O'FALLON — The Alton girls' bowling team was on pins and needles Saturday at Fairview Height's St. Clair Bowl for the O'Fallon Sectional.
The Redbirds thought they had done enough to advance to state for a second consecutive season, but in the end they came up just a little short. A little is no exaggeration. AHS missed the cut by six pins, finishing with 5,714 on the day for fifth place. The fourth and final team to qualify for state, O'Fallon, accumulated 5,720 pins.
Champion Herrin (6,010), Collinsville (5,767), Salem (5,746) and O'Fallon were the four squads to move on.
The waiting game was probably the hardest part for the Birds.
“With bowling it's not an instant scoreboard up there,” Alton head coach Jeff Woszczynski said. “You've just got to tell the kids to watch the scoreboard and do your best.
“We were consistent most of the day. We shot in the 900s the entire time and we didn't have any real bad games. You've just got to take your hat off to the other teams. Sometimes it's just that way. We missed it by just six pins and just a spare here or there or an extra count somewhere could have done it, but it is what it is.”
Through the tears of not advancing as a team though, there was one high point for the Redbirds. Junior Eryka Graham finished with the second best score on Saturday and advances as an individual. She will be the only bowler from the five Greater Alton area schools at state. Graham totaled 1,305 pins to trail only sectional champ Madison Kasza of O'Fallon (1,344).
Maybe the most tears of the day came from Graham, who was planning on sharing the state experience with her teammates like she did as a sophomore. It's bittersweet for her, but her teammates assured her they will be in her corner at the state tournament in Rockford next Friday and Saturday.
“It wasn't the way I wanted to go,” she said. “I wanted to go as a team and it's going to be real scary going as an individual, but I know even though they're not there they will support me.”
It turns to individual focus this week and Graham knows she's got to keep working for one last weekend of bowling.
“A couple of the girls told me when I go up to state I'm not just representing myself, but I'm also representing the girls that didn't make it,” Graham said. “I'm going to try my best and I'm going to practice really hard and fight for it.”
Ashley Heistand (1,205), Allison Steines (1,101) and Amanda Menke (1,096) finished in the top 50 for the Redbirds Saturday, but didn't make the cut to advance to state.
Woszczynski thought it was unfortunate Alton didn't get through the tight sectional field. It was a solid season for the Redbirds and he's proud of what they accomplished as a team.
“It's been a solid season,” Woszczynski said. “Dave (Meyer) did a great job with the girls this year. We had 11 wins this year in duals and we won a couple tournaments and finished second in a few others. We bowled well here, but the other teams bowled a little bit better.”
Roxana's Deb Bethel and East Alton-Wood River's Kierstan Niethe and Shelby Yarborough also saw their seasons come to a conclusion at sectionals after advancing as individuals out of the Alton Regional.