with a 1,036-899 performance.

“My guys were definitely nervous, but they weren’t showing it,” Hobbs said. “There’s something about being there already, they’ve already done it and have that feeling of we’re supposed to win. What I was most proud of was that they never caved, even at the point in the match where Vestavia was throwing strike after strike.”

The Jags trek to the finals was an impressive one. On day one of the tournament to determine seeding they bowled a total of 2,857 to gather the No. 2 seed just behind Vestavia who ended day one with 3,014.

Spain Park then proceeded to knock off Indian Springs (1,002-755), Grissom narrowly (889-820) and Hewitt-Trussville (1,022-927) before facing off against the Rebels in the finals.

In the individual portion of the event, which took place on day one, Andrew Harris bowled a total of 613 in three games to finish sixth overall. He received a medal as one of the top-8 finishers.