As bowlers, their families and friends anxiously awaited the final totals of the USBC Junior Bowling championships to be posted on the video boards at AMF Airport Lanes on Friday afternoon, John Szczerbinski of North Tonawanda already had determined his fate.
"O'Grady's got me by three pins," Szczerbinski told friends.
His math was right on. The 2005 Teen Masters champion and current Wichita State University bowler finished in seventh place, with a 6,152 total for 30 games, three pins less than the fifth-place bowler, defending champion Matt O'Grady of South Amboy, N.J., and one behind sixth place Matthew Marsico of Owing, Md. Getting to fifth place was important because the top five male and female finishers automatically qualify for the USBC Junior Team USA which will represent the nation in international competitions in the next year.
Szczerbinski still could make it if he is one of the three additional members for each team as chosen by the National Selection Committee. Those choices were to be announced late Friday night.
After starting the day in 11th place, Szczerbinski, the only Buffalo area bowler to make Friday afternoon's 32-bowler finals, went on a great run.
With a vocal following cheering them on, Szczerbinski and U.S. High School champion Jonathan Buckert of Rochester electrified Airport with a sudden barrage of strikes in the fourth game of the finals.
The two have been long-time rivals in youth bowling tournaments and will be teammates at Wichita State next year. Szczerbinski struck in the first frame while Buckert opened with a spare. Szczerbinski spared in the second while Buckert began a string of seven strikes. The excitement built as Szczerbinski more than matched Buckert strike for strike. By the time he was through he had strung eight on his way to a 269 game.
"When you had two guys kind of hitting it like that, you each feed off it," Szczerbinski said. "You get yourself focused and you just want to make keep making great shots. The crowd gets excited, too, and it just builds."
That big game put Szczerbinski in position to challenge for a top five finish. He bowled a 197 in his fifth game when he couldn't put two strikes together. In the sixth and final game, Szczerbinski strung six strikes and put together another run of three in a 267 game. It just wasn't quite enough.
"Winning the Teen Masters was one of my goals. Winning this tournament was another. Making Team USA would have been huge," Szczerbinski said.
Despite his success in youth bowling, Szczerbinski found if difficult to crack the Wichita State lineup last season. He has no regrets of his college choice, however.
"I bowled in three tournaments. It turned out to be the best thing I could have done," Szczerbinski said. "The best part was being accepted by the other bowlers on the team. We comes from all over the country and some foreign countries -- we have two bowlers from Bahrain. We really bonded."
His closing surge left Szczerbinski just 37 pins in back of 2007 Junior Gold Champion Adam Martinez of San Antonio, Texas, who had a 6,189 total (206.3 average). Only four pins separated the top four bowlers in the boys division after 30 games of bowling over five days.
Jenny Brown of Deland, Fla., the only female bowler to average more than 200, won the girls title with a 6,076 total (202.5 average).
Best finish among WNY girls was 38th by Marion Singleton of Lockport. Nikki Lewandowski of Buffalo, a student at the University at Buffalo, missed by just one pin of qualifying for Friday morning's 48-bowler girls semifinal.
*The annual meeting of the Greater Buffalo USBC Association will be held a Transit Lanes at 7 p.m. on July 25. Registration will begin at 6:15 p.m. To make dinner reservations call 668-4222.