All one had to do was sit and listen to Matt McNiel on BowlTV Saturday night to realize that Saturday night would be like no other at the Baton Rouge River Center and the USBC Open Championships.
McNiel was sitting in with Matt Cannizzaro and Emil Williams in the commentary booth for team event coverage on the same lanes he would be bowling his doubles in the next shift. By the time McNiel had left the booth to make his final preparations in the paddock, he had not only broken down the pair of lanes for all the bowlers but he explained to everyone watching how he was going to play the lanes and what equipment he would use.
The 26-year-old phenom came in with a track record that was hard to dispute except for one thing — it all happened in Reno, Nev. In 2010, with an 800 series he won the all-events with a record 2,326 scores. Last year, he rolled a 300 and another 800 series and finished third in all-events.
But would it transfer to the lanes at the River Center that early on were called the lowest-scoring lanes since the last tournament here in 2005.
No problem. McNeil had already posted 792 in the team event and shortly before midnight, the Prior Lake, Minn., bowler took to the lanes. The USBC and BowlTV decided to keep the cameras rolling, and by early Sunday morning history was being made.
The lefty during his doubles put together games of 268, 300 and 279 for an 847 series, making him the only bowler in 109 years of the Open Championships with three 800s on the championship lanes.
The 847 helped him and Charles Vashaw of Deephaven, Minn., into the Regular Doubles lead with a 1,489 total, while McNiel also claimed the top spot in Regular All-Events with a 2,202 total. McNiel’s perfect game was the 15th of the 2012 Open Championships, and his 800 series was the second of the year.
“Just to shoot 800 in league is an accomplishment, but to do it here, on this stage, three years in a row, is just unreal,” said McNiel, who added 792 in team and 563 in singles to give him a 250.67 average on the tournament lanes since 2010. “I’m fortunate enough to hold another national record, and it’s a privilege and an honor to do that. I’d love to win enough eagles to get into the hall of fame someday, which is my ultimate goal. Performing here (in Baton Rouge) means 10 times more than the previous two years. That really makes it special.”
This was the second consecutive year McNeil was under the TV lights and rolled a 300 game. He became the sixth bowler to roll 300 games in back-to-back years and one of 24 bowlers in tournament history with two on bowling’s biggest stage. He also is one of 31 bowlers with a 300 game and 800 series at the Open Championships.
After the amazing doubles set, only needing a 532 to take the all-events lead, McNiel had to shift lanes and really grind on a pair that was basically messed up, a doomsday pair, after a previous team and doubles shift. After games of 157 and 192 to start singles, he finished with 214 and was both relieved and disappointed.
“After singles, there was just a flood of emotions,” McNiel said. “When I took the lead in 2010, I was just shocked. I was dumb-founded, and I really didn’t know what happened. This year, I got to appreciate the moment. Doing it with these guys (teammates Linds Lakers) makes it so much sweeter. One reason is because of who I did it with, and the other is because I was conscious the whole time. It’s just different.”
What is amazing is that while leading in doubles and all-events, depending on how high low pay goes, he might not cash in singles. There are still some good bowlers to come in the next four weeks so even the all-events score may not be safe. But to top an historic night like late Saturday will be difficult at best.
Honor Roll scores
David LeBlanc led all the bowlers with a wonderful series at Metro Bowl of 822 (242, 300 280), while Sarah Poche at All-Star Lanes posted 707 with a 273 high game. David Moragas had 11 strikes in a 290 game as part of youth league high of 772 with Justin Bui posting 739. In the senior leagues, there was a big number as well as Ken Buturla shot 735 with a 248 high game.
Clay Smith had a 736 for his first 700, while Jerry Wagener, Skeeter Averett and Tim Davis had 11 straight strikes in 290 games. Louis Branch bowled 101 pins over series average (659) with a 242 games and James LaFleur was 75 pins over average in a 237 game. Mike Sims was plus 90 in a 264 effort.
Remember city association meeting is Saturday at the Belle of Baton Rouge Hotel Atrium. Registration is at 11 a.m., lunch at noon with the meeting to follow.
The action is happening quickly these days at the USBC Open. We’ll have our next update Friday.
Until then, good luck and good bowling.