BATON ROUGE, La. - Brandon Tarabek of Cleveland Heights, Ohio, and Chad Reiffer of Grand Rapids, Mich., knew there would be some pressure and long odds when they returned to the United States Bowling Congress Open Championships as the defending Regular Doubles champions, so their main focus was on enjoying their time in the spotlight.
The two became instant celebrities when they took home the doubles title at the National Bowling Stadium in Reno, Nev., last year, and all eyes again were on them as they put their title on the line at the Baton Rouge River Center on Thursday.
After calming the expected nerves at the start of their doubles event, the two settled down and fired a 1,371 total, which is tied for 19th place this year. Tarabek led the way with games of 198, 248 and 247 for a 693 set, while Reiffer added 222, 217 and 239 for 678. Matt McNiel of Prior Lake, Minn., and Charles Vashaw of Deephaven, Minn., lead with 1,489.
Although the pair didn't regain the lead, having the opportunity to defend their title and being able to enjoy the whole experience was something they will cherish.
"The mindset was to enjoy the moment," said Tarabek, a 27-year-old right-hander who bowls league at Red Circle Lanes in Parma, Ohio. "This is something that doesn't come around very often, if at all, so I wanted to enjoy it with my best friend. I talked to some people who had eagles, and they said to just enjoy it and do the best we could because it was our moment to appreciate the magnitude of what happened. It was great getting to meet a lot of people, too. A lot of people came up to us and said 'congratulations and good bowling.'"
Tarabek and Reiffer are best friends, and Reiffer recently served in Tarabek's wedding. In July, Tarabek will return the favor as Reiffer's best man.
Last year, the two showed the trust they have in each other as Tarabek threw three clutch strikes in the final frame to finish with a 745 doubles series, while Reiffer closed with the seven consecutive strikes for 752 and a 1,497 total, just three pins ahead of runners-up Rod Singer and George Rowan of Columbus, Ohio.
Reiffer recalls not feeling much anxiety at the time because he wasn't aware of what he needed. This year was a different story.
"The first couple of shots this year in doubles were more nerve-wracking than last year," said Reiffer, who made his fifth USBC Open Championships appearance. "When we struck out last year, I honestly didn't know what the number was. I didn't have any idea what we were doing. I just knew we had a good score. I didn't think we were going to take the lead, so honestly, there was a little bit more pressure and few more nerves this year. I really didn't have a sense of what was going on last year."
There is a lot of pressure and expectation that comes with defending a title at the Open Championships, and the duo knew they would have to come in with the correct mindset to give themselves a chance.
"You have to try and make every shot count," said the 25-year-old Reiffer, who is a Grand Rapids All-Events champion. "When it comes down to it, you try to stay focused on one shot at a time and one frame at a time. You just try to do your best every shot you're up there, and that's all you can do. We had a couple of bad breaks and a couple of good breaks. Coming off of what we did last year, there was a big boost of confidence knowing we've done it before. We gave it a good run, and we put up a good score. The biggest thing is to have confidence."
Tarabek echoed those same sentiments.
"I put an expectation on myself, and 1,371 is a huge number out here," said Tarabek, who made his sixth Open Championships appearance. "I couldn't be happier. It was a little nerve-wracking at first, and you could see that by the split I left in the first frame. But, you know, that happens. It's a very difficult condition this year, and it really puts a premium on shotmaking."
Reiffer added 687 in singles and 613 in team for a 1,978 all-events total, while Tarabek added 656 in singles and 584 in team for 1,933.
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.