Ohio team breaks through at 2016 USBC Open Championships

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RENO, Nev. - For the last few years, Dan Higgins of Westerville, Ohio, and his teammates have been on the cusp of a breakout performance at the United States Bowling Congress Open Championships, and everything fell into place for the group Friday as they cruised into the top spot in Team All-Events by more than 300 pins.

Higgy's Aquarium just missed the lead in Regular Team at the National Bowling Stadium on Thursday but carried that momentum onto the lanes for doubles and singles, turning in a consistent performance - 3,329 in team, 3,364 in doubles and 3,348 in singles for a 10,041 total, a 223.13 average for 45 games.

The 10,000 mark only has been surpassed 59 times in 113 years of USBC Open Championships competition.

RobertsChad2016OCForWeb250x140Chad Roberts, who needed one more strike in his final frame of singles to snag the lead in Regular All-Events, led the way for Higgy's Aquarium with a 2,122 all-events total, which is tied for second overall and two pins shy of left-hander Jakob Butturff of Chandler, Arizona, who leads with 2,124.

Roberts was joined by Joshua Conner (2,074), Joe Bailey (1,995), Higgins (1,928) and Tony Carson (1,922). BowersBowlingTour.com of Bel Aire, Kansas, previously held the lead with 9,730 and leads Regular Team with 3,377.

"Even though we didn't take the lead in team last night, we set it up well and knew we had a chance, but we also knew that was not the end, it was just a steppingstone for today," said Roberts, who made his seventh Open Championships appearance and topped the 2,000 all-events plateau for the fourth consecutive year. "We came in rested and focused today and went out there with a game plan, which worked out perfectly."

Roberts, Higgins and Carson have bowled together at the Open Championships since 2013, and this year's effort at the NBS marked the third time they've eclipsed the 10,000 mark in Team All-Events, previously resulting in a sixth-place finish in 2013 (10,058) and ninth-place in 2014 (10,106).

During the same span, the group has been among the top 50 in team, while Roberts and Higgins have been a threat in doubles, collecting top-20 finishes in 2014 and 2015. The two proved how well they gel once again Friday as they moved into second place in Regular Doubles with a 1,395 total.

The pair stepped up in the final frame of doubles with the lead in sight, before Roberts left a 7 pin and Higgins met with an uncooperative 10 pin to leave them short of Greg Thomas of Irmo, South Carolina, and Christopher Hill of Franklin, Wisconsin, who lead with 1,401.

"Of course it was a little disappointing being so close and not getting the doubles lead, but we both made good shots and put the ball where we needed to, and that's all you can do," Roberts said. "Going into singles, we knew we had a leg up and the lanes still were coming to us. A few of the guys are pretty good at playing in, so as we moved left, it was just about staying comfortable and making more good shots."

With the number of close calls adding up for the group, they've chosen to use that as motivation, rather than frustration. They're now leaving Reno second in team, second in doubles and second in all-events, but clicking as a team in only their second Open Championships as a quintet, is a satisfying surprise for Higgins, who made his 20th tournament appearance this year.

"I don't know if I'd say we are due for anything, but we really wanted this and wanted to work well as a team," said Higgins, who finished fifth in Regular All-Events in 2014. "We had a couple big years and then picked up Josh and Joe in 2015, and even though we all know each other really well, I thought it might take some time to get comfortable out here and for everything to fall into place. It's so nice to see the hard work pay off."

This year's performance was extra satisfying for Roberts, who has been battling a serious wrist injury that had him bowling the first half of the 2015-2016 season left-handed. His sixth-month hiatus from the right side ended in January, and getting back in bowling shape has been a challenge.

Although surgery still is likely, his focus for the next few weeks will be on the leaderboards at the Open Championships.

And, while he might think about being a couple of pins away from four potential eagles, a feat that has been accomplished just three times, and not since 1990, succeeding as a team was a mission accomplished.

"I feel great, and so much emotion came pouring out as soon as Tony let go of that last ball today," Roberts said. "It's definitely a little frustrating just missing all-events at the end, but to bowl well as a team is the most important thing and the whole reason we're out here."

The 2016 Open Championships kicked off March 5 and will end its 129-day run July 11.

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