Even the best bowlers need a breakthrough

Last week was the time to break through for a couple of area bowlers you might not think would need a breakthrough.

Justin Stephens, carrying an average this season in the 240s in a league at Superior Lanes, finally came up with a U.S. Bowling Congress honor series of 800 on Friday after shooting in the 790s four times this season.

For Glenn Ayotte, the eighth time was the charm at Country Lanes on Wednesday when he collected his second 300 game of the season. Seven previous times just since Christmas – which was only a month and a half ago – he had entered the 10th frame with nothing but strikes. But he had yet to finish off the final three strikes needed for a perfect game.

Like Stephens at the Marquette center, Ayotte has carried among the highest averages at the Ishpeming house all season, in the 220-225 range.

Both used a 15-pound Storm Virtual Energy reactive resin ball to bowl these feats, but yes, each owns their own version of the ball.

A week earlier, Stephens rolled his second 300 game of the season in the Friday 800 Mixed League at Superior, shooting 792 that night.

And while he was philosophical about missing 800 again – he told me, “It’s hard to complain when you’re averaging in the 240s” – something Friday night teammate Scott Salminen told me two weeks earlier when he shot 803 I know is true for just about every elite bowler: “I’ll take an 800 over a 300 any day.”

Stephens, 34, said he’ll probably raise his average from “a high 242” to 244 after shooting 268, 266 and 279 on Friday for 813, his 13th career 800.

Though these numbers are impressive, they don’t tell the whole story. He threw long strings of strikes to start each game – eight in a row in Game 1, nine to start Game 2 and “only” the first five in his best game, the third. He finished with 29 strikes in 33 shots.

The Negaunee resident said he wasn’t the only one shooting lights out on Friday. His four-man team shot 1,058 the second game, a 264.5 average. Mike Musolf threw the first 10 strikes in a 288, Salminen 259 and Dave Stevenson 245 to go with Stephens’ 266.

“In fact, ‘Moose’ (Musolf) and I were tied after two games, but he was having some problems getting his thumb out (of the thumb hole) in the third game,” Stephens said about a final game in the 170s.

Ayotte, 25, rolled his second 300 this season on a Wednesday at Country, but this time it was in the Superior Iron Range Federal Credit Union League instead of the Country Trio loop that he had his first one on Oct. 24.

His fifth sanctioned 300 and eighth overall followed games of 193 and 192 for 685.

“I couldn’t carry the first two games – I had one double each game,” Ayotte said about his lack of stringing strikes.

The Ishpeming resident who uses the rather unique two-handed style said he moved about eight boards left on the approach and four or five boards left with his target, allowing for more hook after he also changed his hand position so he would get more “tilt,” or rotation around the ball.

“The only (shot) that was really close was the first one in the 10th, when a messenger came across and took out the 10-pin,” Ayotte said about the 300.

Ayotte kept it going last weekend, as he shot 748 in the doubles portion of the annual USBC Marquette County Association tournament at Country on Saturday.

This 100-percent handicap tourney’s regular portion concludes this weekend with shifts at noon and 3 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday, and with a probable 6 p.m. shift to be added Sunday. Call 486-8000 for more details or to make a reservation.

Superior Lanes will host the senior division of this event the next two weekends, with the same shift times, for bowlers ages 55 and over. Call 225-9230 for more information.

Covering two weeks of Mining Journal Bowlers of the Week, the top performance was turned in by John Varline last week in the Tuesday Miller Genuine Draft Major League at Country, 161 pins over his 170 average with 671 on games of 205, 255 and 211.

Next was Gordie Conradson in the Monday Northern Electric Automotive Industrial, also at Country, at 144 over his 206 average with 762, including a 279-279 finish.

For the women, Hope Virch in the Tuesday Night Mixed at Superior was 74 over her 193 mean with 653, also with 279 that included the first nine strikes. Runner-up went to leaguemate Virginia Wilson at plus-64 over her 137 average with 475.

A week earlier, Katie Salminen led the ladies at plus-135 over her 170 average in the Friday 800 Mixed with 645, including 257. Next was Jane-Marie Wix at 67 over her 112 average with 403 in the Superior Tuesday Mixed.

Robin Isaacson led the guys at 128 over his 210 average with 758 on 256, 266 and 236 in the Monday NEA Industrial. Gil Perry was next at 119 over his 164 average in the Tuesday MGD Major with 611, including a 222-227 finish.

Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246.