Kansas Wesleyan Men’s Bowling upset Midland (Neb.) in the finals of bracket play at the NAIA Unaffiliated Group Championships held on Saturday and Sunday at The Alley in Salina.
The Coyotes defeated the Warriors 4.5 to 2.5 in the best of 7 championship match against the Warriors, who were ranked fifth in the most recent NAIA RPI rating which was released on Friday. KWU was ranked No. 13 in the RPI.
“We knew we had a chance against Midland in the finals,” Wesleyan head coach Todd Zenner said. “They are always so good in qualifying, but we knew we had a chance in head-to-head.”
The finals were without a bit of excitement. KWU won the first three games of the final series, but Midland would win Game 4. The Coyotes had a chance to clinch the title in Game 5, with Midland needed a strike on its final ball in the 10th frame, and got one, ending the game in a 179-179 tie.
The Warriors captured Game 6, forcing the seventh game.
KWU started the seventh game on a roll with four strikes in the first four frames. The game was close until the ninth frame when the Coyotes could taste victory.
“I didn’t think it was going to end like that,” Zenner said of the wild finish. “We went up 3-0 and I was hoping we could close it out in four, but a little excitement is good for everyone right?”
Zenner also altered his lineup in the final game, inserting freshman Taylor Miller (FR/McPherson, Kan.) for the last game.
Zenner praised anchor Nathan Mercer (JR/Topeka, Kan.) in the final game getting seven pins on his first throw and converting a 3 pin spare to seal the deal for the Coyotes. It was Mercer’s first time as anchor for the Coyotes.
“Austin Musselman (SR/Catoosa, Okla.) put us in a good position with his spare ahead of Nathan, and we knew Nathan needed at least a 7, and he went out and got it and converted the spare,” Zenner said. “I was proud of him for bouncing back from struggling in a couple 10th frames before that to get it done.”
This will be the second time KWU has reached the NAIA’s. KWU earned an appearance in the first-ever NAIA Invitational in 2018. Bowling became a championship-level sport at the NAIA level in 2019-20.
2020 was supposed to mark the inaugural NAIA National Championship for bowling, but COVID-19 canceled the championship before it could be contested. This year’s championship will be the first official NAIA Bowling National Championship.
Zenner says he’s ready, but the Coyotes have a bit more work to do to prepare. Wesleyan will participate in the Jayhawk Classic next weekend in Lawrence, before heading to the NAIA National Championships in Sterling Heights, Michigan March 25 through 27.
“I am just going to enjoy the moment for now,” he said. “Next week we will get back to work and get ready for the Jayhawk and then Nationals.”
KWU was the No. 2 seed in bracket play after Saturday’s qualifying, behind Midland. The Coyotes faced Missouri Baptist in the semifinals, coming back from a 2-1 deficit in the best of 5 series to win 3-2 to advance to face Midland in the finals.