DeKalb junior Michael Belluzzi normally has a calm disposition while bowling, but coach Ernie Pinne could tell something was different when the Barbs faced LaSalle-Peru on the road last Wednesday.
As he threw strike after strike in the opening game, a smile began to break out on his face, and he began high-fiving teammates. For a high schooler working on his first 300 game, the junior looked loose.
But as much as Belluzzi tried to keep things casual, he couldn't shake that nervous feeling that accompanies brushes with perfection.
“He told me afterward that he was shaking like a leaf,” Pinne said.
This was Belluzzi's third time taking a perfect game into the 10th frame, and after throwing 10 straight strikes those two previous times, nerves got the better of him.
Not this time. It may have taken a little luck – he said his 11th shot was a 'really bad shot' that he threw too far to the outside before one pin knocked down four others – but he finally notched his perfect game.
Immediately, he called his dad, Jerry, who had bowled a few dozen 300 games of his own.
“When I told him, he didn't really believe me until I sent him proof,” Belluzzi said. “I sent him a picture.”
What happened next was even more unbelievable.
A few hours later, Jerry bowled a 300 game back in DeKalb, which Michael estimated to be his dad's 30th.
“It's really weird, but really cool at the same time,” Belluzzi said.
Boys Bowling Season Preview Capsules
Coach: Ernie Pinne (third season)
Last season: Finished third at the DeKalb Sectional
Key returners: Seth Pinne sr., Will Todtz jr., Sean Mattingly jr., Michael Belluzzi jr., Ranzy Collins soph.
Impact newcomers: Alex Scott fr., Kelan Graddy, sr.
Outlook: The Barbs brought every bowler back from a team that missed out on the state meet by 18 pins, so a trip to state is expected this year. Pinne, Mattingly, and Belluzzi return this season after making last year’s Daily Chronicle All-Area team, and Collins and Todtz have bowled well to start the year. Coach Ernie Pinne listed a regular season Northern Illinois Big 12 title, a conference tournament title, a regional championship and a trip to state as goals this year.
Pinne’s take: “The five boys that are back this year, I challenged every one of them to work really hard to make all-conference this year … Especially after the last couple of meets, they’re getting comfortable with it. We’re trying to create a blend of having fun and not taking it real serious, but at the same time, when you get up to bowl, you focus.”
Coach: Aaron Williams (seventh season)
Last season: Finished fourth at the DeKalb Sectional
Key returners: Alex Burchard sr., Kyle Bonnell sr., Brendan Fank sr.
Impact newcomers: Adam Tipps, fr.; Trevor Smith, fr.; Lucas Wright, fr.
Outlook: After qualifying for state as a team for four consecutive years, the Spartans are on a two-year drought. With Bonnell, the 2013 Daily Chronicle Boys Bowler of the Year, returning after winning the sectional and qualifying for the state meet last season, they’ll hope to make it back. A few key freshmen will have to make a big impact right away for the spartans to accomplish that.
Williams’ take: “I like our mix of bowlers this year on our varsity team, all six are capable of turning in some big games ... Our team has been gelling quite well and they are starting to bowl as a team.”
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DeKalb is hoping that the skill, and maybe even a little bit of the fortune, that led Belluzzi to his 300 game carry over this season.
So far, they have.
Belluzzi bowled a 279 game on Wednesday in a 727 series on Wednesday in Streator, when Will Todtz also cracked the 700 mark, and the Barbs scored just under 3,900, the highest total in their three-year history.
And while Belluzzi has gotten off to a great start after narrowly missing out on making it to state last year, the Barbs have five returners – Belluzzi, Sean Mattingly, Will Todtz, Seth Pinne and Ranzy Collins – who can be their top scorer any given day.
“Almost every one of them has a higher average than last year,” Pinne said.
All of DeKalb's top five return this season after missing the second-place cutoff for the state meet by 18 pins at last season's sectional, and they're all bowling better than ever. After the Barbs struggled with what Pinne called a “case of nerves,” at sectionals last year, the once-young Barbs are now veterans, and expectations are soaring.
“This year, hopefully we've gone through a growing process and a learning process, and they're ready to overcome that this year,” Pinne said. “We plan to win our regionals, to finish first or second at sectionals and go to state this year.”