With the amount of talent flocking to Eau Claire to compete in the Chippewa Valley Match Games, the competition was always going to be tough.
That was perhaps best represented by the final match — and final throw — of the tournament.
Nick Heilman needed every single point of his 193-pin score in the championship round. The La Crosse resident edged defending champion Brady Stearns by one, 193-192, to take home this year’s championship and prize money. He surpassed Stearns with his final throw of the day.
“It was more survival than anything,” Heilman said. “Catching a break here and there and trying to capitalize and stay out of your own way.”
Survival was a theme of the tournament — hosted at Wagner’s Lanes — which attracts plenty of high-level talent from around the Midwest.
It was no surprise that things were as close as they were. Just ask those who know a thing or two about the bowling scene.
“There are so many things that the people here have won,” said Todd Savoy, a member of the United States Bowling Congress Hall of Fame. “I’d say some of the squad here could go compete in the PBA (Professional Bowlers Association).”
John Kreyer Jr., who won a national USBC doubles tournament in Nevada in 2010, was equally impressed with the field that made its way into Eau Claire for the two-day Match Games.
“This is definitely one of the prestigious tournaments,” said Kreyer Jr., who resides in Mounds View, Minn., but got his start in bowling at Wagner’s. “It draws the best out of the Twin Cities area, even a little farther out in Minnesota, and western Wisconsin region guys.”
Among local bowlers, Eau Claire’s Pat Burkart placed the highest by taking 11th.
“I feel like I left a lot of pins out there, but it all comes down to focus,” Burkart said.
With some serious competition out there, focus does become paramount. A lack of consistency would turn hopes of a title run into a quick exit at the long-running tournament.
“It’s all mental,” Burkart said. “In a league, you’re just there to have fun. But with this, you’ve got to focus. Every shot is about focus. You’re bowling against some of the best bowlers around, so you’ve got to be sure you pick up your spares and stay away from having those bad shots.”
Heilman embodied that at this year’s Match Games. He did enough over the two days to take care of business, be handed the trophy by tournament director Denny Burkart and head home with the $1,500 prize.
“Twelve games is the longest format for a Sunday of anything we do, so it’s all about curving your highs and lows,” Heilman said. “One game’s not going to make or break anything, so try not to ride the roller coaster.”