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Weir High boys, Harrison Central girls bowl to inaugural OVAC titles

CELEBRATING — Weir High’s Wayne Zapotoczny and Thomas Babinchak led the team to an OVAC bowling championship Saturday. Babinchak won the individual title, while Zapotoczny finished second. -Rick Thorp

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — History was made Saturday at St. Clair Lanes, as 17 boys teams and 13 girls squads competed in the inaugural Belmont College OVAC Bowling Championships.

There was hardly any room to move inside the venerable bowling house, as an overflow crowd came out to cheer athletes from Ohio and West Virginia, as they attempted to tame the center’s 20 lanes and etch their names into local bowling lore.

There was excitement at all levels, with team and individual races left undecided until the final moments.

The closest battle came for the girls’ individual crown, where Union Local sophomore Alexis Stewart emerged victorious after prevailing in a tiebreaker with Harrison Central’s Kamree Best.

All was not lost for Best, as the Huskies claimed the girls’ team title.

The boys’ crowns were swept by Weir High, which was paced by individual champion Thomas Babinchak and runner-up Wayne Zapotoczny.

Stewart became overwhelmed with emotion after learning she’d won, something that wasn’t even on her radar when she arrived for Saturday’s competition.

“I didn’t think I had it in me,” she said smiling. “I’m not going to lie.”

Stewart, in fact, did, and it was her opening game 196 that proved to be the difference. She and Best finished the three 10-frame games with a score of 523, but the tiebreaker is best individual score. Best’s was a 181, also rolled in Game 1.

Admitting that her season has been filled with ups and downs, Stewart was speechless when trying to think of answers to why her OVAC performance worked.

“You just have to stay calm and keep your eye on the mark,” she said, noting the lane’s oil pattern was to her liking. “And, you just have to have fun while doing it.”

Stewart credited her teammates for helping her earn the victory.

“I just don’t have the words to explain it,” she said.

Doug Stephens, the Jets’ head coach, did.

“I’m not surprised,” he said. “Alexis is a great bowler. She just needs to realize she has all the ability in the world and have more confidence in herself. I hope (Saturday) helps her do that.”

Stephens said Stewart has matured beyond her years on the lanes, as of late.

“She picked up her spares, that’s always a key,” he noted. “Anytime you can do that, you’re in good shape.”

Best was one of three top 5 finishers for the Huskies, who finished with a score of 2,991, 160 pins better than runner-up Barnesville. Union Local was third with 2,761, followed by East Liverpool (2,651), Buckeye Local (2,600), Beaver Local (2,575), Conotton Valley (2,555), St. Clairsville (2,512), Monroe Central (2,453), Bridgeport (2,113), Wheeling Central (2,017), Linsly (2,013) and Martins Ferry (1,988).

Aleyna Runevitch was fourth for Harrison Central with 507, while teammate Tory Thompson was fifth with 484. St. C.’s Sabrina Frazier was third (520).

“This is big for our school, big for the girls and big for the county,” Huskies head coach Bobbie Parkinson said. “The girls bowled solid.

“We’ve been working hard on our spare game, which will win you matches.”

The Huskies also won the Buckeye 8 recently and have been consistent all season. Parkinson credited her assistant, Katie Norris, with keeping the team zoned in.

“This is a big boost (looking ahead to sectional),” Parkinson said. “We have four regular-season matches left and we’re going to work hard on those.”

Weir, too, hopes to end the season strong. It’s the first campaign for the Red Riders, one that’s been full of triumphs, culminating with the OVAC victory.

“I couldn’t be more proud of these guys,” said an elated Weir co-coach David Thompson. “I’m proud of all the support our principal (Kristin Bissett) and our AD (Donna Ferguson) have given us. It’s been an amazing journey thus far.

“The kids have been working hard on their own and in youth leagues and stuff like that, and they came in knowing what they wanted to do and they did it.”

The Red Riders finished with a score of 3,793, holding off the Huskies, who ended with 3,631 with a late run in the four baker games. Parkersburg South was third (3,621), followed by UL (3,531), Monroe Central (3,353), Barnesville (3,215), East Liverpool (3,212), Bridgeport (3,153), St. Clairsville (2,945), Beaver Local (2,938), Buckeye Local (2,795), Martins Ferry (2,662), Conotton Valley (2,595), Beallsville (2,294), River (2,272), Wheeling Central (2,263) and Linsly (2,001).

Babinchak posted a 681, bolstered by a 235 middle game.

“It feels great to bring this back to Weir High,” said Babinchak, a junior who has one sanctioned 300 game to his credit. “We’ve all been bowling in the youth league together at Holiday Lanes, so we already have experience. We just hopped on together as a team and kept trucking along.”

Zapotoczny, a senior, who has rolled a trio of perfect games, finished with a 664. Union Local’s Jordan Duke was third (633).

“These guys came out of the womb with a bowling ball, it seems,” Weir co-coach Charlie Whiteman said. “Now that the school has gotten involved in this and the community can see the kids shine, it’s allowed everyone to see a hidden talent in our valley.”

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