In competitive bowling, the mental game plays as important a role in the road to success as the physical game.
It took some time – and a few cases of “letting your emotions get the best of you” – for Warsaw’s Kevin Gray Jr. to grasp this but now that he has, the 36-year-old left-hander has become a force to be reckoned with on a regular basis.
Gray shook off a couple errant shots during Sunday’s Peterson Point match play finals of the Genesee Region USBC Masters tournament at Livingston Lanes in Geneseo and came through in the clutch to unseat defending champion and fellow lefty Rich Wagner of Batavia.
A 213-204 victory in the position round secured the title for Gray, who took the lead after game four of the eight-game final round and held on to win the $300 first prize and Masters’ champion ring.
Gray entered the last game with a 44-point advantage over Wagner (bowlers receive 30 points for each match victory and plus or minus pins based on their score in relation to 200), which meant he needed to beat Wagner for the crown. Wagner, on the other hand, needed to defeat Gray by at least 15 pins to win the tournament.
An open frame by Gray to start the game, coupled by a double by Wagner put the Batavian in the lead temporarily, but Gray responded with four strikes in a row to pull even. After another open in the seventh, Gray once again bounced back with strikes in the ninth and 10th frame to lock up the match.
“I thought the key for me was being able to leave that stuff (open frames) behind,” said Gray, who won the GRUSBC Scratch Memorial at Mount Morris Lanes in 2016. “I feel I’m better mentally than I’ve ever been.”
Gray, a team leader of the medicine access center at the University of Rochester, was a model of consistency throughout the tournament – qualifying in the third position with 888 for four games and grabbing the fourth spot among the final eight bowlers with 886 on Saturday for a 222 average. And he kept that average on Sunday en route to winning seven of his eight matches.
“I was able to stay focused all day long and not let anything bother me,” said Gray, who used an Ebonite Maverick for the first seven games on Sunday before switching to an Ebonite Gamebreaker II for the last game. “Fortunately, I was able to focus on one match at a time.”
Gray said he dedicated the victory to his late grandfather, Lester Gray, who would have been 102 on Sunday.
Wagner, who picked up $250 for placing second, had the high average for the tournament – 227 – largely due to a 1,024 four-game score (256 average) in the four-game semifinals that propelled him to the No. 1 berth on Sunday.
“I thought I threw it really well, but congratulations to him (Gray). He made the shots in the ninth and 10th when he had to,” Wagner said. “But first and second in two years, it’s a good day.”
Brian Green, another Batavia southpaw and the high qualifier with 956, finished third and earned $200.
He was followed by three-time Masters champion Fred Gravanda of Batavia ($150), Chris Bardol of Brockport ($100), lefty Mike Johnson of Batavia ($100), Scott Culp of Lima ($90) and Brady Weber of Perry ($90).
Other cashers (in ninth through 16th place) were Jim Pursel of Batavia, Matt Balduf of South Byron, Dean Cadieux Jr. of Oakfield, Geoff Harloff of Batavia, Dana Nowack of Livonia, Joe Trigilio of Attica, Paul Spiotta of Batavia and Josh Elliott of Attica.
The tournament drew 45 entries. For qualifying, semifinal and match play results, go to www.bowlgr.com.
Photo at top -- Tournament director Paul Spiotta congratulates Kevin Gray Jr., center, and Rich Wagner, who placed first and second, respectively, at the GRUSBC Masters. Photo by Mike Pettinella.
LANDERS WINS ROCHESTER QUEENS, BREAKS GRUSBC RECORD
Whether you’re talking about her bowling scores, the winter weather or a bowling ball company, former collegiate standout Caycee Landers has taken Western New York by "storm."
Landers, a 27-year-old right-hander, migrated from Los Angeles about a year ago, and joined the G&W Vending League at Rose Garden Bowl in Bergen at the invitation of her boyfriend, Chris Bardol of Brockport.
Since then, she has bowled several 700 series, with her latest – a 782 effort on Tuesday night -- breaking the Genesee Region USBC record of 762 previously held by Bardol’s sister, Jennifer.
Landers, using a Roto-Grip Wreck Em ball (manufactured by Storm), posted games of 267-246-269, and raised her league average to 225.
This comes on the heels of her victory on Feb. 3 at the Rochester NY USBC Queens Tournament at AMF Gates Lanes, where she defeated two of Rochester’s best, Tara Mangiola and Shanna Chepelsky, in the finals.
Landers has been so good on the lanes lately that it has made the WNY cold weather a bit more tolerable.
“I haven’t quite been here a year so I guess I’ve survived my first winter,” she said. “It’s all downhill from here, but it certainly has been an adjustment, coming from a big city. What has made it easier is that everyone here is so nice.”
Landers was an Academic All-American while bowling at Newman University in Wichita, Kan., and previously she bowled at Wichita State. She said that she met Bardol at the Team USA Trials in 2008.
“We’ve always stayed connected through bowling and became good friends,” she said, speaking of Bardol, owner of The North Pole Restaurant in Batavia. “We started dating almost a year ago, and we (she and her 5-year-old son, Landyn) moved to Brockport.”
Landers has multiple 300 games and a high series of 837. She thought she should have had another 800 on Tuesday night.
“I was kind of a bonehead,” she said, referring to a pair of one-pin spares that she missed in the first two games. “Those two single pins cost me an 800.”
Her 782 fell nine pins short of the Rose Garden Bowl women’s record of 791 set by Mangiola in the Triple O Mechanical Tournament (a non-GRUSBC event).
She did fare better than Bardol, however, who rolled a 694 series on his 30th birthday.
Landers said she is considering bowling in the New York State Queens Championship on April 21 in Newburgh, a tournament that has been won by another former Wichita State bowler, Shannon Sellens of Long Island, for the past four years.
SPARE SHOTS: JOB OPEN AT LIVINGSTON LANES; SCHEPIS DUO WINS
-- Livingston Lanes owner Marty Estruch, a Mount Morris resident who owns a few hotels in that area, said he is looking for someone to manage the 16-lane bowling center and bar.
The managerial position will be open at the end of this month, Estruch said, adding that the ideal candidate will have knowledge of the business of bowling, customer service skills and an ability to build programs to increase traffic.
Until then, John LaGeorge will be handling day-to-day duties.
-- The brother-sister team of Mike and Shelly Schepis of Medina won the Love ‘Em & Hate ‘Em mixed doubles handicap tournament at Medina Lanes over the weekend.
They were followed by Marion Singleton of Lockport and Brian Cline of Williamsville, Rob Stefani of Batavia and Sarah Cassidy of Albion, and Jenelle and Rusty Boyd of Lyndonville.
-- Right-hander Matt O’Grady of Rahway, N.J., mowed down a couple heavyweight two-handers on Sunday to win the 53rd PBA Tournament of Champions for his first PBA Tour title.
O’Grady, 31, whose best previous PBA Tour finish was fourth, won four stepladder finals matches at AMF Riviera Lanes in Fairlawn, Ohio, including victories over PBA Player of the Year Jason Belmonte of Australia and Jesper Svensson of Sweden.
Final standings: Matt O’Grady, Rahway, N.J., $50,000; Jesper Svensson, Sweden, $25,000; Andrew Anderson, Holly, Mich. $13,000; Jason Belmonte, Australia, $11,000; BJ Moore, Greensburg, Pa., $10,000.
Stepladder Results: O’Grady def. Moore, 219-174; O’Grady def. Belmonte, 229-225; O’Grady def. Anderson, 194-185; O’Grady def. Svensson, 207-193.
-- Legion Lanes in Le Roy will be hosting the 16th annual Ron Riggi Memorial 4-Person Handicap Tournament on Feb. 23-25, offering a first place prize of $1,000 (based on 40 entries).
Squad times are 6:30 p.m. Feb. 23, noon and 3 p.m. Feb. 24 and noon and 3 p.m. Feb. 25. The entry fee is $100 per team.
To enter, contact Mark Brown at 716-474-7960.
-- Three of the five Batavia teams in the Genesee Region Youth Travel League are within striking distance of first-place Rose Garden Bowl I after nine weeks of the 13-team circuit.
Batavia Thunder and Batavia X-Factor gained ground in recent competition at Mancuso Bowling Center in Batavia with victories over Rose Garden I and Batavia Bombers, respectively.
Rose Garden continues to lead, however, as it is 7.5 points ahead of Batavia Strike Force, 14.5 in front of Oak Orchard Bowl I and16 points ahead of Batavia Thunder and X-Factor.
Individually, James Townsend (Strike Force) topped the list last week with 233—609, while Ben Lennox (Oak Orchard I) had 606 and Sam Miller (Strike Force) posted 603.
For the girls, Samantha Hyde (Le Roy) led the way with a 224 game and 560 series, followed by Corinne Saluste (Strike Force) with 537 and Paige Snook (Oak Orchard I) with 514.
The league bowls at 12:30 p.m. this Sunday at Mount Morris Lanes.