|Butch Pryor Open and PWPT Masters Champion, Bernie Hipkins|
It's safe to say that from a bowling standpoint, the first half of June 2012 belonged to Frederick, Maryland's Bernie Hipkins, as he reigned supreme over the beginning and ending of two separate events in the sport of duckpins.
On the weekend of June 2nd and 3rd, Hipkins made a 50-mile trek southward down to AMF College Park, where the bowling center was hosting the first-ever Butch Pryor Open--an event named after one the DPBA tour's most revered stars. In the pro tour style event, Bernie qualified after the Saturday preliminary round to advance to the Sunday head-to-head match play. Hipkins won his division and would be 3rd seed in the 5-bowler stepladder finals.
The event featured a 'pins over average' division in which local favorite, Debbie Snowden advanced to the stepladder round. Snowden defeated DPBA hall of famer, Scott Wolgamuth in the opening contest, and proceeded to take the lanes against Hipkins. In a tough match that went down to the final frame, Bernie prevailed and moved on to face the number 2 seed, Brian Harris. Hipkins, the tall and lanky right-hander defeated Harris, and ultimately faced off against top seeded Buster Dodson. Hipkins and Dodson battled, and Bernie got an advantage by the midway mark. Later in the championship contest, Hipkins closed out the match with a back-breaking triple-header that delivered the championship for the inaugural event to the Frederick resident.
A week later, at the Pop Whitten Pro Tour Masters event, Bernie headed 60 miles east to Parkville Lanes to lace up the shoes for the tour's most presitigious, and closing event of the PWPT fiscal year.
The Masters provided some interesting headlines. With a cut score of 863 for the 6 game preliminaries, Hipkins, who was at the top of his game, cruised into the semi-finals after a stellar 928 block total. Defending champion Rob Yowell took the role of 'champ' seriously, rolling the high game of the tournament in his 5th game of qualifying—a magnificent effort of 223, which allowed him to coast into the Sunday semi-finals. Justin Santana, a 122 average bowler, rolled the other high game of the tournament with a 215 score, thus moving himself to Sunday, as well. But the talk of the tourney on Saturday was Baltimore's Leah Lancaster. A member of the ladies tour and carrying a 129 average, Lancaster came to the event ready, opening the block with 514 for her first 3 games, and continuing her onslaught in the next 2 games, before fading a bit at the end. Despite struggling in Game 6, Leah's 930 qualifying effort positioned her as the 5th high qualifier. Lancaster would have easily made the cut on the heels of her 156 'pins over average' total, but advanced on a 'scratch' basis.
During the Sunday match-play round, the 30 qualifiers were separated into 5 divisions. Stewartstown, PA's Mark Callahan and Randallstown, MD's Mel Richburg won their respective divisions with 3-2 records, while Jessup, MD's Mark Davis, and Severn, MD's Chuck Paris went 4-1 to take honors in their divisions. Bernie Hipkins was the lone undefeated winner, and as a result was the top seed under PWPT rules. Baltimore's Andy Gerhard went 4-1 in Paris' division to gain the wildcard spot.
In the opening ladder match, Gerhard defeated Callahan, 152-139. In Game 2, Gerhard would find Richburg too much to handle, as Mel derailed Andy, 146-129. With the last 4 bowlers left in the tournament, it was literally a 'Land of the Giants' scenario, with the "Final Four" surpassing the 25-foot mark in combined heights.
In Match #3 on the stepladder, Richburg took on the 3rd seed, Mark Davis. In a game that was littered with splits, the two competitors traded blows and by the 8th frame, only 1 pin separated them, with Mel leading 105-104. Richburg then posted a strike in the 9th to swing the pressure onto Davis. Mark answered the call by nailing a single pin for a spare in his half of the 9th.
In Davis' 10th frame, he delivered confidently, but left the dreaded 4-7-10 split. The best Mark could do was clean up the wood, leaving Mel in a position of needing a good count on his foundation frame strike to win the contest. Richburg put the game on ice with another strike in the 10th, and after counting big on the double and 10th frame mark, came away with a hard-fought 154-131 victory.
Next up for Richburg would be the number 2 seed, Chuck Paris. In a defensive struggle in the semi-final encounter, both bowlers worked hard, but neither was above 80 after 7 boxes. Business picked up in the waning moments and the more experienced Richburg was able to come through when he needed it to defeat Paris, 129-124.
Richburg had finally scaled the ladder and was set to face the top-seeded Bernie Hipkins, head-on. The encounter featured more offense than in the prior match, and the tide swayed back and forth. By game's end, like a thoroughbred, Hipkins had pulled out in front, closing strong for a 154. Richburg trailed but wasn't out of it. Needing a double-header to win the Masters title, Mel initially came through with flying colors, posting the first strike in the 10th, but was unable to squeeze another "X" into his 10th frame score, and thus fell short to Bernie, 154-147.
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