It isn’t often that a lane pattern truly offers the option of playing multiple angles with relatively equal difficulty, but that was the case on the right side for the 2018 Greater Iowa Bowling Association 11thFrame.com Open.
While lefties by necessity camped out on the edge and stayed there all weekend, right-handers mostly played inside during Saturday’s qualifying before several jumped outside on Sunday, producing a dramatic turn in the tournament.
Early in Sunday’s 12 games of semifinals, lefties Ryan Keith, Michael Martell and Kyle Anderson passed qualifying leader and righty Nick Pate and were 1-2-3 in the standings, but that changed after several righties followed Matthew Kuba and jumped to the gutter and started striking. In games 5-11, Kuba went 266-227-203-246-223-268-233 and ended up third for the stepladder finals.
Kris Prather fired 237-269-245-289-276 in games 5-9 to make a run that brought him to ninth, as he finished 215-195-203.
And Mitch Hupe closed with 235-257-264-266 as he led the semifinals with 2,836 for the 12 games and 457 bonus pins en route to earning the top seed over Keith by 49 pins.
The "Flanagan format" used in the semifinals awards bonus pins based on score from highest to lowest. With 48 players, in each game the highest scorer gets 48 bonus pins, the second-highest scorer 47 pins, so on down to 1 bonus pin for the lowest score each game. The idea is to reward the consistently solid bowler and not the one who may bowl the right people at the right time.
Martell held on to the fourth seed, 24 pins behind Kuba, who was 124 pins behind Keith.
Andy Mills, who jokes that he considers 10-board his gutter, started hot playing an inside line in both qualifying and the semifinals, where he opened with 258 and 280. He closed with 201, 212 and 212 to hang on for the fifth and final stepladder spot, with Tom Hess finishing with a perfect game playing inside to jump to a tie for sixth with Anderson, 84 pins behind Mills.
The semifinals results are available here and in a PDF attached to the bottom of this story.
Mills said the final games of the semifinals were “very stressful. I was back and forth checking scoresheets, asking (wife) Linzi, ‘What’s fifth?’ It was tough because my look (inside) went away and theirs (outside) got better. It was back to the grind mode and I did a pretty good job of that.”
Mills was confident heading into the stepladder, though, as it was contested on fresh oil.
“The out wasn’t as good” on fresh oil, the La Crosse right-hander said. “The guys that are good at playing out couldn’t play out. And my look was good on the fresh all weekend. The re-oil was really fortunate for me.”
That even appeared to be the case on the left side, as Martell struggled after opening the stepladder with a strike, spare and 3-bagger, opening when he couldn’t convert a washout, then leaving a stone 9 he spared, a 3-6-9 he converted, a mixer strike, and a flat 7 he spared.
Mills, meanwhile, had an early double, but opened when he left a 2-8-10 split in the fifth. After another errant shot left a 1-2-4 in the sixth that he converted, Mills fired a 4-bagger, clinching the match with a flush strike in the 10th as he won 223-201.
Mills and Kuba traded blows for much of the second match, with Kuba striking on six of his first seven shots, leaving a 3-6-7-10 he couldn’t convert in the second, while Mills struck on seven of his first eight shots, leaving a 9-pin he spared in the third.
But Kuba’s high-speed, high-rev shots off the gutter suddenly stopped finding the pocket as he opened eighth (2-4-10 split) and ninth (4-10) split and spared in the 10th as Mills coasted to a 247-194 win.
Mills kept striking in the semifinal match with five of the first six and a spare in the fourth frame as Keith never doubled and opened in the fifth, sixth, eighth and ninth frames in a 221-154 rout.
That set up a title match that went down to the final frame.
Hupe said he chose to play an inside line because when he bombed them from outside it was after the lanes had transitioned quite a bit.
“I don’t think the lanes broke down quite enough to play right” in the stepladder, Hupe said. “Kuba tried playing right, which is where he scored, and if he’s not going to shoot 230 doing that then I doubt I was going to.”
Mills, who said his goal score was 238 for the title match, said he hoped Hupe would choose to play out “because it didn’t look very good.”
Mills got the early lead when Hupe left the 4-6-7 split and opened in the second. Both players doubled in the third and fourth and after a spare, Hupe doubled again in the sixth and seventh frames.
The match turned when Mills left a 1-2-10 washout and converted it in the seventh, and Hupe then left a 1-2-4-6-10 super washout and made a great spare attempt that somehow left just the 4-pin standing.
“It was a good shot at the spare,” Hupe said.
Mills said his making the washout was key by keeping him ahead in the match.
Mills followed the washout conversion with a solid 9 he converted and then a strike in the ninth as he dug out the 10.
Hupe, who has a beautiful game with a smooth but powerful delivery that produces plenty of revs and speed with seemingly little effort, responded after his open with flush strikes in the ninth and 10th as he looked to strike out to force Mills to strike on his first shot in the 10th.
His 10th shot was decent, but left a flat 10-pin that he spared for 197, forcing Mills to mark for the win.
“It was OK,” Hupe said of his 10-pins. “It wasn’t as good as the first one. It had a chance to strike, but it wasn’t labeled.”
Mills came in light in the pocket in the 10th but carried a mixer and went on to win 213-197.
“I just get up there and try to make the same exact shot and I did,” he said of the clinching strike.
Hupe earned $2,200 for second and said he simply “threw too many bad shots.”
Mills, who used the white Brunswick QUANTUM BIAS, won $2,700 plus $630 in the Bet You Win pot and another $630 for the Bet You Win that carried over from last year when Adam Morse won but didn’t enter.
Aside from Mills and his wife, the happiest person might have been Nick Heilman, Mills’ teammate on the Nicholas J’s Pro Shop team Eagle winners from the 2012 USBC Open Championships.
Heilman tied for the last cash spot and he and Mills split prize winnings when both cash in a tournament.
“To be perfectly transparent he’s usually pretty good about these situations,” a laughing Mills said of his good friend. “He probably will let me keep the Bet You Win.”
After the tournament, Mills posted this on Facebook:
“Winning never gets old!! Bowled the 11th Frame.com open this weekend and things happened to fall into place for me to get the win. Huge shout out to Jeff Richgels Bob Hochrein Joe Engelkes Jennifer Wittenburg (Engelkes) and Cherry Lanes for running a flawless tourney again. 16 games today with 14 of them using the New Brunswick Quantum Bias.. this ball is the real deal when it comes to oil!!! I beat an incredible field this weekend and can’t say enough to all the congrats people gave but i cant help but think that the real winner was Nick Heilman as he topped an incredible bottom 100 bowlers to TIE for the last cash spot, sit on the couch and watch tiger make a run and #HalvedMeDewey
Next stop, Rockford with Jeff for doubles! #TeamBrunswick #FIGJAM #BIAS”
And Hupe posted this:
“Came up short in the finals of the 11thFrame.com Open this weekend. Congrats to Andy Mills in taking the title home. Had 257, 264, 266 with the Black Paradox my last three games of the 12 game casher’s round block to jump into first place for the step ladder finals but wasn’t able to get the job done. Feel like it’s only a matter of time until I reach that next level.
#TeamC300 #GIBA #NoGripSponsorship”
GIBA administrator Joe Engelkes reported that the tournament took in $22,950 in entry fees with 153 entries, three shy of full, and paid out $27,940 in prize money thanks to sponsors Cherry Lanes, Diamond Jo Casino, Storm Bowling Products, Logo Infusion, Coors Light, 11thFrame.com, and the Dubuque Regional Sports Commission. GIBA donated $940 of its $1,720 in bracket proceeds to help cover the one female and four senior extra checks.
The pattern designed by Cherry Lanes general manager Bob Hochrein with the assistance of Brunswick was just about perfect on the right side, with players able to play anywhere on the lane and a moderate scoring pace.
The left side appeared to have a decided advantage on Saturday, with lefties going 2-3-4 and four making the cut, although some talented lefties did not bowl well. An example was Mike Dole, who was 136 under.
Things seemed to balance out much more on Sunday, which could be the pattern playing slightly different with repeated cleaning and oiling, or because more righties played outside — if more had played out on Saturday the scoring on the right for outside players might have been higher.
What was clear is that the left side played tougher on Sunday, with Keith going from a 240.6 average on Saturday to 225.1 on Sunday, Anderson from 235.3 to 216.6, Martell from 233.8 to 220, and Brandon Mooney from 213.5 to 198.
The 43.5-foot pattern features 37.58 mL of Brunswick Defy oil and main ratios of 1.43-1 on the left side and 1.66-1 on the right side.
For a comparison, the pattern last year -- when Anderson was the only lefty to make the cut -- was a bit shorter with 33.16 mL of oil and main ratios of 1.43-1 on the left side and 1.81 on the right side. The hope was that the left side would play quite similar and the right side a tad tougher and closer to two years ago.
Getting the pattern correct — getting any pattern correct! — is as much art as science when you're trying to encompass so many parameters: aiming for a moderate scoring pace that provides some level of equity left-to-right (we've missed both ways at times) and allows the outside to play so people will start to the right and not end up being forced to loft the guttercap lofting during Sunday's 12-game marathon
What was most interesting to me was how an inside line played from the start, and how much hook there was with 37 mL of oil.
It’s too early to say what we will do next year.
We could slightly tweak the pattern again, or perhaps it’s better to try something completely different such as a short pattern, since we’ve used some version of the 2015 U.S. Open pattern for three straight years.
I welcome input from any competitor who wants to share their views via email or a Facebook message or phone call.
The one thing you can count on is that any tournament I lend my name and brand to is going to be completely transparent when it comes to the lane pattern, in contrast to the policies of our sadly non-transparent governing body.
Details on the 2019 11thFrame.com Open should be settled by next spring. It may move to the third weekend of August due to a potential conflict for the Engelkes family the second weekend, which I know could cause a conflict with the New Mexico Open. But there are not that many players who compete in both tournaments and it shouldn't impact our ability to fill the tournament.
Hochrein said if we don’t have a hired webcaster, we will set up a Facebook live that will run all weekend.
I appreciate greatly all of the thanks I got for the tournament, but I will say again that my role is small compared to the work done by Engelkes and his family, and Hochrein and his staff at Cherry Lanes. They deserve the lion's share of the credit for what has become a great tournament that hopefully will continue for years.