By Fred Eisenhammer
“The tournament that never ends” finally did Sunday afternoon. That’s Winnetka Bowl’s “Win a Honda” tournament, which concluded with a flourish with an exciting stepladder finals.
Mark Alvarino, a 32-yearold from North Hills, won both his games to claim the tournament title and a 2015 Honda Civic. He scored a 246-212 victory over 25-year-old Kelly Manuel of Azusa in the championship match. Alvarino, sporting a 191-average, rolled a 204 scratch game and Manuel, averaging 171, rolled a 150 scratch. Handicap pins were added to both scratch scores.
“I’m in shock,” said Alvarino minutes after his final match. “I still can’t believe it.”
The “Win a Honda” event started June 1, 2014, and ended almost 14 months later. Ninety-nine bowlers qualified for the June 28 semifinals and five players advanced to Sunday’s stepladder finals.
The stepladder finals included two bowlers in their 20s (top-seeded Manuel and fourth-seeded Tyler Baker of Calabasas), one in his 30s (second-seeded Alvarino), one in his 40s (fifth-seeded Shoji Takeshima of Northridge) and one in his 50s (third-seeded Patrick Manalo of West Hollywood). All five are righthanded. Manuel, as the lone woman, was the sentimental favorite of the 80-plus spectators in attendance.
In the stepladder finals, the fourth- and fifth-seeded players need to win four games to “run the table” and claim the championship – a difficult task. The third-seeded bowler needs to win three games, the second-seeded bowler needs to win twice and the top-seeded bowler needs to win once.
Alvarino advanced to the championship game with a down-to-the-wire 204-192 victory over Baker in the secondto-last game of the day. (It was Alvarino, 162-157, scratch.)
In the title match, neither Alvarino nor Manuel could shake the other person through the first eight frames. Manuel’s open in the ninth frame (after leaving the 3-10 baby split) gave Alvarino the opening he needed and he put together two strikes in the 10th frame to seal the victory. Alvarino and Manuel, incidentally, had bowled against each other in league play and showed great sportsmanship throughout the match.
A month ago, Manuel turned in a virtuoso performance in the tournament semifinals during which she stole the show, outpacing the 84-player field with three 200 games (663 series: 228, 200, 235). That stunning effort was five pins above Manuel’s personal-best series.
Manuel arrived at Winnetka Bowl on Sunday before the finals began and alternated practicing and waiting for several hours before she got her chance to bowl in her one game that counted. That long period of relative inactivity could have prevented her from being as sharp as she wanted. “
I was surprised I got this far,” said Manuel, acknowledging that she was dogged in the championship match by nerves that forced her to “take a breath every five minutes.”
The first two matches were marked by spectacular efforts by Baker, who bowls out of Corbin Bowl in Tarzana. In his first match against Takeshima, Baker collected 10 strikes (and two opens) en route to a 260-189 victory (225-141 scratch).
Baker was even better his next game – against Manalo. Baker, who averages 201, opened with seven strikes en route to a 281-248 victory (246-210 scratch).
Baker, however, never found his rhythm against Alvarino in the day’s third game, finishing with only four strikes and four splits (all resulting in opens). The game ended in shocking fashion.
The two players were tied entering the 10th frame, having both struck in the ninth. Alvarino then got a spare and eight pins. So Baker needed a spare and nine pins to win, but he left the 3-4-6-7-10 split on his first shot. He knocked down three pins on his second shot as Alvarino advanced despite what he called his “terrible first game.”
Many bowling observers thought Baker might have trouble in his third game of the day after slipping and tumbling to the lane during warm-ups before his match with Alvarino. Baker conceded the fall “probably” contributed to a less-than-stellar performance. “I was bowling so well [entering the third game],” said a disappointed Baker.
For the ecstatic Alvarino, it was a storybook ending. He had blasted games of 242, 169 and 267 in the semifinals. “I had never won anything bowling-wise,” he said. On Sunday, he changed all that.
So What Will Alvarino Do After Winning a New Honda?
Mark Alvarino didn’t hesitate when asked what he would do with his new $20,000 Honda Civic. He said he’d keep it. “I’m driving a [Chevrolet] Silverado,” Alvarino said. “It’s been killing me on gas for the last 10 years.”
Alvarino, a North Hills resident, won a 2015 Civic by winning the championship of the “Win a Honda” tournament Sunday afternoon at Winnetka Bowl. Alvarino, seeded second, won both his games in the stepladder finals. He opened with a 204-192 victory over fourth-seeded Tyler Baker. Then he scored a 246-212 win over top-seeded Kelly Manuel in the pressure-packed championship game before a vocal crowd. “I was terrible in the first game,” Alvarino said. “I couldn’t find it.” Alvarino’s two tense victories were in contrast to two blowouts in the day’s first two games. Baker, striking 10 times, ran way with a 260-189 victory over fifth-seeded Shoji Takeshima in the day’s opening match. Takeshima, a 186-average bowler, blasted games of 236, 173 and 247 in the semifinals. But he couldn’t duplicate his hot hand on Sunday. “I couldn’t find my line and it kept going to the Brooklyn side,” Takeshima said. “With my handicap, I thought I’d have a chance, but I had to bowl better. I have to make my spares.” Manalo gave Baker more competition in the day’s second game, but he was overwhelmed, 281-248. Still, Manalo’s 210 scratch was higher than his 197 average. Baker bowled 246 scratch. “That 246. That’s tough to beat. We should have played two games,” joked Manalo, adding that he was “surprised how many people were cheering for me.”
The tournament was coordinated by Mike Willis, Winnetka Bowl’s longtime manager. Among the 80 or so spectators was Rickey Gelb, the bowling center’s owner.