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Cotie Holbek

Holbek

The finals field in the Men’s Division of the Racine County Bowling Classic is tight.

How tight?

Tournament director Chip Gehrke said it’s the closest he can remember, in this tournament or the former Hope Safehouse Match Game Tournament.

Scott Salinas separated himself from the pack — somewhat, anyway — to take the lead after the first round of the Men’s final at Old Settler’s Bowling Center in Union Grove.

The top 10 bowlers are with 208 points of each other, a slim margin when you consider points can be gained, or lost, quickly in match play.

Salinas finished strong in the second half of his night on games of 279, 215, 246 and 279 to finish with a 6-2 match record and 2,115 points (1,935 pinfall, 180 bonus points for six match victories). Cotie Holbek, a stepladder finalist the past two years, also went 6-2 and totaled 2,041 points.

Three other bowlers are at least plus-400, including two-time defending champion Ben Betchkal. Dustin Vasey (4-4) is third at 2,020, Tyler Hirth (4-3-1) is fourth at 2,016 and Betchkal (4-4) is fifth at 2,000. Gehrke said even Brandon Lipari, 10th at 1,907, still has a legitimate shot at making the stepladder finals (the top four bowlers after eight more games of match play in Saturday’s final round advance to the stepladder).

Salinas, who won the Hope Safehouse in 2015 at Old Settler’s, said he wasn’t watching the leaderboard, although he thought he was in pretty good shape.

“I had a chance to glance (at the leaderboard) around game five and saw the leader was at plus-250 and I was at plus-206,” Salinas said. “I got to game eight and I threw it fairly well and got 109 bonus on that. I thought if I was at plus-500 (he’s at plus-515), I was in good position.”

With the field bunched up so close behind him, Salinas knows he has to be on his game Saturday.

“I will have 15 more gunning at me and I’ll have to do the best I can to fend them off,” Salinas said. “These guys can put up big numbers — I’ll have to do what I can to execute shots.”

Holbek, who remains in the doubles lead at the USBC Open Championships in Las Vegas, had one game under 200, but a 277 in his final game and his six victories helped keep him close. Vasey, who won the Hope Safehouse in 2008, had the second-highest pinfall behind Salinas (1,900) and also finished well with a 278.

Betchkal will have some work to do. After shooting over 200 in each of his first six games, he finished 195-202 and lost both matches.

Eric Mertins rolled a 300 game in his third game of the night. He went 5-3 and is seventh (1,961). Top qualifier Joe Thoennes went 4-4 and is ninth (1,959).

The tournament continues Thursday at 6:30 p.m. with the Women’s Division final. The Senior Division final round and stepladder final begin at 6:30 p.m. Friday.

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