Spartans reach TOC during successful bowling season

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By Warren Rappleyea

Although Ocean Township High School’s girls’ bowling team fell short in the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions (TOC), coach Denise D’Esposito called it a “crazy, great season.”

The Spartans went 45-0 in the regular season to win the Shore Conference A Central Division. Several times, Ocean Township had to come from behind — most notably when Jenn Ingulli rolled three successive strikes in the 10th frame to win a game against Manasquan High School. In another game, junior Bella Ferraina posted six strikes in a row to propel her team past Wall High School.

“Different kids stepped up throughout the season, and everyone had at least a couple of games where they individually made the difference,” D’Esposito said. “We seemed to get better as the games went along. From the fifth frame on, we got stronger and stronger, and that put pressure on the teams we were playing against.”

After finishing second — by just two pins — to Howell High School in the preliminaries, Ocean Township went on to win the Monmouth County Tournament. Ingulli and Dana Henry led the way with a 555- and a 549-pin series, respectively. In Baker-style play, the Spartans defeated Freehold Township High School in the semifinals and downed Colts Neck High School, 2-0 (182-166 and 211-138), in the final round.

“Our girls love the Baker format, and we work on it in practice,” D’Esposito said. “They had confidence in themselves. It’s an entirely different game when you play Baker, and the girls were outstanding.”

D’Esposito’s girls went on to win the Central Jersey, Group II crown, piling up 2,682 pins at Carolier Lanes in North Brunswick. Alexa Tieto posted a 631 series and Ingulli a 609 series, as both qualified for the Individual State Tournament, which was scheduled for Jan. 15 at Carolier Lanes.

In the overall Group II tournament, the Spartans took second with 2,622 pins behind Academy of the Holy Angels, which accumulated 2,732 pins. It was good enough for the Spartans, as the first- and second-place finisher in each group advanced to the TOC. Warren Hills Regional High School ultimately defeated Holy Angels to take the state title.

“Going to the Tournament of Champions was just awesome for the girls,” D’Esposito said. “They all had a great time and it was a great experience. We were all disappointed we weren’t able to go a little further, but if you go back to the beginning of the year, I don’t think anyone expected us to be undefeated, let alone get to the TOC. I think most people were waiting for our girls to drop the ball at some point. They didn’t.”

The coach knew this would be a special season when her team finished fourth at the Central Jersey Winter Classic in mid-January. Ocean Township’s top three of Ingulli, Henry and Tieto were a known quantity; however, bowlers like Ferraina and sophomore Emma Sylvia kept getting better.

Ferraina and Sylvia, both first-year varsity players, were averaging about 125 pins apiece early on. Both gradually added, with Sylvia ending up with a 154-pin average, while Ferraina was just under the 150-pin mark. Then there was senior Calli Feehan, who missed time due to illness yet was superb in the Winter Classic.

Ingulli led the team with a 208-pin average. Along the way, she rolled a 670 series and had a high game of 256 pins. Henry, another senior, averaged 201 with a team-high 671 series to her credit. Tieto, a sophomore, averaged 181 and rolled a 256 to tie Ingulli for top game on the team.

“The key for our team was consistency,” the coach said. “Before the sectional, we talked about it and they knew that if they just bowled their averages, we would win. That’s exactly what happened. They all handled the pressure so well, and like in the regular season someone stepped up and went above their average. In a way, everything went right, but that only happens when you play well consistently. Our girls did that.”