|Janet Sauiter, flanked by son, Jason, and daughter, Jennifer|
The Women's National Duckpin Association made its biennial return to White Oak Lanes on the weekend of July 9th and 10th. Among the normal cast of characters comprising the field were several new faces local to White Oak Lanes, which made the event special for the enthusiastic spectators in attendance. But the player who was victorious at the end was one of the long-time members of the WNDA who resides in the neighboring Baltimore area, and one who seems to have a knack for bringing White Oak Lanes down to its knees—Janet Sauter. Although Sauter has had past success at White Oak Lanes on several occasions in pro stops (including a 200 game in the 2000 decade), there have been the usual forces and circumstances that always seemed to keep her from grabbing the brass ring. The 2011 event put all those ghosts to rest, as Janet finally realized her dream in an impressive win over Canada's newest star, Kristi Lampman.
As much entertainment as the stepladder finals provided, the divisional play round was equally compelling, as there were 4 separate scenarios going on at once which were all feature stories in themselves.
Division "C" was Sauter's. After 4 games, she was deadlocked in a race for the division at 3 wins and 1 loss with Lisa Huber, although Janet's strong 603 pinfall was substantially higher than Lisa's 516 total. As fate would have it, the two were scheduled to face each other in the deciding 5th game. It was an ironic situation because the last time the WNDA tour was at White Oak, (2009), it was Huber who defeated Sauter in the final in a match that came down to the last frame. It was a heartbreaking loss for Janet at the time, but now two years later, she had a chance to redeem herself. As the match ensued, the contest wasn't going well for Janet, as she was flat through 7 frames, trailing Huber by roughly 20 pins. But Sauter hung in, and pitched a crushing double-header in the 8th and 9th frames to put herself in contention to win the match in the 10th. Lisa was seemingly in control of things, with a spare posted in the 8th, but with Janet's double, momentum had now shifted. Huber opened the 9th and 10th, finishing with a 117 score, and Janet now needed only an 8 on her first ball to guarantee a win. Sauter did just that, breaking 8, leading to an eventual 9-box to sneak out a 119-117 come-from-behind victory to claim the division.
Division "D" was loaded with anxiety for three bowlers who all had posted 3-1 records after 4 games. Dani McClay (553 pinfall), Stacey Gaegler (554 pinfall), and Lauree Schreiber (541 pinfall) were in the running to advance to the stepladder finals, and all were facing different opponents in the deciding game: Schreiber vs. Jodi Hewitt, Gaegler vs. Colleen Pietro, and McClay vs. Mindy Thomas. For readers of this article, hindsight would dictate to us who the division winner would ultimately be. McClay's match with Thomas was a tooth-and-nail battle all the way, with Dani finishing strong to win with a 136 effort. But for Gaegler and Schreiber, a temporary lapse early in each of their matches would lead to 'disaster' frames, and ultimate doom. After 2 frames, Schreiber was trailing Hewitt by a mark with a chance to even the match with a spare or strike in the 3rd box. But an untimely '3-frame' would put Lauree in a hole that she could never climb out of, and thus Jodi won in this pivotal game. Gaegler was bowling on the adjacent pair of lanes as Schreiber, although she may not have noticed how Lauree fell behind. Stacey had a one-mark lead after 2 frames against Pietro with a chance to add to it, but in the same 3rd frame that was Lauree's demise, Stacey fell victim to a '2-box', leading to only a 2-pin edge at that point. Pietro applied the pressure, marking in the next couple of frames, and at the halfway point, things looked bad for Gaegler. But Stacey refueled and roared back to win her game, but fell 1-pin shy in total pinfall to McClay, leading to Dani advancing to the stepladder finals.
Division "B" had its share of drama, as well. In a grouping that would end with 4 bowlers posting records of 3-2, Pat Rinaldi and Tara Cohen had the 'inside track' on the division after 4 games, both being 3-1. But both ladies fell on hard times at the wrong instances, as a couple of subpar games ended in subsequent defeats. Rinaldi had an outside chance of winning Game 5, needing a double-header in the 10th to defeat Jill Sachs, but couldn't come up with the magic. Cohen had her own problems, as she faced one of the 'new Canadians' to the WNDA, Karole McDonnell, who held at 2-2 record after 4 games. Karole's big game of around 160 in her match against Tara put her in the running to win the division on pinfall. But Connie Ward, WNDA Hall of Famer, also from Canada, 'one-upped' McDonnell with a 160+ score in Game 5 to defeat Lora Oliver to go '3-2', and win the division by pinfall over Karole.
In what was the most anticipated match game to decide one of the divisions, it was a "Battle of the Kristies", as the 2011 Ladies All-Star champ, Kristy Penny squared off against the previous month's WNDA winner at Johnson's Lanes (Connecticut), and high qualifier at White Oak, Canadian Kristi Lampman. Both women had 4-0 won/lost records—Penny with a stout 621 pinfall and Lampman with a superb 600 total, so something had to give. The match began, and after 4 frames, Lampman had about a 20-pin lead, but Penny stayed determined, and trimmed the advantage to almost 10 pins after 8. But Lampman stayed cool, and using her wealth of experience, she marked in the closing moments to gain a 134-115 win. With both women's superior efforts in the first 4 games, their matchup was basically a case of "winner earns the top seed on the ladder, loser gets the wildcard".
The stepladder finals followed, with the #4 seed, Connie Ward to face the wildcard, Kristy Penny. Penny got the early jump on Ward, but Connie shadowed Kristy throughout the entire game, and finally gained an edge in the final frame. Needing a mark to win the contest, Penny ended up slicing the front pin off of the '5-9' spare break, leading to Ward winning, 150-144.
Connie then scaled the ladder's next rung, facing Dani McClay. This time, it was Ward who gained control in the early going and maintained a firm but potentially slippery grasp on the lead, as McClay hung tough. By game's end, Ward had a chance to put things away, but a 2-count on her 9th frame spare gave Dani a narrow, but clear opening to pull out the win. With a foundation strike in the 9th frame, McClay needed another strike in the 10th to win the contest. Dani buried the all-important first pitch, but left a solid '9-10' split, leaving Connie triumphant, 154-137.
Ward would now face the 2nd seed, Janet Sauter. Both women started fast, with Sauter striking in the first, and Ward matching her mark by converting the 9-10 split for a spare. But, there would soon be a lull in the scoring, with Janet gaining and trying to sustain a one-mark advantage heading into the 2nd half of the match. Connie whittled the lead down to a seemingly scant, but in reality, a still healthy 2-pin advantage for Sauter after 9 frames. Ward had a chance to take the lead in the 10th frame, but an errant delivery on the 10-pin single led to an untimely open frame. Sauter then only needed a 9-frame to secure the win, which she did on her 1st ball in the final box. Janet converted the spare for a 125-114 victory.
In a moment of déjà vu, Sauter was now back where she was 2 years ago—on Lanes 11-12, the same pair that she was on in her 'runner-up' performance in the WNDA event at White Oak. The obstacle wouldn't be any easier in that she was facing the tournament top qualifier from Saturday, and undefeated top seed from the 'head to head' round, Kristi Lampman. This time, however, as a result of Janet's perseverance, things would indeed prove different.
Sauter got the ball rolling with a double-header out the gate. After a split in the first frame, Lampman answered back with a strike of her own. But Janet wouldn't let up, as she was continually on the mark when given the opportunity to put extra points on the board. By the 7th frame, the smoke was clearing and Sauter held a 113-86 advantage. Kristi kept the pressure on, however, by marking out. But so did Janet, who wasn't about to look back as she rolled her way to her first WNDA pro tour victory.
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