Big scores continue at 2014 Open Championships

RENO, Nev. - The high scores continued at the 2014 United States Bowling Congress Open Championships on Saturday as Thanks Ronnie of Orlando, Fla., made a run at the recently-posted team record, and Michael Walker II of Weedsport, N.Y., rolled the fifth perfect game of this year's event.

Thanks Ronnie had a shot at the Regular Team lead heading into its final frame but settled into second place with a 3,514 total, the fifth-highest series in 111 years of USBC Open Championships competition. Motion Plus Lanes of Cudahy, Wis., took the lead with a record score of 3,561 at the National Bowling Stadium on Friday.

Led by newcomer A.J. Chapman's 763, Thanks Ronnie rolled games of 1,122, 1,175 and 1,217. Clay Herrbach added a 717 set and was followed by David O'Sullivan (710), Shawn Naumann (689) and P.J. Haggerty (635). All five players have vast collegiate bowling experience, and Chapman, Herrbach, O'Sullivan and Haggerty all spent time on Junior Team USA.

"It feels great," said Naumann, a 29-year-old right-hander who made his ninth tournament appearance. "We worked together as a team, communicated well and bowled very, very good. We still felt like we left a few out there, which is kind of hard to believe, but it's exciting coming off of the lanes knowing that we put up a score like that."

The members of Thanks Ronnie also went against the common practice of bringing a companion team, a choice that has paid dividends.

"For the past two years, we haven't had a companion team," Naumann said. "We haven't been able to put one together, or find the right people to bowl with, but it has worked out very well. I think it worked in our favor."

Chapman was a late addition to the squad after former Junior and adult Team USA member Ronnie Sparks Jr. said he'd be unable to attend this year's event.

The team will return to the lanes Sunday at 10 p.m. EDT to make a run at Team All-Events. Janz's H.I. of Beaver Dam, Wis., leads with a 10,363 total, the fourth-highest in tournament history.

"Tomorrow is a new day," Naumann said. "We'll stick with the game plan we have in place. We're just going to make shots, let it happen and not force it. That's what we did today, and it paid off."

WalkerIIMichael2014_465x262Earlier in the day, Walker put together 12 consecutive strikes to kick off his fifth Open Championships appearance.

The 28-year-old right-hander added games of 189 and 190 for a 679 series to help Rick's Lawn Service of Auburn, N.Y., to a 3,165 total.

Walker stepped away from bowling for a short time to start his family, but his passion for the sport returned as he made his return to the Open Championships in 2013. Now, he's earned a place in the record books.

"I had my son (Michael Walker III) in 2011 and took a little bit of time off," Walker said. "Prior to that, when my girlfriend, Ashley, and I got together, I kind of backed off a bit because I was bowling a lot back then. I put a few life things in perspective, and bowling fell off a bit, but I do love the game, and the passion came back."

After some rough starts in previous Open Championships appearances, Walker was excited to see a few strikes pile up early, but he never expected to keep striking all the way into the 10th frame. His initial goal simply was to have a strong overall performance on the championship lanes.

"For me to step back and not put pressure on myself has been hard," Walker said. "I've thrown quite a few 300s but always start to put pressure on myself in the sixth or seventh frame. Tonight, after three, four, five-in-a-row, I tried to step back and be as even-keeled as I could, and it worked out. I threw the ball really well for 12 shots and couldn't ask for anything more. It's a life achievement. I never imagined it or even put it in my goals. My goals are shooting 700 and 2,000 - 300 wasn't an option. To accomplish that is really amazing, especially in the first game, since it makes the rest of the trip unbelievable."

Even though he fought through the excitement of rolling a perfect game on the national stage, along with the transition on the lanes during the following games, Walker was happy to share the accomplishment with his teammates.

In the weeks prior to making their trip to Reno, his group practiced on both the team and doubles/singles lane conditions several times a week and focused on working together.

"I just appreciated doing it for all of my guys," Walker said. "It's nice to have one of us with our name up there for an accomplishment like this. It's something we'll have forever. We put a lot of work into it, and it paid off."

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Presenting sponsors for the 2014 USBC Open Championships include Circus Circus Reno, Eldorado Hotel Casino Reno and Silver Legacy Resort Casino Reno.