Defending doubles champions compete at 2017 USBC Open Championships

LAS VEGAS - Last year, at the United States Bowling Congress Open Championships, Greg Thomas of Irmo, South Carolina, and Christopher Hill of Franklin, Wisconsin, walked out of Reno's National Bowling Stadium with the lead in Regular Doubles, but they were unsure if their score would make it through the final seven weeks of the 2016 event.

Thomas (720) and Hill (681) used the momentum of a 562 finish, including a 296 game from Hill, to set the bar with a 1,401 total. Although several pairs went on to challenge the number, none were able to eclipse the final score, giving Thomas and Hill their first USBC Open Championships titles.

Thomas, a 48-year-old right-hander, and Hill, a 37-year-old right-hander, returned to the event this week, being held at the South Point Bowling Plaza, and were recognized as tournament champions for the first time. Prior to the start of their team event Monday, they received championship watches to commemorate their winning performance.

They laced up Tuesday at the Bowling Plaza to put their title on the line, and although they fell short of a repeat performance, Thomas and Hill put together a 1,272 total, placing them just outside of the top 100 with a month left in the 2017 tournament. Hill led the effort at the Bowling Plaza with a 699 series, and Thomas added 573.

The father-and-son duo of Vince and Brandon Biondo of Carpentersville, Illinois, lead Regular Doubles with a 1,452 total.

"I thought we communicated well and broke them down as much, and as well, as possible as a group," said Hill, who made his 10th tournament appearance. "A couple of shots here and there could have carried, and maybe we could have gotten a few more hits, but it just didn't go quite our way this year. You can't come in here expecting to repeat with the amount of talent out there, but it was fun and exciting to have the opportunity to get back on the lanes and do it again, especially with these guys."

Both Thomas and Hill admitted the wait for the conclusion of the 2016 Open Championships took its toll, and they felt fortunate that the end result worked in their favor.

"It was difficult, and I didn't think it was going to win, to be honest," said Thomas, who made his 36th tournament appearance. "I was surprised it held up. I'm not sure how we ended up hanging on, and I'm not sure how we had the big final game. The pair wasn't very good, and Chris was pretty much lost for the first 18 frames. I was using two different balls and wasn't playing them remotely close, but it seemed to be working. Chris ended up figuring it out with a ball change, and he threw the next 14."

The pair's title defense nearly was put on hold as Hill fought with a medical issue leading up to the 2017 event. Although he described the week leading up to his appearance as "touch and go," Hill was excited to get to share the experience with his teammates.

"My heart struggles to keep a rhythm, and I've been in the hospital twice in the last two months," said Hill, who added sets of 741 in singles and 603 in team for a 2,043 all-events total. "We think I had an allergic response to one of the medications, and I ended up with hives all over my body this last week. Fortunately, we were able to get it straightened out in time for me to be here. I'm really grateful and happy to be here with the guys and get to experience the ceremony. I didn't know what to expect, and it ended up being more than I imagined. This really has been an amazing and humbling experience."

For Thomas, his first two decades at the event were often spent alongside family and friends as a chance to visit different venues and cities. Since the turn of the century, he has looked to assemble groups capable of making a run at a title each year, which included a runner-up finish in Regular Team at the 2012 Open Championships in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Thomas addressed those in attendance at the Bowling Plaza during Monday's presentation, including family and friends, as the moment his place in tournament history set in.

"I usually can talk pretty well, but it was tough to get the words out," said Thomas, who rolled sets of 660 in singles and 626 in team this year for a 1,859 total. "I wanted to say a lot more, but I was getting a little emotional. It was a special occasion, and you never know if it's going to happen again."

Regular Doubles includes bowlers with combined entering averages of 419 and higher.

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