NORTH BRUNSWICK – Jordan Lopez is not shy about showing his emotions on the lanes.
At Friday’s state boys bowling team tournament, he kept them in check a little longer than usual, and that helped take Lyndhurst further in the Tournament of Champions than any North Jersey team before it.
The senior anchor calmly struck in every frame he bowled during the TOC finals to lead top-seeded Lyndhurst over Freehold Township, 3-2, in the best-of-5 Baker series at Carolier Lanes.
“Some of the breaks we got, and the way [Friday] went, it felt meant to be,” Lopez said. “It’s an unreal feeling.”
The Golden Bears are the first North Jersey team to claim an overall state title since Clifton did so in 2002, five years before the TOC began.
They had finished second in Group 1 each of the past two years before breaking through with a tournament-best 3,202 to win it.
“Much happier tears this year,” Lyndhurst coach Brianna Balkin said as her team gathered for pictures in front of Lane 33.
That was the setting for all three of the Bears’ victories in the finals. They alternated with No. 3 Freehold Township on Lane 33 and 34 for the first four games, but as the No. 1 seed, they got the lane choice for the decisive fifth game and stayed with what worked.
“I told them after the [group play] that this was just bonus,” Balkin said. “We’re still state champions, so we were playing with house money.”
Lopez and seniors Daijon Smith, Emily Young, Richard Sawires and Michael Hayes each contributed on the day. Hayes threw two games in group play, while the other four were in the five-player Baker rotation for the semis — a 3-2 win over No. 4 Rahway — and finals.
“We [seniors] are all a piece of this puzzle,” Young said, “and we all put it together.”
Ryan Donohue played a key role, as well. He tossed a 741 series in qualifying with a bandage on his throwing thumb that almost kept it from fitting into the ball.
“The pro shop was closed until like the first frame,” said Balkin, noting Donohue was able to get the thumb hole altered in time. “We were going to have him throw it two-handed.”
The sophomore left that delivery style to Smith and Lopez, who picked him up after a five-pin split in the eighth frame of Game 4 against Freehold Township.
With the Bears down by seven and facing elimination, Smith struck in the ninth, and Lopez went strike-strike-9 in the 10th to clinch a 222-220 win.
In Game 5, Donohue rolled an eighth-frame strike to cap a string of four in a row and set up Lyndhurst for a 226-190 victory.
Group 1 produced the top two North Jersey finishers. Pompton Lakes (2,969) took second, thanks to a series of 735 from Frank Magyar and a 699 from Nick Cilento. North Arlington (2,718) placed sixth, with Tyler Keefe firing a 269 to share second-high game honors with Donohue.
Passaic Tech (2,899) and Indian Hills (2,850) finished fifth in Groups 4 and 3, respectively.