BATON ROUGE, La. - Matt McNiel of Prior Lake, Minn., burst onto the radar at the United States Bowling Congress Open Championships with a record-setting performance in 2010 and has been in the spotlight ever since with one exciting performance after another.
The 26-year-old left-hander made history again during doubles Saturday night when he put together games of 268, 300 and 279 for an 847 series, making him the only bowler in 109 years of USBC Open Championships competition with three 800s on the championship lanes.
This year's success at the Baton Rouge River Center helped him and Charles Vashaw of Deephaven, Minn., into the Regular Doubles lead with a 1,489 total, while McNiel also claimed the top spot in Regular All-Events with a 2,202 total. McNiel's perfect game was the 15th of the 2012 Open Championships, and his 800 series was the second of the year.
Vashaw contributed games of 237, 237 and 168 to the doubles effort for a 642 series as the two passed Roger Blanchard and Jimmy Zimmerman of Syracuse, N.Y., who previously held the lead with 1,464. Ryan Whitney of Lewisville, Texas, previously held the all-events lead with 2,170.
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"Just to shoot 800 in league is an accomplishment, but to do it here, on this stage, three years in a row, is just unreal," said McNiel, who added 792 in team and 563 in singles to give him a 250.67 average on the tournament lanes since 2010. "I'm fortunate enough to hold another national record, and it's a privilege and an honor to do that. I'd love to win enough eagles to get into the hall of fame someday, which is my my ultimate goal. I want to be in that elite group and have the respect of my peers. Performing here means 10 times more than the previous two years. That really makes it special."
McNiel's first 800 series at the Open Championships was an 806 set en route to a record 2,326 total and the 2010 Regular All-Events title. He returned to the National Bowling Stadium in Reno, Nev., in 2011 and added a 300 game and 822 series in doubles on the way to a third-place all-events finish.
For the second consecutive year, McNiel stepped up under the TV lights and achieved perfection as hundreds of viewers tuned in live on BOWL.com (view it here). He is the sixth bowler to roll 300 games in back-to-back years and one of 24 bowlers in tournament history with two on bowling's biggest stage. He also is one of 31 bowlers with a 300 game and 800 series at the Open Championships.
With the momentum clearly in his favor with three games to go, the southpaw only needed a 532 series to top Whitney and 687 to match his own all-events record. Given the way the pins were cooperating in doubles, it seemed like a lock, but McNiel struggled to games of 157 and 192 to start singles. He finished with 214 and was both relieved and disappointed.
"After singles, there was just a flood of emotions," McNiel said. "When I took the lead in 2010, I was just shocked. I was dumb-founded, and I really didn't know what happened. This year, I got to appreciate the moment. Doing it with these guys makes it so much sweeter. One reason is because of who I did it with, and the other is because I was conscious the whole time. It's just different."
McNiel's recent progression to elite status at the Open Championships earned him a spot on one of the event's most successful teams, one that he grew up watching. This year, he helped lead that group, Linds Lakers 1 of Minneapolis, into fourth place in Team All-Events with a 9,801 total and fifth place in Regular Team with 3,278.
He was joined on the lanes by Sam Lantto (2,008), John Eiss (1,935), Luke Voaklander (1,840) and USBC Hall of Famer Todd Savoy (1,816). Lantto, Eiss and Savoy are the veteran leaders of the group with 98 combined tournament appearances. The three teamed up to win Team All-Events in 2002 and 2006, while Savoy owns six titles overall.
This year, S&B Pro Shop 1 of Clinton Township, Mich., leads Team All-Events with 9,954, while Nicholas J's Pro Shop 2 of La Crosse, Wis., tops the Regular Team standings with 3,401.
"Matt brings a unique skill to our group," Lantto said. "Obviously, he's had a great deal of success here at the national tournament, and that's something you can't replace. This is a tournament that means a lot to us, and bringing somebody on who has that degree of success can only improve our team and add confidence."
Linds Lakers 2 also fared well this year, shooting 3,158 in team, currently 16th, while Thomas Corbett of Minneapolis and Gary Green of Houlton, Wis., moved into third place in Regular Doubles with 1,439.
Green led the way for Linds Lakers 2 overall with a 2,006 all-events total and was followed by Vashaw (1,948), Corbett (1,934), David Hoppenrath (1,671) and Scott Sodergren (1,612). Green and Vashaw also were Team All-Events champions in 2002 and 2006. Linds Lakers 2 did not crack the top 10 in Team All-Events this year.
Sponsors for the 2012 USBC Open Championships include Circus Circus Reno, Eldorado Hotel Casino Reno and Silver Legacy Resort Casino Reno. Other sponsors include the Belle of Baton Rouge, official brackets sponsor; Kegel, official lane maintenance provider; Humana, official registration sponsor; Bud Light and Budweiser, official beer sponsors; The Advocate, official publication sponsor; Brunswick, official lane provider; Steltronic, official scoring system; Storm Bowling Products and Nationwide Insurance.