Splits, spares and strikes: High school bowlers Kilberg, McIntire achieve U.P. firsts

Whether or not winter ever leaves town, the last of that season’s high school sports has been done for at least six weeks.

So what are a couple of high school bowlers doing in the news today? Just earning honors and winning tournaments, that’s all.

Sophomore Ashley McIntire, 15, had to be the complete darkhorse – that’s like a Kentucky Derby entry going off at 200-to-1 – at the Junior Gold Championships qualifier at Superior Lanes on Saturday.

But that didn’t stop her from winning the title and gaining the only paid entry available that day for the national championship to be held in New York state in July.

Our other honoree wasn’t any kind of darkhorse, at least not in Upper Peninsula high school bowling circles. But he might look that way considering that Ishpeming senior Matt Kilberg on Thursday earned the U.P.’s first-ever Michigan bowling Dream Team berth from the Michigan High School Interscholastic Bowling Coaches Association.

This award is compiled in conjunction with the Detroit Free Press and the honor shocked Kilberg.

“I was just extremely surprised at first when I heard about it,” he told me by telephone on Monday afternoon. “There’s all these 200-plus average bowlers down there (in the Lower Peninsula).

“I guess it’s a nice achievement to go out on, especially since I never was able to win a singles tournament.”

But it was his high placement in a number of events that got him this honor, one he was told was based as much on his full high school career as it was on just what he did in his final season.

As one of six Dream Teamers, he was on a short list for consideration as Michigan’s Mr. Bowling – just like in basketball.

I bet you didn’t know about that. I know I didn’t until I researched Kilberg’s honor over the weekend.

Kilberg averaged 184.4 in the U.P. Bowling Conference this season, but after some of the stories I’ve heard about downstate bowling, he probably could jump in at around 200 in a lot places there.

His big achievements were making the UPBC’s singles tourney match-play round all four years and getting to the MHSAA state finals the three years he participated in that event.

And he gets a lot of “cred” in being a leader on the perennially strong Ishpeming-Negaunee boys team that annually makes a strong run at a state title in Division 3, not to mention his advancement to the state quarterfinals in D3 singles this year.

The MHSIBCA is in its fifth year of putting this Dream Team together, otherwise a few past Ishpeming bowlers might’ve had a shot at this honor, too.

But Kilberg will always be the first for the U.P.

Kind of like McIntire, who won the first Junior Gold qualifier I’ve ever heard about in this area even after she admitted to me on Monday afternoon she struggled this UPBC season averaging just 124.

That put her behind a big eight-ball, as pool players would say, even though there were only three other bowlers at the tourney.

You see, two of them were top high school boy bowlers – Marquette Senior High School junior teammate Jesse Bianchi and L’Anse sophomore Tucker Hemmila.

The third? Just some MSHS girl teammate named Alexa Ingram, who went out and won the U.P. singles title in her first try at it in February.

The USBC Sport Shot oiling pattern may have been the great equalizer. It’s a distribution of the oil conditioner much tougher than what us adult league bowlers ever see, and even tougher than the already-harder UPBC shot.

McIntire told me she was relieved when she found out that no one would be cut after the six-game qualifying round because of the small field.

“You just had to find your line, then start hitting it,” she said.

McIntire rolled a modest 860 for six games, but that 143.3 average was nearly 20 pins better than her high school season average.

It got her the No. 3 seed against No. 2 Hemmila, who also was only in the 140s during qualifying.

Each combatant shot 136 in the first of a two-game match, then McIntire caught fire. Not literally, thank goodness.

What she did do was bowl the only 200 game of the day by any of the participants, a 212, to cruise to the finals.

That might’ve gotten into Bianchi’s head, who as the No. 1 seed got to choose whether his semifinal pair of lanes or McIntire’s would be used for the title match.

He could either pick the pair his upcoming opponent just shot 200 on, or take his own pair where he barely averaged 150 despite eliminating Ingram.

“I think he was in a tough spot with that choice,” McIntire said.

He took his own pair and that led to a low-scoring final where her 169 and 155 games was enough to give her a 33-pin victory.

With all this good news about, I’m going to delay the final Mining Journal Bowlers of the Week listing until next time, when I’ll honor the week of April 11-17, then do everything since as leagues are winding down.