Finalists determined in U12 division at 2021 Junior Gold Championships

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STANDINGS

By Gene J. Kanak

INDIANAPOLIS
- On Friday morning, 28 boys and 14 girls came to Strike Force Lanes with their dreams of becoming the 12-and-under champion at the 2021 Junior Gold Championships still intact. Now, three bowlers remain in each division and will compete in the stepladder finals on Saturday.

The boys advancing to the finals in U12 are Matteo Quintero of Smyrna, Tennessee, Anthony Swanson of Des Plaines, Illinois, and Kai Strothers of Maplewood, New Jersey. The finalists in the girls division are Baylie Massingill of Troy, Ohio, Larielle Tharps of Orlando, Florida, and Bella Castillo of Odessa, Texas.

They'll compete for the U12 title at Expo Bowl, starting Saturday at 10 a.m. Eastern live on BowlTV.com.

Matteo earned the top seed for the stepladder after going undefeated through the tournament's double-elimination bracket. Matches leading up to the finals featured two-game total-pinfall contests.

He opened match play with wins over Dawson Kohl of Dyersville, Iowa (405-348), and Kai (472-290), before topping Anthony (391-355) in the battle for the top seed. As the top seed, Matteo will have to be beaten twice to lose in the stepladder in the true double-elimination format.

"It's nerve-wracking to be the top seed, but it still feels awesome," Matteo said. "Tomorrow, I just need to stay focused and keep my head in there. It would be really awesome to win. I'll be very emotional if it happens, because winning Junior Gold was one of the top accomplishments I had on my list of goals for this year."

Anthony and Kai will square off first to determine who gets to bowl Matteo for the title. Anthony defeated Donaven Kline of Jackson, New Jersey (367-261), and Jos Weems of Chicago (402-346) before meeting Matteo. He now is hoping to get a chance at redemption when it matters most.

"It would be great to get another chance to bowl Matteo," Anthony said. "But to get that chance, it's going to take making good shots and not getting in my head. I just have to go through the process and not look ahead. No matter what happens, it feels really good to have made the show and to know that I've got my family, my friends and my coach cheering me on."

Kai's road to the stepladder was a bit more strenuous compared to Anthony and Matteo. He won his opening match over Jackson Alexander Veitch of Edinburg, Virginia (348-277), but fell to Matteo in Round 2 to head to the elimination bracket.

He persevered once there, however, again defeating Jackson (382-292) before eliminating Jos, 374-363, in a thrilling match that came down to the very last shot.

After settling for spares for most of the final game, Jos needed a double and count in the 10th frame to lock Kai out. Jos just barely toppled the 10 pin on his first ball in the 10th to put himself on the brink of making the show. However, he wasn't able to get the second strike he needed, and that was enough to give Kai the victory and a berth in the finals.

"I was scared because I knew what Jos needed, and when it comes down to the 10th, he's clutch," Kai said. "I thought he'd ace that second one, and that would be it. I was just surprised and relieved when I realized I'd won."

Now that he's through to the show, Kai is just focused on enjoying the experience and possibly capitalizing on the advantage he may have as the only finalist in the boys division with prior stepladder experience on the national level - he participated in the USA Bowling National Championships telecast in 2019.

In the girls division for U12, Baylie emerged as the No. 1 seed for the finals after sweeping matches against Bella (355-305), Sofia DeLuccia of Rockford, Michigan (348-335), and Larielle (373-371). Like Matteo in the boys division, Baylie will need to be defeated twice in the title match as the top seed.

"I'm just shocked and really excited to be in this position," Baylie said. "When I threw the last shot against Larielle, I didn't realize I'd won until my dad told me. Now, I just need to heal my thumb up and get it feeling better tonight and start thinking about what I need to do better and improve upon tomorrow."

Before Baylie takes to the lanes at Expo Bowl, she'll be able to watch Larielle and Bella compete to determine who advances to the title match. Larielle enters the stepladder as the No. 2 seed after defeating Savannah Portillo of Bellevue, Michigan (366-275), and Ahria Treschl of Medford, New York (357-334), before dropping the match to Baylie.

"I hope that I get the opportunity to bowl Baylie again, but my goal for tomorrow is just to go out there and bowl great by adjusting better, making my spares and executing better," Larielle said. "I know that I have a lot of people pulling for me back home, and I don't want to let any of them down."

Bella had to make her way through the perilous elimination bracket to earn her spot in the stepladder Saturday. After falling to Baylie in the first round, she regrouped to defeat Anna Antony of Farmington, Connecticut (369-239), Sofia (408-336) and Ahria (398-268) to advance.

"It was tough dropping into the elimination bracket right away, but what kept me going was knowing that I could win that bracket and still come out in third place to make the show," Bella said. "Now that I've done that, I just want to take my time tomorrow, make my spares and enjoy the experience. This is a big accomplishment for me."

Bowlers in the U12 division bowled four four-game qualifying blocks over four days to determine the competitors moving on to the final advancers round. An additional four games, and 20-game pinfall totals, determined the top eight to advance to the bracket.

Bracket play underway in U18 and U15 divisions
Friday was a long day for the bowlers in the U18 and U15 divisions, with competitors advancing to the bracket bowling 14 games over the course of two five-game advancers rounds and two rounds of bracket matches.

By the conclusion of competition Friday, 12 players in each division remained in contention for the titles in their respective age-based event.

In the boys division for U18, Jordan Malott of Austin, Texas; Silas Limes of Wichita, Kansas; James Bennett of Huntingtown, Maryland; and 2017 U12 champion Brandon Bohn of Jackson, New Jersey, went 2-0 on Friday night and remain in the winners bracket.

For the girls in U18, Elena Carr of Hilton, New York; two-time U15 champion Annalise OBryant of Ball Ground, Georgia; Victoria Varano of Stony Point, New York; and Jaelle Hamman of Jarrell, Texas, went undefeated Friday.

These eight competitors will return to Expo Bowl on Saturday at 8:30 a.m. Eastern, with hopes of remaining undefeated firmly on their minds. The matches in the boys division includes Malott taking on Limes and Bennett going up against Bohn.

For the girls, Carr will face OBryant, who rolled the tournament's fifth 300 game during the advancers round Friday, and Varano will bowl Hamman.

The two winners from each side will automatically qualify for the stepladder finals and will square off in the next round to determine the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds. The two boys and two girls who come up short will drop into the elimination bracket, where they will try to fight to secure the third and final spot in their respective finals.

Four former Junior Gold champions also are still in contention in the elimination bracket. In the boys division, Spencer Robarge of Springfield, Missouri (2015 U12), Edgar Burgos of St. Charles, Illinois (2016 U12), and John Nunn of Jacksonville, Florida (2019 U15), will return to continue their run Saturday at 7:30 a.m. Eastern.

The girls division features 2015 U12 champion Amanda Naujokas of Ronkonkoma, New York.

The stepladder finals for the U18 division will be held at Expo Bowl at 6 p.m. Eastern and be broadcast live on BowlTV.

In the boys division for U15, Landin Jordan of Sycamore, Illinois; Dawson Peterson of Stewartville, Minnesota; Trevor Ashby of Rawlings, Maryland; and Ethan Caruso of Channahon, Illinois, will enter Saturday's final rounds undefeated.

Erin Klemencic of Powder Springs, Georgia; Savannah Taillon of Concord, North Carolina; Sydney Bohn of Jackson, New Jersey; and Kayla Starr of Crofton, Maryland, remain in the winners bracket in the girls division for U15.

Matches at 8:30 a.m. Eastern will include Jordan against Peterson and Ashby taking on Caruso. Klemencic will bowl Taillon, and Bohn is up against Starr.

Two-time U12 champion Katelyn Abigania of San Diego is the only past winner left in the U15 division and will look to continue her run toward a third consecutive title Saturday in the elimination bracket. Abigania won back-to-back U12 titles in 2018 and 2019.

The stepladder finals for the U15 division also will be held at Expo Bowl. The finals will get underway at 2 p.m. Eastern on BowlTV.

All competitors in the U15 and U18 divisions bowled four four-game qualifying rounds before the first cut was made. Advancers bowled an additional five games before a second cut was made, and a final five-game set, and 26-game totals, determined the 16 players advancing to bracket play in each division.