By BRETT MARSHALL
Even before the Garden City High School bowling teams took to the lanes on Thursday at Garden Bowl, Buffaloes' head coach Kip Nichols had already sung the praises of the Great Bend Panthers, especially their boys team.
Nichols considers the Panther boys to be one of the best teams in Kansas this season, regardless of classification, and Thursday they proved why the GCHS coach has put them in such a lofty position.
Despite Garden's boys rolling two of their best games of the season in the opening three-game series (820 and 867), the Buffs found themselves on the short end of Great Bend's scores of 873 and 878. Both teams fell off somewhat in the third game with Great Bend winning that game 773-746. In the three-game Baker format, the Buffs managed to win the middle game of the set, getting their lone point in the match-play format that awards a total of 11 points.
Great Bend headed home with a 10-1 record against the boys, an identical score that the Lady Panthers posted against the Lady Buffs. Holcomb's boys were a distant third, while the Lady Longhorns nearly overtook Garden City's girls, coming up just 12 pins short of their Finney County opponent.
The Buffs got solid performances from Mickey Bridges (598), Avery Turner (573), Tristan Funk (570) and Theron Kells (552), but it wasn't enough to overtake the Panthers.
"The boys did bowl well, for the most part, but not well enough," Nichols said. "The spare shooting just kills us, and it has been all season. We're not as good as Great Bend in that area. We work on it, but in competition we somehow don't get the job done with spares."
Nichols was disappointed that the boys came oh so close, yet couldn't close the deal in any of the three-game team series portion of the competition.
"We had three games within our grasp but couldn't close it," Nichols said. "The corner pins, especially the 10, are our killers."
Senior Juan Ramirez, who signed an NCAA Division II letter-of-intent on Wednesday to attend Newman University in Wichita, paced the Buffs with a credible 651 series on games of 217-209-225, but he still finished behind two Great Bend bowlers — Dakota Conaway's 658 and Kolt Ramey's 657. Holcomb's Gavin Swann was the top Longhorn bowler with a 594 series on games of 205-234-155.
"He's bowled better than that, and I don't know if he lost focus there in the third game, but he's definitely capable of rolling high scores," Holcomb coach Lindall Cox said.
In total pin count, combining the three-game team series and the Baker format (5 bowlers roll 2 frames each), Great Bend amassed a total of 3,161 pins to 2,991 for the Buffs. Holcomb was well back at 2,630. Included in the Great Bend power display was a 266 first game in the Baker format to take command of that portion of the competition. The lone point of the day for the Buffs came in Game 2 where they rolled a 221 to a 188 for the Panthers.
In the girls competition, the Lady Buffs were never in the hunt as they struggled all day against the Lady Panthers and barely finished ahead of the Lady Longhorns.
"I think we had a reality check today," Nichols said of his young and inexperienced girls squad. "We've been bowling above what I thought our expectations might be all season and I was afraid a day like this might come along. Unfortunately, it was today."
Sophomore Alexa Hemmert had the team's best individual series at 493, well below her season best marks while senior Vicky Newell also struggled to find the line for her games, finishing with a 473 after rolling a 600-plus series at Hard Rock Lanes a week earlier against Liberal. The highest individual game came when Hemmert rolled a 175 in the opening round.
"I don't know what it was, perhaps there was a little intimidation based upon what Great Bend had done to the other WAC schools," Nichols said. "Once again, we struggled with single pins and spares. We had four open frames in one of the Baker games and lost by 10 pins. You just can't do that and expect to win against good teams."
Great Bend totaled 2,652 for the combined three-game series and Baker format scores while the Lady Buffs were well back at 2,292 pins, with Holcomb close behind at 2,280.
The Panthers' Miranda Hejny rolled a 637 to easily capture individual honors while Holcomb's Haley Walck took second overall with a 577 series on games of 196-179-202.
Garden City and Holcomb will travel to Dodge City on Tuesday for a 3 p.m. triangular with the Red Demons and then Garden returns on Thursday for the WAC tournament.
Results in Scoreboard, Page B2.