Battling Byrd bowling girls earn state runner-up

17 GOING ON 200: Birthday girl and Byrd junior Maddisen Rook rolled a trio of 200-plus games Thursday as the Lady Jackets’ historical playoff run ended with a state runner-up trophy.

By TEDDY ALLEN, Journal Sports

Illustrating the possibilities for north Louisiana in a high school sport dominated by the southern part of the state, the Byrd High girls bowling team upset No.1-ranked Ponchatoula Thursday morning in the semifinals of the Ochsner LHSAA Bowling Championship before settling for the state runner-up trophy against an overwhelming champion in Denham Springs.

Both Byrd and Denham Springs are purple and gold, both are Yellow Jackets, and both teams huddled only moments after the finals match, then exploded in unison with a “Go Jackets!” cheer before trophies were presented, an illustration of what proved to be a high-road competitive spirit all day at All Star Lanes in Baton Rouge.

The lowest-ranked team in the semifinals, No. 13 Byrd beat Ponchatoula 16.5-10.5 behind high games from Cathleen Stevens (191) and a crucial, late 205 from Maddisen Rook, who rolled three 200-plus games on the day, the first time she’d ever rolled 200 in match play.

“She picked a great day to do it,” Byrd coach Paula Rowe. “She helped us come from behind, and on her birthday. Solid. Consistent. Each game was so crucial to our success.”

“I wouldn’t have been able to do it without everyone here,” Rook said. “Our ‘Parent Hive’ was wonderful, the team all supported me; it was just great.”

Byrd entered All Star Lanes enthusiastically Thursday morning, all the talk being about creating their own “March Madness” as underdogs.

“The girls had a peace going into this game this morning,” Rowe said. “They came out ready to fight.”

But No. 6 Denham Springs, a 19-8 winner over No. 2 Dutchtown on the other side of the bracket, had a big advantage in the spread of averages between opponents, and that proved too much for Byrd to overcome.

Deserving Finals’ MVP Audrey Cedotal led the winners as Denham Springs beat Shreveport’s Jackets, 21-6, for the state title.

Rook had another big pair of games at 214 and 200, and Jadyn Martin rolled a team-high 215 in the loss that was, in a way, at least a small victory; the Byrd girls were the first north Louisiana team in the semis since 2010.

“You can’t overstate how much this runner-up trophy possibly can mean for high school bowling in north Louisiana,” said Shreveport native Kent Lowe, who for the past 26 years has written an award-winning bowling column for The Advocate. “This is a huge accomplishment, especially considering the teams they beat to get here.”

Those teams include No. 4 H.L. Bourgeois, a massive 25.5-1.5 winner over Byrd in last year’s playoffs, and No. 5 Central Lafourche.

“They had to win-out in the playoffs,” Rowe said. “They did — and they just kept going.”

Rowe said the team’s three seniors — Lola Carlisle, Olivia Osbon, and especially four-year varsity bowler and team captain Madilyn McCrary — “maintained the most positive attitude for the younger girls, the ‘Baby Birds’ we call them. They know what’s expected and needed next year, and that’s going to help them.”

Rolling in buildings where it’s hard to score — Byrd’s home center is All Star Lanes on Mansfield Road and some local matches are at Holiday Lanes on Old Minden Road — actually prepared the team better for the state finals at All Star Lanes in Baton Rouge where “scoring conditions are much better,” said Lenny Vangilder of Crescent City Sports, which streamed the matches live.

“The golf analogy we tried to make was this,” he said. “It’s like Byrd bowled all year at Augusta National, and most other teams bowled on municipal courses. Scoring is tough where Byrd usually bowls. So when they came here, the scoring was much easier; they’re ‘playing on an easier course’ than they’re used to. (Byrd) took advantage and was just tremendous.”

Like Byrd, Ponchatoula had never been to the semifinals. Dutchtown was back after earning a spot with a young team last year. And Denham Springs hadn’t reached the semis since 2011 but returned to the program’s old form: Denham Springs won the first four girls state titles once the LHSAA sanctioned the sport in 2005.

Top photo:  TRAVIS HIMEL

Bottom photo: JERRY BYRD JR.

With reporting by JERRY BYRD JR., Journal Sports

BEST YET: The Byrd High School bowlers are state runner-ups.