For the first time in about 10 years, my team was competing for the league championship on the final night of the year. My faith in my team last week paid, as they put in a solid enough performance without me to keep us within striking distance of first place, and safely ahead of third. Let’s set this up.
The top two teams bowled on lanes 55 and 56, which is one of the trickier pairs. If you remember from previous blogs, lane 55 is significantly tighter than lane 56, and I often employ a softer speed on that pair. One surprise this week was how much the lanes were hooking. By the time I was lined up, I had started the night a full nine boards farther left with my feet compared to where I’d been consistently playing the past couple of months.
For this reason, practice wasn’t exactly a confidence builder. I only hit the pocket once, on only one lane, and it was my last shot of practice. On the other hand, this is where my rest week came into play. I felt much better mentally than I have in recent weeks, and I had no lack of confidence simply because I hadn’t struck very much in practice.
How’d it go?
I’d spent the entire day looking forward to league night, visualizing my performance and picturing myself coming through in the clutch. It didn’t go exactly as I’d hoped.
Still not entirely sure what to do, I didn’t exactly get off to a strong start in the first game. I started with a big split on the right lane, going through the face on what was a decent shot. Moving to the tighter lane, and playing a full six boards right of where I stood on 56, I used my normal speed and went light for the first time of the night, leaving the bucket. Okay.
I moved farther left on 56 and went back to my slower speed on 55, without moving my feet, to finally start striking. Another big split on the right lane indicated that I was behind the move again. Bowling against such a high rev rate team, and finding myself playing deeper than usual, meant that transition was happening quickly and the lanes were drier overall. Those two big splits hurt the most, because otherwise, it was a solid game.
Unfortunately for my team, we lost the match 3 points to 2, putting us in a bit of a hole knowing that we needed to get to 13 points in order to win the championship.
I decided to adopt my old strategy when dealing with high rev rate teams: move left by one board every frame. This helped make game two go a bit better, but it was a statistical anomaly for me. I only had strikes and seven-counts. This isn’t a great indicator as far as my ball reaction, with most of the sevens coming on the right lane. Every time I sent the ball right a bit early, it would check up and go high. I felt like I was throwing it pretty well, but it was clear that I needed to tighten up my angles through the front of the lane if I wanted a better reaction.
My team won the game 4 points to 1, which gave us a chance heading into the final game.
Emotions were starting to run high in the third game. We still needed seven of the final 10 points, but we were way ahead in two totals and the grand total. It came down to needing another good team game. This is the moment when it’s easy to get wrapped up in the outcome and not the process. Both teams were a bit tight to start the game, and the lanes were certainly tricky. I’d continued to see about eight boards of difference in the lanes, in addition to needing the slower speed on the tighter lane.
With the lanes getting pretty beat up, there were fewer strings of strikes available. I was throwing it well, but I had mostly nine-counts to show for it. The turning point really came in the seventh frame, which is incidentally the frame I left a 2/4/5 on a good shot on the right lane.
I’d continued to chase left every shot, and I’d finally gone too far. I threw the ball well and it never had a chance. When the lanes get cliffed, it can be a fine line between seeing the ball hook up early and seeing the ball over-skid through the lane. It was a simple choice to simply go back one board for my next shot on that lane in the ninth frame.
Coming into the tenth frame, only one point was clearly in our favor, with every other point still very tight. Three of the four bowlers on my team doubled in the tenth to end up winning their points, myself included. This gave us a sweep of the match and got us enough points to move into first place to claim the league championship.
What a night. My heart rate peaked at 131 beats per minute in the tenth frame of the last game, needing a double to win my point and lock up the league championship. I’d spent part of the afternoon visualizing that exact scenario, even though it wasn’t particularly likely. As it turned out, my point wasn’t necessary, but both my point and the team point were on the line when I stepped up in the tenth frame. If I lose both, we come up short. I’m honestly not sure that would have happened without the week off before.
Last week, I mentioned the traffic light system for evaluating your mental state. While my scores were nothing to write home about, what I’m most proud of is my mental outlook. Rather than bowling with fear or hesitation, I maintained confidence throughout the night, focusing entirely on my ball reaction and not my execution for any sub-par shots.
I’d say I was in the green a little more than half the time. The rest of the time was a mildly confused yellow. I had not felt this good mentally for over a month, and it was thanks to a week away from the lanes. I came back wanting nothing more than to contribute to my team’s win, rather than bowling with a sense of stress.
A clutch ball change
I also want to talk about an important ball change that happened in the third game. My lefty teammate started to see his ball get weaker and weaker downlane. After some shaker strikes and then three consecutive nine-counts, he said, “I’m thinking about a ball change, but it would be big and just a guess.” He wanted to go to his much more angular ball and open up the lane, making a jump right with his feet.
This is where I had the opportunity to allay those fears: “Do it. What’s the worst that can happen? We finish second? That’ll happen anyway if you can’t strike.” We had nothing to lose, and it was important that he continued to play aggressively and make confident decisions, rather than try to “manage” the end of the game with a ball that was losing its reaction. He is one of the bowlers who doubled in the tenth to steal a point he was in danger of losing a few frames earlier.
In my first half round-up post, I mentioned struggling with multi-pin combinations, specifically bucket combos and the 3/6/10. Well, last night was as much of a test as I could have asked for. I left five different makeable multi-pin combinations, and I made them all. I can attribute this as much to my polyester spare ball as to my focus for the night.
These were the key things that contributed to a successful night for my team. Personally, I wanted to bowl better and help lead the way with my score, but sometimes that’s not meant to be. What mattered were my contributions aside from the scoresheet, keeping my mindset positive to make sure I didn’t negatively affect my team, and coming through in the clutch when it was needed.
A bit slow to adjust
On one hand, I had a good night of staying on top of the moves once I figured it out. On the other hand, it took me far too long to adjust in practice and I didn’t feel lined up by the time the arrows came up. If I could do anything over again last night, it would be making bigger moves in practice based on what I was seeing, rather than doubting it based on what I’d experienced in previous weeks. It didn’t end up hurting the team, but I definitely could have been quicker out of the gate with a better warm-up session.
I’ll be doing a year-end review article to really dig into the entire year next week.
- Change balls when you think you need to. Trust your gut.
- If your scores aren’t the best part of your night, contribute to your team in other ways.
- Trust what you see in front of you and make confident adjustments.
Final scores: 206 – 215 – 225