LEWISTON — What expectations Jeff Marcotte had for his bowling team weren’t lofty ones.
After struggling through the regular season and winning just one game in the state tournament qualifying, the Lewiston High School bowling coach entered the state championships with a heavy dose of realism.
“We weren’t going to win,” he said. “For what we’d showed all season long, I thought if we make it to the semifinals or get through the first round, things can happen, but I wasn’t expecting it. They just hadn’t showed me anything at that point.”
Well, something happened on the way to a third state championship in the last six years for the Blue Devils. A team that likely wouldn’t became a team that could and did. It was a stunning victory at Lewiston’s Sparetime Recreation on Saturday, March 7.
“I would never have guessed this in a million years,” said Marcotte. “It was a Cinderella story. None of the other schools thought we would do it. They all thought we’d be a pushover because of what happened during the season. We got beat pretty handily in some matches because we weren’t able to pick up spares. For some reason, in the championship match, they started to gel.”
Lewiston had reached the semifinal round the last two years in the state tournament. Those finishes came after winning the state titles back-to-back in 2005 and 2006 and finishing runner-up in 2007. This year, Marcotte had just two regulars back, his youngest son Cam Marcotte, a junior, and sophomore Tim Leeman. The rest of the state championship squad included juniors Kyle Fenderson, Alex Gagne, Tyler Saucier and Brian Bickford.
“They were actually the only two bowlers that had any high school bowling experience,” said Marcotte.”The rest of the team bowled in the youth league on Saturdays but some of them never bowled at all. So we had a real young and inexperienced team.”
Lewiston is one of a handful of varsity bowling teams in the state. They compete in the Southern Division, which had six teams, including clubs like Cony, Lawrence, Winslow and Waterville while there are nine teams in the North, most from the Greater Bangor area. Many of the teams are still club programs.
Lewiston typically practices on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and bowls on Thursday nights. The season runs from late November to the tourney in March. During that time, the Blue Devils began to show progress.
“We had to breakdown everybody, going back to basics and build from there,” said Marcotte, who is assisted by his son Brandon, who was on both state title teams for Lewiston. “Our first three bowlers, their averages were about 100 or maybe 120. At the end of the season, one was 140 and the others were 160 or 170. We built them up.”
Still the team had its inconsistency. In the state tourney, the teams bowl under the Baker Format, in which five players from each team rotate to bowl two out of the 10 frames. Teams typically played one of these games per week, but Lewiston had struggled, especially in a tournament over the Christmas break.
“We finished dead last,” said Marcotte. “We struggled all year in the Baker games. We won one game out of six to finish last.”
His team practiced that format leading up to the tournament, but the Blue Devils faced other obstacles. The team was going to be shorthanded in the qualifier because Cam Marcotte, the team’s top bowler, was going to be away on a school marketing project. Another bowler thought he might not be able to compete but arrived just in time for the match.
“We lost the first two games against Waterville and we came back to win the third,” said Marcotte. “We almost took the fourth, but we finished as the third seed only because Cony lost all four of its games and we had won one.”
That was still a major step for Lewiston. When the team got down early, Marcotte told them he expected a much better showing from his team, especially on their home sight. The team began to respond, including two relative newcomers that had to fill in at the head of the rotation. Gagne and Fenderson were tossed into the fire when the team was shorthanded but helped the team’s cause.
“We had to scramble to even field a team,” said Marcotte. “I only had two other bowlers that we could use, and they were both JV bowlers. I hadn’t had them bowl with us for two weeks because we didn’t want to carry the extra bowlers. To get the production out of those two got the team fired up.”
A few days later in the state tourney, the Blue Devils continued to show that spirit. Marcotte told the kids they couldn’t have the slow start it had a few days prior in the qualifier.
“They took it from there, and they just bowled phenomenal,” said Marcotte. “They rose to the occasion. They got fired up. They were screaming and hollering. Usually they goof off in between frames. They were all focused. Every one of them was focused and took it one shot at a time.”
Lewiston beat Hermon with games of 200, 183 and 234 to sweep the best-of-five. In the next round, the Blue Devils beat Waterville, the team it lost to in the qualifier. Lewiston won in four games with victorious scores of 170, 158 and 186.
In the championship match against heavily-favored Skowhegan, it was a nail-biter. Lewiston won the first game but the teams traded wins until the decisive fifth game. The Blue Devils needed the high score of the tourney with a 237-203 win. Marcotte’s three strikes in the 10th frame helped seal the victory.
“It went back and forth the whole time,” said Marcotte. “It was ironic because we were on Lane 5 and 6 and each one of us had won our game on Lane 5.”
One of Lewiston’s problems all year had been a domino effect. When one player made a mistake or was struggling, the rest of the team would follow. That didn’t happen in the state tourney. The players rallied around each other and picked one another up when it mattered.
“One would get down because he missed and then the rest would just follow him,” said Marcotte, who has the entire team returning with the addition of some promising young bowlers coming up. “We didn’t do that this time. I told them that if somebody got down, the rest of them had to pick him up. They were fired up the whole time. They were on each bowler to get them fired up and keep them pumped up.”