Clutch finish helps Kansas team to TAE lead at 2016 OC

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RENO, Nev. - Nothing says camaraderie like six bowlers in a rental car full of bowling balls making a cross-country trip, except maybe winning two titles together at the United States Bowling Congress Open Championships.

The members of the two-team group now preparing to make the 1,600-mile trek back to Bel Aire, Kansas, will have plenty to talk about on the ride home after a memorable performance Friday and Saturday at the National Bowling Stadium, and they'll likely be hoping for good cell reception on Interstate 80, so they can keep a close eye on the tournament's online leaderboards.

If that isn't entertaining enough, perhaps a little USBC Open Championships trivia is in order. When was the last time a team won Regular Team and Team All-Events at the Open Championships in the same year?

It was Linds Limited of Milwaukee in 2009, and now BowersBowlingTour.com of Bel Aire, Kansas, is in position to match that performance.

The group took the team lead with a 3,377 effort Friday and used a clutch finish Saturday morning to secure the top spot in Team All-Events with a 9,730 total, just 11 pins better than previous leader, HornswogglerS of Staten Island, New York (9,719).

The final two bowlers for BowersBowlingTour.com, Kristopher Prather and Brent Bowers, needed to combine for a 480 total in their last game of singles to match HornswogglerS.

After Prather left a stone 8 pin on his first offering in the 10th frame, anything short of a double from Bowers meant a tie at best.

Bowers, a past member of Junior Team USA and two-time collegiate national champion, flushed his first shot and rolled a 2 pin forward on his second to all but secure the lead, pending the outcome of their fill balls. Bowers finished with a 265 game and Prather had 226 for a 491 total.

Second-time Open Championships participant Zach Rhoades led the way for BowersBowlingTour.com with a 2,035 all-events total, which included averaging more than 231 for his last eight games following a 182 start and a bold move on the approach immediately after.

Rhoades was joined at the NBS by Justin Zwaschka (1,972), Bowers (1,929), Mitch Hupe (1,898) and Prather, the 2011 Regular Singles runner-up (1,896).

"I don't think this all really has sunk in yet, especially since it's only my second year out here," said Rhoades, who was part of the Wichita State team that won the men's title at the 2015 Intercollegiate Team Championships, along with Zwaschka and Hupe. "But, in looking at some of the names of bowlers who have won eagles, it's definitely an honor to be in the lead."

With college still in the rearview mirror and financial freedom well down the road, driving was a logical way for some of the 10 teammates to make the trip affordable.

"The hardest part of this whole thing sometimes is getting the group together, and even that wasn't finalized until recently, but it turned out to be a great experience," said Bowers, who is the veteran of the group with seven tournament appearances. "We drove out, which ended up being pretty convenient once we got here, and we got to see a lot of cool things along the way that we'd never seen before. We're going to be tired on the way home, I'm sure, but this is a great way to leave Reno."

Once they arrive home, they can share the priceless memories with their friends, family and the next generation of young Wichita, Kansas-area bowlers, much like the tales Bowers grew up hearing about the city's famed Chilton Vending team of the late 1980s.

Led by current Wichita State bowling coaches Gordon Vadakin and Mark Lewis, Chilton Vending claimed the 1988 Team All-Events crown and returned a year later to win Regular Team on their home turf in Wichita.

The 1988 squad also included 1987 USBC Masters and 1988 Regular All-Events winner Rick Steelsmith, Mark Jensen and Paul Waliczek. In 1989, Steelsmith was replaced by Bob Chappell.

Four members of the team, Vadakin, Lewis, Jensen and Steelsmith are USBC Hall of Famers.

"Looking up to those guys in Wichita is kind of what planted the dream in my head about winning an eagle at this tournament someday," said Bowers, who was born in 1988. "This is surreal. Last year, we were just incredibly happy to make the leaderboard, and now to be leaving Reno with our names at the top of two events is incredible."

The 2016 Open Championships kicked off March 5 and will end it's 129-day run July 11.

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