Splits, spares and strikes: Challenge tourney could become new big thing

A couple of little bowling get-togethers on Sunday night might just be remembered as a historic event in Marquette County bowling circles in future years if it catches on.

With just a handful of people watching at Country Lanes in Ishpeming and Superior Lanes in Marquette, a pair of all-star teams representing each center duked it out on the lanes in what they’re billing as the Team Baker Challenge.

The good news about this is that you can catch Part 2 of the challenge this Sunday at the two centers, free of charge.

On Sunday, the men got together on a pair of lanes at Country Lanes while at the same time, the women were dueling at Superior Lanes.

They’ll reverse locations this weekend, with the men starting at 6 p.m. Sunday at Superior and the women’s going at 7 p.m. at Country.

There’s no money on the line, just a trophy or two and bragging rights for the winning bowlers and their centers – at least that’s how it will work this year.

Mike Musolf of Superior Lanes, who also bowls in leagues at Country, had been toying with the idea for awhile and decided to just go ahead and organize a men’s challenge, working with Country manager Clay Sandberg.

Marquette County U.S. Bowling Congress Association president Hope Virch got wind of what the men were doing, and quickly organized the women’s side in time to join the men.

They kept the format pretty simple – each team bowls 15 Baker-style games, where teammates alternate frames to come up with a single-game score. There were points awarded for winning each game, winning each five-game block and winning the entire 15-game night.

In addition, the teams had to rotate their order from game to game, so everybody got a chance to roll the extra shots in the 10th frame.

While 15 games might sound like a lot, each bowler only threw two frames a game, so it made for 30 frames total per person – or the equivalent of bowling three regular games.

Ishpeming grabbed substantial leads in each challenge – 40-10 for the men and 31-19 for the women – but if Marquette gets on a roll this weekend, they could make up either of those deficits quite quickly.

Here’s the teams – the Country men were represented by Glenn Ayotte, Andy Goldsworthy, Chris Loonsfoot, Clay Sandberg and Steve Windahl. Superior’s men are Jeff Miller, Mike Musolf, Scott Salminen, Justin Stephens and Dave Stevenson.

The Superior women are Amber Buckmaster, Kris Holm, Bonnie Mattson, Hope Virch and Maria Virch, while Country’s representatives are Jessica Ayotte, Brenda Carlson, Kaytlynne Carlson, Heather Sandberg and Diana Windahl.

I stopped in and watched part of both matches Sunday. The women at Superior had more spectators, nearly all connected with the bowlers. They were quite supportive of their teammates and the competition, too.

The guys, though, were a little more loose, maybe in part because they all know each other well and nine of the 10 bowl in the same league at Country.

All being heavy hitters with the way they throw the ball, Musolf and Clay Sandberg thought it would be a good idea for the guys to use some heavier-than-normal pins to put more emphasis on skill and spare-making than just brute striking force.

But it did cause some funny moments with normally unheard of pocket 5-pins left by the powerful ball thrown by Stephens on back-to-back shots and some crazy splits like several 5-7-10s left by some others.

If you’ve caught the PBA on TV lately, they’ve used the Baker format in their “league” competition during the past two months.

And I’m almost certain all the bowling will be Baker style this weekend when the final games of the NCAA women’s championships are televised from suburban Detroit. ESPNU will have it live for 2 1/2 hours at 8 p.m. Saturday, then again at 2:30 a.m. Sunday morning. In addition, ESPN will reshow it in a 1 1/2-hour slot at 2 p.m. Sunday.

I found the eight teams that qualified for the three-day tournament that begins Thursday, and it’s quite an eclectic bunch – Nebraska, Vanderbilt, Wisconsin-Whitewater, Central Missouri, Maryland-Eastern Shore, Fairleigh-Dickinson, Arkansas State and Sam Houston State.

Finally, two of the all-stars – the local ones, that is – popped some noteworthy scores during the past two weeks.

Last week, Buckmaster, 32, rolled her second 700 series of the season with 707 in the Wednesday Industrial League at Superior with games of 213, 225 and 269.

She said she had a sore wrist from bowling a double shift at a tournament in Peshtigo, Wis., a week earlier, but she still managed to raise her women’s high average of 210 anyway using her 13-pound Ebonite NVD reactive resin ball.

A more unusual score was reported by Glenn Ayotte, who was rather proud of his 475 series the week before in the Tuesday Miller Genuine Draft Major League at Country.

He liked it because it came in just two games, with the second one a near-perfect 299 when he left a 2-pin on the 12th and final ball. He was watching the league when John LaCombe hurt his arm and had to pull out after one game. So Ayotte jumped in – with no practice balls – and hit 176 before what was almost his fourth 300 of the season using his 15-pound Columbia Mass Eruption reactive resin.

All this came a day after he turned 26 years old.

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