“Right” Choice Helps Dallas Strikers Win PBA League Elias Cup

by Bob Johnson 0

Bill Vint
Professional Bowlers Association


PORTLAND, Maine – Making the “right” lane choice throughout the Professional Bowlers Association League Elias Cup elimination rounds proved to be the correct strategic move as the GoBowling.com Dallas Strikers ended four years of frustration in capturing the elusive team championship at Bayside Bowl.

The 2016 Elias Cup finals aired on Sunday on ESPN.

PBA Hall of Famer Norm Duke, the only player-manager in the PBA League program, made a series of eyebrow-raising decisions – going all the way back to December when he traded two proven stars for a pair of untested young power players – but in the end, after pulling off a 204-180 victory over the GEICO New York City WTT KingPins in the decisive Baker team finale, Duke led his team to its first Elias Cup.

“Look at the smile on my face,” Duke grinned. “It was just an amazing experience. When you’ve got this many years under your belt, and this many appearances on television, and this many narrow misses…to explain the feeling on the approach after this one doesn’t even compute.

“This is a different environment, a different event,” he continued, adding very deliberately, “We are the Elias Cup champions.”

The Elias Cup finale involved a singles match (Duke defeated NYC’s Marshall Kent, 203-168); an alternative ball doubles match (the KingPins” John Szczerbinski and Mike Fagan overwhelmed Duke and Bill O’Neill, 224-178), and a Baker trios match, won by the KingPins’ Scott Norton, Pete Weber and Kent, 256-178, over Dallas’ Tommy Jones, Shawn Maldonado and BJ Moore. With a 2-1 edge in the one-point preliminary matches, all signs pointed to the KingPins regaining the Cup they won in the PBA League’s first season in 2013.

With the three-point Baker team match yet to come, Duke took himself out of the anchor position, inserted Jones in that role, and made the call for his team to finish the contest on the right lane that had served the team well in its previous matches. But things didn’t go as expected. Duke started the game on the left lane with a 4-10 split and an open frame, and then the team moved to the right lane, Duke left a 7-10 split and opened again.

In the meantime, O’Neill, Maldonado and Moore put together a string of three strikes on the elusive left lane while NYC struggled on the right, falling into a 19-pin hole. Duke’s second split brought the KingPins back to within 10 pins, but New York City didn’t get a double until the 10th frame. Maldonado and Moore – two young power players Duke landed in a trade with the Shipyard Brewing Portland Lumberjacks for proven stars Liz Johnson and Ryan Ciminelli – both made key shots to help Dallas secure its lead. Jones locked up the Elias Cup with three strikes in the 10th frame for a 204-180 team win.

“I’m glad we put it back in Tommy’s hands because I was the weakest link that last game,” Duke said. “I put the rock in the right person’s hand at the right time, and he delivered every single time.”

Winning the Cup, however, was the result of key contributions by each team member at a critical juncture, Duke added.

“Sometimes it was me, sometimes it was Bill O’Neill. Maldonado was stellar. And BJ Moore?” Duke asked. “People don’t realize what he just did. He’d never bowled on television, and he just walked up there, every single time, like it was nothing. He reminded me of me when I was a kid.

“Whatever we needed to do, we did it as a team,” he continued. “It was so good.”

There was little question, however, that Jones was the correct choice as the Mark Roth Most Valuable Player in the Elias Cup competition.

“Anytime you win something with Mark Roth’s name on it, is special,” Jones said after Roth presented him with the trophy. “I grew up idolizing Mark, and having the chance to get to know him a bit over the years has been amazing. To have a trophy I can put in my trophy case with his name on it – there’s nothing like it.”

At the conclusion of the PBA League competition, PBA CEO and Commissioner Tom Clark, along with Bayside Bowl proprietor Charlie Mitchell, announced the PBA League will return to Portland and an expanded, re-designed Bayside Bowl for the fifth annual PBA League Elias Cup competition in 2017.


Bayside Bowl, Portland, Maine (aired Sunday, May 9 on ESPN)

(Best of two five-player Baker format team games, ties broken by roll-off)

Final Standings: GoBowling.com Dallas Strikers ($60,000) def. GEICO New York City KingPins ($50,000), 4-2.

Singles Match (one point): Norm Duke, Dallas, def. Marshall Kent, New York City, 203-168.

Alternate Ball Doubles (one point):  New York City (John Szczerbinski/Mike Fagan) def. Dallas (Norm Duke/Bill O’Neill), 224-179.

Baker Trios (one point): New York City (Scott Norton/Pete Weber/Marshall Kent) def. Dallas (Tommy Jones/Shawn Maldonado/BJ Moore), 256-187.

Five-Player Baker Team (three points): Dallas (Norm Duke/Bill O’Neill/Shawn Maldonado/BJ Moore/Tommy Jones) def. New York City (Mike Fagan/Pete Weber/Marshall Kent/John Szczerbinski/Scott Norton), 204-180.

Bob Johnson

Bob Johnson has received more national writing awards than any other bowling writer — close to 70 over the course of his 40-year career. He began at age 16 as a staff writer and then assistant editor for the weekly Pacific Bowler newspaper in his native California, and within three years was writing feature stories for Bowlers Journal. He has written for the magazine ever since, except for a five-year span when he was hired as the founding editor of another magazine. He moved to Chicago in 2000 and spent 13 years in the Windy City, including five as Bowlers Journal’s Editor. In 1975, Johnson received the Robert E. Kennedy Award as California’s top undergraduate high school journalist. Five years earlier, on the lanes, he had shared the Bantam Division Doubles championship in the Orange County Junior Bowling Association Championships. Today, he continues to work full-time for Bowlers Journal as its Senior Editor, to write his popular “Strikes Me” column, and to edit Luby Publishing Inc.’s weekly business-to-business Cyber Report.

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