Entering tonight’s league bowling competition, 36 bowlers had registered 900 series – 36 consecutive strikes over three games – that have been officially recognized by the United States Bowling Congress, the sport’s national governing body.
And if it wasn’t for one stubborn 6-pin on the final delivery of the final game, Batavian Rich Wagner, one of the best bowlers in the Genesee Region USBC over the past 20-plus years, would have added his name to the list.
The 38-year-old left-hander rolled games of 300, 300 and 299 for an 899 series while competing on lanes 23-24 for the Toyota of Batavia team in the Toyota of Batavia Thursday 5-Man League at Mancuso Bowling Center.
“On the last ball (on lane 24 at the 24-lane center), I was thinking just hit the head pin; don’t throw it in the gutter,” Wagner said. “My legs were shaking. I couldn’t feel them. I didn’t want to fall down on the lanes. It was just get it there. I tugged it just a little bit, but it could have gone.”
Wagner said he was grateful to have the opportunity to potentially etch his name into the record book.
“The more I’m thinking here, processing it a bit, I had a chance. I can’t complain,” he said. “I can’t get upset or anything like that.”
He said he used two different balls throughout the night -- a DV8 Turmoil II Solid on lane 23 and a Turmoil II Pearl on lane 24, balls drilled by Brian Green of Striking Effects Pro Shop last year.
“I was swinging 23 a little bit and I was pretty straight up the boards on 24,” he said.
Wagner said every ball was in the 1-2 pocket, some driving the 5-pin into the 10-pin (a “swishing” strike) but most packed solidly in the sweet spot. He said he caught a break in the sixth frame of game three.
“I drifted just a little to the right and hit the pocket a little soft, but a messenger came back (off the side wall) and ripped out the 7-pin,” he said. “Other than that, every shot – minus a few swishers – was just dead on.”
Wagner actually had three perfect games in a row in the league as he finished with a 300 last week in a 751 series on lanes 17-18. Ironically, he tripped a 6-pin on the last ball.
Tonight’s outburst raised his league-leading average to 236, and shattered his previous high series of 812.
Mancuso Bowling Center manager Mike Sputore called the feat of 35 straight strikes "the most impressive three-game set I'll ever see."
"It was unbelievable and I'm really glad for Rich as he's just a great guy," he added. "You could see how very humbled he was by it, which says a lot about his character."
A sergeant at Albion Correctional Facility, Wagner said he appreciated the support he received from his teammates – Tom Fluker, Matt Buckley, Leon Hurd and Nathan Cordes – as well as from the other league bowlers.
His team won its match against the Eastown Beverage team of Geoff Harloff, Jim Pursel, AJ Allenbrandt, Mike Johnson and Matt Balduf -- rolling 3,334 scratch with Cordes chipping in with 697. Pursel rolled 697, starting with a 279 game, for Eastown Beverage.
“It didn’t get all quiet. They kept it loud and not making it as nerve-wracking, even though it was,” he said, adding when the messenger took out the 7-pin in the sixth frame, “I didn’t feel my legs the rest of the night.”
One of those who was looking on was Wagner’s wife, Jenn, who bowls with another team in the league.
“I hid behind two people so he wouldn’t see me,” Jenn said. “It was pretty amazing. Afterwards, I told him it didn’t matter whether he got that last strike or not because it was incredible either way. It’s bittersweet, but incredible at the same time.”
- The previous all-time high series in the Genesee Region USBC was an 858 rolled by lefty Brian Cline of Middleport on Jan. 13, 2018, also at Mancuso Bowling Center. His games were 279-279-300.
- Wagner, who burst onto the bowling scene as a preteen and has competed in Professional Bowlers Association events, upped his 300 game total to 43.