By Matt Cannizzaro and Brian Hirsch
USBC Communications

LAS VEGAS – Craig Nidiffer of New Boston, Michigan, struck 31 times in three games across three pairs lanes at the South Point Bowling Center to catapult into the lead in Open Singles and Open Doubles at the 2017 Bowlers Journal Championships presented by the United States Bowling Congress.

The right-hander, who will celebrate his 32nd birthday this weekend, rolled games of 247, 300 and 299 for an 846 series, while Justin Neiman of Macomb, Michigan, added games of 290, 258 and 207 for a 755 set and 1,601 doubles total.NeimanJustinNidifferCraig2017OCForWeb250x140

Nidiffer’s perfect game was the fifth of the 2017 Bowlers Journal Championships, and a 10 pin on his final offering ended his bid for back-to-back 300s. Both his individual effort, and the leading doubles total, were the highest sets rolled at the Bowlers Journal Championships since the event returned to a three-game format in 2013.

By competing in doubles and singles at the same time, Nidiffer also earned a place atop the Dual Entry standings, a special price list for bowlers who choose to use the same three-game set for both categories at once.

Later Friday, Eric Cornog of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, rolled the sixth perfect game of the event, though he was not entered in the high game jackpot with the previous five bowlers. Cornog teamed with former Professional Bowlers Association Tour standout Mike Machuga of Erie, Pennsylvania, to move into sixth place in Open Doubles with 1,470.

James Johnson III of Wilmington, Delaware, previously held the lead in Open Singles this year with 799, while Johnson and Tim Foy Jr. of Seaford, Delaware, topped the Open Doubles standings with 1,520.

“The ball was getting through the fronts a little clean, so I had to keep the speed down,” Nidiffer said. “If my speed was down, I had all the room. I just needed to carry. Everyone had room. All the guys on the pair, between Justin, Bo (Goergen) and myself, had the pocket, we just needed to carry.”

Goergen, a 56-year-old right-hander from Sanford, Michigan, shot 258, 255 and 256 for a 769 series at the South Point Bowling Center, and he and Neiman moved into second place in Open Doubles with a 1,524 total.

Goergen’s individual performance was enough to also snag the lead in Senior Singles, which he won as part of a dual-victory in 2015. That year, he teamed with Jerome Penxa Jr. of Romeo, Michigan, to also win the Senior Doubles title.

Larry Eide of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, previously held the lead in Senior Singles this year in Las Vegas with 742.

“We had a great group of guys – three right-handers who just fed off of each other – and even the left-hander got into the groove after we were able to fix his swing,” said Goergen, who owns the highest series rolled in USBC Open Championships competition, an 862 set on the way to the 2009 Regular Singles title. “That was a lot of fun, and we definitely threw a lot of strikes.”

The strike-a-thon nearly didn’t happen for the trio, though, as they weren’t all on the same page concerning which Bowlers Journal squads they were going to participate in Friday.

Goergen felt like he was close to a breakout performance after letting a great set slip away earlier in the day Friday, but he was going to skip that squad while his teammates bowled. Neiman also was considering sitting out, but he ended up being the one who talked Goergen into bowling again. Finally, Nidiffer had his sights set on the night squad but decided to bowl because he had a new ball he wanted to try sooner than later.

NeimanJustinGoergenBo2017OCForWeb250x140“This is my sixth year bowling in the Open Championships and the Bowlers Journal, and this is something I have always dreamed of,” said Neiman, a 30-year-old right-hander and software engineer. “I have always wanted to bowl well at these events, and right now, I can go home with my head up high in anything I bowl.”

Friday’s performance was a huge confidence boost for the group, especially Goergen, who arrived in Las Vegas feeling like something was off in his game.

After a few underwhelming sets on the lanes this week, a session with USBC Silver coach Mike Jasnau helped Goergen identify an issue with his timing and swing.

Now, the teammates are hoping to carry their momentum into the nearby South Point Bowling Plaza, where they’ll compete together at the Open Championships on Saturday and Sunday. Doubles and singles at the Open Championships are contested on the same oil pattern they faced at the Bowlers Journal.

“With the Open Championships up next for us, and after what we just did here, we’re in a much better place,” said Goergen, a Team All-Events titlist at the Open Championships in 2010. “I feel good about what I can use as my swing thought, if you will. Now, I just hope I have the right ball that will match up for what we are going to try to create.”

The Bowlers Journal Championships is running alongside the Open Championships for the 71st year, and the 2017 edition of the event at the South Point Bowling Center will run daily until July 15.

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