Defending Champions Share Spotlight at USBC Open

RENO, Nev. – Lodge Lanes Too of Orlando, Fla., entered the 2014 United States Bowling Congress Open Championships as the defending Regular Team champion, but it was Lodge Lanes Kids that stole the spotlight at the National Bowling Stadium on Tuesday.[custom_frame_right shadow=”on”][/custom_frame_right]

A year after Jeff Ussery and his teammates watched Team USA member John Janawicz deliver three clutch strikes in his final frame to lift Lodge Lanes Too to the title, with the highest score in tournament history, they found themselves in position to potentially do the same.

After Ussery closed out his 279 finale, the lead still was within reach, and he looked on as his young, but experienced teammates, tried to make some magic of their own. Although they came up a little short, the experience was priceless.

Lodge Lanes Kids finished with games of 1,194, 1,156 and 1,177 for a 3,527 total, which is third in Regular Team this year and fifth all-time. Motion Plus Lanes of Cudahy, Wis., leads this year with a record score of 3,561.

Newcomer to the group, Jon Trzcinski, set the pace for Lodge Lanes Kids with a 752 series and was followed by Ussery (737), Shawn Lee (694), Aaron Lorincz (683) and Matt Gilman (661).

“To be able to sit back and watch our guys give it their all and nearly get us there was amazing,” said Ussery, who made his seventh USBC Open Championships appearance. “To even have a chance like that at this tournament – there’s nothing better.”

The man behind the two-team Lodge Lanes group is USBC Hall of Famer John Gaines, a four-time eagle winner who has 26 years of Open Championships knowledge and experience to offer.

When it became mathematically impossible for his team to re-capture the top spot in the standings, Gaines’ role turned from defending champion to cheerleader and coach. He still wanted to get every pin he could for his team, but the dual role actually helped him do a little less thinking about his own performance, ultimately allowing him to just do what he knows how to do – bowl – on the way to a big final game.

“I spent a good part of that last game talking to each of the guys and doing my best to keep them focused and calm,” said Gaines, who finished with a 256 game for a 660 series. “Watching them today was awesome, and it’s nice to see the plan coming together. It never was about one strong team and some other guys out there to help. It’s one team of 10. Those guys are great bowlers and definitely have the ability to win. To see them take the lead today would’ve meant so much to me. I almost would’ve considered it a repeat for us if they went on to win.”

In their title defense, the members of Lodge Lanes Too posted games of 1,155, 1,067 and 1,099 for a 3,321 total, placing them inside the top 50.

Gaines was joined at the NBS by three other members of last year’s winning team, two-time titlist Mitch Jabczenski (707), former Team USA member Vernon Peterson (694) and three-time Open Championships winner John Janawicz (652).

The final member of the 2014 edition of Lodge Lanes Too was Ron Dixon (608), filling in for Scott Newell, who was ineligible to return because of his win on the Professional Bowlers Association Tour during the 2011-12 season.

“It just shows how hard it is to win here,” Gaines said. “We set a record last year, and the same guys came back and bowled 200 pins less on an equally-playable condition. We definitely left some pins out there, but that’s going to happen. I tell the guys that, but you can’t dwell on it. You have to get all you can and put yourself in good position for tomorrow.”

Gaines’ knowledge and respect for the Open Championships have helped Ussery grow as a competitor, and watching last year’s winning performance, both in person and on DVD, taught him even more. Now, they’re excited to share all of it with the next generation.

“As a first-time participant, and even my first couple of years with this group, I didn’t understand what this event was all about,” Ussery said. “Watching those guys win the eagle last year really changed what I thought about the tournament, and I think that’s the same for the rest of the guys. We really put in more work than ever this year, and it meant a lot to see it pay off. It also was key to have John there to keep us focused and coach us through it.”

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