SYRACUSE -- Amid the bustle of the sectional all-star championship, the loudening cheers and the growing gaggle of gawkers behind him, Nick Caruana turned to his mother, raised his eyebrows, and mimed trembling hands.
"I was nervous, I don't usually get nervous," Lauren Caruana said, remembering the gesture. "I was nervous because he was nervous . . . I really thought he was going to do it."
Let's kill the suspense now: Caruana, a freshman from Sachem East, didn't roll a 300 while competing for the winning Suffolk team at Strike 'N Spare Lanes Sunday. He did, however, come very, very close -- taking a perfect Game 1 into the 11th frame before dropping nine pins and collecting a spare for a 289 finish.
"I was working my way through and I really got into a groove around the sixth frame," said Caruana, who took only two practice shots because of issues with the thumb hole in his original ball. "I've had so many [300 games] before, so it's like, it's just another game. It's just another game."
The game? Nerve-wracking. The tournament? Not so much. The Suffolk all-stars jumped from third to first with a Game 2 pin total of 1,232 and never looked back, defeating Western New York's Section IV, 6,804-6,626, over six games. Caruana led the way, with a tournament-high 1,450 series (a 241.67 average), and Comsewogue's Nicholas Eckert bowled a 1,377, good for second place. Rounding out the team were Longwood's Mike Karolewski, Mike Ruben of Newfield, Lindenhurst's Josh Sposito and Deer Park's Adam Zimmerman.
"It's almost unreal," said Sposito, the team's lone senior. "We felt we were prepared, mentally and physically . . . we buckled down and we knew what we had to do."
Though disappointed with the result, both Syosset's Ryan Graham and Hicksville's Sean Kingsepp said the mix of youth and experience meant the team would have plenty of upside next year. No, the real annoyance, they said, was the cumbersome drive home -- long, awkward, and shared with a giddy Suffolk team.
"It is not going to be a fun bus," Kingsepp said. "But next year, is going to be in Babylon, so now it's going to be, let's go there and beat them in their own house."
Though dethroning the champs is definitely possible, it won't be easy -- not with Caruana coming back for more. His 232 regular-season average was tops in the county and it turns out this winning thing suits him.
"It's very important to me," he said. "Actually, I'm still trying to understand that we just won."
When he figures it out, he'll finally have his chance to exhale.