The championship match of the 1998 Greater Rochester Open came down to Norm Duke, the top seed, and Steve Hoskins, the #2 seed. Hoskins, a powerful cranker, had thrown a lot of strikes in the semi-final match against Tim Criss, shooting 224, and appeared to be locked-in. Hoskins was the defending champion of the event, and he actually bowled a 300 in the same bowling alley on the TV finals of another bowling event that year. So, during the 1998 Greater Rochester Open, whenever Hoskins started a game with a strike, there was electricity in the air with the possibility Hoskins would attain perfection in consecutive years. The crowd was going nuts whenever Hoskins threw the ball, especially so if he struck.
Dressed all in black, Hoskins started the final match with the first 3 strikes in a row and it seemed as though it was going to be his day, especially when Duke started with spares in the first four frames, two 10 pins and two 4 pins. In the previous match Tim Criss threw only one strike, leaving lots of 10 and 7 pins (including one frame where both the 7 and 10 pins remained standing), and it looked like Duke might succumb to the same fate. Marshall Holman, one of the two commentators for the broadcast, jokingly said that it looks like Norm Duke has Tim Criss Disease! After Duke failed to strike in the fourth frame, at a time when Hoskins was still perfect with three straight strikes, somebody in the audience yelled “This match is over!” but Holman assured the TV viewing audience that it was still early in the match and it was anything but over.
In the middle part of the game, Hoskins cooled off a bit, leaving two 10 pins and a 6-10 leave. Duke struck in the fifth frame, but he couldn’t string any strikes together to cut into the 20-pin lead Hoskins had built with his string of three strikes earlier in the match. Duke left two more 4 pins after his strike in the fifth frame. Hoskins, however, was having some troubles of his own. He had come in high on his shot in the fifth frame on the right lane, and his next time up on that lane in the seventh frame he came in light and left the 2-4-5 pins. Shooting straight at the 2 pin he caught too much of it and chopped the 2-4 off of the 5 pin, leaving him an open frame and causing his lead to dwindle to only six pins. Hoskins stepped up on the left lane and threw a powerful shot that caused the 6 pin to slap out the 10 pin and resulting in a strike. That was a big shot because Duke wasn’t working on a strike, so it gave Hoskins the possibility for the highest score in the match.
Norm responded by throwing his poorest shot of the match. It looked like he cut his follow through short and this caused the ball to miss left and go through the nose. He was fortunate to not leave a split, and he was able to get a spare by converting the 6-10 pins. In the ninth frame Duke got his second strike of the match with a light hit that scattered the pins around on the pin deck. This was now probably the biggest shot of the match for Steve Hoskins, because a strike would give him two in a row, and this was also the lane he had completely lost his reaction on. He proceeded to throw his best shot of the match, flushing all 10 pins into the pit. Now in the 10th frame, Hoskins just needed one strike to shut-out Duke and win the title. Hoskins’ powerful delivery was on-line but he left a flat 10 pin. Hoskins covered the spare and then threw a seemingly effortless pocket strike, one of those “now that it doesn’t really matter I throw a perfect shot” kind of strikes. It was now Norm’s turn to bowl in the 10th frame, and he was throwing on the lane he had not had a strike on all game. In fact, every shot but one on this lane went high. Duke came in high again on his first shot, but this time he did not leave his fifth 4 pin of the game but rather tripped the 4 pin out. Duke gave a quick karate chop before calming himself down. He still needed one more strike and eight pins to beat Hoskins. On his next shot, Duke did not want to tempt fate by coming in high, so he made sure to throw his ball further to the right. However, it seemed to hit a bit of the hang zone Hoskins found when he left the 2-4-5, except Norm fortuitously got the 2-4-5 pins to gently topple over. Norm was going bananas, absolutely thrilled by his good fortune. He now just needed eight pins, and he decided to throw his ball straight at the head pin, which I think was a suspect move. The ball went higher than I think Norm was wanting it to, but he got lucky again when only the 6 pin was left standing. Duke went to one knee as if he knew he got away with all three shots in the 10th frame, but a win was a win and both bowlers shook hands and congratulated each other on a great week of bowling! The title was Duke’s 15th of his career (he now has 38).
I was seven years old when I first saw this match, and at the time it seemed absolutely incredible that Norm Duke beat Steve Hoskins because of all of the spares Norm got. Now that I am 20 years older it doesn’t seem as remarkable as it used to. Nevertheless, I still consider this one of the greatest matches I have ever seen and it shows the importance of keeping the ball in play and leaving spares that are easy to pick-up. Strikes were not easy to come by on those lanes, and it made for great drama when Norm needed to throw two strikes to win. It’s one thing to need to throw a strike when you’ve already thrown six or more in the game, but it’s another to need to throw a strike when you have thrown two up to that point. For those interested in watching the match, follow the link below: