An early 4-8-10 split put Mark Kepner behind the 8-ball, but the veteran kegler shook off the bad break and eventually got the last laugh in the finals of the Huck Finn Jack Scaccia Sr. Memorial Sunday at Boulevard Bowl.
The 54-year-old Duanesburg High School technology teacher and bowling coach used a late triple to get back in the hunt, and when Rich Strath left a 4-6-10 split in the ninth frame, Kepner took advantage with a pair of strikes in the 10th to rally past the Altamont left-hander, 222-217.
Kepner earned $3,000, while Strath took home $1,500 in the final Huck Finn event of the season.
Strath, a 53-year-old postal worker, opened the championship game with four strikes in a row before leaving a solid 7-pin in the fifth. He struck in two of the next three frames, leaving another 7-pin in the seventh frame. He appeared to be well on his way to the title, until Kepner found the line and ripped a triple in frames three through five. Kepner added two more strikes in the seventh and eighth frames and then caught a huge break in the ninth when he broke up a split, leaving just an easy 4-pin.
“That was definitely a big break to cave in that split,” Kepner said. “Off my hand, I didn’t think it was that bad of a shot. Maybe I was trying to be too exact. But when Rich didn’t strike out in the 10th frame, I knew I could win the match with a double of my own. I used 40-plus years of experience to regroup and try not to get too far ahead of myself. I knew I needed two strikes, but if I didn’t get the first strike, the second one didn’t matter.”
Kepner’s second shot in the last frame was clocked at nearly 20 miles per hour.
“I didn’t want to get too fast, but I didn’t want to throw it through the break. When I get over 19 miles per hour, I usually lose my carry,” he said. “I didn’t realize I threw it that hard.
“But I kept my head in the 10th frame. I knew what I needed. It comes with experience.”
Kepner, the 16th qualifying seed, advanced to the championship game with a 215-189 win over Gene Speenburgh of Catskill. In the other semifinal, Strath coasted past Mike Drexel of Delanson, 268-205, after starting that game with the first six strikes.
Kepner said the win was the biggest of his bowling career. The Lansingburgh High School and College of Saint Rose graduate is a Troy Bowling Association Hall of Famer and previously won three other Huck Finn events, including a pair of single tournaments and a mixed doubles title with his daughter, Jennifer Kryzak.
“This means a lot to me, because Father Time is not stopping,” said Kepner. “My window to bowl against the younger guys is closing.
“It also means a lot to me to win the Scaccia Memorial, because I started bowling at Alpha Lanes, which is another Scaccia house. I bowled with Jack, and I coached his boys when they were kids.”
Kepner, who has a distinctive figure-eight move in his release, is the author of 15 perfect games and four 800 triples, with a high of 825.
Strath has 30 perfect games and 17 800 triples, with a high of 844. He won back-to-back Huck Finn tournaments this season, and also captured the Digger’s Doubles Over-50/Under 50 New Era Senior Tour event with Steve Wagoner at Uncle Sam Lanes.
In the semifinals, Kepner took advantage of Speenburgh’s inability to carry the corner pins, which was the same problem that Drexel had against the smooth-rolling Strath.
The Scaccia Memorial finals were supposed to be bowled live next Sunday, but personnel moves involving the Fox23-WTEN merger changed the Northeast Bowling Proprietors of New York’s plans. The hour-and-a-half show, featuring special segments on the Scaccia family and the late Joey Schmidt, was taped Sunday night, and will be shown this Sunday at 11 a.m.