2014 Men’s International Candlepin Championship – Right Side Semifinal – A+ Accounting vs Academy Lanes
It’s 2014. It’s November. You know what that means? The 2014 Men’s International Candlepin Championship has been going on all week at Academy Lanes in Haverhill, Massachusetts. Twenty four teams comprised of the best bowlers from Canada and the United States are here for some candlepin action. The tournament divides the teams into two divisions of twelve teams each. Then there are eleven three string matches in the tournament with three on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and two on Friday. Each match is worth eight point and the top five of each side the make the playoffs. The interesting thing about this tournament is that in the playoffs they switch sides. First, the top two teams get a bye straight into the semifinals. After that, the second place team from the left side faces the fifth place team from right, and vice versa. It adds a really eerie affect to the matches since you haven’t faced the team all week. Have they hit their shots? Have they been able to come from behind? Have they just been that good? You just don’t know. At least you’ve faced the guys on your side so that makes you think so much more before your first ball.
I had the pleasure of bowling in this tournament for the first time last year with Local Flavah a team made up of several Maine bowlers and three guys along with me from Massachusetts. I have to thank the captain Scott Lapierre for getting me to the tournament. The experience is something I will always take with me and cherish forever and I appreciated the opportunity. I had a blast with that team and we managed to get into the playoffs. We ended up falling short against McLaughlin Truck and Trailer, and they went on to win the whole damn thing.
On to 2014. I managed to get my own franchise! But, unfortunately, that’s a different story for another time. This is about the semifinals on the right side of the alley. Academy Lanes had a great week and set themselves up for the bye against A+ Accounting in the last match of the round robin. Academy took the first two strings from A+, and were rewarded with the bye and a good amount of rest. Here we see Chris Sacchetti throwing a ball prior to the semifinal match.
A+ then had to win their match Friday night against Musquodoboit Big Shots and then win again the following morning just to get the opportunity to face Academy Lanes. It was a hard fought battle, and A+ advanced into the quarterfinals on Saturday morning against the reigning champs, McLauhglin Truck and Trailer. Over the course of the match, A+ did a great job getting a mark here, an extra pin there, and as more and more boxes passed, A+ outlasted McLaughlin TnT and earned the right to face Academy in a rematch of round 11. This rematch had the feeling that it was going to be epic right from the get go.
The starting lineup for A+ featured five guys that were on the 2012 championship team, Nate LeBlanc, Chris McGrady, Gerry Dunn, Matt Harnett, and Mitch Seary. Academy Lanes started Jim Ayotte, Richie Myrick, Aaron Spiller, Chris Sacchetti, and Mark Ricci. Though they don’t have a championship yet, the Academy team features some proven American Champions – Ayotte, winning the Pro Series Playoffs in 2013 (defeating Sacchetti). Chris, a champion in his own right, is the defending doubles champion in the Pro Series with back to back titles starting the 2014-2015 season. Myrick and Spiller both have had numerous accolades in the WNECA as well as the Pro Series, and who can forget last year’s 2013 Men’s Candlepin Singles champ – Mark Ricci. This isn’t David vs Goliath or the Rebels vs the Empire – it’s something more along the line of Celtics- Lakers final circa the 1980s. These two teams were the class act of the right side of the tournament and they took names and numbers in every match they were in. Here’s a little insight into the first two trips of the match. Academy started on the right with A+ on the left.
Ayotte had been leadoff bowler for Academy for most of the tournament and the first string started no differently for him in the playoffs. After being open in the first he crushed the 8-pin in the face for a spare right out of the gate. He squared off against the “ghost-ball” throwing Nate LeBlanc who never makes a noise with his ball – you’d never even know a ball was thrown until you heard the explosion 60 feet away. He was open his first two.
The 2-hole match-up features the fireball throwing Richie Myrick, against the laser accurate, and many stepped approach of Chris McGrady. Second box of their bout, McGrady buries a hammer, and Myrick, unfazed, annihilates the four horsemen left. All the spectators saw some great technical bowling by both bowlers being able to hit the 1-2 pocket.
The middle of the lineup for both teams featured two extremely powerful bowlers in Aaron Spiller and Gerry Dunn. Aaron throws a similar ball to LeBlanc – very low, very accurate, and very deadly. Dunn on the other hand throws the ball with such force that the pins can do nothing but fall off the deck into the pit. Right out of the gate, Spiller nails the 10-pin in the face for a spare, while Gerry Dunn doinks (and by “doinks” I mean snaps the 3-pin and 8-pin in half for a half-Worcester). What does Gerry do? Promptly matches Spiller’s single pin spare with a spare of his own and as people know I hate the use of the word literally, but the eight pins standing literally went like one. And no disrespect to Gerry at all. We Americans use the term “doink” when we make a Worcester fill or knock out one when we hit the two or three pin. He’s far too good to “doink” anything.
The “clean up hitters” (I love baseball) had an Academy veteran in Chris Sacchetti (who probably tosses 1,000 strings a year at Academy) against the handsome Matt Harnett. Both bowlers had great weeks leading up to this match-up and both had ink ALL OVER their sheets every string. Chris is such a fan favorite here and everywhere that a dessert my wife, the “Den Mother”, makes has “Funfetti” cake mix in it. Harnett came right out in box one with a hammer, and not to be outdone, Sacchetti converted the 4-7 to keep pace with a mark in the first. “Matty Bum” as he is known on his team, nearly converted the “Caliri” (1-3-6-8-10 or 1-2-4-7-9) – in this case leaving the 8-pin. Chris nabbed the 4-pin in the chin to be the first bowler with two marks out of the gate.
The anchors in the match starting out were Mark Ricci and the “diminutive” Mitch Seary, standing a short 6’6″. Being from Boston, “Mahky” as he’s known – is a combination of every bowler out there – power, finesse, technical, aggressive – and yet knows when take something off the ball when it’s necessary. One would think that a gentle giant would fire the ball, but Mitch gets so low, and he’s so smooth, that the pins just tip left and right and his scores soar and he proves you don’t need to throw bullets. I love watching Mitch bowl during the June tournament. This could be the match that determines this semifinal match. Ricci clearly amped to be bowling in the semis in front of hundreds threw a bonecrusher right off the starting line, and with ultimate poise, Mitch threw a spare to keep pace.
Ten boxes in, A+ had the early lead 120 to 117 with Academy hanging three hits to A+’s one. The teams combined for ten marks their first trip which just speaks to the skill level of the bowlers. The second trip coming up was just as exciting as the first. Ayotte followed his spare with a nine drop and slapped the 4-pin right face to keep on keeping on. McGrady came right back with a strike, but not to be outdone Richie “MyRock” Myrick, following Ayotte, electrified the crowd by converting the 5-7 to cheers and screams of the raucous crowd. If bowling is dying, it certainly didn’t sound like it then.
Trading jabs like Rocky and Clubber Lang in Rocky III, Dunn, on lane 32 went spare, 9 fill spare, and Spiller keeping pace, going spare, 8 fill, spare. The ink just started to fill up the screen. More and more the crowd was getting into it, screaming, yelling, cheering, clapping, ultimately fueling the bowlers on every box. Second trip almost done and the marks were flowing like water. Creating some Canadian excitement Matt Harnett finished his trip in stunning fashion making the 3-6-7 for a spare. The spares, the strikes, the pinning – it was all there at the start of the string to the tune of Academy taking the lead 251 to 242, though A+ had three hits to Academy’s one. Another twenty boxes and another ten marks. The teams after forty boxes had combined for a stunning twenty marks – unreal.
The crowd has been witness to some amazing moments as well as some heart breaking ones as well. It’s a tight match that is keeping everyone on the edge of their seats. The shots of the string however belonged to Ayotte in his fifth and sixth. Jimbo found a way to make the 6-7-8-9 for a spare, filled it, and then in the following box made the 4-7-10 for a ten box!
As time wore on, A+ managed a few marks here and there with a couple of larger fills and jumped out the early 57 pin lead 649-592 after the first string. The teams were both firing on all cylinders managing 46 marks in 100 boxes!
With every box that passes the pressure in the room builds. You could cut the tension with a knife. Watching this event live is where it’s at when it comes candlepin bowling.
At one point Academy had fallen behind by over 100 pins, and then pin by pin, they started to climb back. They’d get a big fill here, extra mark there, pin a little bit. Here’s the last trip box by box on video for your enjoyment. I’m not going to give away the ending.