As the pressure increased at last Saturday’s Kaneland girls bowling sectional, Dixon sophomore Tori Baker was cool as a cucumber.
After not finishing her morning series the way she wanted, Baker refocused herself during the lunch break and came out firing in the afternoon, rolling three 200+ games to bounce back and qualify for state.
“I had a goal to beat someone specific, so I thought about that [during break] and got refocused,” Baker said. “It progressed during the day, because my first game was pretty good, but then the last two in the morning were not too good. But then I started stepping up and did pretty good in the afternoon.”
Baker opened with a 232, then fell off a bit with a 180 and a 171 to close the morning session. But she started the afternoon with games of 231 and 232, then closed the day with a 215 for a 678 series – tied for her best three-game pinfall of the season – for a 1,261 total. That was good enough for ninth overall, and the third-best among individual state qualifiers.
“My assistant coaches and I worked on her follow-through and release, and that was the big factor that made a big difference,’ Dixon coach Larry LaCoursiere said. “She was solid all day long and stayed balanced at the foul line, and that makes a big difference. That was the deciding factor; she was able to get the ball down the lane and get it to react the way she wanted it to, and the score shows that.”
It was Baker’s second trip to sectionals; she shot a 1,256 in regionals last season to lead the Duchesses to sectionals as a team, but none of them managed to move on to state.
Last year’s regional was held at Mardi Gras Lanes in DeKalb, and Baker believes her success there in 2019 helped her mentally when she returned there for last weekend’s sectional.
“It was just a better plan [this year], I guess, and it was just easier because I was used to it,” Baker said. “That’s where we had our regional last year, and it was a lot easier on Saturday because I knew the lanes.”
The other thing that helps Baker on the big stage is her ability to block everything else out and just do her thing. The pressure doesn’t really affect her too much because she keeps herself insulated from the outside noise and distractions by turning her thoughts and focus inward.
“It definitely helps me to focus on what I’m doing and not worry about anything else,” she said. “I just bowl, and there’s my score. I never really think about what I want to shoot before the game or getting a certain score. I just go out there and bowl, and then see my score and think, ‘Oh, I just shot that.’
“It’s just the yelling that annoys me and can make it hard, but I never worry about what’s going on with anybody else. I just concentrate on what I’m doing.”
Her scores speak for themselves. She upped her average by seven pins this season to 175 after a 168 as a freshman, and had a high game of 277 earlier this
“She knows what she’s shooting as she picks up her spares, and I think her goal – whether she thinks about it or not – is to shoot a 200 every game,” LaCoursiere said. “That’s a good goal, a lofty goal for anybody, and if she keeps that in mind and picks up her spares over the weekend, she’ll do just fine.”
Baker says her goals are a little less specific when she gets going at Cherry Bowl Lanes in Rockford this morning.
“I want to bowl a good score and get to the second day. If I can do that, it will be a good tournament for me,” she said. “I’m not really thinking about it being state, to be honest. I’m not really focusing on that; I just want to bowl well.”
And despite being lone Dixon bowler competing at this weekend’s state meet, Baker is buoyed by the fact that with the tournament being nearby, she’ll have plenty of support from her teammates.
“A lot of them are coming up to watch,” Baker said. “I wish they were bowling with me, because it’s just easier as a team since you have more people to talk to and there’s more hype. Now it’s just me, but they’re going to be there cheering me on, and that’s going to help me.”
Family: Parents John Baker & Trina Zeman, brother Geoffrey Baker, sister Aaliyah Baker
Other activities: Softball
FYI: Average of 175 pins per game was 7 better than her freshman season. … Her high series this year was 678, her high game was 277. … Rolled a 6-game series of 1,130 to advance out of Dixon Regional, then bowled a 1,261 to advance out of Kaneland Sectional. … Led Dixon with a 1,256 at last year’s Sycamore Regional as the Duchesses advanced to sectionals as a team.
Also at state: Baker will be joined by the Oregon Hawks, who placed 2nd as a team at the Kaneland Sectional. Rebbeca Meyers (1,353), Alysa Conley (1,274), Sammantha Meyers (1,228), Ava Wight (1,208) & Hannah Kaltenbrun (1,119) bowled at sectionals for Oregon.
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