The boys will compete in the team playoff at Sterling Lanes in Sterling Heights today, with Jimmy Mitchell and Meagan Batka rolling as individuals at the same locale on Saturday.
Grand Haven’s boys squad qualified for the third straight year, after finishing runner-up in 2013-14 and in sixth place last season.
Coach Pat Mitchell said the Buccaneers are hoping to claim the top prize.
“I think they have a legitimate shot,” Mitchell said. “I think we got overlooked as a team this year, that people didn’t take us seriously until we got rolling. State-wise, they didn’t even consider doing a ranking on us, which is fine. But it was like, ‘Boys, you’re not ranked, bowl with a chip on your shoulder.’ And that’s what they’ve done.”
Jimmy, his son, also sees the Bucs as realistic contenders.
“This one is ours to win,” Jimmy said. “We have to communicate with each other, we can’t shut down when someone is having a bad day. We’ve got to keep things (moving).”
Pat’s decision to shuffle the lineup earlier in the season has helped the Bucs in their Baker games, a key component of the state’s opening round. In the Baker games, individual players take turns rolling. Pat moved his strongest bowlers to the 3-4-5 slots to continue momentum, much akin to a baseball manager putting his power hitters in the middle of the batting order.
The Bucs will roll with an order of Kieran Loughrin, Logan Batka, A.J. Perrier, Joel Collins and Jimmy.
“We’ve adjusted our lineup from what we had earlier in the season when we bowled Bakers, and that seems to help,” Pat said. “We’re keeping all of the strength in the 3,4, 5 positions. I think that really helps out a lot, because if those guys get hot — that’s three strikes in a row. And if it’s at the end of the game, that’s five strikes in a row.”
Mitchell brings wealth of experience into individual run
Jimmy has joined the Grand Haven boys team in making the state finals three straight years.
The junior finished fourth as an individual two years ago, before finishing 19th last season — three spots shy of making it to the second day of competition.
What was perhaps an even better experience for Jimmy was competing in the junior gold tour this past summer. Jimmy, having just completed his sophomore year of high school, finished 150th out of more than 1,000 U-20 competitors
He said that all of the experiences have helped him grow since his freshman year.
“I worked at Brunswick (Bowling in Muskegon) with my father,” Jimmy said, recalling his preparation for the junior gold. “It made me realize how sloppy I was, it made me a lot better. And the actual experience was a lot of fun.
“(I’m) more accurate, take more time and get into people’s heads, which is a lot of fun. My mental game has improved. I don’t get upset as fast, and I don’t cuss as much.”
He said that staying calm and not rushing was the key for him this weekend.
Pat thinks Jimmy has a chance to make some major noise.
“He’s already proven, he’s known as being one of the best bowlers in the state,” Pat said. “He’s beaten some of the other best bowlers in the state in other tournaments. I think he has as good of a shot as anybody.”
Batka makes state after heartbreak
Batka was just a pin away from qualifying for the state tournament last year.
The junior tied for 10th at the individual regional, forcing a roll-off that she came out on the wrong end of.
“I was extremely nervous, I was shaking,” Batka said. “Every single time I left a pin, I was like, ‘Will I get this, will I miss it? Or will I just blow it and not pick it up at all?’”
Batka had no reason to worry this year. Playing consistently from the get-go, she knew she had placed in the top 10, but she was ecstatic when she found out she finished third.
“I knew I had placed, (but) I didn’t know where I placed,” she said. “When they said (where) I had placed, I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ I was excited.”
Batka said she doesn’t have a goal in mind for a state finish; she just wants to bowl her best.
Pat said he thought that could be a good strategy.
“Meagan, she can sneak up on you,” Pat said. “She doesn’t look all that powerful, but she showed it in singles at regionals. She didn’t need a big last game, but she threw a big last game. That’s the type of stuff (she’s) capable of.”