Gateway bowlers celebrate regional title, look ahead to state competition

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Sunday, March 10, 2024 | 11:01 AM


When the Gateway boys bowling team wrapped up the Western Regional championship title March 2 at AMF Noble Manor Lanes, coach Joe Bowman got a message from two members of the last Gators team to qualify for the state tournament.

“They (Mark Kuehn and Dominic Beau) shared a picture of that 2008 team after they had won regionals that year,” Bowman said.

That Gateway boys team beat Woodland Hills, Greensburg Salem and Norwin to claim the title and advance to states.

“It was pretty cool that kids from 16 years ago who are still bowling together would reach out and congratulate us. It was pretty cool,” Bowman said.

This year’s Gators squad returned to the top at regionals and hoisted the first-place trophy. It will now compete at the state championships Saturday with 11 other teams at Leisure Lanes in Lancaster.

“They are extremely excited,” Bowman said.

“They’ve been waiting a long time for this opportunity. They were pumped up and so focused throughout the regional tournament, and they bowled with confidence. They went about it in a business-like manner. It’s one thing to be told you’re good enough to do it and good enough to win, but it’s another thing to go out and prove it.”

In the best-of-three regional final against section rival Franklin Regional, Gateway captured the first game 198-171, and took Game 2 for the sweep, 168-139.

Franklin Regional is solid from top to bottom, and they won our section,” Bowman said.

“We played them the last week of the regular season at our place (New Great Valley Lanes), and we beat them 7-0 which allowed us to secure second place. They were undefeated, and we gave them their only loss. We knew it was going to be a really good finals match.”

Bowman said the team depth showed throughout the regional tournament.

“Our highest average this season was 198 and our lowest was 190,” Bowman said.

“We weren’t like other teams who had someone with a 220 average and another close to that who would bolster their team average. Ours was consistent from top to bottom. When you have that, you have a great chance to do well. Anyone at any given time can get on a roll and lead the way.”

Gateway finished 10th in the boys team standings at the WPIBL championships, and Bowman said the team wanted to get back on track for regionals.

“We very quickly put that behind us,” Bowman said. “There was nothing they could do about it. They didn’t do poorly, but it wasn’t to the level they expected of themselves.”

Gateway finished the three regular games and six Baker games first in the regional standings with 3,945 pins, 64 clear of second-place Plum.

Sophomore Chase Owens and junior Landon Lohr rolled 603 and 600 series, respectively, in the three regular games. Owens recorded a team-high 235 in Game 1.

Juniors Joey Jurczak (589) and Allon Wallace Jr. (550) and senior Alex Keeling-Oliver (528) rounded out the top five for the Gators.

Gateway earned a bye into the semifinals where it swept Connellsville, 187-163 and 211-184, to advance to the finals against Franklin Regional.

“It was honestly a great feeling to win the regional title,” said Jurczak, who also will compete Friday in the state singles tournament after qualifying at regionals.

“We all wanted to do it for Alex because he is our senior. We wanted to make it the best year for him. We talked things out the whole day and were really focused on what we had to do to win. We’ve all really connected as a team throughout the season. We’re like a big family. Hopefully, we can win states with Alex and finish the season on top. It sounds like we’re one of the favorites, so we just have to go out there and show that we can be the best.”

Jurczak finished the regional singles qualifying round in 10th after recording a six-game total of 981. He rolled a 224 best game.

That finish alone clinched his place at state singles as the top 12 from the regional advanced.

Jurczak entered the bracket playoffs hoping for a regional title. But his run ended in the first round as he took second (195) in a group-of-four matchup to Greater Johnstown’s Lexington Tanaka (223).

“This is an amazing feeling to bowl at state singles because I have only been bowling since last year when a friend brought me in, and I got hooked on it,” Jurczak said.

“That day (regionals), I didn’t think I was going to do too well, but my coaches helped me, and I started clicking with my game. I started striking a lot, and it just really worked out for me. I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for my teammates keeping me relaxed and focused.”

Michael Love is a TribLive reporter covering sports in the Alle-Kiski Valley and the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh. A Clearfield native and a graduate of Westminster (Pa.), he joined the Trib in 2002 after spending five years at the Clearfield Progress. He can be reached at mlove@triblive.com.

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