Sunday night our group of four teams from St. Louis, MO took to the lanes for the 8:30PM squad at the 2012 USBC Open Championships in Baton Rouge. Our squad was running about 30 minutes behind which is about "on par" for this timeslot.
For months we have been paying close attention to what Jeff Richgel's group does to break in the lanes as well as many of the other strategies out there. A little behind the times, we only started to make a concerted effort to follow their wisdom in playing the lanes last year and it paid off in a big way as one of our teams scored 3341 for a 21st place finish. Rich Orf led the way with 794 and John Brockland added 721.
Because we had four left handers on our pair last year, some difficult choices had to be made this year if we were going to try to "work" the lanes collaboratively. We decided to expand our two teams to four and offered the lefties the opportunity to switch pairs and stack up on one team for the betterment of the whole group. As it turned out, Don Griffin (our grinding lefty) remained on our pair; his team event scores at the championships over the years certainly merit that decision. Ours is a work in progress and, as other groups have found out, working together and putting friendships aside for the sake of a scoring plan is not easy to do. I hear it all of the time from other groups throughout the country.
We tried to give even more time and energy to our preparation for this year's championships than last year. I began my part of the prep work this year reading facebook posts, blogs, and watching early tournament live-streams on BowlTV. A good percentage of our group practiced on the pattern locally on Sunday evenings on and off for more than a month. Our last bit of prep was done here in Baton Rouge as we practiced Saturday night on the Showcase Lanes inside the River Center. We were able to create great shot shape in our practice sessions by breaking down 6-7-8 with balls with 1000-4000 depending on rev rate. Because I hit up on the ball and like to slow-hook the lane, I was using low-end balls with 2000 surface around 9 at the arrows and out to 6 or so down lane. I usually like to attack the lanes from deep inside but I was and am 100% committed to helping my squad mates, so sacrificing a little of my comfort zone for the entire group is the right thing to do.
At the Showcase Lanes, we saw most of the same thing we saw back home except that the ball seemed to read much earlier here than back on the pro-anvilane in STL. The strategy of using balls with surface and staying in the zone between 5 and 10 opened up the lane really well for us just like it had back home. At the end of our practice session, Emil Williams Jr. said to me that if we had that look at the end of the team event we could have a huge score. We had heard mixed reports about how the Showcase Lanes play compared to the actual tournament lanes; most said that the pattern played a lot tighter on the championship lanes in the River Center. Nonetheless, as David O'Sullivan told me, "You have to play the lanes as you see them. Just because you have a game plan, it doesn't mean that's what you're going to see on the lanes. Keep that in mind as there are too many moving parts and variables to each and every set you bowl." With four different lane machines dressing the lanes, climate changes, and ball traffic variables this is good advice. We were confident going in.
Our two main teams consisted of Don Griffin (an exceptional STL lefty with low rev-rate), Daniel Spink (Lindenwood standout & former Junior Team USA member), Dan Lemiesz (Lindenwood 2nd team All-American who had 300-2155 at USBC's last year), John Brockland (our extremely accurate group organizer from STL), Rich Orf (son of Ray Orf with a lifetime USBC Open avg of 208 for 26 years), Mike Remaklus (Former JOG champion, 2-time Junior Team USA member, and former collegiate rookie of the year), Mike Wedemeier (Missouri Baptist stand-out bowler and one of the most accurate young players in STL), Matt Tod (Former Lindenwood first team bowler and excellent teammate), Jake Setchell (Lindenwood first team bowler from California), and yours truly. I believed us to be a group that could do some damage if we settled in well, if the lanes gave us some freedom, and we got the share of breaks that any team needs to really score well.
We were on lanes 33-34 for our team event and the first things that were obvious were that the end of the pattern was way more "raw" than we had seen in any of our practicing, that the left lane had a lot earlier read in the mid-lane, and ironically that the right lane was tighter like so many other pairs we had watched -- including the Richgels group's issues with lane 12 tightness. When the lights came on, some of us continued to use surface and some changed to lesser surface trying to score high early because of the friction we were experiencing. This may have come back to haunt us later as we experienced hang down lane at the end of the second game. This particularly hurt our straighter players when they moved in.
At the start, I found myself feeling uncomfortable and locked up. This resulted in poor shot-making with my Cherry Vibe at 2000. After four frames I went to my Critical Theory -- the ball that had worked best during practice sessions -- and also jumped ship and starting moving left. I cut the first two shots short for a Brooklyn double, and for the rest of the block found myself chasing left ending up at looking at 24 by the end of the set. For the most part, all of us found ourselves feeling like we were in the same boat because of the friction we encountered at the outset. We all found ourselves giving into the temptation to chase left with the exception of a few of our straighter players, who could stay right longer with a lot of ball speed. Our guys with more hand or softer speed just couldn't make that work. Jake Setchell, in my opinion, was the only bowler that felt good physically all 30 frames with 30 good shots. Everyone else, at some point, found themselves with at least a four-frame stretch of being lost in a transition or poor spare-shooting or even worse - both.
Here's the tale of the tape:
Ray Orf's Pro Shop #1 --- 907, 976, 1142 = 3025 (Griffin 175, 167, 232 = 574; Spink 152, 162, 235 = 549; Lemiesz 179, 245, 237 = 661; Brockland 210, 188, 214 = 612; Orf 191, 214, 224 = 629).
Our lefty (Griffin) did the best he could on his side of the lane all by himself, salvaging a respectable set the last game once he found something. Spink went to equipment with less surface pretty quickly and found himself having speed control issues and difficulty hitting the break point. That resulted in six splits the first two games. Lemiesz also started with less surface and struggled the first game. He pulled out a gritty Diamondback for game two and then went back to his Marvel Pearl for game three, rebounding like a pro for the highest series on our squad. Both Spink and Lemiesz, with their stronger hands, were able to create room to the right the last game. Brockland threw the ball great with only two opens, one a split, and just couldn't string any strikes together (11 frames of 9-spare) even with plenty of equipment options. Orf wasn't as comfortable as he most often is on tough conditions and made some bad shots. Nonetheless, veteran that he is, he pulled out a consistent 629. He started with surface according to the game plan as well as anyone on the pair. Real success for Orf only came, playing a tighter angle in around fourth arrow, throwing a set-ending five-bagger with a Taboo Jet Black.
Insidebowling.com Black --- 986, 973, 997 = 2956 (Flanagan 180, 190,191 = 561; Tod 171, 216, 178 = 565; Setchell 205, 213, 207 = 625; Wedemeier 210, 163, 221 = 594; Remaklus 220, 191, 200 = 611).
For my part, I didn't throw the ball well the entire team event. I grinded out my score with a Cherry Vibe and a Critical Theory. At the end of the block I had better feel throwing seven strikes the last game but still wasn't really repeating shots like I'd like to. Tod was nursing a bad back and couldn't muster much ball speed. After switching from surface to a polished Victory Road, he bowled a lot better than he scored (394 for the last two games). Setchell filled 28 of 30 frames, staying in the pocket the entire set. I felt badly for him. The last game he struck only 4 times with only one bad shot in the tenth frame. Wedemeier stuck to the game plan. He got a little lost in transition the second game, but after getting acclimated moving in he came back with a really solid 221 the last game. Remaklus executed the pre-game plan better than anyone by amazingly staying right the entire block. Using a Victory Road Solid, his first game 220 could have been much more. In retrospect, using ball speed to stay right probably hurt him more than helped. Moving in a little with a ball change might have made a solid set a really good one for him.
The other two teams on our squad are also still a work in progress. Insidebowling.com Orange shot 2747 and Ray Orf's #2 shot 2604. I'm confident in years to come that as our group continues to work together on our game plans and gathers guys interesting in committing to it, there will be success stories to be written about them.
Although we're not at all satisfied with our scoring, what ended up happening for us makes perfect sense. If either team would have had all five guys comfortable and making sharp well-executed shots, 3200 would have been doable. The knowledge I take away from this and my advice to you who are reading is to "bowl the lanes as you see them." Make sure you communicate with each other about what you're seeing and what it's telling you. Use your practice sessions as a guide, but don't be too sure that what you've practiced on is really what you're going to find.
This trip has given me the pleasure of catching up with a lot of old friends and meeting some new ones. And there have been some really great experiences -- I especially want to thank Matt Cannizzaro and Emil Williams, Jr. for letting me to sit in the production booth Friday night during the live-stream of the third game of Turbo Two-in-One's team event.
As for bowling, there's no doubt that this year's championships are very tricky. Scores are lower and once you bowl you can quickly see why that is. Heading into minor events on tonight's 11:30pm squad, we are looking forward to executing better shots and having more success than we did last night.
Brackets were overall very solid for our group considering some ups and downs on the scoreboard.
To everyone back home in St. Louis, thank you for the support and interest in our success this year. If you or your group would like to work a similar plan with us, please don't hesitate to ask.