|2010 DPBA Masters Champion, Bernie Hipkins|
2010 has been a year of realization for Frederick, Maryland's Bernie Hipkins. Bernie has really come into his own on the duckpin scene, first nailing down a win in the Pop Whitten Pro Tour in the first half of the year, and then in October at Glen Burnie Bowl, capturing his first DPBA victory. To punctuate such a landmark period in time for the lanky 32 year old, Hipkins topped all performances with a convincing Masters tour win on the DPBA circuit in which he climbed from the bottom rung of the 6-man ladder in the year's climactic and prestigious event.
Hipkins ran the gauntlet against a bevy of top notch duckpinners in his championship ascent, ending his run against recent hall-of-fame inductee Dennis Cabral at the top of the ladder.
In the 2010 Masters stepladder debut matchup, Baltimore, Maryland's Mark Klingelhofer stepped onto the lanes as the Number 5 seed to face the wildcard, Hipkins. In a match where both competitors were at equal odds, that is, without any advantage going to either player with any wins under his belt from advancing up the stepladder. The experience edge appeared to favor Hipkins, though, as he was flawless in single pin spare conversions on his way to a 156-138 victory.
Match #2 ushered in Mark Berends, who has become 'the man' on the Pop Whitten Pro Tour circuit. After a slow start for both bowlers, Mark claimed the early lead over Bernie after 3 frames, 36-24, which included an uncharacteristic '6-box' in Hipkins' half of the 3rd. But Bernie bounced back, converting the 5-pin single in the 4th, and after splits by both bowlers in the 5th, Berends had a slim 3-pin lead. Again, the match went nip and tuck in the 6th and 7th with both combatants converting single pin spares. The turning point was the 8th frame. Mark chopped out the 3-9 on his spare count in the 7th, while Bernie broke another single and made it. Berends couldn't rebound in the 9th as Hipkins added another pair of spares for insurance in the 8th and 9th to cruise to a 137-110 win.
Things wouldn't get any easier in Match 3, as Bernie was ready to face the rock-solid New Englander, Scott Sponheimer. Hipkins got the early jump with a conversion of the 3-7-10 in the first box followed by back-to-back single pin spares. Sponheimer marked twice in the opening 3-frame block, and by the midway mark in the match, Hipkins held a 10-pin advantage. Scott knotted the match in the 6th frame with a conversion of the 2-4 spare break, but back-to-back '7-8' splits in the next two frames would put Sponheimer behind the '8-ball' again. Hipkins took advantage of his opponent's misfortune with 3 straight single pin spares in frames 7-9, but a '9-10' split in the 10th prevented Bernie from putting Scott away. Sponheimer, who had converted the 7-pin single in the 9th for a spare, had a chance to end Hipkins' run with a double-header in the final frame. Scott was up to the task, burying the key pitch in the 1-2 pocket, but left a solid 6-10. Thus, Bernie sweated out a close 158-140 victory.
Sitting in the Number 2 seed position was the all-time winningest player in DPBA history, Jeff Pyles. This would be another stiff challenge for the young superstar Hipkins. In the first 3 frames of the contest, the players matched marks, with Bernie striking in frames 1 and 3, while Jeff converted the 5-pin for spares to keep pace. Both bowlers met with their share of splits, but Pyles was stricken with the dreaded 9-10 twice in the first five boxes. Neither bowler could gain an substantial edge after 7 frames, but Bernie did hold a 4 pin lead. As was the case in Bernie's match with Mark Berends, the 8th frame proved to be the turning point, as Pyles opened while Hipkins struck. Bernie added a single-pin spare conversion in the 9th while Jeff couldn't convert the difficult 3-7 split. Jeff was to finish first and needed a double-header to put major pressure back on Bernie. Jeff delivered a solid shot, but left a single pin, which he converted and his count ball featured his only strike in the contest. Bernie finished out with a low count on his spare in the 9th, but it was academic as he posted a tough 141-133 victory.
With 4 wins under his belt, the championship was now a one-game affair for Hipkins as he moved in to challenge the top seed, Dennis Cabral. The match opened in uneventful fashion, with splits dominating the boards for both players in the first four frames. Hipkins was able to break through in the 5th with a spare, and then followed with a fierce double-header. Cabral answered in his half of the 5th with a strike, but would be plagued by a 7-10 split in the 6th. As things materialized, Bernie held a 116-86 advantage over Dennis after 8 boxes, and the situation was now desperate for Cabral. Dennis left another split in the 9th frame, the 5-10, but with the heart of a champion, he converted the spare to keep his slim hopes alive. The situation for Hipkins was this: basically, he just needed one mark in the last 2 frames to secure a victory in the DPBA Masters. Leaving nothing up to chance, Bernie took the reins and delivered his most devastating strike of the day. Applying a heavy count in the 10th, Bernie sealed the victory with an eventual 145-125 ending to a masterful ladder performance.
The 2010 DPBA Masters was a fitting climax to the pro tour year, as many memorable performers surfaced. The Canadian contingent made a strong showing as well, with Jeff Young claiming Rookie of the Year honors after a superior showing in the Masters. The father-son duo of Rejean and Bernie Menard also qualified for the match play semi-finals. And an incredible 'high-qualifier' preliminary round of 1310 was shot by the dynamic Maxime Lefreniere.
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