Tears formed at the corners of Alex Smith’s eyes.
A typically stoic bowler, he was overcome with emotion as he readied himself for one of the biggest throws in his career.
“Honestly, there’s usually nothing going through my mind in those moments other than I know what I need to do because I need to make my team proud,” Smith, a Robert Morris commit, said. “I just needed to do my part.”
Franklin Regional’s anchor could all-but clinch the WPIBL Western Regional Championship with a strike, which would tie Norwin at 211 in the finals rubber match. One pin knocked down on a third throw would secure the title.
“I’m not really a very emotional person, but something changed in that moment and I teared up,” Smith said. “I even said to myself in my head, ‘You’ve never done this before. Why are you doing this now?’”
Like he had done all tournament long, Smith toppled every pin on the next two throws to win the Western Regional championship.
“It was an explosion of excitement,” Smith said. “I’ve never been so excited and pumped up for something before. It was the first time we won the regional championship, so I’m happy for all of us.”
Franklin Regional coach Adam Reabe felt the team would be competitive but wondered if there could be a dropoff after back-to-back WPIBL championships.
The Panthers returned Michael Zeyzus, Graham Klemstine and Smith, which left questions as to who would step up to fill open spots.
“It was hard to know at the beginning of the season how we would do, and at about midseason, you could see us coming together,” Reabe said. “I thought we could maybe win the section, make a run at WPIALs, maybe have a chance to make states, but to actually win one of these tournaments is very impressive.”
Joseph and Johnny Lasher, Ian Sunny and Ben Wohlin rounded out the team and were key pieces to the regional championship.
“The nice thing is we had seven bowlers, and honestly through the course of the day, all of them contributed in different ways and at different times,” Reabe said. “We knew it would be tough, and it came down the last few frames each game.”
Norwin took the first match, 181-177. Franklin Regional forced a third match with a 171-164 win.
“It was a back-and-forth, head-to-head, neck-and-neck battle,” Reabe said. “It’s fun and also really nerve-racking to see what’s going to happen. We knew we needed to step up our game.”
The Panthers rolled a 222 in the third match, the most they had in the tournament. Smith went eight for nine possible strikes in his anchor position to help win the championship.
“It’ll be something I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” Smith said. “My teammates are like my family, so I’m sure I’ll probably tear up again at states.”