A few weeks ago, a local bowling official was enthused by Jack Jurek’s win on the PBA50 Tour a few days after Sara Snyder, a Depew teenager, won a division of the State Queens Tournament in Syracuse.
Even that, though, was topped by the events of the past week.
First, there was last Sunday’s dramatic championship match of the 52nd George A. Obenauer Masters at AMF Airport Lanes, which ended with Tony Dolan’s victory over Pete Zmozynski in a one-ball rolloff.
Then, on live national television on Tuesday, Liz Johnson produced a clutch performance on the way to her second USBC Queens Championship in Green Bay, Wis.
The Obenauer is one of Western New York’s signature sports event. It has tradition, is well-run and brings out the best of the best – and even a few dreamers – for a grueling six days of competition. It’s about as close as even local scratch bowlers get to replicating what PBA pros went through in an average week when the tour was in full swing. It’s a physical and mental test – for example, Zmozynski bowled 37 games over six days – and at the end of the week some were struggling to overcome pains and fatigue.
Three of the four Obenauer finalists had never won the tournament before, although three had reached the final four at least once.
Zmozynski handed Dolan his first match-play defeat to set up a second match to decide the championship. Although he was trailing in the third game, Dolan’s cushion of 19 pins entering the finale was enough to win. All he had to do was fill a 10th frame spare with seven.
Incredibly, he got six and was lucky to get that. Onlookers were toting up the scores in their heads, suddenly realizing that the bowlers were tied after three games.
Dolan, a left-hander, chose to go first in the rolloff, hoping to put the maximum pressure on his opponent. He left a 6-pin. That seemingly opened the door for Zmozynski. The 36-year-old right-hander from Depew had been pounding the pocket for six games. Surely he could get a strike to win it or at least nine pins to send it to a second rolloff round. Instead he left the 6-9-10, making Dolan the champion.
It was a fitting end to a career season for Dolan, who shot four 800 series, including a personal best 869. He had three 800s in March alone.
Johnson suffered as much as anybody after the demise of the women’s professional bowling tour in 2003, in the middle of what should be her prime bowling years. Liz never gave up, even though she was forced to compete against the best men’s bowlers in the world – with some success – and hopscotch the globe to pursue her chosen career as a professional bowler.
It was true justice, then, that she would be the winner of the first event when the USBC and Bowlers Proprietors Association of America revived the Professional Women’s Bowling Tour.
Liz’s triumph wasn’t easy. After qualifying second, she faced a seasoned opponent, Shannon Pluhowsky of Dayton, Ohio, in the semifinal match. A 4-10 split in the sixth and a 7-10 split in the eighth put Liz behind her opponent. Johnson struck in the ninth then waited for Pluhowsky to finish her game. It was possible it would be over before Liz stepped up to bowl her 10th frame.
Instead of closing out Johnson, though, Pluhowsky left the door slightly ajar, sparing and finishing with a 228. Liz could win with a double and five count. She stepped up and buried three strikes in a row to win, 234-228, and move on to the championship match against 24-year-old Erin McCarthy, a former collegiate star from Omaha, Neb.
McCarthy bowled well, but Liz started the finale with four strikes and stayed comfortably in front the rest of the way.
“I’m not done yet,” Johnson said after she collected the $20,000 and the tiara as Queens champion. “It’s been an amazing career so far, but I’m going to keep going. We have the ladies tour coming up in the summer and we have a lot of good stuff coming up. Hopefully, I can continue the run.”
She will try next at the PWBA Storm Sacramento Open July 9-12. There will be PWBA stops almost every weekend the rest of July and August. The tour will wrap up with the Bowlmor AMF U.S. Women’s Open in North Brunswick, N.J., Aug. 31-Sept. 6, followed by the PWBA Tour championship, Sept. 10-13 in Arlington, Texas.
Pin chasers• Bill Gerfin shot 810 to win scratch singles and Pat Brick took the scratch all-events with 2,232 in the Tonawandas USBC City Tournament that wrapped up Tuesday at Classic Lanes.
• Brad Angelo made the stepladder finals of the Bear Open, one of five events bowled last week in the PBA Summer Swing in Shawnee, Okla. The finals will be televised on the CBS Sports Network June 2.
Spoiler alert: Angelo qualified fifth and lost to Tommy Jones, 179-161, in the first stepladder match.
In the Oklahoma Open, part of the summer Swing, John Szczerbinski of North Tonawanda was 10th and Angelo was 11th.
• In the State Tournament at AMF Airport, Jake Wisor of Niagara Falls won scratch singles with 825 while Andrew Rettig of Hamburg and John Meczynski of Buffalo shot 1,505 to win scratch doubles.
There were 849 singles entrants in the event staged over four weekends at the Cheektowaga facility.
• Jessica Aiezza of the Schenectady Scotia USBC ended up as the star of the State Women’s Championships at Strike ‘N Spare Lanes in Syracuse with the 2,308 scratch all-events total. How impressive was that? Well, it was 216 pins better than the 2,092 second-place Johnson shot. Aiezza also won the scratch singles with 770. There were 1,829 individual entries in three divisions of singles.