DIXON – Dukes senior Ryan Dixon quietly, almost surreptitiously cut across a few lanes at Plum Hollow on Saturday afternoon, doing his best to appear nonchalant as he checked out Rockford East's score.
See, Dixon led East by 50 pins heading into the sixth and final game of the Dixon Regional, and the Dukes were interested in seeing what was going on with the team that was gunning for their fourth and final advancing spot.
"We knew right where we were, and we knew it would be really close," Dixon said. "I went over a couple of time to keep track of what Rockford East was doing, and they were doing really well."
As the din grew louder from the East bowlers, the Dukes finished up their final game. Four of them ambled over to see what East would do in its final frame, watching intently as East finished up.
A few moments later, after another loud E-Rab cheer, the Dukes walked back to their lane to pack up their equipment, fighting heartbreak as East passed them up.
Dixon missed out on the last qualifying spot for next weekend's Boylan Sectional by 19 pins, a fact that stung a little worse considering the Dukes had been sitting in third place after the first game of the three-game afternoon session.
"East's last two guys were sitting on doubles, which means they had a lot of points that still had to be added up," Dixon said. "It came down to those two guys, and they did a fantastic job for their team."
Guilford won the team title with a total pinfall of 6,510, 207 better than runner-up Freeport (6,303), which spent most of the day digging out of a first-game hole. The Oregon Hawks (6,285) and E-Rabs (6,064) also advanced to the sectional, while the Dukes (6,045) were left wondering what if.
But that heartbreak didn't last long. In addition to the top four teams moving on, the top 10 individuals not on those teams also advanced … and four of those 10 were Dixon Dukes.
"It was actually really funny," Dixon said, "because it's not going to be that much different next week after all. They just kept calling out our guys' names, and it worked out pretty well in the end."
Dixon (1,281) and juniors Joel Spangler (1,226), Keenan Longan (1,198) and Lucas Bonnette (1,185) were safely among the advancing individuals, with Bonnette beating final qualifier Hunter Loveridge of Jefferson by 11 pins.
"I didn't watch Rockford East, because I just had the feeling they were going to step up and do whatever it took to catch us," Spangler said. "But it felt a lot better when they announced four of us were moving on anyway.
"I'm not happy we didn't close out stronger as a team, but I'm glad there are four of us still bowling next week."
They will join the Hawks, who spent most of the afternoon in second place behind Guilford, only to see the Pretzels pass them up in the final game.
Oregon's top individual was senior Ian Starkey, who continued his recent hot streak with a fourth-place finish overall, knocking down 1,331 pins. Freeport's Christopher Wiley won the individual title with a 1,379.
"Bowling's not even my main sport; I'm really a soccer player," said a stunned Starkey. "I don't know how to explain what was working fundamentally, I just realized what I was doing was working and stuck with it."
Seniors Ryan Bennett (1,274) and Justin Provo (1,263), and sophomores A.J. Nordman (1,221) and Joe Miranda (1,196) were the Hawks' other bowlers. All five were thrilled to move on together, and even more excited Oregon still had the chance to advance to the state meet as a unit for the second time in school history … and second time in three seasons.
"We felt like we had a good chance to advance as a team at the start of the day," Starkey said, "and we realized we had a pretty safe cushion heading into the last game. We just wanted to keep it together, keep bowling like we were, and not get too cocky about it.
"And I think if we do the same thing next weekend, we'll probably have a good chance of doing pretty well and getting back to state."
Advancing teams: 1. Guilford 6,510; 2. Freeport 6,303; 3. Oregon 6,285; 4. Rockford East 6,064
Local advancing individuals: Ryan Dixon (Dixon) 1,281; Joel Spangler (Dixon) 1,226; Keenan Longan (Dixon) 1,198; Lucas Bonnette (Dixon) 1,185
Up next: Boylan Sectional, 9 a.m. Saturday