DeKALB – Heading into the final frame with his senior riding two straight strikes, Sycamore boys bowling coach Aaron Williams pulled aside Austin Verhaeghe.
He told him to finish strong to help out the team. It turns out, that was Verhaeghe’s mindset from the start.
Verhaeghe finished with a strike and a spare, polishing off a 220 game to secure the top spot in the Northern Illinois Big 12 Tournament and a first-place finish for the Spartans on Thursday at Mardi Gras Lanes.
[Photos by Sam Buckner for Shaw Media]
“I told him we needed every pin we can get, cause we’re fighting Yorkville – and then LaSalle and Ottawa,” Williams said. “So just finish strong and make a statement. We come back here Saturday for our regional, so finish strong.”
Verhaeghe finished with an average of 229.8 in the six games and finished 56 pins ahead of DeKalb junior Nicklaus Eberly, who averaged a 220.5. Matt Leuze was sixth overall for the Spartans, averaging a 209.3.
Sycamore ended up with a 7,122 for a 210-pin win over Ottawa as a team, with LaSalle-Peru 239 back of the Spartans, and Yorkville – which was within 125 pins after four games – 257 out of first.
“I wasn’t focused on the tournament crown, just making consistent shots and making the team better,” Verhaeghe said. “It was about helping the team win instead of just myself.
Verhaeghe came out strong to start the day, rolling a 738 series with every game between a 235 and 257. But he opened the afternoon series with a 184.
“I just kind of let it go,” Verhaeghe said. “That 184 game, it wasn’t that big of a deal. I knew I had to make the moves and come back, and then I shot a 237.”
Williams said Verhaeghe had a knack for bouncing back after an off game.
“He’s very good at doing that,” Williams said. “He’s a smart kid, he knows what to do. He knows what he’s doing wrong and what he needs to correct.”
Eberly started the morning off with a 620, putting him in ninth after three games. But he surged in the afternoon with a 247 and a 243 before finishing with a 213. Eberly credited switching bowling balls for the improvement.
“He’s one of our top bowlers and he’s capable of that every day,” DeKalb coach Allen Collins said. “Obviously bowling is a tough sport, a mental game, and some days you are off. But he found his lines today and carried a good day for us. I’m really happy with that.”
DeKalb finished with 6,635, in fifth place in the seven-team field.
“We were a few spares short of hitting our 1,200 mark we like to have with our six-man lineup,” Collins said. “We shot several rounds in the 1,100s. We were right there. I think we have good momentum coming into our regional Saturday.”
The Barbs’ Michael Rae ended up seventh overall with a 208.8 average. Collins said the future is bright for the sophomore.
“He an upcoming star for us,” Collins said. “He’s matured well for us since his freshman year and he’s capable of being right up there, challenging Nick. Hopefully they’ll have a big battle on Saturday for that 1,300 spot.”
By the numbers: Verhaeghe, in addition to winning the tournament, finished as the top point getter for the season in the conference. Leuze was 10th. Eberly was fourth overall.
Beyond the stats: Collins shuffled his lineup after the fourth game, allowing freshman Billy Baber and senior Paul Anderson the chance to each roll two games.
They said it: “We didn’t bring our ‘A’ game today. It was a little below our ‘A’ game,” Williams said. “But overall we accomplished the goal we wanted, our first goal. It was a tight race between us and Yorkville, and I’m proud of my seniors, Austin and Matt.”
Up next: The Spartans and Barbs will both return to Mardi Gras on Saturday for an IHSA Regional.