|Left to right: Sue Burucker (DPBA tour director), Todd Pyles, Todd Turcotte (Highland proprietor), and Colin Dunnack (Photo courtesy DPBA)|
The Duckpin Professional Bowlers Association kicked off its 2011 season at Highland Bowl in Cheshire, CT with a field of 116 participants. The opening event of the year sported a new variation for its first event, as the preliminary round entailed a 10-game qualifying format rather than the usual 8 games, which has become standard in the era of Y2K. Much like the NFL has throwback uniforms, and Walmart has 'roll-back' prices, the DPBA revisited the decade of the 1980s with its 10-game format.
Todd Pyles of Crofton, Maryland captured his first pro tour win in a much anticipated final against rising superstar, Colin Dunnack of Connecticut. Earlier in the year, Dunnack notched 2011's first major duckpin event by winning the Eastern Classic, as 'Spring 2011' was on its way in. Now, the duckpin world was seeing a matchup of youngsters of 2 of the iconic duckpin families in the game, almost like a friendly version of the Hatfields and the McCoys.
The preliminary round was highlighted by Baltimore, Maryland's Bill Fox, who rolled a smashing 235 game in his stout 1544 10-game block. The cut for the top 30 qualifiers was 1453, and 3 of our Canadian neighbors successfully advanced to Sunday's semi-final round, including Kevin Martin, Mitch Davies, and Mike Herbert—the runner-up at the 2010 Hagerstown Duckpin Olympics.
Scott Wolgamuth had the sole unblemished 5-0 record for the semi-finals. But in spite of his strong 767 total for 5 games, he was only seeded 4th on the stepladder, behind Dunnack, Pyles, and Davies. Amazingly, Pyles and Dunnack both accrued the best 5-game block score of 788 amongst the division winners, forcing a 2-frame roll-off between the two for top seed honors, which Dunnack won, 29-25.
Of particular note was the action that took place in Todd Pyles' division—a grouping that included the Number 1 and 2 bowlers in the country, Steve Dryer and John Deantoniis. Pyles hung tough in spite of being 'behind the 8 ball' on several occasions. After 3 games, Todd had tallied a 2-1 record with a modest 437 pinfall, but was significantly trailing Deantoniis, who was sitting at '3-0' with 477 total pins, and also Mark Berends at '3-0' with a mammoth 550 total. In Todd's 4th game, he got off to a slow start against Baltimore's Bill Fox, scoring only 26 for 3 frames compared to Fox's 39 plus a count. It was at this point that Pyles turned the tables on the division. Todd marked out the last 7 boxes to win the game, while in the meantime, Berends lost his 4th game, and Deantoniis stayed in command with a win to improve to 4-0. Todd did cut into John's pinfall lead and would face Deantoniis in the 5th game of semi-final play. Pyles kept up his torrid pace and went by Deantoniis in total pins with a stunning 192 game, and when coupled with another Berends loss, Todd had secured the division.
The first match on the ladder was between Frederick, Maryland's Bernie Hipkins and the now wildcard, John Deantoniis. John was the high qualifier in the preliminary round with a whopping 1563 score. Hipkins got out the gate fast against Deantoniis, knowing John's propensity for explosiveness. Bernie kept his foot on the accelerator the whole way, and finished the match with a 181-114 victory.
In the next game, Hipkins squared off against Scott Wolgamth. Wolgamuth took eventual command by mid-game and was heading towards the winner's circle, but Bernie reached down and dealt out a thunderous 4-bagger in frames 7 through 10 to surpass Scott, en route to a 174-151 win.
After such a bombastic pair of games, those in attendance must have figured they were experiencing 'déjà vu', as a pattern was developing, similar to the previous DPBA step- ladder—the 2010 Masters at Pinland—in which Bernie won 5 games from start to finish on the ladder. It's interesting to note that Hipkins' stepladder record in the last 3 DPBA tours of 2010 was 8-1 with 2 'stars', and now he had just picked up 2 more victories in his 4th consecutive ladder finals.
Bernie moved into the arena with the Number 3 seed, Mitch Davies. The name "Davies" is synonymous with major fivepin bowling in the Canadian provinces. In the decade of the 1990s, Wayne Davies was one of Canada's finest, and now the younger Mitch is carrying the Davies torch.
Match #3 got underway, and in a hard fought contest, Hipkins had a slim lead going into the 10th frame, with Davies set to finish first. Mitch handled the height of the pressure by converting a single pin spare and applying a big count to put Bernie on a mark. Hipkins matched Davies with a single-pin spare conversion of his own, and with a healthy count to follow, Bernie marched away with a 138-131 triumph.
Bernie had now crossed the halfway point with 3 victories, and needed only 2 more to claim back-to-back pro tour wins. But the 2nd seed, Todd Pyles braced himself to fend off the Hipkins challenge. The match ensued and was another nail-biter. Heading into the 10th, Todd held a 2-pin advantage and had a chance to turn the thumbscrews on Bernie. But fate stepped in after Pyles' first ball, and left Todd with a 5-7 split. Unphased, Pyles stood his ground and made a quality shot, successfully converting the split for a spare. Pyles then counted 7, which left Hipkins in a position of needing a 20-box to win the match. Hipkins pressed on, and left himself with a spare break—a 2-pinner. Bernie went for the spare, but his magic on the ladder finally came to an end, as he failed to convert, and Pyles won 143-133.
The championship match had arrived, and fittingly the #1 and #2 seeds that were earlier established in a short 2-frame roll-off were now matched up in a one-game brawl for the title. The two youngsters went into battle in a grueling final. Dunnack was the better performer in the first half of the contest and maintained a 10-pin advantage at the halfway point in the match. But Pyles came roaring back in the 2nd half and by the 10th frame, Todd had a small cushion for a lead and needed a mark and a decent count to shut out Colin. But after an untimely 'chop', Pyles was faced with having to clean up part of a flock after his first 2 balls. Todd managed to score a hard-earned 8 for the frame, which put Dunnack in a position of needing a double-header to win the title. Colin lined up his first shot and reeled in the necessary first strike, but couldn't land the 2nd "X" and so Todd Pyles won his first 'star' in a thrilling 128-124 encounter.
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