Leading up to Friday's Sectional Tournament, Jim Viets talked to his team about math.
Not about geometry or Algebra II or trigonometry, but simple multiplication.
As the Wildcats' head bowling coach told his team, if each kegler could score a 175 each game, and if the Wildcats could collectively knock down a 175 in the baker games, the Wildcats would have a very good chance at clinching a spot in the District Tournament this weekend.
In the three individual games, the Wildcats did even better than a 175 average. And with the math behind them, the Wildcats earned third place at Roseland Lanes on Friday, punching a ticket to Districts for the first time since 2014.
"In the individual games, it was super important for us to exceed the mark, and we did," said senior Noah Virant. "In the bakers, we didn't, which was a little crushing, but the first couple of games carried us through."
You couldn't ask for a much better start for the Wildcats, as Virant hinted at. The Alley Cats tabbed a 978 in the opener, one of the team's top scores all year.
Ben Gehrlein led the charge for the Wildcats. The junior broke out to a blazing hot start, conquering the oil pattern with no sweat. Gehrlein notched a 243 in his first game, notching four strikes in a row midway through the game. And all the while, Gehrlein showed little emotion, simply running his hand through his hair after every strike.
Dylan Huss also performed phenomenally in the opening contest. The Lyndhurst native bowled like a man possessed, knocking down a 235 for the first game. Like Gehrlein, Huss did not break out in celebration after each strike, cool as the other side of the pillow.
Alex Madeja became the third Wildcat to break 200. The senior notched two strikes in the 10th frame to hit 200 for the game, far above the 175 average.
Fellow senior Noah Virant barely missed the 175 mark with a 173, but his three teammates above 200 helped the average. The Wildcats got a 127 in the two-spot with two bowlers combining for the score, cementing the Wildcats' tally at 978.
"We came in with a good game plan as far as what the oil pattern was going to be," said Viets. "Getting the ball to the pocket and not forcing it, and avoiding bad splits were all important."
In Game 2, the Wildcats didn't slow down. Once again, Gehrlein anchored the men of Ohio City. The junior looked like the Terminator in annihilating the pins frame after frame. At one point, Gehrlein rolled three strikes in a row with ease. He finished with a 179.
Huss once again bowled with his hair on fire at the top slot. Huss opened things up with a turkey, and tallied three more strikes before the game was done. He penciled in a 208 at the end of the 10th frame.
Virant enjoyed one of his best games of the season in the second contest. The captain bowled with his trademark smile, beaming from ear to ear and exchanging his special handshake with Madeja after each strike. Virant tallied a 225, leading all Wildcats.
Madeja missed the mark for the 175 average, but stayed at an even keel late to mark down a 161.
Sean Ward was another star in the second. Entering the game at the No. 2 spot, the junior knocked them down with authority. In a marvelous performance, Ward scored a 192. The clutch performance helped the Wildcats to improve even on a magnificent Game 1, with a Game 2 score of 979.
The Alley Cats fell off a bit in the third game, but not by much. Gehrlein made sure of that, again anchoring Saint Ignatius with style. The stoic kegler opened the game with four strikes in a row, and tore off a 3-strike stretch later on. He finished with a 242, ending up with a spectacular series of 678.
Virant carried more than his share of the load. The senior could not be stopped. Virant showed no mercy for the poor pins, rocketing the ball down the lane time and time again for big strikes. The TV display showed a 214 for him at the end of the game.
Madeja also did a yeoman's work. The strong senior catapulted to a 194 in the third, showcasing strong leadership of his teammates.
"Each lane is a little different," Madeja said of the oil pattern. "As the day goes on, it'll get drier and drier. So adjusting one board or two boards here or there is crucial so you don't leave a split, and continue the momentum."
Dylan Huss managed a 167 and two Wildcat keglers combined for a 139 in the second spot. As a team, the Wildcats regressed a bit, but not much, with a 956.
Entering the bakers, the Wildcats held a slim lead for first place. As the Wildcats enjoyed a pizza break, they smiled knowing that their lead over the fifth-place team was a significant one, and the odds of a ticket to Districts were very good.
In the baker games (5-7 bowlers combine to bowl 10 frames as a team), the Wildcats slipped a bit. The Clevelanders tallied baker scores of 147, 173, 148, 152, 168, and 144. All of the six bakers fell below the Wildcats' goal of 175 per baker.
But in the end, it didn't matter. The lead the Wildcats had built in the three individual games was more than enough to keep them in position for a District berth. The Wildcats earned third place with a total pinfall of 3,845, and a ticket to next Saturday's District Tournament at Stonehenge Lanes in Akron.
"It feels nice to be moving on," Viets said. "Now it gets tougher. Getting out of the Sectionals here is huge. Ben shooting a 678 and having three high scores definitely helped us. They've been working so hard. We had Robbie Shepherd coming up to varsity as a freshman throwing some strikes in the bakers. They just work so hard.
"They hadn't peaked until now. They were in the middle of the pack, but now they're coming into their own. We're going to Districts and we'll see what happens from there."
So, how will the Wildcats celebrate?
"We're going to celebrate with more practice," Virant said. "We have two more practices and then Districts. We need it. But I feel ecstatic."
"We're moving on, and that's all that matters," Madeja added.