SPRING HILL - Connor Pickford had already gotten the better of Walter Ray Williams Jr. earlier Sunday at Spring Hill Lanes.
So when the 21-year-old from Charlotte, N.C. faced the Professional Bowlers Association's all-time wins and money leader in the final of the PBA Thunder Bay Builders Spring Hill South Open, he was mentally prepared.
"I bowled him three times today, and I beat him two out of three," Pickford said. "In position round I acted like it was the title match. I said, 'You've got to take this seriously.'
"He gave me a chance, I finished first. I threw them all in the 10th and shut him out, and that was position round. I said, 'Well, act like that was the title match, because you know you can beat him now.' I bowled him before and I lost to him."
Pickford did indeed defeat Williams for the championship and $2,500 first-place purse. The region's 2011-12 Rookie of the Year, he came in with one career PBA victory from last year, and was competing at this 25th annual event for the third time.
He bowled from ahead for most of the two days on the Viper oil pattern, shooting 1,951 over eight games in Saturday's qualifying round to hold a 57-pin lead.
During Sunday's match play, he went 7-5 and still held a commanding advantage, 151 pins over Williams to earn the top seed for the four-man stepladder finals.
"I just continued to make my ball changes. I watched the pairs (of lanes) ahead of me," Pickford said. "Everything seemed to click this week. I had probably five or six opens for the 23 games I bowled.
"The best thing that kept me in it was just staying down, making my shots, making every shot count."
???At the start of the stepladder finals, fourth-seeded Wesley Newman of Panama City had the hot hand, defeating third seed Randy Weiss from Columbia, S.C., 279-216.
Newman started that game off with a double before leaving a 7 pin and converting the spare in the third. He then finished off with nine consecutive strikes.
Taking on Williams in the semifinal, Newman initially kept his roll going with four straight strikes to start.
Williams, the last of 16 bowlers to survive the qualifying round before catching fire on Sunday, seemed to be in trouble after leaving a 7-10 split in the second frame.
Yet the PBA Hall of Famer tallied seven strikes in a row from the fifth through the second ball of the 10th.
Meanwhile, Newman cooled off and missed a critical 10 pin on a spare attempt in the eighth to open the door for Williams, who ended up winning comfortably, 246-215.
That set up the final against Pickford, who had been busy staying ready for the matchup.
"I went down to the last pair that they opened up for us and I threw a couple different balls just to see what they would do, because that pair was fresh, as well," Pickford said.
"I tried a couple different things. I know what worked good all weekend. I said, 'Well, you've got a Plan B.'"
However, in taking his eight practice shots before the final, Pickford realized he had to stick with what had gotten him there.
"I said, 'All right, now I've got two (practice) shots left. Let's go back to Plan A and see if you've got hold left and hook right,' and I did," Pickford said. "I said 'All right, I'm lined up. Let's just make the shots.'"
Pickford started with a strike, then left a 10 pin and made the spare in the second frame. It was the last spare he would attempt.
Williams hung around and threw five strikes in a row from the sixth through the first shot of the 10th, but he could never catch Pickford, who ended up winning 280-236.
It was the second time the Ocala-based Williams, the 2002 champion, was the tournament's runner-up in as many years. He fell to Spring Hill's Jason Mahr in the 2012 final.
"I left a couple of 10 pins. I threw some good shots, but sometimes that happens, you throw good shots and get nine," Williams said. "Connor bowled a great game. Had lots of strikes, which was unfortunately more than I could do. I figured he'd be tough. He'd been bowling great all day and yesterday.
"I'm happy to get to second place. Started in 16th this morning, just barely made the cut. So fortunately I bowled just well enough to bowl today and I bowled really well today getting into the top four. I thought I was done in my first semifinal match, then Newman kind of struggled a little bit and I was able to throw enough strikes to beat him."
???No Hernando County bowlers made it beyond the first day, and Spring Hill's Chris Polizzi was the only one to cash, receiving $425 for his 19th-place 1,765 total.
Mahr, trying to defend his crown and win for a third time, finished 51st (1,624).
Anthony, an 18-year-old from Spring Hill, was 32nd (1,707), followed by fellow Spring Hill residents Kenneth Foote (46th; 1,642), Tom Bosquez Jr. (56th; 1,589) and Eric Martins (tied for 61st; 1,568).
Spring Hill Lanes drew 175 entries into Friday's pro-am. Brian Schug won $150 for first in the Regular Division with a 1,512.
Rick Schmeda had a 1,581 to capture the Senior Division (age 55 and over), and collect $70.
Junior Division champions were Jared Lovse (130 average and lower) with 1,555 and Jake Bence (131 average and above) with 1,578.
25th annual PBA Thunder Bay Builders Spring Hill South Open
Through qualifying round (8 games, top 16 advanced)
Pl. Name, Hometown Pins Avg.
1. Connor Pickford, Charlotte, N.C. 1,951 243.88
19. Chris Polizzi, Spring Hill 1,765 220.63
32. Anthony Caso, Spring Hill 1,707 213.38
46. Kenneth Foote, Spring Hill 1,642 205.25
51. Jason Mahr, Spring Hill 1,624 203.00
56. Tom Bosquez Jr., Spring Hill 1,589 198.63
T61. Eric Martins, Spring Hill 1,568 196.00
Through match play (12 games, qualifying scores carried over, top four advanced)
Pl. Name, Hometown Pins W-L
1. Connor Pickford, Charlotte, N.C. 4,806 7-5
2. Walter Ray Williams Jr., Ocala 4,655 8-4
3. Randy Weiss, Columbia, S.C. 4,637 7-5
4. Wesley Newman, Panama City 4,578 8-4
No. 4 Newman def. No. 3 Weiss, 279-216
No. 2 Williams Jr. def. Newman, 246-215
No. 1 Pickford def. Williams Jr., 280-236
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 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.