Nimke takes lead, doubles champions return to USBC Open Championships

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LAS VEGAS - An exciting Saturday for a talented two-team group ended with a perfect game, a new leader in Regular Singles and an admirable title defense for the returning Regular Doubles champions at the 2022 United States Bowling Congress Open Championships.

Two-time titlist Jeff Nimke of Appleton, Wisconsin, fired the second 300 game of his USBC Open Championships career to spark a dramatic finish to the lead in Regular Singles at the South Point Bowling Plaza, posting a 796 series to cap his 40th consecutive tournament appearance.

Just before Nimke started his run to the top of the leaderboard Saturday, members of his companion team - David Labinski of Milwaukee and Chris Pierson of West Bend, Wisconsin - made their run at a second consecutive title in Regular Doubles before settling into a spot in the top 20 with a 1,398 total.

David Jecko of Whitesboro, New York, had led Regular Singles with a 788 series. Nick Powanda of San Diego and Tony Odom of Palm Springs, California, lead Regular Doubles with a 1,518 total.

Nimke, who recently turned 60, made a ball change at the end of his second game of doubles after starting Saturday with 219 and 176. The switch helped him finish the set with 267 for a 662 series.

The right-hander started singles with 257 before making his second run at perfection at the Open Championships. He rolled his first 300 in doubles at the 2015 event in El Paso, Texas, and he's now one of 36 players to own multiple 300s on the championship lanes.

"Starting doubles, I was hitting the pocket pretty well, but I wasn't striking," said Nimke, who captured titles in 1993 (Regular All-Events) and 1998 (Regular Team) at the Open Championships. "In the second game, I was kind of fishing around and switched balls for the fill ball. That gave me a look, and I used it the rest of the time.

"I look forward to this tournament every year, and I've been bowling well. I couldn't wait to get here, and to be honest, I wasn't as nervous as I was in El Paso. I felt like I had a really good look and just had to hit what I was looking at. If the pins cooperated, I felt like I could shoot 300."

Nimke needed at least 231 in his final game for a share of the singles lead, and he struck on six of his first seven deliveries. His lone miscue was in the third frame, when he left the 4-6-7-10 split and was unable to convert.

His opportunity for the first 800 in singles at the 2022 event was dashed in the eight frame, when a light hit on the headpin resulted in a 5 pin, which he converted. A tripped 2 pin in the ninth frame set the stage for Nimke to return to the top of the leaderboard.

Needing two strikes and three pins in his final frame to take the outright lead, Nimke rolled three strikes on the left lane to finish with 239.

Adding to the drama of the moment was a brief delay on the right lane after his first delivery, as he crossed over for his second strike of the frame.

"I really wasn't thinking about the score," Nimke said. "I just wanted to make a good shot. I made a really good one on the first ball, and then there was the out of range on the right lane for the next one. I waited, then I started to get nervous and think about it. I waited too long and made a bad shot, but I got a lucky break. The fill ball was as good as I had thrown it all day. I didn't know exactly what the lead was, so that probably helped."

As a two-time Eagle winner, Nimke is no stranger to leaving the Open Championships with the lead. His 2,254 total to win Regular All-Events in 1993 set a then-record at the event, which stood until 2002.

He's also been on the other end of it. At the 2014 event in Reno, Nevada, Nimke helped Motion Plus Lanes of Greenfield, Wisconsin, to a record score of 3,561. They finished the event in second place to the 3,720 total posted by Artistic Expressions 1 of Oklahoma City.

He's unsure if he toppled enough pins in 2022 to take home a third Eagle at the event, but he's excited to find out.

"We broke the team record, and when you break a record, you think it might hold up," said Nimke, who rolled 706 in team for a 2,164 all-events total in 2022. "But, we got beat. I would like to see it stand, and it's posted. Do I think it will win? I'm probably 50-50 on that. It would be unbelievable, though. It would be big."

Dave Labinski and Chris Pierson at 2022 USBC Open ChampionshipsPierson and Labinski each collected their second title at the Open Championships after rolling to a 1,466 total in Regular Doubles last year at the South Point Bowling Center. They also teamed up to help Red Carpet Lanes of Greenfield, Wisconsin, win Team All-Events at the 2018 event in Syracuse, New York.

They each struck out in the 10th frame to sneak past the previous lead of 1,462, which had been set on the previous doubles and singles squad by Kevin Bienko of Kenmore, New York, and Chad Mee of Hamburg, New York.

Bienko and Mee did collect a win in 2021, helping Kenmore's BowlU to the Team All-Events title.

Pierson rolled games of 269, 232 and 246 in 2021 for a 747 series, and Labinski added 204, 246 and 269 for a 719 total.

"It's always special coming back to the tournament, and being able to reflect on striking out in the 10th upstairs is really cool," said Pierson, a 32-year-old right-hander. "It's something you always dream about - getting up and having a chance to lead or win an event by striking out. For both of us to be able to do that was something special."

They were presented with their championship watches Friday prior to the start of their team competition and prepared to make a run at the number posted by Powanda and Odom on April 10

By the end of the second game, the hopes of a second consecutive title were gone, but Pierson and Labinski finished with 538 in their final game to move into a tie for 19th place at the 2022 event.

Pierson led the way with games of 244, 190 and 280 for a 714 series, and Labinski added scores of 203, 223 and 258 for a 684 set.

"With the presentation yesterday and coming off that, your emotions are high and there still were some nerves," said Labinski, a 34-year-old right-hander. "Today felt a little more like normal. We struggled a little bit to start, but we knew strikes were out there. We just had to make good shots."

When Pierson and Labinski helped Red Carpet Lanes to the Team All-Events title in 2018, the team rolled to the lead with a dominating performance and ended up winning by 241 pins. They posted a 10,252 total and were joined by Dave Beres, Ken Duffield and Chad Maas in victory.

All five players were searching for their first win at the Open Championships after several close calls each, including Beres, Maas and Pierson joining Nimke in 2014 as part of Motion Plus Lanes.

"After being close in the team event for a couple years, it kind of hurt," Pierson said. "Shooting that huge score (in 2018) lifted us a little bit. We thought it might be the one."

The second win for Labinski and Pierson had a different feel to it, since they weren't sure if they had got enough pins to stay at the top of the leaderboard.

"In 2018, even though we were leading by a bunch, we were still watching," Labinski said. "No one was really close, so it made it a little easier. Last year, with the number, it seemed beatable. There were so many good teams bowling in the last couple weeks. It was nerve-wracking. It's hard to get one out here, and it's even harder to get two. Knowing that we did it instills more confidence that there hopefully are more out there in the future."

At the 2022 Open Championships, Red Carpet Lanes returned to the top 10 in Team All-Events, moving into sixth place with a 9,976 total. DiLaura Brothers 1 of Clinton Township, Michigan, leads at the 2022 event with a record score of 10,585.

Pierson led Red Carpet Lanes with a 2,060 total in 2022 and was followed by Beres (2,053), Labinski (2,052), Maas (1,999) and Duffield (1,812).

Regular Doubles features pairs with combined entering averages 351 and above. Regular Singles includes bowlers with entering averages of 176 and above.

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