Freshman bowler's 300 game lifts Glenbrook North to CSL co-championship
The pressure was on Glenbrook North boys bowling in more ways than one.
The Central Suburban League regular-season title race was so tight the Spartans couldn't afford even one lost game against Evanston in their remote match on March 4.
Despite winning the first two games, Glenbrook North coach Todd Rubin said it was not a stellar start. A couple of his big guns were struggling.
"We were starting to get a little nervous. You could see it in the guys' faces a little bit," Rubin said.
One of his top bowlers, freshman Kai Nitzschke, "was kind of going under the radar," Rubin said, with two straight games of 179.
Nitzschke went from under the radar to over the rainbow in the third and final game.
The freshman joined Spartans graduates Jared Kuper and Corey Kahen to become the program's third bowler to record a 300 game. Kahen did it twice in 2014.
For a bowler whose average score was 191.7, best among all CSL freshmen, Nitzschke's four straight strikes was "nothing unusual," Rubin said.
A buzz started after six perfect frames. Following Nitzschke's eighth strike, the Spartans' girls team came over to watch.
A nervous energy, like when a pitcher is nursing a no-hitter, filled River Rand Bowl.
"When he finally got to the 10th frame and he had to bowl three strikes, that's when everything got real quiet. Everyone kind of stopped," Rubin said.
"He stepped up, hits the first one, and everyone took a sigh of relief."
Nitzschke's 11th straight strike got the crowd in a tizzy. After his 12th, for the perfect 300 game, "obviously the team went crazy and everyone jumped on him," Rubin said.
"Even though it's an individual that did it, it feels like a team accomplishment because everyone's willing your teammate to do it."
It turned out Glenbrook North had nothing to worry about. The Spartans topped Evanston by nearly 200 pins in each of the three games to improve to 11-2 overall and 10-2 in the CSL. The Spartans' 88 regular-season points edged Vernon Hills with 87 and New Trier with 86.
Led by conference player of the year Jack Klebba's 257.7 average, Nitzschke, Tommy Corfield, Colin Li and Ryan Torf all averaged better than 200 against Evanston, with Jake Battaglia adding a sound 188 average with two 200-plus games.
In the March 6 conference tournament, Glenbrook North placed second to Vernon Hills to secure a conference co-championship. It was the third conference title for a program that hasn't placed lower than second in the CSL.
The Spartans brought a mark of 139-30 over 10 seasons into what was a busy final week: nonconference matches Tuesday and Wednesday, Thursday's against Lyons Township, and Saturday's virtual regional.
Klebba currently owns the program record average of 225.5, ahead of Kahen's 217.8 in 2014. A left-hander, Klebba uses a ball Kahen gave him after that season.