LAS VEGAS – Two competitors who took very different paths through the COVID-19 pandemic and back to the United States Bowling Congress Open Championships were able to share the spotlight Sunday by rolling perfect games on the tournament lanes.
Former Team USA member Wesley Low Jr. of Palmdale, California, struck first, tossing his 300 during singles at the South Point Bowling Center, while Matthew Priore of North Arlington, New Jersey, closed his team event at the South Point Bowling Plaza with 12 consecutive strikes.
Their 300s were the 11th and 12th of the 2021 USBC Open Championships, which kicked off its 79-day run May 1. There have been five perfect games in team competition, five in singles and two in doubles. Low was the second left-hander to achieve the feat.
Low, a past member of Team USA and Junior Team USA, has found success and perfection on a variety of stages, including rolling a 300 game at the 2014 International Bowling Federation World Youth Championships on the way to the all-events gold medal.
The 24-year-old has been competing regularly on the Professional Bowlers Association Tour and was able to remain competitive during the pandemic, despite shutdowns and restrictions across the country. In July 2020, he made history during an event in Arizona by rolling the 37th USBC-approved 900 series.
He brought that strike power to Las Vegas this week and started his third Open Championships campaign with the highest series in team competition this year, a 799 set with a pair of 279 games.
That momentum slowed briefly, as the move from the Bowling Plaza to the Bowling Center only yielded a 611 series in doubles and a 196 start to singles, but things settled back into place. He finished with 300 and 224 for a 720 singles set and 2,130 all-events total.
“I decided after four games of my ball really not going through the pins well, and four different balls, to start trying to hook it as hard as I could and see what happened,” said Low, a five-time world champion. “I had good ball reaction but just couldn’t carry.”
The adjustment worked, and the two-time winner at the Junior Gold Championships now has another special memory to add to his growing list of bowling achievements.
Coming into the 2021 Open Championships, Low was looking to improve on his two previous appearances. He posted a 1,855 all-events total in his debut in Syracuse, New York, in 2018 and got to 1,906 in Las Vegas in 2019.
His hot start Saturday in team helped VanDaniker 1 of Chatsworth, California, to a 3,204 total and a tie for 15th place in Regular team, and expectations were high as the action shifted to the Bowling Center, where he has had continued success and would be looking to track down this year’s Regular All-Events leader, Michael Martell of Brooklyn, New York (2,194).
Low’s experience at the Bowling Center includes a portion of the 2011 Junior Gold Championships and winning a PBA regional there in 2013 at age 15.
Though he came up short in his bid for an Eagle in 2021, Low was able to put Sunday’s accomplishment into perspective.
“I would rank the 900 No. 1, as it’s the hardest thing to do in our sport,” Low said. “The 300 here would be a co-No. 2 with the 300 I shot at the World Championships. Both are difficult to achieve, as you only have so many games to do it each year.”
He also attributed his performance to a recent major change in his game that he hasn’t talked to anyone about.
“I started taking my thumb out of the ball and shot 820 the first time out,” Low added. “I have a little better feel, and I think it will be great for my game.”
For Priore, a 28-year-old right-hander making his sixth Open Championships appearance, Sunday’s team event marked his first three games in nearly a year and a half.
The rust was evident during the first two games, as he threw a combined five strikes on the way to scores of 143 and 135.
In the finale, he found a look and some confidence and was able to relax and throw much better shots.
“I don’t even know what to believe,” said Priore, who finished with a 578 series. “Once quarantine hit (March 2020), I stopped bowling and haven’t picked up a ball since. I knew we were coming out here, but I’ve been working crazy hours and didn’t even have a chance to practice. The first few shots here were my practice.”
Sunday’s string of strikes wasn’t Priore’s first run at perfection at the Open Championships, so he was able to draw on previous experience to get the job done in 2021.
At the 2018 event in Syracuse, he started his first game of doubles with nine consecutive strikes but fell short, finishing with a 276 game and what he expected to be a lifetime of what-ifs.
“Once I had the front seven tonight, I thought about having another shot at it,” Priore said. “I know the patterns here are hard, and you don’t get many chances like this. I bowled collegiately for William Paterson, so I know how difficult it can be. I used that experience and also thought back to the last time I was in this position. I told myself to stay relaxed and execute.”
Priore thought he pulled the 11th shot, but it held, a result of his team’s strategy in attacking the lanes over the three games.
“No. 12 was an absolute beauty, and I don’t think I could ever replicate that kind of shot again,” Priore said. “At Nationals, I never would’ve dreamed this. I couldn’t believe I got to the 10th frame again to even have a chance, let alone talk about it after. It was nerve-wracking, but I kept a level head and stayed relaxed and threw the shots I pictured in my mind. I still can’t believe it.”
Priore’s perfect performance helped Scott Hild Team 2 of Cedar Grove, New Jersey, to games of 992, 821 and 1,014 for a 2,827 team total.
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