My Experience at the USBC Open Championships by Connor Pickford

[custom_frame_left shadow=”on”][/custom_frame_left] After getting a text from Kris Rogers that said he could not go to nationals, I talked to BowlersMart president Cliff Barnes about substituting. He said, “It would be awesome to have you on the team this year.” I was already going with this group starting in 2015, so getting a chance to start a year earlier was something I was very interested in. I said, “Sweet when do you leave?”. He replied with, “Two weeks.” Uh oh. So I called my parents and they told me they could get me a flight using miles. Two weeks later I showed up in Reno and met up with Cliff and the whole team! The first thing I did after getting off the plane was to go to the National Bowling Stadium to meet up with everyone bowling the Bowlers Journal. After they finished their squad, I laced up and hit the lanes with them. I started off with the front six out of the gate with a Motiv Venom Shock. I looked at Cliff and said, “Uh oh, don’t let that ball get hot in this building!” Little did I know what was about to transpire during the week. After bowling we went out and had a nice team dinner and went to the Reno Aces baseball game. It was an awesome way to bond with everyone since I had been introduced to a few new guys. We just kind of clicked!

Thursday morning we attempted a practice session on the Showcase Lanes downstairs at the NBS. We had somewhat of a game plan and attempted to break down 8-9-10. After our mock practice of 10 minutes, we realized nothing had developed. That’s when the surface came out and people starting trying to figure out how to play them and balls started going everywhere down the lane. At that point I wanted to see a couple of different shapes and what angles I was working with. About 20 minutes later I took my shoes off and sat on the couch thinking to myself, “We have to organize a system of what to do and execute better…this was a debacle.” Cliff and I had a short talk about it, and came up with breaking down 5-6-7, so we could use the “track” for our breakpoint and hopefully create some hold. So at this point we had a gameplan to maximize the area we had. In the squad room we had a short meeting. We committed to a plan where balls had to go up the lane to the breakpoint, and not left to right. We put our shoes on and made the walk to our lanes.

Practice starts and everyone sticks to the plan for about 5 minutes. After that, I could see some panic in a couple eyes. Our gracious leader says, “Be patient.” Practice ends and we all realize nothing has developed yet, but it’s starting to. I said, “Cheat a couple in with your surface ball and make shots for a couple frames guys.” I was throwing my Ebonite Gamebreaker to break the lanes down, the first shot went light for a 2-4-5 (spare). Second shot was a swisher 7 pin (spare). Third frame, I went high for a 3-4-6-10. I said to myself, “It’s close to time.” So I moved 4 left,
switched to my Motiv Venom Shock, and blow the rack. I proceeded to throw the back 8 for 243. Our team shot 1080 and we really all got lined up after the 6th frame. Our plan was working.

We all are making small parallel moves left and making shots, scores are high and our pair is WHACKING IT! It was so much fun! About 7 frames later I realize I have the front 7 and my name is red. I said, “Let’s go and keep making shots.” I pack frame number 8. Then the 9th. At this point my nerves are excited. My hands were cold, and I was anchor so it had been about 6-7 minutes since my last shot. I step up, with red X’s filling the board, and blower 10 pin but the messenger nails it! Slap it out! ‘Take a breath. Breathe Connor. Relax, focus, execute.’ I pack it in the pocket
for ten back. “Good shot,” I said to myself. “Okay one more.” I step up, wipe my ball, and take aim. As soon as I throw the shot I kneel down and think, “I shot 300 at the stadium!”. Whack, the nine pin stands and my heart drops. I turn around and see the entire stadium standing back clapping, and no one else within 20 lanes bowling. My entire team is at the approach waiting on me to come back. I’m filled with instant joy. The feeling of how excited everyone was was not a feeling of, “Man, bad break.” It was, “Holy smokes you shot 299 man!”. Not to mention our team shot 1288 that game. Everyone was so comfortable and in the zone. We just kept feeding off each others energy. It was exhilarating, and one of the best feelings I’ve ever had. I definitely won’t forget it.

I proceed to throw the front 7 the next game, at this point I’ve migrated a little further left and playing my A game. I’m in complete control of the pair, I know exactly what’s going on, where everyone else is, and what I need to do. My name turns red again. When I step up to throw number eight, I left a blower 10 pin. I spare it up, and at this point I’m just ready to execute the next three shots and finish strong. The pressure was off for 300 now, and I let up. I threw it right too quick and left a 4-6-7 split, and get two of them. I doubled in the tenth for 252. Everyone on the team is congratulating me, as well as people I don’t even know coming up and offering kind words. Everything was executed perfectly as a team! Our team shot 3340 and the other team shot 3212. Needless to say the entire team went out to celebrate as a family that night!

With that big of a start, my eyes were on the prize. An eagle is something I’ve always dreamed of and thought it was always out of reach. But after that I thought, “Wow, this can happen.”

The team was working amazing together. Everyone came up with a gameplan again for singles and doubles, as we knew this would be the hard day. We stuck to our game plan. John Gaines says, “85% of the top-15 in all-events had their lowest game of the tournament either game one or two of doubles.” I started with a 2″ pin to positive axis point Brunswick LT-48 I had just drilled up before our squad. The lanes were tough, and no one had much, but we were sticking to our plan. After a game and a half we decided to make the jump. I started doubles with 214 clean, and had a couple of bad shots that I got away with.

The next game I started seeing some transition, and admittedly started to panic. I whiffed a 3-6-10 spare by a mile. I sent a text to Gaines, and he told me to calm down, stay slow, stay soft, and have patience. I have 56 in the 4th frame with a spare up, but manage a triple after that. I then left a wrap 10, followed by a strike. I was thinking, “Okay, we can get out of this with 200. Next I throw a bad shot, leave a 3-10, and then miss it. I gassed it in the 10th for a 2-8-10 split, and finish with 166. At this point I took a walk to clear my head. Cliff said, “Move four left throw the
Motiv Octane.” I moved 5 and 3 left, threw the Octane and blew the rack. I thought, “Okay, I might be in business.” Everyone jumps left as well, and all of the sudden the strikes start coming. I had 244 my last game of doubles for 624. My partner Ed Shuler shots 655. Not bad for a doubles set!

At this point we were all once again in control of the pair, we had room at our target, we were making excellent shots, and talking and communicating as a team. In game two, I had front four, left a wrap 10 pin, followed by strike, wrap 10 pin, strike, wrap 10 pin, strike. I finally moved one right off of the 10 pins, and struck. I finished the game with a bad shot, leaving a 3-6 spare for 227. I thought I really executed well that game. I remember thinking, “If I shoot 300, I can shoot 790 and be over 2200 for all-events!”. I started with the front 5, and noticed a crowd starting to
form behind our pair. I had a chance to shoot 2200, and people were gathering to see if I could finish it out. I stepped up in the 6th, and left a blower 7-pin on a great shot. I followed it with a strike in the 7th, and a solid 9-pin in the 8th frame. I made my spare and finished out for 259. That made 743 for singles, and 2,161 for all-events.

I was welcomed with such warmth on to this team and have become family with these people. The BowlersMart way is truly a different way. This team has so many aspects of life covered and so many many talents and resources.

This trip was one of THE BEST bowling experiences I have ever had, period.

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