Dom Drake spent much of last winter leading the Brewer High School boys basketball team to the Eastern Maine Class A finals, as well as earning All-Maine second-team honors from the Bangor Daily News.
But when he wasn’t dribbling a ball, he was rolling one with nearly equal success.
The 18-year-old Drake has quickly developed into one of the state’s top candlepin bowlers, as evidenced by his recent performance in the Maine State Candlepin Bowling Singles Championships.
Drake advanced to the quarterfinals before bowing to second-seeded Brian Purdy of Scarborough 623-578.
“I bowled pretty well,” said Drake. “I was down 52 pins with two strings left, but I bowled a 147 to get really close.”
What makes Drake’s rise among the state’s candlepin bowlers all the more impressive is that he took up the sport just two years ago at the Bangor-Brewer Lanes.
But he quickly earned the attention of lanes owner Charlie Milan, who suggested Drake might like to compete in state tournaments after quickly finding success in local league play.
“Charlie and Jimmy [Milan, Charlie’s son and a top-flight bowler] both said if I kept bowling I might be pretty good, because when I started bowling I was averaging about 100, not 50 or 60,” he said. “So I kept bowling, and now my average is getting up there.”
Drake — who has since compiled a high single of 162 and a high five-game series of 634 — began bowling in state tournaments this year. He finds a noticeable difference between that and competing in his regular Monday night league.
“My league average is 108, but in the state tournament it’s about 117,” said Drake, who credits much of his success from pointers he picks up from the Milans and other Bangor-Brewer Lanes competitors such as Shawn Morrison, who went on to win the state singles title last weekend.
“When you bowl in the state tournaments it’s pretty nerve-wracking, more so than bowling in the league, and that probably makes the difference in the score because maybe I concentrate even more.”
Drake does find several similarities between bowling and basketball, among them the momentum gained from one possession to the next in basketball, much like that gained from one ball to the next in bowling.
“That’s something I feel very strongly, that bowling is very much a momentum sport,” said Drake, who led the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A ranks with averages of 17.6 points and 4.1 steals per game.
“It’s really not by string in bowling though, but when you go up there and you throw a strike, the next time the ball is right down the middle and it carries you over until you sit back down.”
Drake also enjoys the opportunity such momentum swings provide to turn disappointment into celebration.
“My coaches in basketball have always told me that I’m a competitive player,” he said, “and bowling also is a sport that is very competitive and that’s reason I like it. It’s like basketball because in bowling you have so many chances to change the game.”
One place where Drake can change a basketball game is at the free-throw line, which he can relate to standing on the lane preparing to bowl.
“Both coach [Clayton] Blood and coach [Ben] Goodwin said my foul shooting got better at the end of my junior year and my senior year, and that’s when I started bowling, so it probably helped,” he said.
While bowling season is winding down, Drake remains busy with basketball as the coach of an AAU 14-and-under boys team from the area — MBNation-Drake — that is gearing up for the state championships.
“I have a group of kids who love to play basketball but don’t necessarily get playing time,” he said. “They came after me to coach them in AAU, so I did. It’s fun. You see the game a lot different coaching than you do when you’re playing the game, and it’s really important to get your subs in at the right time.”
College is in the offing for Drake, though he hasn’t decided where he will attend. He sees plenty of basketball in his future, first as a player and perhaps eventually as a coach.
He also hopes to find time for his new-found athletic passion.
“If I get away from bowling while I’m in college,” he said, “I’ll probably end up going back to it. It’s fun.