WARREN, Mich. — If there was a movie script to be made on the sport of bowling, De La Salle Collegiate coach Jay Lang sure would have the inside track to writing it — especially with what happened to a pair of his bowlers this past weekend at the individual regional at Skore Lanes in Taylor.
The Cliff Notes version went something like this: Bowler A was bowling on one end of the bowling alley, while Bowler B was some 35 lanes away. In between Bowler A and Bowler B were about 200 standing/sitting people, easily that many bowling balls, chairs, tables, a paddock, and numerous people walking back and forth. Bowler A's back was against the wall and needed a big effort in Game 6 to have a chance to qualify for states — something he missed out on by one position a year earlier. Bowler B had put himself in a position to qualify but needed a good finish to ensure it. As difficult as it would be to see both of his bowlers through, Lang wasn't about to miss the finish.
But the juicy details go far beyond that.
"I'm trying to weave my way from one end to the other and I can't see what's happening (with each bowler)," said Lang, who actually had two bowlers (Salvatore Aiello and Jack Gohlke) just miss qualifying in 2019. "It's just packed. You can't move. It's nearing the end of the sixth game and kids are starting to move around with all their balls. I'm hopping over chairs. I'm doing my best to just see what they're doing."
His bowlers, seniors Aiello and Alexander Thorn were bowling for their high school careers. Aiello, who just missed qualifying last year, had at least eight bowlers to climb past but was gaining momentum in Game 6. Thorn, who had put himself in a good position with a 455 score in his previous two games, was pretty steady through nine frames.
"Watching where the cut was going, but not knowing who was in front or between them, it's hard to do those scores and really there's no way to figure it out," Lang said. "It's just, gets to a certain number and you're going to be in."
Aiello opened his game with seven straight strikes and finished with a 257 — a score he really needed to give himself a chance.
Thorn had marked in his first nine frames, setting himself up nicely to get to the 200 to 215 mark he and his coach felt he needed to lock up a qualifying spot.
"(Sal) goes high, leaves the six pin, and makes it. Strikes for his 257 and he's got an outside chance," said Lang, who then started to make his way back to Thorn. "I watched from the side, as he threw a shot, and I saw the 10 pin standing. But then his shoulders slumped down. I'm like, 'Uh-oh.' So as I get closer, I see the 7-10 (split)."
Thorn knew coming in he just needed to keep it clean and continue doing what he had been doing.
"I'm making my spares. If I keep making my spares and shoot a 200, I think I'm OK," Thorn explained. "Then, as we all know, the 7-10. I was hoping, praying that I get one pin. But I missed (the 10). You could have probably just squeezed a knife, or a piece of paper in between the ball and the pin. It was bad news."
At that point, it was a waiting game. Aiello had finished with a 1,213 and Thorn was one pin back at 1,212.
"I was talking with (assistant coach Andrew Burke) and he was, 'I think they're both short,' and I thought they were both short too," Lang said. "I thought they were 11th, 12th. We went straight to the coach's room, didn't even talk to the kids. I knew they weren't probably in the best moods."
Finally, after a little bit of a wait. Lang picked up the results sheet and went to deliver the news to his seniors.
"We walked out and saw Thorn first and walked up to him. His mom was right there and she was like, "Tell me," and Andrew was poker-faced," Lang said. "She turned to me and said, 'You know, tell me right now.' So I called Alex over to me and showed him the sheet, that he was in. He was excited. Gave dad a hug. So dad knew. Mom knew."
Lang then met Aiello halfway, showed him the results, and got a smile out of his four-year letter winner.
"It was awesome," Lang said. "Now these guys get to bowl against the top 60 in the state."
It was that kind of day for Aiello and Thorn, who just a day earlier saw their team eliminated from state competition. This was their last chance to prolong their careers at De La Salle.
"The wait (to see if they qualified) was twice as bad as bowling the game itself," Thorn said. "I put my shoe cover on and was thinking, 'I better go get packed up because I'm probably not rolling off against anyone.' I'm just sitting there, and my mom's over there thinking, 'Is he going to make it? Is he not going to make it?' Then I see the coaches coming over to me. When I saw his finger calling me over, he had a slick smirk on his face. And he was definitely hiding it from my parents, so I was like, 'OK, it's probably something good.' "
For Aiello, the wait was mixed with emotions of anxiousness and frustration. He knew how painful it was to miss a state cut. He was just six pins shy of 10th place last year as a junior. But he also knew he gave it his all with that 257 game, which was the sixth-best score of the day (out of 582 games bowled).
"When (coach) called me over, I was like 'I missed it by a pin or two,' " Aiello said. "Then when he showed me, and I saw (Thorn's) name, I was just excited. It was just a big weight off of my shoulders. It's done. I made the cut. I don't have to stress about this anymore."
The pair will now compete in a field of 60 bowlers at the individual finals Saturday at Thunderbowl Lanes in Allen Park. They will bowl a six-game block in an effort to qualify for match play (top 32).
Both Aiello and Thorn say they are bowling as individuals, but feel they are still representing their team and have something to prove on Saturday.
"This year we're going in like, 'We have to make these cuts to prove something,' " Aiello said. "To show that our team isn't that bad. We're still a good team."
"Every year, we've had something," Thorn said. "Whether it be regionals or the Catholic League. Right now, we've won nothing."
Thorn said his goal is to shoot around 210 per game in qualifying, a number he thinks would put him in a good position to qualify for match play. If he hits that number, he'll be happy with his effort. Aiello said he wants to just get through qualifying, then aim to win a match so he'll get to bowl in the arena at Thunderbowl.
"That's where I want to finish," Aiello said.
Lang, who has coached a number of individuals at the state finals, said he hopes his bowlers' goals are set high. He has confidence in them.
"Their goal should be to get through qualifying and get to the Round of 32," said Lang, who's best finisher was John DiLaura Jr. in 2009, who qualified 16th and went on to finish runner-up. "Then the goal moves up from there. It's win a match, win a match, win a match, one at a time. As long as they stay within themselves and don't get caught looking around, stay focused, they have a shot."