BREWER — Two-thirds of the way through Tuesday’s opening round of play at the 26th annual World Team Candlepin Bowling Tournament, the team from Campbellton, New Brunswick, was roaring.
Appropriately nicknamed the Lions, the young squad had won 16 of a possible 16 points to claim first place in the Holiday Inn division of the 24-team tournament.
But things have a way of changing as quickly as a ball hurtles down an alley, and they did. Campbellton got into a tough match with annual contender Maria’s Sub of Massachusetts and — just one lane over — USA East was locked in a tight battle with Vacationland Lanes of Saco.
With USA East and Vacationland separated by just one point in the standings, it was a crucial early matchup, and the final result showed just how crucial. USA East barely gutted out a 5-3 win, but it was more than enough to vault it over Campbellton to the top of the division as Campbellton went 2-6 against Maria’s despite Maria’s 7-9 mark coming in.
“We tied in the first string and then we were down 50 with four blocks to go and still only lost by 12 (against Vacationland),” said USA East member Shawn Morrison of Brewer. “That was big. The last string we got back all those pins we lost and came out with five points, which is big against a team that beat Maria’s earlier in the day.”
USA East’s 19-5 day puts the team one point ahead of Campbellton and three up on Vacationland. Crazy Train, a team made up of bowlers from Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, is tied for fourth place with Moncton (New Brunswick) Fairlanes at 12-4.
Depth and execution under pressure were the keys to USA East’s strong start, according to Morrison.
“We’ve had a lot of close matches today. It seemed like we were trailing every single string we bowled, but our team members seemed to come together a lot when we were down. When we were just bowling, we seemed to struggle, but we finished strong,” he explained. “And I think the depth of our roster was the difference.
“When someone was struggling or somebody just didn’t have confidence, we had guys to come in and do the job. We had a lot of moving around today and that’s something you usually don’t want to do, but if you’re struggling and you have those guys on your team, you use them.”
For his part, Campbellton team captain Brian Bernatchez was happy with his team’s start despite the tough finish to the day.
“I have all kinds of young guys on the team and this is their first year, but I still figured we’d make the playoffs, depending on the draw, and the draw looked good,” Bernatchez said. “We had some close matches, but we pulled them all out early on.”
The Lions are almost entirely a brand-new team with only Bernatchez, B.J. Hamilton and Serge Babin back.
“They’ve all bowled with younger guys on other teams, but they said they needed a change, and I thought I could settle them down and have a good team,” Bernatchez said. “Chemistry is the most important thing in team bowling and we have no hotheads.”
Speaking of hot, 19-year-old Steve Renaud Jr. of Total Chaos (Exeter Lanes) of New Hampshire followed up a runner-up finish and a nice consolation prize of $1,250 in Monday’s Knockout singles tournament with the highest individual average after two matches at 142.67. He wound up at 130.17 after a tough third match.
“I’ve been on a little hot streak the last couple months. I was real sore this morning, let me tell you, but I think it was a confidence booster to do so well yesterday,” said Renaud, who plays in three different leagues three days a week.
His team finished the day tied for third at 16-8 with Big Shot Lanes of Nova Scotia. Multiple Worlds champion MacLaughlin T&T of Halifax, New Brunswick, leads the Creative Digital division with a 22-2 mark and Lucky Strike of Lynn, Mass., is right behind at 20-4.
“We got into a little hole the first match and then wound up 16-8 overall, so not a great day, but definitely something we can improve on,” said Renaud, who works at a bowling alley and a supermarket when not knocking down pins.
The day’s highest averages belonged to Lucky Strike teammates Shawn Baker (137.5) and Mike Morgan (135). The best game (182) was rolled by Nathan LeBlanc of A+ Fairlanes of Halifax while Chris Hollett of MacLaughlin had the best scratch series at 436. Team-wise, Lucky Strike was tops in game scores with a 654 and in series with 1,926.
Preliminary action continues through Thursday with the top five teams from each division advancing into the playoff rounds and the top team in each division earning first-round playoff byes.