Middletown High School junior James Prater

Prep bowling: Unbeaten Middletown boys winning with balance, chemistry

MIDDLETOWN — Middletown High School’s boys bowling team has been a pleasant surprise so far this season.

The unbeaten Middies, who don’t have a senior on their varsity roster, are alone in first place in the Greater Miami Conference after Mason knocked off Oak Hills on Tuesday.

“I’m a little surprised, but not completely shocked because I know my boys,” fifth-year Middletown coach Larry Cupp said. “I knew there was potential. Almost all of them are year-round bowlers. This is my second home … I’m always here … so even during the summer, I get to see them and help them.”

BOYS BASKETBALL COVERAGE

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The Middies, 10-0 overall and 4-0 in the GMC, are winning with balance. Sophomore Ethan Rowe has the top average (212.5), but juniors James Prater (201.9), Austin Smith (196.3), Matthew Minor (194.5) and Jacob Cowgill (179.7) are all strong contributors.

Middletown defeated Mason 2,764-2,695 to open the season, giving the Middies some immediate credibility.

“It built our confidence a little bit and let us know we’re just as good as all the other teams,” Prater said.

Cupp said he thought Mason, Colerain and Fairfield were the preseason favorites. Mason, Colerain and Oak Hills are all 4-1 in conference play, Fairfield and Hamilton are both 1-2, and Lakota West is 2-3.

Middletown will host Fairfield at Eastern Lanes on Wednesday afternoon.

“We’ve got some big matches coming up that are really going to decide how good we are, starting with Fairfield,” Cupp said. “Are we really going to be an undefeated team? How long is this ride going to last?

“We’ve had some scary moments where we thought we were going to lose, but they’ve stepped up their game each time. All of them know their role. They’re coming together as a team with no major issues about who’s the better bowler.”

Rowe is a 6-foot-8, 280-pound performer on the lanes. He uncorked a two-game series of 521 pins (279-242) last week in the Middies’ Crosstown Shootout against Middletown Christian.

Rowe, Prater, Minor and Cowgill have returned to the varsity this season, while Smith is up from the reserves. Middletown’s other two varsity bowlers are junior Nathan Weiland and sophomore Tyler Jurmu.

“We have this chemistry,” Prater said. “We all know each other and how to react. If you don’t have that chemistry, you have to build that bond and recreate it. That’s not always easy.”

Cupp doesn’t want to speculate about whether the Middies can be a Division I state team. Middletown’s boys have made it to the state tournament just once before in 2014.

“We’ve got a great team. A lot of people are complimenting us and saying we’ve got some really good bowlers,” Cupp said. “But I’ve tried to instill in them, ‘Let’s not look too far in the future. Let’s do this one day at a time, one match at a time. We’ve got Fairfield next and that’s all we’ve got to work on. If we want to stay on top of the GMC, we’ve got to beat Fairfield.’ ”

He noted that Middetown’s bowling program (boys and girls) lost 14 seniors last year. The only two seniors this season are Faithlyn Israel, who bowls for the girls varsity, and Saul Melendez-Castro, who competes with the boys reserves.

The lone returnee for the girls is sophomore Emily Cupp, who’s fourth in the conference with her 186.1 average.

“We’ve got some girls who have never bowled in their life, and they’re getting better every day,” said Larry Cupp, with the girls team sitting at 5-4 overall and 1-3 in the GMC. “Bowling in the lower levels is declining, so we take anybody we can. We love to teach the kids and see them improve.”

After facing Fairfield on Wednesday, Middletown will head north to meet Dunbar at Capri Lanes on Thursday.

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