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(Courtesy Photo)

The Artesia High School bowling team found the perfect mix of senior leadership and freshman youth to roll undefeated through the 2017 New Mexico High School Bowling Association Class 5A State Championships Feb. 18 at Silva Lanes.

In the three-game qualifying format of the tournament, the Bulldogs started fast with senior Ricardo Aguirre opening with a 215 game, freshman Will Davis a 213, and senior Jamey Palomares with a 193 to combine with freshmen Ethan Velo and Coy Moorhead for a team total 929. That was good for a 140-pin lead over second-place Los Lunas.

The second game saw Palomares bowl the highest game of the tournament with his 245 and, together with Davis’ 227 and Velo’s 184, the Bulldogs’ team total of 942 stretched their qualifying lead to a whopping 322 pins over Deming.

The final team game would solidify the Bulldogs as the number-one seed in the double-elimination state bracket, as Davis and Palomares each bowled games of 215, Velo 208, and Moorhead 174. Together, the team rolled a tournament-high 967 game for a three-game qualifying total of 2,838, which was good enough to lock the top qualifying seed over No. 2 Deming by an amazing 530 pins.

As the No. 1 qualifier, the Bulldogs received a first-round bye in the double-elimination bracket, where teams compete in a Baker game, best of three, match-play format that has each of the five bowlers rolling two of the 10 frames per game.

“Baker game bowling is the ultimate team game” said head coach Ken Clayton. “Each bowler has their own responsibilities twice a game. You may be trying to add to a good game or restart your team that is struggling, each of which are two different pressures.”

The Bulldogs faced off against first-round winner Farmington and showed they did not intend to back down from their morning performance by taking the first game with a big 232. A few mistakes mixed with a couple bad breaks brought the second Bulldog game down to a 141, but it was good enough to win the game and advance to the next round with a 2-0 victory.

The Bulldogs then took on Los Lunas and again started strong, winning the opening game 169-155. The Tigers, however, came back to throw the first strike in the 10th frame of the second game to defeat the Bulldogs, setting up a third and deciding game for the right to bowl for the championship.

After a Bulldog strike, spare, and an open frame, Palomares, Davis, Velo and Moorhead would throw consecutive strikes to nail down a 202-174 Bulldog win and put Artesia in the state championship match, where they would take on the Deming Wildcats.

Game One saw the Bulldogs bowl steady and take a 1-0 lead by posting a 180 game to Deming’s 152. Needing one more victory to capture the state title, the Bulldogs matched their tournament-high 232 game; however, Deming had other ideas and rolled nine strikes on their way to a championship-high 262, thus setting up a third and deciding game.

With both teams matching each other frame for frame, it was obvious the state championship was coming down to the final two bowlers. A Deming ninth-frame spare put the pressure on Palomares, who in turn converted a spare of his own to turn the game to the 10th frame with Deming holding a 17-pin lead.

The final frame showdown saw the Wildcat bowler split in the 10th and allow Davis the opportunity of throwing a strike in the 10th, a strike in the 11th, then get at least five pins to win the state championship – and with the words “I got this, coach,” the rest was history.
Two solid strikes and nine pins later, the Artesia High School bowling team had captured the school’s third New Mexico High School Bowling championship.

“It was a very exciting day that saw a team that has worked really hard get rewarded with a state championship to bring back to their schools,” said Clayton. “I use the word ‘schools’ since we have three freshmen that are going to be really proud to show off that trophy at Park Junior High School.

“I want to thank everyone involved with our program. Coach Tim Harvey and Holly Harvey are a blessing to our team, and I want them to know how appreciated they are. Our school administration and our sponsors have allowed us to build a program that is second to none.

“Winning championships is great, and hopefully that continues, but in the end, having the opportunity to affect over 30 students’ lives each year is the ultimate reward. It doesn’t take a blue trophy to have a successful year, but I’ve always said if they are going to keep score, we might as well win.”