The rise of Anthony Caso from a child just learning how to throw a ball to one of the elite bowlers in Hernando County history has taken less than a decade.
Anthony, 19, already owns a handful of county records, including his latest conquest, the highest series ever tossed locally.
With an 879 in the monthly Eliminator Tournament at Spring Hill Lanes on May 18, he surpassed the former mark set by Hernando County Bowling Association Hall of Famer Jason Mahr's 878 from Aug. 7, 2007, at Mariner Lanes.
"We were all kind of amazed to be honest with you," tournament director Anthony Oliver said. "I've seen him come such a long way since when he was a 180 bowler hanging out at the pro shop at Mariner (Lanes)."
Anthony's performance also included back-to-back perfect games, the 11th and 12th of his young career. It was only the third time that feat was accomplished by a county bowler, joining Rich Kastner (2007) and Jay Olsen (2009). Caso finished with games of 300, 300 and 279 in his first three strings of the night, giving him 35 strikes out of 36 balls.
"He's the best bowler I've ever seen," Oliver said. "I don't think there's any doubt that you'll see him on the pro tour one day. He's just so consistent."
When he was only 10, he caught the bowling fever from his grandmother, Mary Caso. Mary, who died in 2010, also had been bowling since she was a child and her average peaked in the mid 160s. Anthony's father, Charles, also competed regularly in leagues up until 2010.
A self-proclaimed perfectionist, Anthony really kicked his passion for bowling into high gear when he turned 13. Home-schooled, his physical education curriculum was established by his mother, Danielle. She allowed him to take up bowling to satisfy that commitment.
While at Mariner practicing, he caught the attention of Dave Mannello. Mannello, a top-notch bowler in the county, has since died, but at the time, he took Anthony under his wing and improved his game by leaps and bounds.
Anthony took a job at Kevin's Pro Shop in Spring Hill while still in high school, and learned the ins and outs of drilling balls and honing the equipment needed for the sport. When pro shop owner Kevin Williams left Spring Hill Lanes late last year, Anthony stayed on during the transition into Bowlers Mart, owned now by Cliff Barnes.
"Meeting with fellow bowlers inspires me to try new things," Anthony said. "It has definitely made me a better bowler."
Once he felt confident enough, Anthony began to travel around Florida, competing in the PBA regional tournaments alongside some of the game's top competitors.
Sunday, he wrapped up an event in Melbourne at Brunswick Harbour Lanes, placing 10th overall on the professional Viper oil pattern. Taking in perspective that the tournament was won by former PBA player of the year and two-time major championship winner Tommy Jones, the finish was impressive.
"I threw it very well and made great changes, but the scoring pace was too much for me to keep up with," Anthony said.
There is still one thing to clear up with Anthony's record-breaking performance in May's Eliminator Tournament at Spring Hill Lanes. The bowling center has applied for sanctioning through the U.S. Bowling Congress after the date recognized by the sanctioning body was off by one week. Officials at Spring Hill have assured Anthony that the proper paperwork has been filed with the USBC.
The ruling will only make the honor score official, but Anthony's exploits on the lanes have already placed him among the best to compete in the county — all before his 20th birthday on July 22. A brilliant birthday gift could be his performance at the annual PBA stop at Spring Hill.
Last season, he finished 32nd in the Spring Hill Open, but his recent tour success has improved his confidence heading into the local event. Mahr previously won the Spring Hill title twice, but he is the only Spring Hill native to do so in 25 years. Anthony has a chance to change that when the PBA returns on July 12.