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Bulldog bowlers bring home ninth state title

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ARTESIA — The Artesia High School bowling team traveled to Silva Lanes in Albuquerque with the intention of bringing home the 2024 New Mexico High School Bowling Association Class 4A State Championship.

“The only thing that keeps me from feeling sorry for these kids to have to carry the expectations of past success is the fact that they wouldn’t have it any other way,” said Coach Ken Clayton.

“Going into the tournament, even though there were 10 teams, there was a very high possibility that the battle was going to be between us and a very strong Espanola Valley team, led by the state’s high average bowler in senior Raymond Archuleta,” Clayton said.

The Bulldogs’ state championship roster was comprised of junior Kambry Collins, junior Hagen Murph, sophomore Tyler Romine, sophomore Payton DeMerritt, sophomore Brent McIntire, sophomore Brenden Depew, freshman Jace Miles and freshman Chase Collins.

The qualifying format of the state championship calls for three team games of five bowlers rolling each game. In Game One, Romine opened with a 210 game, Murph a 204 and DeMerritt a 203 to pace the Bulldogs to an opening-round 976 score and a 95-pin lead over Espanola Valley.

Game Two had DeMerritt rolling a leading 215 game, Romine adding a 192 and Depew stepping in with a 192 to allow the Bulldogs to post a 946 game and increase their first-place lead to 173 pins.

The third and final game of full team qualifying had Murph rolling a tournament-high 220 game to go with DeMerritt’s 199 and combined 192 game, allowing the Bulldogs to complete the three-game block with a 907 game and a total score of 2,829. The total score saw the Artesia bowlers holding a 140-pin lead going to the first set of Baker game eliminations.

“With the championship format having teams eliminated after each block, and the No. 1 seed having lane choice in the championship match, it was important to be steady and maintain our lead throughout the three sets of Baker games,” said Clayton.

Espanola Valley came out strong averaging 210 over the four-game block, and with the Bulldogs’ 734 series, the ‘Dogs’ lead was 34 pins. Having cut the field to six teams, the tournament got tighter knowing two more teams would be eliminated following the third round.

“With a lot of bowling on the lanes, the lane condition deteriorates and scoring becomes much harder, but both the Bulldogs and the kids from Espanola Valley stepped up and averaged over 200, with EV rolling a three-game set of 612 to our 603,” said Clayton.

With a three-game Baker set remaining to determine the championship match, the Artesia Bulldogs held a 25-pin lead over EV. The first game saw EV roll a 181 to the ‘Dogs’ 180, the second game had Espanola Valley bowl a 224 to Artesia’s 215, and the Bulldogs’ lead was down to 16 pins with one game to go.

“Lane choice is huge in a three-game championship because you each bowl a game on the pair and the top qualifying team can choose the lane they want to bowl the final game of the championship on,” said Clayton. “If the championship is on the line, as ended up being the case, it is a big deal.”

With the two teams that were going to compete in the championship final long determined, the last game of qualifying felt like the championship match itself. The Bulldogs were not content to just hold on to their 16-pin lead and rolled a strong 198 game to wrap up the top seed in the championship by 53 pins.

A championship match in New Mexico high school bowling is a three-game Baker match with the total of the three games determining the state champion.

The back-and-forth battle of Game One saw the bowlers from Espanola Valley come out on top by a score of 188-187. Romine converted a split in the 10th frame and followed that with a strike that allowed the Bulldogs to stay within one pin, and it was still anyone’s championship to win.

Game Two saw the Bulldogs start strong and complete the game with a 187 to Espanola Valley’s 173, giving the Artesia team a 13-pin lead going into the final game of the championship. In a game that saw both teams have the lead at numerous points, the Bulldogs found themselves ahead by one pin with two frames to go.

“It was a great place to have our highest average bowler, Payton DeMerritt, up to bowl,” said Clayton. “I said, ‘If you ever threw a strike, this would be a good place for it.'”

With the best ball you could ever throw, DeMerritt put 10 pins in the pit and set Romine up to clinch the state championship with a strike or a spare. Romine sent the overflow Artesia Bulldog crowd into a frenzy with a strike, and the Bulldog bowlers had won the 2024 New Mexico High School Bowling Association Class 4A State Championship.

“Coach Laura Weddige and I are proud of our young people,” Clayton said. “They had to battle all day. These kids are very good bowlers, but they are not robots. They live with the fact that everyone thinks they should win the state championships every year, but the truth is they absolutely buy into the belief that if we put in the work and believe in ourselves, our chances are good.”

In addition to the State Championship awards, Romine, Murph and Collins were named to the Class 4A All-State Team and DeMerritt received a state medal for his 617 series.

“I would like to thank everyone involved with our bowling program,” said Clayton. “We have amazing support from our school administrators, our sponsors, and our parents. I would like to especially acknowledge Coach Weddige for her timeless work and commitment to all of us, and everything she does for our kids.

“Winning the State Championship in nine of the past 13 years is something to be proud of, but knowing the inside story of the different kids that have accomplished that feat is what keeps me coming back.”

Brienne Green
Daily Press Editor

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