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USA, Aruba win Singles at 2018 PABCON Champion of Champions

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Hours after arriving in Brazil for his Team USA debut, Matt Russo of Millstone Township, New Jersey, found out his grandfather, Tom Russo Sr., had lost his short battle with cancer.

The possibility was in the back of Russo’s mind during the journey of more than 4,000 miles, but he wasn’t exactly sure how to react to the news if it came while he was away from the United States. Ultimately, it added to his motivation when he hit the lanes for singles Tuesday at the 2018 Pan American Bowling Confederation Champion of Champions event.

“I knew there was a chance I might not be able to see him again, and when I found out, I didn’t know what to say or whether or not to cry,” Russo (featured photo) said.

“I tried to go home before I came here, but I wasn’t able to. During the last FaceTime call we had, I told him I was going to win him a gold medal. I was hoping to get the chance for one last phone call to tell him how we did, which makes today really bittersweet.”

The two-time Team USA member, who attends Webber International University in Babson Park, Florida, went on to claim the first gold medal of his career, securing the win Tuesday with an 11-strike 279 effort in his final game at the 26-lane Bowling Social Club in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Russo, 21, entered the finale with a 12-pin lead over Costa Rica’s Marco Moretti and opened with eight consecutive strikes to pull away for good.

He finished the eight-game block with a 1,837 total, a 229.63 average, while his Team USA teammate, Matt Farber of Plainview, New York, closed with 268 and surged into second place with a 1,740 total. Moretti held on for the bronze medal with 1,726. L-R Farber, Russo and Moretti.

“I’m shocked and excited, but, most importantly, there’s one person I wanted to win a gold medal for, and that’s my grandfather,” said Russo, the 2017 U.S. Amateur champion.

“It meant a lot to both of us just to have the opportunity to come here to do this. I thought winning the U.S. Amateur title was big, but winning a gold medal for Team USA is such an incredible feeling. I’m kind of speechless right now.”

Russo, a two-handed bowler who attacks the lane from the left side, and Farber, a right-hander also making his Team USA debut this week, both started the day with games in the 240s and pushed each other to find that momentum again at the end of the block.

The duo started the final game with 15 consecutive strikes, before Farber’s string ended with a 5 pin in the eighth frame, and Russo’s run ended with a 7 pin in the ninth frame.

“I definitely was thinking about the 300 and how cool it would be to bowl one at this event,” Russo said.

“I actually thought about it twice today, and though it didn’t work out, it was an incredible day overall. I don’t know if it’s possible to beat the feeling of winning gold and silver in the first event, but we still have two days of competition to go, and we have every intention of staying focused and continuing to do what we did today.”

The women’s singles gold medal went to Aruba’s Thashaina Seraus, who has been dealing with nerve pain in her sliding leg and wasn’t even sure she was ready to compete this week in Brazil. The injury sidelined her for last month’s PABCON Women’s Championships in the Dominican Republic.

Navigating the challenging 44-foot World Bowling London oil pattern and focusing on the tendencies of each lane at Bowling Social Club helped keep her mind occupied and off the lingering pain.

The right-hander averaged nearly 226 for her eight games, which included a high game of 266 (twice) and a low game of 178.

She attributed the peaks and valleys to a challenging transition and the characteristics of the center, and she’s hoping the information she collected Tuesday will help her see the changes and differences sooner the rest of the week.

Seraus topped the standings with a 1,807 total and was followed by Valerie Bercier of Canada (1,724) and Kelly Kulick of the United States (1,641). L-R Bercier, Seraus and Kulick.

“Coming here, again, I didn’t feel ready because of the injury, but I’m really happy with such a great start and a medal in singles,” said Seraus, who competed collegiately for the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. “We learned a lot today, too, and we’ll definitely go back to the notes tomorrow, so we can make sure we have a solid plan.”

Team USA’s Danielle McEwan of Stony Point, New York, struggled in singles and finished 15th overall with a 1,429 total.

All competitors will return to the lanes at Bowling Social Club on Wednesday for eight games of doubles. The men will start the day, getting underway at 8 a.m. Eastern, and the women will take their time in the spotlight at 1:30 p.m. Eastern, following the singles medal ceremony.

The fifth edition of the tournament, first contested in 2008, includes 11 women’s teams and 13 men’s teams, each with two players. 15 PABCON members countries are represented in the event.

All competitors this week will bowl eight games of singles and eight games of doubles, and their 16-game pinfall totals will determine the eight women and eight men who advance to Thursday’s Masters match play. Gold, silver and bronze medals will be awarded in each event.

For more information on Team USA, click here. For more information, or to follow the scores from the 2018 PABCON Champion of Champions, click here. Photos by Matt Cannizzaro, USBC.

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Herbert Bickel

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