History made at state bowling tourney despite heartbreaking losses

Published 5:38 pm Friday, January 25, 2019

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor

PELHAM – It was a record-setting day for the Thompson Warriors bowling teams on Friday, Jan. 25, as Jillian Hulsey set a state record and helped lead the THS girls bowling team to its first-ever state championship appearance in school history, while the boys made the Final Four for second consecutive year.

While all of those marks were impressive, there was also some heartbreak involved in the state championship for the girls’ team.

After taking an 875-804 lead at the conclusion of the traditional round, Thompson seemed to be sitting in good shape, but opponent and No. 1 seeded Southside-Gadsden wasn’t going to give up the state championship that easily.

The Panthers were able to bounce back in the baker games starting in the first with a 188-145 victory to trim Thompson’s lead to 28 pins at 1,020-992.

Southside got 11 pins closer after winning the second baker game 180-169, which put the Warriors up by 17 pins at 1,189-1,172 heading to the final baker game.

In that final game, the two teams battled frame-for-frame down to the final bowl from Hulsey who had a chance to tie it with a strike.

Unfortunately, a few pins still stood after her bowl, which allowed the Panthers to pull out a 157-137 victory in the final baker game and win the state championship by a slim margin of three pins (1,329-1,326).

It marked Southside’s third state championship in a row.

For Thompson, it marked a historic season and a continued improvement for a team that has gotten better each year, and is now on track to win a title next season. 

To earn a berth in the championship match, the fourth seeded Thompson girls had to take down No. 3 seeded Sparkman in the semifinals in what turned out to be a competitive battle, but it gave something for the team to rally around and a performance Hulsey will be able to remember for the rest of her life as a positive from the day.

The Warriors got help from a big traditional game to start the match, however, and took a 61-pin lead with an 891-830 score in the traditional round.

A big reason for that strong showing in the traditional game was none other than Hulsey bowling a new state record of 289 thanks to 10 consecutive strikes before leaving one pin hanging in the 10th frame. Her performance broke the previous record of 272.

Thompson followed that by dominating the first baker game 201-164 to extend their lead to 98 pins at 1,092-994.

Sparkman then tried to make a run and won the next two baker games in a row 168-161 and 218-181, but it wasn’t enough to overtake the large deficit as the Warriors picked up a 1,434-1,380 win.

Thompson’s boys also put together another strong run in the state tournament running through the first two rounds with ease to lock up their second Final Four berth in as many years with still no seniors on the team.

In the semis, the Warriors had to square off against No. 8 seed East Limestone who was coming off an upset of one seed Hewitt-Trussville in the quarterfinals.

Thompson dug itself into a deep hole early after East Limestone took a 926-838 lead at the end of the traditional round.

The first baker game was closely contested between the tow, but East Limestone was still able to extend its lead by six pins thanks to a 177-171 victory to take a 1,097-1,015 lead overall.

Down by 82 pins, Thompson was in a tough spot, but the Warriors responded in a big way in the third baker game with a 225-199 win to cut their deficit to 56 pints at 1,296-1,240.

In the final baker game, however, that deficit became too much for the Warriors to overcome as East Limestone closed it out with a 181-156 final frame to pick up the 1,477-1,396 victory.

First and second round (Oak Mountain girls, Spain Park boys and girls, and Thompson boys and girls)

The first three rounds of the tournament saw plenty of action as well with five county teams starting their trek in hopes of bringing home a state championship including the Oak Mountain’s girls, Spain park boys and girls, and Thompson’s boys and girls.

Thompson’s boys and girls obviously advanced out of the first two rounds to make the Final Four. The girls took down Vestavia 1,203-1,073 in the first round and Auburn 1,355-1,060, while the boys handled Mary G. Montgomery 1,495-1,194 and Buckhorn 1,526-1,449.

For the Spain Park girls, it’s almost become tradition for them to make a solid run in the state bowling tournament making it to at least the second round of the tournament in two of the last three years.

In their first matchup of the state tournament this year, that experience came in handy, as the Jags never panicked to pull out a thrilling comeback victory against East Limestone.

Spain Park trailed 654-633 after the traditional game, but bounced back with wins of 140-131 and 179-159 in the next two baker games to take a 952-944 lead heading to the final baker game.

In that final game, the Jags lost a tight one 142-138, but that four-point loss was just enough to give them a four-pin victory by the final score of 1,090-1,086 to advance to the second round yet again.

As the No. 5 seed, however, that set up a matchup with No. 4 seed Hartselle in the second round.

The Jaguars fell behind by 31 pins after the traditional game and never could recover. They tied 135-135 in the first baker game and lost the second 160-99, before giving a valiant effort in the final game winning 192-144.

That wasn’t enough to pull off the comeback though, as Spain Park fell by a final of 1,171-1,127 to fall in the Elite Eight.

It was a short but valiant run for both the Oak Mountain girls and Spain Park boys in the first round of the tournament.

Spain Park’s boys have been one of the best bowling teams in the state since the sport became part of the AHSAA a few years ago, including two consecutive state championships, which always makes the Jags a favorite once they get to Oak Mountain Lanes.

Unfortunately, heartbreak ended that run quickly.

The Jaguars found themselves down 896-856 to Auburn after an aggregate traditional game, but still had plenty of opportunity to real that 40-pin deficit back in.

The two teams tied the first baker game at 172-172, before Spain Park won the second baker game 177-161 to cut the deficit to 24 pins with one game left to play.

In that final game, the Jags were able to win their second in a row, but by a final of 154-142, which only cut the deficit in half leading to a heartbreaking 1,371-1,359 loss.

For the Oak Mountain girls, it was a little more of a struggle after falling into a hole of 125 pins after the traditional game against No. 1 seed Southside.

The Eagles went on to lose the three baker games 166-143, 155-104 and 161-97 to fall by a final score of 1,265-1,002 after an incredible run to the Sweet 16.

Photos from all teams competing will be available at Shelbycountyphotos.com.