They were the "Yeah, but . . . " group. According to the Middle Country boys bowling team, playing the no-respect angle, every complement tossed their way during the season came with a disclaimer: an argument against any realistic shot of a championship run.
They have good depth. Yeah, but two of their best bowlers graduated last year. They're among the better teams in Suffolk. Yeah, but there are a handful of elite squads dominating.
Former teammate Rob Pepe promised to host a party at his house if the Cougarines won the Suffolk title, senior Tom Murray said, "but he, too, had doubts about it actually happening."
Yeah, but Middle Country did it, finishing ahead of Sachem East, 6,452-6,330, Saturday at Sayville Lanes. Comsewogue took third (6,260). The Cougarines will compete in the state tournament March 3 in Waverly, N.Y.
"It's beautiful," said Bryan Dragotta, who bowled a 1,279 series.
Mike Ruben had a tournament-best 1,447 series, including a 244 in Game 6 as Middle Country rallied from third -- down 46 pins -- and posted 1,198 pins to win. Andrew Rosenblatt (1,281 series) had a 268 in Game 6. "We perform when our back's against the wall," Ruben said. "That's what I love about this team."
Commack's Nicholas Eckert had a 1,410 series and Smithtown's Gregg Reed a 1,398.
East Islip girls win.
For such a rousing performance, the celebration afterward was quite subdued.
Perhaps it was because by the fifth game, the only thing still in question was whether East Islip could break its own record for total wood.
The Redmen dropped 6,469 pins -- 13 shy of the mark set in last season's county tournament -- and finished well ahead of Middle Country (6,075) and Longwood (5,921), capturing a second straight Suffolk championship.
Lena Sorrentino rolled a tournament-high 1,424 series, Alexa DeFazio's 1,333 was fourth best, and Kristina Freitag had a 1,262 to lead East Islip.
The Redmen graduated only one senior last year, so the bowlers had high expectations for themselves entering this season. But who would've predicted a Long Island-best -- that's girls and boys -- 1,044 average?
"So many of our girls stepped up and got better," DeFazio said. "The work we put in, we felt like we earned it; we deserved this."
Brianna Meyer (Longwood) had a 1,371 series, Kelly Skalacki (Middle Country) a 1,343, and Jessica Calandra (Patchogue-Medford) a 1,294.