Brandon Guerin knew it as soon as the ball left his left hand. The pins came crashing down and the Bay Shore senior had his 12th straight strike and a 300 game, joining a club that’s a little less exclusive than you’d think.
There were 15 reported perfect games in Long Island high school boys bowling through Thursday, according to the Suffolk coaches’ website, Nassau bowling coordinator Bryan Landini and CHSAA state chairman Bob Hamilton.
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Suffolk boys have 10 perfect games, the highest total dating to the 2003-04 regular season, as far back as the Suffolk website archives. They had eight last regular season and the feat was achieved six times each in 2007-08 and 2005-06.
Suffolk girls peaked at two perfect games (2009-10) during the same span.
Perfect games are a little harder to come by in Nassau County and the CHSAA but are on the rise. Nassau has had two this season for boys and none for girls, and Catholic schools have had three for boys and none for girls, according to Landini and Hamilton. Hamilton said there was only one CHSAA boys 300 last season and Landini said there have been about 14 perfect games for Nassau boys and only one for girls in the last 10 years.
Four perfect games were bowled in Suffolk on Dec. 8, and three of them were at Babylon Lanes. Guerin, Islip’s Adam August Rotbart and North Babylon’s Anthony Cioffi and Dominick Casale all left no pins standing that day.
You’d think perfection wouldn’t be that common.
“There’s been 300s thrown for school [before], but this is like insane,” said Guerin, who has bowled two perfect games this season. “Every time I turn around, somebody’s bowling a 300.”
Added Sachem’s Anthony Naujokas, who threw a perfect game on Dec. 17: “I don’t think it’s ever been like this before. I think everyone’s getting better and knows Suffolk’s a really competitive county.”
Although no Long Island high school girl has thrown a perfect game this season, the scoring has been high. Comsewogue senior Renee Clark had the only perfect game by a girl last year and is averaging 210.63 with a high game of 279 this season.
“It’s exhilarating, to be honest,” Clark said of the 300. “I was shaking so much when I went up for the 10th frame. You feel everyone’s eyes on you and the pressure is crazy. I’ve had nine [strikes] in a row once or twice this season . . . 300s used to be so rare 10 or 15 years ago, but with all the new equipment, people are bowling 300s left and right.”
Is that the only reason pins are flying now?
North Babylon coach Sonny Casale, Dominick’s father, believes the answer can be found in the invisible Christmas tree-shaped oil patterns that coat the lanes and walk the ball to the pocket.
He said professional bowlers compete on a mostly flat pattern called a “sport shot” that makes it difficult for the ball to navigate and high school bowlers roll on a more forgiving staggered “house shot” that varies by each bowling alley. The machines that apply oil can lay down both shots, but house shots are common because they are better suited to the average customer.
That status quo hasn’t changed during matches, but it’s a different story in the summer, when some of the top high school bowlers on Long Island compete in sport shot leagues in which conditions are much more difficult. Their scores improve dramatically when they shift to the easier house pattern.
Casale said he began offering a sport shot league two years ago at Babylon Lanes and debuted a second one last summer at Strike 10 Lanes in Deer Park, which has had two perfect games this season.
“When they bowl on a sport shot, the area they have to miss is so decreased so they learn to bowl better,” Casale said. “When they get on a house shot, they do that much better. I’m not saying that’s the only reason, but the balls aren’t any better this year than last year and the lanes haven’t changed. What changed? These kids.”
Skill is the most important factor in bowling a perfect game, but oil patterns make a world of difference when it comes to scoring, said Mary von Krueger, a Professional Bowling Association statistician. She said the disparity is like an amateur shooting par at the local golf course and a professional shooting par at Pebble Beach.
“When we had a PTQ [Pro Tour Qualifier], which means there were amateurs and non-touring professionals trying to get into the main body tournament, the averages for the amateurs was 227.6 on a house condition, and when they bowled on the professional shot, their average was 179.8,” von Krueger said.
Other variables — ones that wouldn’t be on the mind of a recreational bowler, such as how often the pins are replaced or how busy a lane is on any given day — can affect the odds of bowling a perfect game. And those odds aren’t equal because conditions are different at each bowling alley, something that’s not unique to Suffolk County.
“There are some houses that are high-scoring houses,” said Farmingdale Lanes general manager Craig Liguori, also a league bowler in Farmingdale. “There are some places that are a little more challenging than others.”
Liguori said Farmingdale Lanes, which is owned by a group that also has locations in Coram and Rockville Centre, is a high-scoring house compared with others in Nassau. He said Farmingdale oils the lanes before high school bowlers practice and puts down the same familiar house shot rather than alternating patterns. Each pattern has sweet spots that improve the chances of bowling a strike.
“Every bowler wants to see their name with high scores,” Liguori said. “They want to go to work the next day and say they bowled a 230. Us, as managers, we want to put out a shot that’s competitive to everybody, but not too easy that the scores are ridiculous.”
Sharon Zanoni, general manager of Babylon Lanes, said each United States Bowling Congress-certified house is comparable but noted that hers also is a high-scoring house.
Babylon Lanes and East Islip Lanes have the highest concentration of Suffolk boys perfect games with three each. Strike 10 Lanes is next with two.
Zanoni said Babylon also oils the lanes before high school practices to keep lane conditions consistent, and the night leagues featuring older bowlers get the same treatment. She said frequent 300s aren’t limited to high school athletes.
There have been 23 perfect games in league competition at Babylon Lanes through Jan. 8. “There were three last Monday,” Zanoni said. “The season started in September; I don’t remember a week where we didn’t have one.”
But perfection still is special no matter how often it comes around. Just ask Deer Park senior Adam Zimmerman, who said he has bowled 49 perfect games in his life, most recently at Strike 10 Lanes on Dec. 9.
“I don’t blow it off,” Zimmerman said. “I still find it exciting. Compared to years ago, a 300 is a lot more common, but don’t get me wrong: It’s very hard to do and it’s still a great accomplishment to have.”