SPRING HILL — St. Petersburg resident Sean Riccardi won Sunday's 26th annual PBA Southern Region Spring Hill Open.
Competing on the highest-scoring oil pattern on tour, the field was rife with great performances. Of the eight perfect games thrown over the weekend, three came from Riccardi. The 39-year-old bounced back from last year's 12th-place finish in his first appearance at Spring Hill to capture the crown this time around.
"(The scoring) was high, but I was just having fun with it," he said. "If I didn't strike, I didn't get mad. The worst game I had was a 220, and I was able to bounce back with a 300."
Texas native Dustin Ochoa, 35, nearly overcame the odds to win the title. The fourth seed toppled two-time Spring Hill champion Tom Daugherty in the first match of the stepladder finals in a back-and-forth competition. Ochoa rolled strikes on his first 11 shots for a 299 game. Despite having only one frame without a strike, the third-seeded Daugherty lost with a 279.
"I didn't bowl as well as I could have," he said. "It was a difficult situation."
Ochoa then took out the only other two-time champion in the field with a 277-214 win over second seed Jason Mahr to advance to the championship round.
The soft-tossing left-hander ran out of gas against Riccardi. Ochoa threw a spare and an open in the first two frames and was unable to recover, falling 256-214.
"Dusty caught a little transition in the oil and had some bad breaks," Riccardi said. "With the large amount of fans, it's a little bit more pressure bowling here. I don't usually get emotional, but I got excited when I clinched the title."
When he tossed the clinching strike in the 10th frame, Riccardi pumped his fist and let out a "yeah!" It was only his second PBA region title after winning in Melbourne last year. The New Jersey native has a solid resume, including a 12th-place finish at the U.S. Open in 2009, one of the most prestigious tournaments on the national tour. He earned $2,500 for this victory.
In the 76-player field, five bowlers were Hernando County residents.
Mahr finished third and won $1,000 while averaging 259 over the course of 21 games. Anthony Caso, 19, who works in the pro shop at Spring Hill Lanes, averaged 251 for seventh place and a $650 prize.
"Overall, it was a good tournament, but I left some shots out there," Caso said. "Home-field advantage helped out a little bit. It's hard to have an edge when the scoring is (so high), but if you could tell what the lane was going to do, it was important."
Spring Hill native Chris Polizzi, the 2009 PBA South Region Rookie of the Year, rounded out the top 10 in the overall standings. His 248 average earned him a $560 paycheck.
While local residents Victor Oliver (229 average) and Tom Bosquez Jr. (220) were unable to cash, Oliver placed 31st and Bosquez Jr. finished 43rd on the high-scoring Chameleon oil pattern.
"There are certain people that really match up to this pattern," Caso said. "It becomes more of a mental test than a physical test."
Three other former Spring Hill Open champions were in the field. Darin Hays, the only four-time title winner in tournament history (1995-96, 1999-2000), finished 27th (230 average). PBA Hall of Famer Walter Ray Williams Jr., the 2002 champ, came in eighth (249) and earned $600. And 2013 champ Connor Pickford (253) cashed with a fifth-place finish for $800.