By Jim Hunter
CAMBRIDGE SPRINGS —
A few seconds after winning the Men’s Classic, Rodrick Baird couldn’t resist ...
“Sixteen (bleep) years,” he yelled after striking on his first ball in the 10th frame to seal his 257-233 championship win over Professional Bowlers Association bowler Mike Machuga of Erie at Lost Lanes.
Baird pocketed $1,100.
It marked the second consecutive weekend that Baird grabbed top honors in a highly competitive tournament. On Jan. 24-26, the red-hot Baird won the Chuck Knott Memorial Tournament in Mercer County.
“Yeah, it’s been an exciting two weeks,” said the soft-spoken Baird.
Baird’s voice wasn’t soft in his “16 years” outburst. Sixteen years? Baird last won the Men’s Classic in 1998 at Lost Lanes, one year after winning the event at Plaza Lanes.
A la his performance in the Mercer County tournament, Baird made a late push. Heading into the final match-play game, Baird was in third place.
The “Rocket” then got downright nasty.
Smashing the 1-3 pocket, Baird ripped off 10 consecutive strikes before getting an eight-count on his 11th ball for a 288 game — pushing him to the stepladder finals’ top seed.
While watching the stepladder matches, Baird noticed a tendency among the bowlers — they were going deeper and deeper. In fact, Machuga — who defeated defending champion Lee Eighmy, 223-204 — was standing in front of the ball return and lofting the ball out on the lanes.
Baird wasn’t fazed. He stayed with his powerful down-and-in shot.
He sent an early message to Machuga by opening the title match with five straight strikes. Machuga — the winner of two PBA titles — was just as accurate with four strikes and a nine-spare.
In the sixth frame, Baird crushed the pocket again, but left a stubborn 10-pin. Getting two light hits for strikes, Machuga reeled off five straight strikes to overtake Baird, 188-177 in the seventh frame.
After converting spares in the sixth and seventh frames, Baird closed the gap by striking in the eighth and ninth frames.
Machuga’s string of strikes ended in the ninth frame with a nine-count and the Erie bowling legend opened the door for Baird by throwing a 2-8-10 split in the 10th frame.
Prior to throwing his championship- clinching strike in the 10th frame, Baird took a deep breath and paused for several seconds.
It was obvious Baird was determined to seal the deal. Fitting Baird fashion: a pin-crushing hit and a scream.
During the post-tournament chat, Baird got a little choked up.
“It’s great to have dad here,” he said, referring to his father and WCCBA Hall of Famer Rod Baird. “He gives me tips to help me.”
In his words, it was evident how much his 86-year-old father means to him.
Baird’s three-game, match-play block series were 709 and 773 ... Jeff Keener, who finished fourth, shot a 300 game and an 822 series in the opening three-game block ... Other top local finishers: 9. Dan Francis, 13. Alan Felmlee, 19. Rob Benge, 21. Chris Moffett, 23. Jason Easler ... A total of 110 bowlers participated in the event ... By the way, did you notice my pre-tournament prediction in Thursday’s column? Baird. I nearly predicted the finals correctly as I picked Baird to defeat Eighmy, who finished third.