Arizona bowlers top Classified Doubles standings at 2019 USBC Open Championships

By Matt Cannizzaro and Daniel Farish
USBC Communications

Eric Cooke and Amber Piper of Buckeye, Arizona, stormed to the top of the Classified Doubles leaderboard with just two days of competition remaining at the 2019 United States Bowling Congress Open Championships.

Cooke and Piper combined to shoot 1,135 at the South Point Bowling Plaza, taking a lead that had been held since April 3 by Anthony Merritt of Naugatuck, Connecticut, and Kevin Graham of Fairfield, Connecticut, when they shot 1,133.

The new leaders, who have combined for seven tournament appearances, matched each other Saturday with closing games of 221 to put themselves in position for a USBC Open Championships title with just five squads of doubles and singles remaining.

The final squad of the 2019 event will hit the lanes Monday at 5:30 p.m. Eastern, after which, tournament director Duane Hagen officially will signify the closing of the 122-day tournament.

Piper and Cooke both rolled career-high sets on their way to the lead. Piper set the pace with games of 166, 192 and 221 for 579 series, and Cooke followed with 181, 154 and 221 for 556.

As sometimes is the case with lead changes at the Open Championships, neither competitor knew the situation before stepping up for the final frame, but upon seeing a member of the tournament staff recording the moment, Cooke had a clue.

"I was kind of watching scores and thought we were doing well in our division, but I had no idea we were that close to the lead, until I saw someone down there watching us," said Cooke, a 43-year-old farmer. "When I found out afterwards, I was in awe. Just extremely excited."

For Piper, a 33-year-old right-hander, the moment has been over 20 years in the making and is the highlight of a career that started when she was 10 years old.

"I've been bowling since I was 10 years old," Piper said. "I won a lot of awards when I was a youth bowler and won scholarship money in tournaments. Then, I stepped away from the game for a bit. I've been getting back into it, and this moment right here, this is it."

Cooke didn't start bowling until he was in his late 20s. A friend asked him to fill in on their team during league.

"I started bowling 15 years ago, after a friend asked me to join their team, and I got really interested in it," said Cooke, who bowls league alongside Piper at Bowlero Avondale in Avondale, Arizona. "I started practicing and going to the lanes a lot, and now I bowl league a couple times a week."

It was that league connection that brought the two together on the biggest stage in bowling.

"That's pretty much how we started bowling together here," said Piper, who made her second Open Championships appearance, following her debut in 2017, also in Las Vegas. "We've been friends for a long time, and we bowl together back home, so when I was asked to bowl here two years ago with Eric, it was a no-brainer."

This year, they topped their 2017 performance by 140 pins. Their initial effort was a 995 total, which was 200th in Classified Doubles.

Cooke, who made his fifth tournament appearance this year, competed individually in the Standard Division. He added sets of 566 in singles and 541 in team for a career-best 1,663 all-events total.

Piper shot 509 in singles and 448 in team to go along with her 579 in doubles, giving her a 1,536 all-events score.

Despite not knowing the moment as it was happening, Piper understands what it means to perform as well as they did at the Bowling Plaza this week.

"This is something I enjoy doing, and it's something I know I can be good at," Piper said. "Tonight, well, this is absolutely everything. We will be watching scores for sure."

Classified Doubles includes teams with combined entering averages of 310 and below.

Visit us on Facebook at the official USBC Open Championships Facebook page.