After two really awesome weeks of stars, showmanship, meaningful competition, history and general bowling entertainment to kick off the PBA season, I had high hopes for week 3. The venue for the Pepsi Viper Championship couldn’t have been much better- the cavernous, arena-like Thunder Alley, with its rabidly knowledgeable Omaha, Neb. fans (I especially liked seeing Nebraska coach and two-time PBA champ Bill Straub in the audience seated next to Tom Clark…does anyone besides me remember that he was the guy Roth picked up the 7-10 against in the most-showed bowling replay in history?) provided an excellent setting for the action to unfold.
I’m not sure if I tuned out during Rob and Randy’s pre-match intro but for some reason I felt a little lost heading into the first match. I was kind of expecting a lot of things to be introduced (Women’s Series debut, Viper pattern, Stepladder finals, matchups, etc) and, whether I just missed them or they weren’t explained deeply enough I felt like I wasn’t really ready for the show to start. Ready or not it did with Wes Malott, who has more nicknames than Apollo Creed in the Rocky movies (The Beast, Shrek, The Big Nasty, The Kracken, am I missing any?) taking on the undisputed best player never to win a Tour title, Brad Angelo.
To me the lanes seemed a little touchy (but not US Open tough) and I enjoyed watching the guys out on the gutter. The left lane looked to be hooking a bit more than the right and both guys seemed to be right on the edge of having them figured out (but not quite) the whole game. A missed 3-6-10 by Angelo and a nasty swisher 7-10 for the Big Nasty kept the match close going into the 10th. Angelo showed a lot of experience and determination when he had the chance to close it out with a double, opting for a little extra ball speed and less hook in drilling two dead-flush strikes to put the match away. Big Wes (yet another new nickname to add to the list, perhaps?) bowled a decent game and could have won it, but came up on the short end of another TV opportunity. But for a guy with so much ball, he sure is amazingly consistent and if he starts getting a few breaks on TV, look out.
One thing I must mention that occurred during this match was the unfortunate failure to run commercials during one of the commercial breaks. Instead, we got a wide shot from down lane looking toward the crowd as background music played. As the mistake dragged on (for the entire commercial break), I felt my face flushing with embarrassment for my beloved PBA. I’m sure the language in the production truck sounded a lot like the dad’s furnace-repair tirade scene in the movie A Christmas Story once the mistake was discovered. Luckily, Rob and Randy didn’t utter any George W. Bush-like off-color remarks not knowing that they were still on-air.
Match 2 featured Walter Ray Williams Jr. and, to my surprise, Brad Angelo. Even though I followed the tournament on PBA.com all week and knew that it was a cumulative versus a match-play event, I had forgotten that it was a stepladder format. I don’t recall anyone on the telecast reminding me that it was (although they may have and I just wasn’t paying enough attention) but even if they did, I’m pretty sure that if I didn’t follow that a casual fan wouldn’t have gotten the message either. At any rate, WRW came onto the scene and I fully expected him to be the favorite. A wide miss in frame 2 (that I’m not sure was a bad shot or a bad guess) and then a very unusual Thurman Munson (a dead Yank) in frame 3, combined with a sure start by Angelo (who had obviously figured out the lanes by now) made me begin to doubt myself. But WRW seemed to figure them out in frames 4 and 5 with a quick double and then Angelo tossed in the obligatory door-opening brain burp of a six-count split that we usually see from Deadeye’s opponents.
Walter Ray then got up and seemed shocked that a ball he got to his break point about 10 feet too soon crossed over (although it still left him an easy spare) and then, after striking on his good lane in the 7th, made a decent guess in the 8th but the ball still hooked a little too early and dove a bit high for a 4-pin. He struck again in the 9th, but Angelo still had a chance to shut him out in the 10th. Opting for the “high hard one” as he had in Match 1 (and having to pause for a crying baby to be removed from the building…I personally started to wonder what cosmic forces were at work to prevent this poor guy from winning for so long), Angelo again executed perfectly but this time the pins did not cooperate, leaving a ringing ten and a chance for the winningest player in PBA history to double in the 10th to steal the match. Making another slight adjustment, Walter Ray buried his first shot in the 10th and needed one more (which I fully expected him to get) to move on. He threw a good shot for the wheat (or corn, given that they were in Nebraska) but left a pocket 7-10 to lose the match, setting up a glorious battle of arguably the two best bowlers on the planet who do not yet own a PBA Tour title, Angelo and Chris Loschetter.
But first, there was the little matter of the first PBA Women’s Series title match of the season to contest. The match was a stark contrast in every way, pitting the raw power of Michelle Feldman versus the accuracy and finesse of Stephanie Nation. The players definitely showed that contrast in their performance, with Michelle unleashing a devastating strike ball to jump out to an early lead but showing shakiness on her spares to allow the split-converting, plodding Nation back into the match. (I know Stephanie threw a string of strikes mid-game to help her get back into and, eventually, take the lead in the match, but how much did Feldman’s chopping of the 3-6-10 in the 4th frame relax her?) My wife (the newly minted bowling fan) was happy to see Nation win (she called her “pretty and smart”…yeah, she can bowl a little bit too, apparently) and we both enjoyed her genuine emotion in realizing her dream of winning a pro title had come true. During the match, I would have liked to have heard a little more on the status of women’s bowling from the booth, however, as I believe it is a shame and really almost a sin that these women do not have a place to show off their talents on a regular basis and that message probably needs to be broadcasted a little more loudly.
So with one bowl of crystal awarded, we moved on to the title tilt that would remove one man from the throne of the heavyweight championship of futility that has been occupied at various times throughout PBA history by the likes of Gil Sliker, Steve Wunderlich, Pete McCordic and Mike Edwards. One man, either Brad Angelo or Chris Loschetter, would get to taste crystal for the first time, while the other would continue his journey towards Mt. Doom in hopes of casting the bridesmaid’s ring into the fires from whence it came.
Both players wore the look of Frodo and Sam as they worked their way through the first few frames of the match. Angelo switched balls and jumped left an arrow on the hooking lane, while staying put on the right lane with the same orange ball. Loschetter opted for two different pieces of equipment, presumably so he could play a similar line on both lanes. Angelo was rock-solid throughout the match, starting with a spare, a double, a wicked shaker 10-pin then an eight-count spare, followed by a string of strikes. Loschetter looked sharp to start the match, opening with three strikes but then flagging a 10 pin after breaking everything up on a high hit. After that, Loschetter struggled with the right lane a bit, but soldiered on and bowled a respectable 215 game. But it was no match for Angelo’s fine 256. With a little bit of a victory lap in the 10th frame, Angelo was probably not as emotional as he would have been had he won the match with a clutch strike, but you could tell what the win meant to him as he lifted the trophy. It is a much-deserved victory for one of the most consistent and steady performers on Tour and a player who has been a really excellent bowler (both as an amateur as well as a pro) for a really long time. It is probably a good bet that the same will be true for Loschetter very soon.
Other items of note:
- I liked the top 50 feature again this week. The thing I noticed most about the Berardi feature, though, was how unhappy Earl was to lose the US Open to a 24 year-old. It’s the only major he never won.
- The show ran about 10 minutes long (which drives the folks at ESPN crazy I know). Those of you with your TIVOs set to record only the PBA time slot (1-2:30pm ET) need to add an extra 15 minutes or so to your recording time for future shows in case this happens again.
- LOL comment of the day: Rob referring to players who hook the ball as “hookers.” Randy’s response was pretty classic.
- What was up with the flies?
- Was anyone wearing the new PBA jerseys this week? The response I got from y’all last week was about half “undecided,” half “love it.” Not a single person said to me that they didn’t like them.
- The Hambone is back! One big call by Rob and lots of signs. The best one was the “Rob’s Shopping List” sign. Is it just big in Omaha or will the momentum continue?