BREWER, Maine — USA East took the long road to the title game of the 24th World Team Candlepin Bowling Championship at Bangor-Brewer Bowling Lanes Saturday, and it looked as though the team ran out of gas.
The USA East team, made up of Maine and Massachusetts bowlers, finished one point shy of earning a bye to the semifinals. Instead it had to battle through first-round playoff and quarterfinal matches.
It was Maria’s Sub of Massachusetts that earned a bye and eventually claimed the championship.
“I noticed that they might’ve been a little tired,” said Craig Holbrook of Maria’s Sub. “We weren’t. We had a lot left. The bye was enormous.”
Maria’s Sub defeated USA East 1,842 pins to 1,721 in the three-string final to claim the championship and the $10,000 check. USA East settled for the $5,000 runner-up prize.
Maria’s Sub earned a bye by winning the Holiday Inn Division. They defeated defending champ MacLaughlin’s Truck and Trailer of Nova Scotia in the semifinals 1,914-1,853. MacLaughlin’s had won five of the last six championships.
USA East beat Moncton Fairlanes/Storms of Nova Scotia 1,796-1,709 in the quarterfinals and then topped 2006 champ Halifax Fairlanes, also of Nova Scotia, 1,924-1,905 in the semifinals.
“It was a very good match,” Halifax Fairlanes’ Chris McGrady said of the semifinal.
“They’re a good team and we’re a good team,” added McGrady of Sydney, Nova Scotia, who bowled in his 15th world championship tournament. “Unfortunately, they pulled out on top.”
USA East bowled near or better than 1,800 in the first three playoff matches, but barely topped 1,700 in the title game.
“We came out really flat,” said Nate Nealey of Westbrook, who led USA East with a 363 series in the finals. “We just didn’t get anything going. [Maria’s Sub wasn’t] bowling really well [either], we just couldn’t jump on them when we had to.”
“It’s not what we were looking for,” said a disappointed Peter Flynn of West Newburgh, Mass., a member of USA East.
Maria’s Sub didn’t bowl as well as it had in the semifinals. The Massachusetts bowlers were 72 pins short of their earlier mark on the day, but it was enough to win the title.
It was the first championship for a U.S. team since the Maine Heat won it all in 2001. Canadian teams have dominated since.
“It was awesome beating [MacLaughlin T&T in the semis]. It really is,” said Maria’s Sub bowler Bob Whitcomb of Halifax, Mass. “We wanted to get it back in the States. It was great to be able to do it for Mass. and the USA.”
Holbrook, who took home his fourth championship in 20 years in the tournament, was just happy to win it once more.
“This is great because I didn’t think it was going to happen again,” said Holbrook. Maria’s Sub last won the title in 1998. “This feels great.”
Jeff Surette enjoyed his first championship at age 25.
“It’s the biggest prize in bowling right now,” said the Dracut, Mass., native. “It feels very good.”
Surette agreed that earning the bye was the difference.
“You bowl all week, Tuesday to Saturday,” he said. “[By getting the bye] you get the rest and you come in fresh.”
“It gives your arms and legs and mentally, too, a rest from Friday at 1 [p.m.] to Saturday at noon,” added Whitcomb. “If you can get the bye, you know you’re only two matches away from winning the whole thing.”
“It’s a tough hill to climb and we darn well near did it,” said USA East’s Flynn. “We came a little bit short at the end.”
Holbrook was happy to see the good sportsmanship between the players and hopes the tournament is around for years to come.
“We just try to keep this going,” he said. “This is probably the greatest tournament in the history of this sport. There’s a lot of camaraderie between every team with rooting for each other and stuff.
“It’s the way it should be. We’re all in this together. It’s our little sport. It should be this way.”
SPARE NOTES: Maria’s Sub also enjoys a little Major League talent on its team.
Lefthander Bill Travers played major league baseball for nine years. He pitched for the Milwaukee Brewers and California Angels in the 1970s and 1980s, earning an All-Star appearance in 1976.
He rolled a top game of 129 in the third string of the finals for a total of 339. His best on the day was a 144 in the second string of the semis.