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Cardinals Embrace Their Underdog Role

Claremont — Stevens High School senior Shawn “Ditto” Fitzpatrick set the state record for junior bowlers (ages 18 and under) with an 822 series this season. Yet as good as he is, Fitzpatrick will be the first to say that Pinkerton’s Nick Skilian is “better than me and the best bowler in the state,” he said.

Fitzpatrick will get to see Skilian up close today when they lead their respective teams into the NHIAA Division I tournament at the Spare Time Lanes in Manchester.

Stevens has been a successful program since its inception two years ago. Last year, Stevens reached the finals as the sixth seed. In 2011, the Cards were the top seed before suffering an upset in the early rounds of the tourney. This season, the past successes have brought 35 bowlers out for the team — enough to add a junior varsity squad.

Skilian is the No. 1-ranked bowler in Division I, followed by Fitzpatrick, and their respective teams are seeded in that order, as well. If both schools win their two preliminary matches today, they would meet in the finals.

Stevens’ first-round opponent will come from the winner of the Sanborn-Spaulding preliminary round. Sanborn is seeded third and Spaulding seventh. Pinkerton is clearly the class of the division. Two weeks ago, Pinkerton came to Maple Lanes, the home house for the Cardinals, and beat Stevens handily without Skilian.

“We certainly are the underdog, and I like being the underdog,” Stevens coach Shawn Wadsworth said.

Fitzpatrick, who has been bowling for just four years, carries a 205 average and has two perfect games. In his 822 series, he had games of 257, 277 and 288. In the first and second games he failed to strike in the first frame than had 11 consecutive strikes each string. Next fall, he plans to attend Vincennes Junior College in Gary, Ind., to continue his bowling career.

Wadsworth is in his first season as head varsity coach, after assisting Frank Sprague, who had to give up his post after he was appointed Stevens High principal.

Wadsworth sees his job as coach primarily to help bowlers make adjustments, put the right people in the right order and “to be the first person cheering,” he said.

To make it very far in the tourney, Wadsworth knows that avoiding open frames is a priority. “We have to make our spares,” the coach said. “When Pinkerton came here a couple of weeks ago, we killed ourselves by not making spares.”

Eight bowlers will be competing today for a young Stevens team that carries three freshmen and two sophomores.

One of those sophomores is the only girl on the team, 15-year-old Taylor Melcher. She figures her average is around 150, and has a high single of 224.

She says she is not at all intimidated about being the lone female on the team.

“I like being the only girl,” said Melcher, who bowls from the left side. “I feel like one of the guys, like I’m their little sister and I’m with all my big brothers.

“They are all wonderful to me. We have a great time. I love bowling and I love being here (Maple Lanes). I used to play field hockey, but not anymore. All I want to do is bowl. I want to bowl in college and I want to bowl for a career.”

Daniel Simoneau is only 14 and Tyler Matheson is just 15, but they will be in the mix when Stevens competes today. Both admit that there will be some nerves, but as Simoneau said, “Everybody gets nervous at times, but making a few spares will calm us down.”

Wadsworth added that another one of his jobs is to keep his young bowlers relaxed.

“They need to stay focused on the task at hand and block out everything else.

“We have to pick up our spares,” he emphasized. “Open frames are a killer.”