Past champions tie for doubles lead at 2016 USBC Open

RENO, Nev. - Andy Mills of La Crosse, Wisconsin, has earned notoriety for his flair and energy on the lanes, and he's able to maintain the audience's attention with big scores and clutch performances.

The 26-year-old right-hander turned heads Monday at the National Bowling Stadium with his bright red pants and sky-high trail leg, and he turned in a crowd-pleasing effort, converting the 1-2-6-10 washout to secure a tie for the lead in Regular Doubles at the 2016 United States Bowling Congress Open Championships.

Mills actually thought the doubles mark set March 15 by Matthew Zitnik of Mayfield Heights, Ohio, and Jason Bowles of Euclid, Ohio, was about 20 pins higher, so he assumed the cheers that followed his conversion simply were in recognition of his spare-shooting prowess.

He had no idea they'd tied for the lead or how crucial his strike to start the 10th frame ended up being. He finished with games of 227, 223 and 234 for a 684 series, while Nick Heilman, also from La Crosse, added 244, 186 and 227 for a 657 set.

"We got off to a great start and really wanted to keep that momentum going," said Heilman, a 33-year-old right-hander who made his 13th consecutive USBC Open Championships appearance. "We worked as a team and tried to make the right moves through the transition. Andy had no idea what he needed, but we're glad it worked out. Year in and year out, one of us bowls well, and it seems to alternate, so it's nice we were finally able to both bowl well at the same time."

Monday's doubles effort wasn't the duo's first taste of success on the championship lanes. They teamed with Matt Mysliwiec, Greg Pizl and Trevor Yonan to win Regular Team in 2012, an accomplishment that has helped shape their short Open Championships careers but also affected their expectations.

When they took the lead at the Baton Rouge River Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the five had just 22 combined tournament appearances, with nine belonging to Heilman. Four more years of experience and a new outlook have the teammates feeling truly successful for the first time since 2012.

For Heilman, this year is validation for 2012 and proof they're contenders. For Mills, it's proof of how far they've come mentally.

"In 2012, we really didn't know exactly what we did when we did it, but as the tournament went on, and we thought we had a chance to win, it started to sink in," Mills said. "It definitely has added some pressure since, and that's something we needed to stop thinking about. I came out here just wanting to bowl and focus on throwing good shots, instead of thinking about what we did in 2012. Sure, our expectations are higher because of it, but staying focused on just this year really helped, and we were able to bowl the best we have since then."

Mills turned in a consistent performance this year at the NBS, adding 682 in team and 621 in singles for a 1,987 all-events total. The group finished just shy of the top 10 in Regular Team and Team All-Events with 3,058 and 9,208, respectively.

Regardless of their doubles finish when the tournament ends July 11, Mills is satisfied with their progress and growing maturity on the lanes and as a team.

"We've had success as a team, but another thing I've really wanted was to have some success in doubles with Nick," Mills said. "We started well today and were able to finish strong. It's probably not enough to win, but it was fun. And, it was nice to feel comfortable out there again."

Yonan, who shot 300 at the 2011 event as a first-time participant, added a 1,962 all-events total for Nicholas J's Pro Shop 2 this year and was followed by Heilman (1,892), Pizl (1,689) and Mysliwiec (1,678).

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