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As crowd gathers, a sophomore chases down 300

The ball rolled off Erik Lentz's hand, and it felt good. And like many before, it found its groove and struck gold. Pins crashed against the back of the lane, and Lentz had his third strike in a row.

No big deal. The Citrus High sophomore had been here before.

But this time the feeling never left. Everything felt good. Perfection was in the air.

Nobody noticed much after strike No. 3. Then came No. 4, then No. 5 and No. 6. That's when people at Sportsman's Lanes in Inverness began to notice.

"The first couple of frames, I thought I was doing pretty good, but I didn't think I was going to bowl a 300," Lentz said.

The balls kept finding their mark, crashing into the rack and sending all 10 pins flying each time. Lentz was hot. Very hot. And he knew it, yet, like a pitcher in the middle of a no-hitter, he refused to acknowledge the fact.

His friends, though, weren't as beholden to tradition. As 10-15 high school students and Sportsman's regulars crowded behind Lentz, talk began to center on his chances. A friend tried to help, telling jokes to keep Lentz's mind off the moment.

It helped. By the ninth frame, Lentz stood on the threshold of perfection. Only three balls left and three more strikes for the elusive 300.

Crash. Crash. Crash.

"After five or six in a row, people started saying, you can do it. Just throw strikes." Lentz said. "Everybody started congratulating me after I did it. I never really thought I'd get to 300 this quick, but I've been getting better and better, and I have to say I'm pretty confident in my game now."

Lentz is one of several Citrus High kids who spend their Wednesday afternoons knocking down pins at Sportsman's Lanes. The Citrus Bowling Club holds its league there every Wednesday. Kids from all schools are invited to attend. It costs $3.30 weekly for members of the Young American Bowling Association, who pay a one-time, $7 membership fee.

Lentz is the first of the group to achieve perfection, but others have come close. Fellow Citrus student Jeff Hickey, a junior, bowled 297 the Wednesday before.

Lentz and Hickey began as junior bowlers at Sportsman's, and both, it seems, have come a long way. Neither has visions of winning the PBA championship _ yet. Lentz knows bowling has other things to offer. "You can get scholarships through YABA," he said. "If you go to tournaments and win, you can get scholarship money.

"And it's fun. I was having a lot of fun last week."