If the Minooka boys bowling team hadn't go off to such a terrific start at the IHSA State Bowling Meet this weekend, virtually nobody would think anything bad about a fourth-place finish. Instead, the Indians are left shaking their heads about what could have been instead of being satisfied with making MCHS history.
"We were leading most of the time but it all fell apart for us in that last round," Minooka coach Derrick Rapsky said. "We were in position after three rounds but it turns out that we rolled our worst three game series of the year."
"It means something, but we had first place going into the last three games. We just fell apart in the end," Minooka senior bowler Justin Shepard said. "The results of the tournament is going to linger, but I'm proud that we were able to be the highest finishing team ever at the school."
Minooka was winning state by 50 pins at the end of Friday's session and 111 pins going into the last three games.
"At some point, we thought that we had it in the bag. We had a good feeling about things going into the last three games, Shepard said. "But once the lights came on, Lockport started started bowling well and I think that got to us. It put pressure on us."
Minooka started the fourth session on Saturday after going 1,068-1,147-1,096 that morning.
"Words can't describe it," Shepard explained about what happened next.
Perhaps it was the lanes.
"The kids weren't striking and at some point realized they were not going to win it. At that point they got so far out of it mentally that the guys couldn't do anything," Rapsky said. "They had no energy and nothing I tried worked. It was a 180 degrees from what the team did in the first three rounds.
"Obviously the oil patterns of the lanes are different as it dries up," he added. "There is an adjustment there. We knew it was going to be tough to strike. It was the strangest thing. The guys just kind of shut down out of frustration."
Minooka started the fourth session with a team score of 908 while eventual champion Lockport cranked up a 1,092.
"We were hitting the pocket but things were not going our way," Shepard said. "After a while, we fell apart."
Then came a 992 by the Indians and a resounding thud at the end.
"Once we lost the lead, especially when we thought we had it, I think it got into our minds," Shepard said. "We weren't thinking about second or third place at that point. Once we lost the lead, it put the whole team down."
Rapsky said that he tried every trick in the book to pull his team out of its funk.
"I never tried to be so positive after every missed shot and spare," But as things went we had to let go of the fact that we had a chance to win the state championship. Then it turned out that we couldn't hang on and bring home hardware."
Minooka finished with an 838 for a final three-game series of 2,738 - the lowest session total of all 12 teams competing.
"The kids worked their butts off all year. They've been in pressure situations and battled through them all year. That's what makes it so disappointing to see it happen in the last round of the state tournament. If they had at least taken home hardware, it would have taken the sting out of it a little. It's a shame because nobody is going to look back on the season these kids had and know what they really accomplished."
Minooka slipped to second, then was passed by O'Fallon for second and then ultimately by Salem for the last bit of state hardware. Only the top three teams take home bowling trophies. Making that fact even more painful is that Salem was just one pin better than the Indians in the tournament - 12,538-12,337.
"Coach is always saying that one pin always matters," Shepard said. "When I was a freshman, we lost a sectional by one pin, now this year we were one pin from bringing home a trophy."
Shepard, Nick Beeler and Kyle Kurtz are the three seniors on the team but with two sophomore and two juniors in the lineup, it may just be the beginning of a run for the locals.
"Proud of the seniors but just know I have A lot of talent coming back. It was all about finishing this year first and then we'll worry about next year. If told get fouth at state would I have taken it? Yeah. We just came up short by one pin," Rapsky said. "What I want the kids to do is look at themselves and find out where it went wrong. To find out where they mentally lost their focus."
Ultimately the record will always reflect that Minooka had a final-four team this winter.
"We could have won the state tournament and that's the hardest part," Shepard said. "If people don't know the whole story, they'd say that fourth place sounds good. And it is a good feeling but ... "