EL PASO, Texas - Defending Regular All-Events champion Anthony LaCaze of Hoffman Estates, Illinois, and his Junior Team USA Support 1 teammates turned in another memorable performance at the United States Bowling Congress Open Championships, and the group now holds the lead in three events at the 2015 tournament.
The 32-year-old right-hander helped the Las Vegas team into the top spot in Regular Team with a 3,359 total Friday, and they continued their dominance Saturday afternoon when they returned to the championship lanes at the El Paso Convention Center for doubles and singles.
Junior Team USA Support 1 averaged more than 223 as a group and easily moved to the top of the Team All-Events standings with a 10,064 total, more than 650 pins better than previous leader ND Storm of Mandan, North Dakota, which held the lead with 9,393.
The effort marked the third consecutive year Junior Team USA Support 1 has eclipsed the 10,000 mark, a run that includes a Team All-Events win in 2013 and a 10th-place finish in 2014. There have been 58 scores of 10,000 or better since Team All-Events started being tracked in 1947.
Erik Vermilyea led the way for Junior Team USA Support 1 this weekend, taking the all-events torch from his teammate with a 2,083 effort that included 762 in team, 715 in singles and 606 in doubles. Matt Smallin of Glenburn, North Dakota, a member of ND Storm, previously held the lead with 2,062.
"I had good ball reaction and was throwing it well the first two games of doubles," said Vermilyea, who made his 11th USBC Open Championships appearance. "We were cruising along, then I threw one out the window, grabbed the next one and couldn't get the ball off my hand for six frames. I was throwing it bad, and my ball reaction was falling apart. On my fill ball, Steve (Novak) suggested a different ball and it ended up being the right choice. Once I saw my ball reaction, my swing loosed up again, and I was good to go."
Vermilyea was joined on the lanes by the rest of the 2013 Team All-Events champions, Matthew Tuckfield (2,048), LaCaze (1,988), Novak (1,982) and Jeffrey Mersch (1,963). Tuckfield settled into second place in Regular Singles with a 771 series, while all five members made their way into the top 15 in the Regular All-Events standings. Chad Oachs of Mankato, Minnesota, leads singles with 772.
The overall performance now puts LaCaze in position to become just the second bowler in the 112-year history of the Open Championships to capture a title in three consecutive years.
LaCaze took home the 2014 Regular All-Events title with scores of 766 in doubles, 765 in team and 742 in singles for a 2,273 total. He now looks to join USBC Hall of Famer Les Zikes of Palatine, Illinois, who won Open Championships titles in 1962, 1963 and 1964.
After making the ceremonial march down Center Aisle to receive his championship watch, it took LaCaze a little while to settle his nerves, but he finished the team event strong and continued to throw the ball well Saturday.
His scores did not match his shot making during doubles, but everything fell into place in singles. He started the final game with nine consecutive strikes on the way to a 276 game, and he moved into sixth place in Regular Singles with 728.
"I was working through my nerves during the first two games yesterday," said LaCaze, who made his 14th Open Championships appearance and added sets of 631 in team and 629 in doubles. "I bounced back the last game when we needed it. Today, when I got into a comfortable zone and started to see the 10 pin slap out a little more, I loosened up and knew the strikes would come. I would have really liked to finish that last game off, but we came back strong, and I'm happy with the finish."
Even though his title defense fell short, LaCaze was more than happy to hand over the spot to one of his teammates, and now begins a familiar wait to see if anyone can match their effort before the 2015 event concludes July 12.
"It means everything to me to see Erik take it over," LaCaze said. "He put this team together, and it's truly amazing to potentially keep it on our team. My family and teammates mean everything to me, and I get goosebumps just thinking about possibility of taking home another title with this group."
Vermilyea, a 31-year-old right-hander, hit a rough patch during his final game of doubles but relied on his supporting cast to get him lined up and make his run in all-events.
The former Team USA and Junior Team USA member was motivated after seeing LaCaze's award presentation Friday night and now gets to enjoy another exciting leaderboard watch.
"I bowl with this amazing group, and we come out here thinking about team and Team All-Events," Vermilyea said. "More than anything else, knowing that Tony has two chances at making it three years in a row is something I can't describe."
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