WAVERLY, N.Y. -- You know, third place in the state tournament doesn't sound too bad for a team that few expected to even have a chance to compete in it.
It's become hackneyed -- teams playing the "nobody believed in us except us" card. But here's a changeup: The Middle Country boys bowling team wasn't even certain about itself going into this season. And there were valid reasons for the doubt.
They had good depth, but their record-breaking superstar (Matt Skalacki) graduated last year. They were good, but Smithtown and Sachem East were the heavy favorites to emerge from Suffolk. The Cougarines did well in the regular season, but they couldn't capture their league title.
"Honestly, I didn't think we would make it here," senior Bryan Dragotta said Saturday. "We were underdogs the whole way and you look at what other teams have . . . "
But what Middle Country now has, after its performance at Waverly's Valley Bowling Center Saturday, is a state tournament plaque and bronze medals.
Dragotta, who said he'll hang his prize on the wall in his room, rolled a 1,203 series.
Thomas Murray shot 1,118 and Mike Ruben 1,117 to lead the Cougarines, who knocked down 5,583 pins. Greece-Athena took first with a 5,871 pinfall -- to the delight of their delirious fans, screaming and waving yellow shirts inside the crammed 32-lane alley.
Nassau champion Farmingdale was sixth (5,400).
"Of course you want to win, and you wish you did better," Murray, a senior, said. "But to be called the third-best team in the entire state is special."
Middle Country was in fifth place after three games, but rallied late. Their 977 in Game 6 pulled them into third.
"It's huge to come up here and compete with the 11 best teams in New York," Middle Country coach Mike Messana said. "And we're the third-best team in the state -- period, end of story."
Bryce Hook rolled a 1,234 and Kyle Trick 1,224 to lead Greece-Athena, the Section V champs.
"I'm not mad," Dragotta said. "There's hundreds of teams throughout the state, sitting at home, wishing they were in our position."
Steve Hamlin shot a 1,155 series, Jonathan Smalkin a 1,182, and Joe Inzirillo a 1,046 for Farmingdale, which made its first appearance in the state tournament.
"The overall season was a great advancement for this program," said Dalers coach Joe Bianca, whose team finished 19 pins shy of the Nassau title last season and was fifth in the county in team average.
"I think short-term, the kids will be a little mad at themselves for not doing as well as they could have," Bianca continued, "but down the road, they'll realize what they accomplished this year."
Inzirillo's 264 in Game 2 was the tournament's high game.
"I think this is something we can build on," Inzirillo, a senior, said. "Farmingdale has become a great team. We'll keep bringing kids up through the ranks and I expect us to go farther from here."