By ADAM SHINDER
TOWN OF AMSTERDAM -- Pin by pin, things are falling into place for the young group that makes up the Amsterdam High School bowling team.
Monday's return to Imperial Lanes from the holiday break wasn't flawless, but the Rams were strong enough as a team in the first two games against Albany to make the Falcons' dominance in the third and final game irrelevant to the overall result as Amsterdam notched a 4-3 victory.
"We ended up dying out in the third game, and that lost us total (pins)," said Amsterdam junior Billy McGaffin. "We're doing OK. We should have more wins than we do, but we've thrown some games away like we did today."
Led by Marc LaBahn's 684 series, Amsterdam came out strong enough in the opening two games to secure victory, but the Rams were outscored by 177 pins in the final game -- which also allowed Albany to take the edge on total pins, 3,302-3,259.
The Rams got a 551 series from Joe Spagnola, while McGaffin logged a 543 triple and Brendan McGillin chipped in a 516 series. Dan Carson's 624 series led the way for Albany.
Closing matches strong in the third game has been something of a sticking point for the Rams this season, according to first-year head coach Joseph Scott.
"We've been struggling in those third games the last couple matches," Scott said. "In practice coming up, we're gonna have a conversation about that, because the first two games, they come out strong and the third game they've been struggling."
That said, considering the team is made up almost entirely of underclassmen, Scott's willing to deal with a few growing pains as the Rams are molded into a team that should be able to contend in the Big 10 for several years to come.
"It's a young team, and we're looking forward to a very strong team next year, I'll tell you that," he said.
Juniors McGaffin and LaBahn provide solid anchors, with both boasting 200 averages on the season. Monday, LaBahn took center stage with his match-best 684 series that was topped by a 245 in his second game, which he closed out with seven consecutive strikes.
"The first few frames, I couldn't catch anything, but then I strung it out," LaBahn said. "A 684's not great, but it's not bad either. I was happy with it today, but I wish we could've won that last game."
Amsterdam also features a seventh-grader, Jon Schultz, in its regular top six. Schultz fired a 466 series Monday, and Scott said the youngster has plenty of time to make some waves in his varsity career.
"He's up-and-coming. Look out for him," Scott said. "Look for his name. He's been bowling only a couple of years, I think, and he's really good for his age."
It's the type of mix that has the Rams confident they can go strike for strike with anyone in the Big 10. That was especially evident Monday, as Amsterdam avenged a 7-0 sweep at the hands of Albany from earlier this season.
"We can beat anybody," LaBahn said. "We hung with CBA, we beat Schenectady, we beat Albany and those are the top three teams. So, anything can really happen."
While the Rams are currently stuck in the middle of the Big 10 standings, Scott said he's hopeful for his team to make an upward surge as the season winds down -- particularly if the Rams can get over those pesky third-game struggles -- which should make Amsterdam a bit of a wild card contender when sectional competition comes around.
"We're equal as far as skill with Albany and Schenectady," Scott said. "We beat Schenectady, 4-3, and we beat (Albany), 4-3, this time around. My hope is to get to sectionals and show them what we've got."
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