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By Brian Fees
Southern Tier Sports Report
SYRACUSE — After two games on Friday the Elmira Express found themselves trailing Hilton by 190 pins.

For the next four games they chipped away, chipped away and eventually they overtook the Cadets to win the first state title by any team in Elmira Express High School history, shooting a six-game total of 6,314 at Strike N’ Spare Lanes in Syracuse.

The Express wound up winning the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Division I Championship by 51 pins over Hilton (6,263) and 92 pins over New Hartford (6,222).

“It is absolutely an all-time dream,” Elmira coach Tim Crout said. “It’s something we have worked so hard for. I’m so extremely proud of these kids. We have lost some real tough matches against Corning this year and it just made us better, it made us hungrier.”

For the Elmira bowlers this is just a special moment.

“I can’t even put it into words,” junior Alex Smith said. “It’s better than I even thought it would be.”

“It was extremely special, especially since this is my senior year,” Ty Bolt said. “It was really fun, and I was just hoping for the best.”

Those competitions with Corning throughout the year helped toughen the Express and make them a team that could win states. It’s only the second state title by any team in Elmira school district history, the first was Southside in 2005.

During the regular season Corning won the division. They then won the STAC title, and they won sectionals, while Elmira won the end of season tournament on the same day. The two teams met at state qualifiers and Elmira was in this exact same situation fighting back all game to rally for the win.

“To beat Corning at the state qualifier really prepared us for today,” Crout said. “We went into today we were bowling with Hilton from the Rochester area. They shot like 1,130 the first set and the (one) kid shot a 300. Then the second set they shot 11,37 and we didn’t shoot that well. Then we were down almost 200 at the time.

“We ended up winning the third game It cut the deficit to like 140 something pins. To win that third game it was almost the same thing as the state qualifier with Corning. Corning was up on us and the momentum changed (with the third game). I talked to the boys at the break and I said you’ve got them right now. They had a lot of strikes they didn’t deserve, missed hits. They carried well. Just put the pressure on, you have to come out this fourth game and do what you need to do.”

Down 190 pins after two games, Elmira shot 1,060 to Hilton’s 1,009 the third game to cut the deficit to 139 pins heading to the final three games of the day as Elmira shot 3,137 for the first three games and Hilton was at 3,276.

In the fourth game Elmira came out and shot 1,134 and Hilton shot 1,082 and suddenly the deficit was down to 83 pins.

“Shot 1,134 fourth game and led went from 1409 something down. Then picked up another 30 something pins in the fifth game. It was almost watching Corning all over again. We had a couple kids go on a run. They had a couple kids go on a run. The energy Frankie D’Angelo brings when we are doing well, when he’s doing well ignites this team.

“It was nip and tuck like it was the Corning match. They had a few bad breaks and Frankie as a 7th grader struck out in the 10th. There one kid had five strikes going into the 10th and he threw a decent ball and had a 4-7-10 and missed it. They had a kid miss a 10 pin. It came down to the fourth bowler from both teams in the 10th frame to decide it.”

The fifth game of the day Elmira shot 1,007 and Hilton shot 969 and suddenly the lead that was 190 pins after two games was down to 49 pins. In the final game Elmira shot 1,036 to 936 for Hilton to complete the comeback.

“”Being down after the first three 150 pins, you know going in you have to stay positive,” Smith said. “Going into the second set we knew we had to stay up, stay positive and bring the energy and that’s what we did.”

Having been in this situation against Corning gave the team some confidence.

“I think it was crucial,” Smith said. ‘We were in the exact situation after three games, we were down a bunch of pins, going in we knew we needed to start going.”

Getting the win was just something special and the emotion in the lanes was electric as the Express won.

“Elation,” Crout said. “The crowd, I don’t know why the Section 3 kids just loved our kids. The girls got done before the boys got done, they came down and it was mayhem. It was loud and loud and loud. It was an amazing feeling. Today’s participants, I feel sorry for Ty. He’s been amazing. He’s a senior, I wanted to get him in, but the kids were doing well.”

The bowlers loved the atmosphere.

“It was loud, everyone was yelling, it was awesome,” Smith said. “I loved it, it was a blast seeing everyone there just gathering around us, watching us, knowing they wanted us to win. It was special.”

The makeup of the team is very young. None of the top five on Friday are seniors. There is a seventh grader (D’angelo), a freshman (Alex Gublo), a pair of sophomores (Trent Belloma and Skylar Shadduck) and a junior (Smith).

“I hope it doesn’t go to their head, if they stay focused this can be big for them next year,” Crout said.

Smith was the second overall individual finisher on the day, shooting 1,345, just 40 pins behind Jayden Conto of John Jay East Fishkill.

Smith averaged 224.17 on the day, shooting 242, 217, 232, 240, 209 and 205.

“Obviously individual stuff is awesome, bringing home a state title is what mattered today,” Smith said.

Belloma was seventh at 1,301, shooting an average of 216.83. He shot 235, 190, 244, 234, 173 and 225 on the day.

Shadduck was 10th at 1,283, averaging 213.83. He shot 178, 207, 218 and then got really hot the final three games shooting 222, 234 and 224 for a 680 over those final three games.

D’Angelo shot 1,194 with a 199 average to take 23rd. He shot 213, 189, 207, 230, 153 and 202, while Gublo was one spot back at 1,191. He shot 211, 195, 159, 208, 238 and 180 to average 198.50.

Both Smith and Bolt were impressed with the way the younger kids bowled.

“I couldn’t be prouder, especially the younger guys,” Smith said. “A seventh grader, a freshman, a couple sophomores, everyone did their jobs today. It’s hard to put into words, it’s the best feeling in the world.”

“Just watching them and seeing how much they have improved throughout the year makes everyone happy,” Bolt said. “It’s extremely exciting, just the fact that we won and the fact we are having so much special done for us.

“Honestly we didn’t really think about it (winning a title), we bowled to have fun and tried our best and we made it to the top. I’m extremely proud of this team and how far we have come.”

Hilton was led by Brendan Stephenson who shot 1,343 on the day and had a 300 the first game of the day. Colby Stoehr of Middletown also shot a 300 on the day.

“For me, personally, I’m riding on the clouds right now,” Crout said. “The kids are overwhelmed. It’s been a great bus ride. The kids have had a ball, we are having a police escort when we get to Elmira. We left at 8 this morning and they had a nice send off for us, now we have a real taste of what it’s like.

“I tip my hat to the Corning kids, Corning coach for making us better. I have been telling them all year long they can do this. You have to continue to work. We have had some bumps in the road, but I’m just ecstatic.”

Crout was told he is the first coach in Section 4 history to lead a team to a Section IV Composite team to a state title and then also lead a team to a team state title. He coached the Section IV all-star team in 2018 when they won states.

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