2022 L-L League Team Bowling Championships

Logan Moyer of Hempfield bowls against Penn Manor during L-L League team bowling championships action at Cain's Lanes in Manheim on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2022.

Hempfield’s Caleb Mertz knew he wasn’t having his best game against defending champion Penn Manor in Tuesday’s Lancaster-Lebanon League team bowling championships at Cain’s Lanes.

But the senior had one final chance for redemption

Despite an open ninth frame in the final game, Mertz began the 10th with a strike, followed by another strike, then an eight-count. Those 28 pins leading off the 10th were huge for the Black Knights.

Two weeks after picking up the program’s first Section One title, Hempfield won its first L-L crown, splitting the first two games, 962-926 and 820-952, before taking the deciding game 881-872.

“It was good to get those two strikes and help my team out,” Mertz said. “Winning by only nine, it was really important.”

As one of three seniors on an underclassmen-led Knights squad, Mertz felt a responsibility.

“Us seniors are supposed to be leading the team,” he said. “When we need somebody to get a strike, we are the ones that are supposed to help out the team.”

Hempfield coach Tom Degnan said Mertz’s final frame was the difference.

“As a leadoff person, anybody that can double in the 10th after having an open in the ninth sets the team up for success,” the coach said. “Then it all boils down to who wants it the most.”

Around the fifth frame of the last game, such comeback hopes looked bleak. After winning the middle set by a large margin, the Comets led by 60 pins midway through the finale.

Up stepped sophomore standout Derick Keller, the Knights’ high-average bowler, who rolled strikes in the seventh, eighth and ninth frames. Although he opened the 10th, Keller’s nine pins were all Hempfield needed.

“We told everybody to stay excited, stay hyped and stay focused,” said Keller. “I knew I needed to do something, so I strung three together. I shot nine in the 10th, but knew I just had to keep it on the lane.”

Keller finished that game with a 206. Earlier, he tossed the highest game of the championship match when he opened with a 254. Priest McKenzie added a 216 in the first set, propelling the Knights.

The middle game was tough sledding for both teams, before Penn Manor got it going. Corrine Smith led the way with a 200, with Willow Hee notching a 194. All five Comets bowlers rolled at least a 182.

Josh Stock bowled a 214 in the last set. Anchor Derek Warfel, who posted a 236 in the first game, had a 197 in the third as he and Stock kept Penn Manor in the lead until late.

Degnan said he lacked the right words to describe his team’s comeback and first championship.

“The truth of the matter is they all stepped up and just pulled it together,” he said. “This team has fought. We’ve had battles where we lost the first game by 150 pins and came back and won the match.

“We knew it was going to be a battle because we battled Penn Manor all year. Nip and tuck. It was tough all the way through.”

The two sides met last month in Section One play, with Hempfield winning two games and taking five points, helping the Knights get that first section crown.

Hempfield earned its way to the finals by topping Manheim Central 836-733, 801-651, then defeated Elizabethtown 956-921 and 845-838.

Penn Manor needed three in its semifinal against Warwick, 837-814, 828-909 and 860-799. The Comets defeated Cocalico in the opener 833-825, 840-749.

Also in the early matches, Warwick defeated Northern Lebanon 889-656, 864-665 and Elizabethtown topped Columbia, 941-832, 1,061-958.

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