Editor's Note: This is the sixth in a series of articles highlighting the Top 10 sports stories of 2017 as voted upon by The Telegram Staff.
The No. 5 sports story profiles the Garden City Buffaloes girls bowling team after winning the Class 6A state tournament in Wichita in early March. It was the first girls team title for GCHS, and Ryleigh Whitehurst finished second individually. This is The Telegram's reporting of the story:
WICHITA — Eight days earlier, the Garden City Buffaloes girls bowling team had taken an early lead over the Campus Colts in the Class 6A regionals at Northrock Lanes, only to come up short against the two-time defending state champions.
The Baker format was the downfall then for the Buffs, with the new four-game finish added to the state tournament format for the first time this season.
On Friday morning, at the same Northrock Lanes, the GCHS girls found themselves in a nearly identical situation at the state tournament.
Only this time, there was no collapse in the critical four-game Baker format that ultimately provided the Buffs with a final-game rally to finish with an 11-pin victory over the Colts and earn them the first state championship for their half of the bowling program.
The Buffs’ final game of 220 catapulted them past Campus, which struggled with a 145, and the 75-pin differential allowed Garden to overcome a 64-pin deficit with just the one game left.
The Lady Buffs finished with a seven-game total of 3,143 pins, with the total broken down by the traditional three-game series of 854-790-787—2431, which put them 48 pins in front of Campus heading to the four-game Baker format.
Campus had rolled a 2,383 in the three game series and then put together a 749 in the four-game Baker format to make it a race to the finish.
It is the first year for the Baker to be incorporated into the regional and state tournaments, and the Buffs watched their lead disappear quickly in the first three games, rolling a 129-181-182 while Campus got hot with games of 186-192-226. That put the Colts in front by 66 pins with just one game left.
In the final game (5 bowlers roll 2 frames each, but not consecutively), the Buffs finally warmed to the task and rolled a 220 while Campus was the one that folded, finishing with a 145, a 75-pin differential that gave the Buffs the necessary rally to claim the team title.
In the process, the Buffs placed four of their six bowlers in the top 10 individual race, led by sophomore Ryleigh Whitehurst’s 604, good enough for a runner-up finish behind Taylor Cessna of Campus.
Whitehurst had games of 202-202-200 and that was good for a one-pin edge over Gabriella Millard of Topeka-Washburn Rural. Cessna had posted a 657 series to claim the gold.
“It’s amazing to know we won,” Whitehurst said. “I’ve felt all along growing up that I could be here and I hoped I would do well, so it’s even more amazing to have won as a team.”
Madison Farr was eighth at 591 (207-200-184), Angelina Leeper ninth with a 586 (242-178-166) and Alexis Leon 10th at 585 (193-190-202). Karly Larson also medaled, finishing 17th with a 559 (203-198-158).
Faith Whited was the only non-medal winner, finishing with a 526 (151-174-201), yet her 201 figured into the Buffs’ final game score of the three-game series.
Whitehurst said the team just pulled together and found a way to bowl a high game in the final.
“There was pressure, and we knew going in Campus had the lead,” Whitehurst said. “We were holding our breath, and we had to rally back. I think when Campus was struggling in that last game, it gave us confidence, and it’s just amazing.”
While five of the six team members are either freshmen or sophomores, Farr is the lone senior on the team.
“It’s been a dream of mine since I’ve been in the program,” an elated Farr said afterward. “Our team is young, but it has a lot of talent.”
Farr said she has just tried to keep her younger teammates focused and positive, no matter what the scores are.
“No matter what happens, just always stay positive,” Farr said. “When you’re in the hard moments and not doing well, you have to stay together. That’s what we did.”
Farr said there was certainly enough drama going into the fourth and final Baker game.
“It was everything and we just put it all out there and tried to leave it on the lanes,” she said. “The key in the Baker is to get a line of strikes together, keep it going, and get a lot of spares.”
For Garden coach Kip Nichols, the title reinforced what he had been saying since early in January when the season got underway — that his team was young, talented and could be a threat at the end of the schedule.
His youthful squad proved him right.
“We knew our girls were very talented, and had a chance to dethrone Campus,” Nichols said. “Our girls came out real hot, and then we struggled again in the Baker early. But they came back and showed a lot of heart, and I think when we strung some strikes together in that last game, it made Campus try just that much harder.”
It was especially satisfying since Nichols had watched his team lose that lead eight days earlier to the same team, on the same lanes, in the same format.
“I feel very blessed to have both boys and girls now having won state championships,” Nichols said. “I’m happy for all the girls, but especially happy for Madison. She kept the younger girls grounded, and they looked to her for leadership.”