POUGHKEEPSIE - Sachem East went into the boys state bowling tournament believing a championship was well within its reach, just needing to be grasped. And it was Saturday, entering the final game. But as the oil dried on the antiquated wooden lanes at Mardi Bob, the team's grip loosened.
The Flaming Arrows, who made their first trip upstate since 2000, were chucked from contention late and took fourth, 164 pins behind winner North Rockland (Section I).
"We have a different surface back home," Sachem East's Bryan Evans said, referring to the new-age synthetic lanes that are standard in most Long Island alleys. "Here, the oil seeps into the wood, and the ball, instead of sliding, hooks."
That wasn't an excuse, but astute analysis. The Flaming Arrows had their best performance in Game 1, totaling 1,101 pins. Their second best was in Game 3 (1,078), following the afternoon break when the teams were assigned new stations and the lanes reoiled.
They rolled a 1,078 in Game 4 and a 983 in Game 5 to pull within 33 pins of leader Greece Athena (Section V). Just 43 pins separated the first four teams.
"Sachem East did well and really came on strong in the middle," North Rockland coach Don Laspina said. "Really, any of the top four teams could've won."
But by Game 6, the slickness was gone and numbers dipped for most teams. North Rockland was the exception. The Red Raiders totaled 1,077 pins in the final game to pull away.
"The oil broke down and we couldn't adjust to the shot that was there," Sachem East coach Mike Stanek said.
But this is a season the Flaming Arrows should remember fondly. Sachem, formerly an East-North combo, was divided in 2004, forcing East to rebuild. Construction was completed this season, resulting in a Suffolk championship. And, hey, they did drop 6,150 pins Saturday. Mark Sabella's 1,352 was third-best in the tournament. Jeremy Milito had 1,279 and Evans 1,255.
"I felt we were the team to beat the whole time," Sabella said, "but it's a privilege to be here. Making it here says we're one of the best."
Sewanhaka boys sixth. The longtime have-nots now have something, and the Sewanhaka boys team's appreciation of how far it has come overwhelms the disappointment of a sixth-place finish at states, they said. The Indians got here by last month winning their first Nassau title in the program's nine-season history.
"We didn't think we'd get this far," Sewanhaka coach Jay Hegi said. "Once we got here, I thought we could finish in the top four, but I'm not mad at being in the top six."
The Indians, who dropped 5,880 pins, enjoyed their best season, going 12-0 in the regular season and mounting a thrilling comeback against East Meadow in the county championship.
Senior star Josh Roca hasn't lost sight of that. He's been with the team since seventh grade. "It's hard to describe what this season's been like," said Roca, who had a 1,304 to complement teammate Tommy Genova's 1,281. "I'm happy . . . Hopefully, the other kids on the team will be stronger next year and pick up where we left off."