2018 Runners-up take lead at 2019 USBC Open Championships

By Matt Cannizzaro and Daniel Farish
USBC Communications

LAS VEGAS - The members of Higgy's Aquarium of Westerville, Ohio, have accumulated enough watches over the last three years at the United States Bowling Congress Open Championships to open a jewelry store.

Though that might be a slight exaggeration, it certainly illustrates just how successful they've been on the biggest stage in bowling, where commemorative timepieces are awarded to the top three finishers in each event - team, doubles, singles, all-events and Team All-Events.

After adding two more to their collection Sunday at the South Point Bowling Plaza, the teammates turned their focus from wrist watches to a scoreboard watch, as the four returning team members showed their new teammate how they do business at the USBC Open Championships.

The team got progressively better during the three games, using a 1,033 start as a springboard to the top of this year's Regular Team standings, adding games of 1,159 and a nearly flawless 1,170 for a 3,362 total.

Higgy's Aquarium marked in all but one frame in the finale and filled 139 of 150 frames overall to surge past Melrose Bowl Red of Norwood, Minnesota, which previously held the lead with 3,301.

Team captain Dan Higgins led the way Sunday for Higgy's Aquarium with a 755 series, but he was responsible for the lone open frame in the final game, a missed 10 pin in the third frame.

Rather than let the miscue get him down, Higgins leaned on his teammates and rallied back with strikes on six of his next seven shots. It was the epitome of camaraderie and teamwork.

"My performance is a credit to my team, and how they help me," said Higgins, who began his second game with an open frame and followed it with 11 consecutive strikes for a 279 game. "I'm all about being clean and accurate, but without this team, my job is a lot harder. It's great to have the chemistry we have, everyone pulling for one another, and no one in it for themselves."

Higgins was joined in the effort by Joe Bailey (695), Chad Roberts (664), Joshua Conner (643) and Charles Tompkins (605).

Tompkins, a 19-time Open Championships participant, is the new member of the team, replacing Tony Carson, while the other four players have found continued success together, including a Team All-Events title in 2016.

In 2017, the group fell 27 pins short of becoming the first team in two decades to win back-to-back Team All-Events titles and followed that runner-up finish with another second-place effort in 2018.

Twice in the last three years they've also finished second in Regular Team (2016, 2018).

Despite being new to their team at the Open Championships, Tompkins definitely isn't a stranger, and Higgins had no doubt he'd be a great fit.

"Chucky is a bowling center owner and manager from Columbus, we all bowl his leagues and we've bowled in tournaments with and against him before," said Higgins, who made his 23rd tournament appearance. "There was no chemistry issue at all, he fit right in. That was a big part of choosing him. We knew he would mesh perfectly with us and want the same thing we want."

The 2018 team members were presented their commemorative watches shortly before taking the lanes for their 2019 campaign, which meant only a few minutes to refocus their attention on the task at hand - improving on their two close calls from a year ago, where they finished 22 pins behind S&B Pro Shop 1 of Warren, Michigan, in the team event and 241 pins behind an amazing 10,252 performance from Red Carpet Lanes of Greenfield, Wisconsin.

When people talk about teams to look out for at the Open Championships, Higgy's Aquarium now is mentioned in the same breath with the likes of Team NABR, S&B Pro Shop and Linds Lakers and a handful of other perennial powerhouses, but success at the event ultimately is measured by Eagles, the coveted trophies given to all tournament champions.

Any member of those teams will tell you the opportunities to make it into the spotlight don't come easy, especially when you only get one chance each year.

"To do what we've done the last five years, it comes down to not being selfish," Higgins said. "We stick to what we believe in, we follow the plan and we execute it. We trust each other, we study each other's games and we execute at the highest level possible."

For Higgins, a 44-year-old right-hander, a performance like the one his team turned in Sunday night means everything, but the job for this year is far from done.

The group now set its sights on Team All-Events, which is the combined all-events performances of all five team members. While the team competition is a three-game sprint, Team All-Events is a 45-game marathon (nine games for each team member).

In four of the last six years (2013, 2014, 2016, 2018), Higgy's Aquarium has posted a Team All-Events total over 10,000, something that only has been accomplished 62 times since the category was introduced in 1947.

If they were to reach the milestone again this year, they would surpass Mento Produce of Syracuse, New York, which claimed the top spot in the 2019 Team All-Events standings with a 9,983 total April 7-8.

With doubles and singles being held on a different oil pattern than the team event, the teammates have done their best to watch highlight videos posted on social media and listen to the advice of others who already have bowled.

Higgins did note that while advice is welcomed and appreciated, they're very diligent about their practices and having their own game plan going in.

"We've watched videos and heard what people say, but we take it with a grain of salt," Higgins said. "We are going to see how the lanes play, and we'll react to it. We can't plan for what we don't know is going to happen. We just have to make sure we react fast and make the best shots possible."

Higgy's Aquarium will return to the lanes at the South Point Bowling Plaza for doubles and singles Monday at 10 a.m. Eastern/7 a.m. Pacific, and there's no doubt they'll be there on-time.

Regular Team consists of five-player teams with combined entering averages of 876 and above.

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