The scene inside a bowling alley changes drastically when someone’s nearing a perfect game. The constant racket typically associated with the sport comes to a halt.
A crowd forms.
That’s when things can get pretty tense for the guy holding the ball.
Last week at Bowl Long Island at Patchogue, that guy was Jake Scala, a sophomore on the Patchogue-Medford boys varsity bowling team who just turned 15 last month.
Jake was just two strikes away from a 300 on lane 28 at about 5:30 p.m.
It was “a mob scene” behind him, his coach explained, as the teenager went for his 11th strike in a row, which would put him one away from a perfect 12.
But he missed his mark.
“I swung out,’ Jake explained. “I thought, yeah, this could be over. That felt the closet I was to just flipping out and passing out right then and there.”
But, as Coach Bob Scanone said, the pins “mixed it up” just enough for Jake to land that strike.
“It’s bowling,” Scanone said. “You don’t have to always hit it perfect to get a strike.”
Today and for the rest of his life, instead of getting to tell people that 9 or 10 was the most strikes he’s ever bowled in a row, Jake can show them the engraved 300 ring he’s getting fitting for.
Because his 12th and final strike was right on the money.
“Just like they draw it up,” his coach said.
With his 300 last Wednesday against East Islip, Jake became just the third high school bowler in Scanone’s 26 years of coaching varsity at Patchogue-Medford to accomplish the feat.
“This is only my third in 26 years,” he said. “The other two were seniors. And I had a senior bowl a perfect game in practice.”
Considering the way youth players have improved over the decades, the coach said its a safe bet Scanone is the youngest bowler to ever earn a 300 for Pat-Med.
“It’s getting more common though,” he added. “I would say in any given year now, four to eight kids [in the county] might hit 300. Twenty years ago you never saw it.”
Scanone chalks that up to better equipment, and the extra time the kids dedicate to the sport.
“They’re putting a lot more time in then they did back then,” he said.
Jake, for one, has a personal bowling coach he works with when he’s not practicing or competing with the school team, which also happens to be second in its league right now behind Sachem.
Despite the 300, Jake is actually the team’s third best bowler by average, behind senior bowler Steven Welsh and fellow sophomore James Fernandez.
“They seem pretty solid,” Scanone said of the team. “We’re doing pretty good, but really not doing as good as we can. We’re really not hitting on all cylinders.”
But last week, Jake certainly was. And the team beat East Islip 23-10.
Scanone said there’s not much coaching to be done when a young man is approaching a perfect game.
“Other than, ‘Alright kid, let’s go,’ that kind of thing,” there’s nothing to say, he said. “I don’t get into his head. The game is mental at this stage in their lives more than it is physical. They’re very good at it already. But mentally, they break down.”
For Jake, he likely passed one of the tougher tests he’ll ever experience with the sport.
“It’s the highest score you can ever get,” Jake said. “It’s something some PBA bowlers haven’t even got.
“It’s truly amazing.”
Photo: Jake Scala at Bowl Long Island at Patchogue Monday. (Credit: Michael White)