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Life swings in a hurry on PBA Tour

Brad Angelo admits he's a passionate man. But he figured he had things well under control when the GEICO Classic got under way Thursday morning at Thruway Lanes. Angelo felt relaxed. The Lockport native had bowled well in his 15-minute practice session. He was ready.

"Then, all of a sudden, it all hit me at once," Angelo said.

The memories came rushing back at him. His father, Nin, sitting behind him in the stands, had been a legend at Thruway Lanes. Dad used to take on all comers in the Beat the Champ series, over on lanes 57 and 58. Remember?

Brad had bowled in the Pro-Am at Thruway as a kid. He bowled in college there, in summer all-star leagues. He bowled his first 300 game there. Dick Weber gave him a bowling ball there once. He met Tom Baker there.

Yeah, Angelo was emotional. He had family and friends all over the packed bowling center. He wanted to do his best for the local bowling community, which had waited so long for a PBA event to come back here.

So what happened? Angelo, one of the most consistent bowlers on the tour, bowled a 169. One game into the tournament -- the first standard PBA event held in Buffalo in 19 years -- and he was in 63rd place. Out of 64.

"Maybe that jolt was what I needed to get everything back in and zero on what I needed to do," Angelo said.

Jolted into action, Angelo put his fans through a daylong, emotional wringer that wasn't decided until 10 p.m., when the final results were tabulated and Angelo made the cut to 32 -- and today's match-play rounds -- by a single pin.

Angelo bowled a 276 in his second game of the day, beginning a steady ascent up the leader board. At the end of the first seven-game block, he was 18th. Considering his typically steady nature, his spot in today's match play rounds appeared safe.

Wrong. Angelo struggled to find his line in the evening session. He began to drop through the field like a stone. He rolled a 191, a 177, a 211. Suddenly, with one game left, he was in 40th place.

"I was trying to manufacture something," Angelo said. "I got into a situation where I had to play defense."

Entering the 14th and final game, the gap between 32nd place and 40th was just seven pins. Angelo figured he'd have a chance if he bowled 240 or better. He finished with a 247.

Then Angelo and the other bowlers on the bubble waited 15 excruciating minutes for the last competitors to finish and the scores to be tabulated. Angelo walked the length of the alley, surveying the overhead scores along the way, figuring out where he stood. Before it was officially announced, he knew was in.

"It becomes a survival thing," said Angelo. "You have to understand. Week to week, these are the best bowlers in the world. They're the best. So everybody's good. You can't just wait for guys to make bad shots. It isn't going to happen."

A lot can change in a day. After the early session, all six local bowlers were in the top 25. Liz Johnson and Joe Ciccone missed the cut after strong starts. Still, four locals -- Angelo, Tom Baker, Jack Jurek and 19-year-old amateur Ryan Ciminelli -- qualified for match play.

All in all, it was a great day for Buffalo bowling, an emotional day. Now just imagine if one of them could win the televised final Sunday. Angelo, 36, was PBA Rookie of the Year in 2003, the points leader in 2004. But he has yet to win a title. Angelo has made the TV finals 10 times and has yet to break through.

"It would mean everything to win here," Angelo said. "When I found out the tour was coming here, I told my wife [Michelle], 'Wouldn't it be something if I got back to Buffalo, in the center where my father became famous, and won?' I don't know how I'd act. I might break down crying. . . . I might jump into the crowd. I might just sit there numb."


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