SPRING HILL – For a lefty bowler like Anthony Caso, leaving the 7-pin standing can be the greatest cause of frustration.
But when Caso left that pin on the first ball of his final frame on Sunday, the result was perhaps his happiest moment ever on the lanes.
At Spring Hill Lanes, the house where he bowled as a youth, and a day after his 23rd birthday, Caso cherished the first victory of his pro career, winning the Professional Bowlers Association South Region’s 29th annual Crystal Automotive Spring Hill Open.
“I was just happy that it got off my hand and was on the lane, honestly,” Caso said. “Once it got nine, I had to hold back from crying, honestly. Leading up to that shot, I didn’t feel like I was going to get that amped up. It’s just an awesome feeling.
“This means a lot. I haven’t been grinding nearly as much as everyone. I mean I’ve been out there, but to win it here the day after my birthday, hometown crowd. Really, I can’t write it any better than this. This is a memory that I’m going to have burned in my head forever. This is fantastic; this feeling’s fantastic.”
Though Caso moved away last year to manage a BowlersMart pro shop in Merritt Island, Spring Hill was still listed as his home. He’s the second homegrown bowler to win this tournament, following Spring Hill’s Jason Mahr, who captured the title in 2007 and 2012.
He averaged 230.35 over 20 games spanning two days, and took home a $2,500 prize. Caso was sitting third through Saturday’s qualifying round, shooting 1,797 across eight games.
On Sunday, Caso moved to the top spot through the top 16 qualifying round, increasing his pinfall to 3,419 over 15 games. However, he struggled in the top eight qualifying round, posting a 397 combined in two games to fall to third.
That was still plenty good enough to advance to the four-man stepladder finals, where he started off facing fourth-seeded Jason Sterner from Rockledge. Sterner, the 2015 tourney champ and owner of one title on the national tour, left a 10-pin and converted the spare in the second frame but otherwise threw strikes until a 4-7-10 split in the seventh.
Yet Caso was locked in from the start, striking over the first nine frames until a 7-pin to start the 10th. He finished with a 279, easily defeating Sterner at 221.
Next up, Caso went head-to-head with second seed Chris Arcaro of Carolina Beach, N.C. Arcaro got out in front early, but had a critical missed spare after leaving a 10-pin in the sixth. Meanwhile Caso finished the game hitting seven strikes in a row to pull away, winning 268-203.
That brought on top-seeded Tom Daugherty, the defending champ who was attempting to become a four-time winner in this event. The current Riverview resident was also the most accomplished bowler in the field, with two national titles to his credit.
Daugherty, though, threw just a double until notching four strikes in a row from the seventh through 10th frames. It was far too late to catch Caso, who had four straight strikes in the middle of the game and needed a few pins on his first ball of the 10th to close out Daugherty. He ended up taking the final, 245-225.
“Just talking to (Chris) Polizzi, we talked strategy. On the fresh lanes, my look wasn’t very good,” Caso said. “We brainstormed. I took a ball I wasn’t going to throw, I put 360 grit (sandpaper) on it, and for the first six minutes I stood left of where I was going to start, and I just threw that ball. I just threw it, threw it and threw it. And I tried to create something, because I knew my tendency was to throw a little hard and I knew that mistake wasn’t going to strike.
“Once I burned it up and I got lined up with the ball, I hit my other ball that I’ve been using, a No Rules Solid, I used that ball all week. I hit that with fresh surface, and it gave me a little bit of left, and it gave me shape and it gave me miss. And once I saw miss, I was able to relax a little bit and I got a couple breaks in there. In every game, I got a couple breaks.
“I think knowing I could miss made my good shots really good, and when they were OK, they were still good enough.”
Caso admitted to barely being able to steady his hand and stay on his feet following his victory, one he had been working toward for the past few years since going pro. Now his goal, he said, is to become competitive on all oil patterns and turn into a regular finalist such as Daugherty.
In the meantime, he could finally sit down and enjoy a birthday weekend unlike any other.
“Twenty-three is going down in the book as one of the best ones ever, so far,” Caso said. “My nana passed away when I was 16 years old. She was the one who got me into bowling. She got to see me bowl my first 300 and 800, and she was finally going to be around my 16th birthday and she passed away a month before that.
“For me, for her, my whole family, to be able to win this, it’s just a big thing for me. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be bowling. So I kind of owe it to her. This first one is definitely on her.”
Polizzi, a Spring Hill native, was also among the top 23 who cashed, finishing 14th with a 3,186 in 15 games.
In the pro-am held on Friday, Mike Wagoner won the regular division and $300 with a 1,493 total. Bud Sanders took the senior division and $280 with a 1,568. The Junior A (130 average and below) division winner was Tyler O’Mara (1,545), who earned a $60 college scholarship, and the Junior B (131 and above) was won by Vernon Crouch (1,647), garnering an $80 scholarship.
Follow Chris Bernhardt Jr. on Twitter @cpbernhardtjr.
Spring Hill Open Champions
- Compiled by CHRIS BERNHARDT JR.
Year Winner Hometown
1989 D.B. Van Horn Atlanta, Ga.
1990 Jeff Bellinger Columbia, S.C.
1991 Mark Salka Tampa, Fl.
1992 Joe Viscomi New London, N.C.
1993 Bob Handley Tampa, Fl.
1994 Jason Couch Clermont, Fl.
1995 Darin Hays Tampa, Fl.
1996 Darin Hays Tampa, Fl.
1997 Jason Couch Clermont, Fl.
1998 Steve Hoskins Tampa, Fl.
1999 Darin Hays Tampa, Fl.
2000 Darin Hays Tampa, Fl.
2001 Don DuPree Fort Walton Beach, Fl.
2002 Walter Ray Williams Jr. Ocala, Fl.
2003 Roger Bowker Ocala, Fl.
2004 Ritchie “Dick” Allen Columbia, S.C.
2005 Gary Morgan Atlanta, Ga.
2006 Tom Daugherty Wesley Chapel, Fl.
2007 Jason Mahr Spring Hill, Fl.
2008 Tom Daugherty Wesley Chapel, Fl.
2009 Vernon Peterson Winter Haven, Fl.
2010 Richard Langton Tallahassee, Fl.
2011 Mike Williams II Montgomery, Ala.
2012 Jason Mahr Spring Hill, Fl.
2013 Connor Pickford Charlotte, N.C.
2014 Sean Riccardi St. Petersburg, Fl.
2015 Jason Sterner Covington, Ga.
2016 Tom Daugherty Riverview, Fl.
2017 Anthony Caso Spring Hill, Fl.