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Longhorns sophomore J.T. Maslanich has qualified for the Division II state tournament two years in a row, and is one of only two individuals to throw a 300 game at the state competition in Columbus since its start in 2007.

With no seniors on this year’s boys bowling roster, Lutheran West could be poised for big things in the near future.

In the meantime, though, J.T. Maslanich will continue to serve as the program’s ace.

For the second year in a row, the sophomore qualified for the Division II state meet in Columbus. He fired games of 200, 165 and 184 on the way to a 36th-place finish Feb. 27 at Wayne Webb’s Columbus Bowl.

“There was a lot of good competition,” Maslanich said. “I know some other really good bowlers who didn’t do too well down there. The competition was there, and I love competing. Just seeing those guys down there sparked a fire in me that I wanted to do good. It was fun.”

The sophomore with the quirky two-handed delivery popularized by professional Jason Belmonte has been among the best and most consistent bowlers in the area, his 210 average ranking at the top of the leaderboard this season in the Greater Cleveland Interscholastic Bowling League.

Able to generate the type of right-to-left motion on his ball that can cover an entire lane, he posted a 671 series–eighth place overall–at the district tournament at Lorain’s Rebman Recreation to make his second consecutive trip south to the biggest meet of the year.

“My dad (Jeff) taught me (the style) at a young age,” Maslanich said. “He watched Jason Belmonte throw the ball and he was like, this is the new era of how people are going to throw it. I’ve been throwing it that way ever since I was three or four. It just came naturally to me. You get more power on the ball and more turn on it.”

He started out hot at state by recording strikes on five of his first six frames. Then the lanes he was stationed at, 21 and 22, broke down, and he was forced to move to lanes one and two, often viewed as the scourge of bowling competition, to finish out his day.

Because the first two lanes are also oiled first, the machine that does the work may not coat them accurately as it’s still warming up, leading to wonky oil patterns that can make even the most talented bowlers lose their composure.

But according to Longhorns coach Scott Schneider, Maslanich has a demeanor similar to former Cleveland Indians ace pitcher Corey Kluber: so even-keeled he could be confused for a strike-tossing cyborg.

True to Schneider’s comparison, Maslanich remained calm and closed out a 200 in his first game.

“By looking at him, you’d never know whether he’s bowling good or bad, which makes him real easy to coach,” Schneider said. “With a lot of kids, as they develop, they get mad when they don’t throw a strike or miss a spare, and that always affects your game. With J.T., he doesn’t get mad. He did struggle over the weekend at state (after the lane change), but you’d never be able to tell by the way he reacted.”

Cycling through nine different balls–all 14-pounders–and trying to hit the correct mark on each throw, the difficulty of finding the sweet spot on the first two lanes continued to be an issue. Maslanich rolled a 165 in his second game, then rebounded somewhat with a 184.

“My ball reaction was totally different,” Maslanich said. “I would throw the same ball and I would be missing the pocket and going (to the left of the head pin). To see that reaction and change that took some time. Then the lanes weren’t exactly the same. It was unfortunate, but you learn from it and move on.”

It wasn’t an ideal ending, but reaching state two years in a row is a big achievement for the underclassman who’s been bowling competitively since his elementary school days. As a freshman, he became just the second bowler ever to throw a 300 at the state competition in Columbus, dating back to the meet’s inception in 2007. His 745 series vaulted him to a runner-up finish.

“He’s a great, great bowler,” Schneider said.

Following the state meet, optimism abounds in the Longhorns program. This year’s team consisted of all underclassmen, a number of whom hadn’t bowled competitively until coming out for the high school team. Schneider said averages had already begun to rise as the team finished 2-6 in GCIBL play.

Maslanich sees the potential for the Longhorns to eventually reach state as a group.

“All of our bowlers have only bowled for one year or two years,” he said. “Just to see how some of them progressed, they were averaging in the 90s last year and got up to 120 this year. That’s a 30-pin improvement and that’s big over one year. Next year, I’m hoping we can have all our bowlers up to 100 or 110. Then hopefully by my senior year we can get the whole team to state.”

Avon’s Dill rolls at state

At the Div. I boys tournament, held March 6, Avon sophomore Brenton Dill put together a 660 series to finish 10th overall on the leaderboard. He threw games of 232, 225 and 203.

Maron Harding’s Jayden Combs won the individual title with a 745 series (267, 224, 254).

Contact this reporter at sports@westlifenews.com or 440-871-5797.

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