Heading into the 10th frame with a score of 270, Matthew Gasn knew what he needed to do to reach the perfect score all bowlers long for.
Keeping his focus would be the key. All he had to do was approach these next three shots the way he did his first nine, which all resulted in strikes.
And the 17-year-old did just that, rolling three flawless balls down the lane to complete his quest. But the experience didn't overwhelm Gasn; it was his eighth perfect game.
"The first time I did it, it was pretty exciting. I think I was about 14. But after you do it once, it's kind of like, cool," he said.
Now 18, Gasn has become accustomed to success during his trips to the alley and hopes it continues at the Junior Gold Championships, which began Saturday and run until Friday.
The championships, which are being held in Indianapolis, decide the makeup of the 2011 Junior Team USA. The top four men and women earn spots on the team, and Gasn, whose average score is 222 through six games, feels he has a good shot of making it after working nearly his whole life to compete on the highest level.
He began his bowling career at the age of 4, watching his father, Billy, at an alley in their hometown of Laurel. Seeing his son's natural ability, Billy registered Matthew to play in a league using a 6-pound ball without the aid of bumpers. But Billy really noticed growth in Matthew's skills when the two of them bowled together.
"I would go ahead and throw my first shot and then I would let him make my spares," the elder Gasn said. "As he got older, he became a really good spare shooter at a very young age. So when he started leaving one or two pins, he would make a lot of them, whereas a lot of other kids struggled making spares."
Matthew continued to show improvement in the sport, and when he was around 11 years old, Billy started taking him to play at other alleys. The competition with other talented bowlers pushed Matthew to perform at a higher level.
"Pretty much every kid I bowled against kicked my butt, so that gave me motivation," he said. "I had to figure things out so I could keep up with them. I went out and practiced and spent a lot of time at getting better."
By 15, Matthew was competing in his first Professional Bowlers Association competition, the 2007 Eastern Regional, and found himself in fourth place after the qualifying rounds. The success didn't last long, and Matthew finished in 13th place, falling to his semifinals opponent, who was, as Billy remembers it, about 57 years old.
Matthew and Billy continued to travel on weekends, competing in whatever tournaments they could find. But because Matthew was still a student, he couldn't claim any of his winnings to spend on personal items. He was, however, able to turn his earnings into scholarship money; Billy estimates that Matthew has earned around $30,000 over his career.
The money helped send Matthew to Saginaw Valley State in Michigan, where he spent his first year of college. But after his freshman year, he felt out of place and decided to transfer to Webber International University in central Florida, where, under NCAA transfer rules, he will have to sit out a season. His new coach, Joe Slowinski, sees a lot of potential in his game.
"I think that [Matthew] is a very competitive athlete. He has a strong will to win and a strong will to improve his game," Slowinski said. "From my interactions with him, he's extremely coachable. I know one of his goals is to become a professional, and we're going to try to help him get there."
Matthew took one step further in his journey to competing as a professional in May, when he won the Eastern Regional he lost when he was 15. The father may have enjoyed the feat more than the son.
"Watching him win that PBA regional a couple weeks ago was unbelievable," Billy said. "I cried when he threw the strike that ended up winning the match. To have the opportunity to watch your kid achieve and succeed in anything is tremendous."
The success on the PBA Tour was a tremendous feeling for Matthew, but he doesn't want to dwell on the win. He is concentrating on the competition in front of him, which could lead to the biggest opportunity of his life so far.
"Wearing your country on the back of your shirt, there's always going to be pressure."