STERLING – While Autumn Day was unleashing pocket-seeking missiles, Michaela Bates was throwing darts Tuesday evening at Paone's Blackhawk Lanes.
As for the Sterling girls, they were scratching their heads as the Dixon Duchesses put an exclamation point on a sweep of their Route 2 rivals in the teams' season-opening bowling match.
Dixon won the first two games of the Northern Illinois Big 12 tussle by just two pins (1,002-1,000), then 16 (1,015-999). But in Game 3, Day struck on her last six throws while Bates refused to leave a frame open en route to a 210 finale after opening with games of 146 and 151.
After striking in frames 3-5, Bates spared in the next four frames before striking and sparing in the 10th. In the eighth, she converted a treacherous 6-7-10 split. At least that's what her teammates tell her.
"I had a feeling I was just going to get the two," said Bates, a sophomore bowling in her first varsity match. "So I turned around and didn't watch it at all."
What she missed was her ball cutting the 6-pin so thin that it actually slid across and clipped the front of the 7-pin.
"Oh my gosh, that was probably the most amazing moment tonight," Day said. "I can't even explain how happy I was."
"This game is definitely a game of spares," Dixon coach Larry Lacoursiere said. "and whoever picks up the most spares is going to score consistently. Michaela was a pleasant surprise today, and she far exceeded our expectations."
Day, who also had a five-bagger in the opening game, hit the pocket flush with every ball in Game 3's 10th frame to finish off a 1,032-956 victory.
Sterling had a narrow lead going into the eighth frame of each game.
"In this game, it was just about having the tenacity to see it through to the end." Sterling coach Dennis Black said. "We had so many opens. To Autumn's credit, that's where she strung her strikes in all three games."
Day's match-high 658 series (223-214-221) was 63 pins greater than her closest competition, Sterling's Brandy Behrens. The Golden Warriors' senior came out swinging with 221 in the opener and strung together a hambone in frames 3-6 of Game 2, the last strike the result of some fortuitous carry that saw the 10-pin slowly go down like a pasty tree trunk.
"That's bowling. It happens a lot, and sometimes in a game we get a lot of good fortune," Behrens said. "But sometimes even the best balls don't bring anything good."
She would've struck out in the 10th, if not for a stubborn, solid 10-pin. But she was happy with a 224. The 150 in the finale?
"I felt pretty confident in the first two. Not so much in the last," Behrens said. "I was moving my spot. I should've been where I was, and I was rushing a lot. Once you get going, you start moving faster and faster. You have to bring yourself to slow down, and it took me a while to think of that."
"She's been throwing the ball really well, during practice as well, the past couple of weeks," Black said. "I'm not surprised she came out so well. I was a little disappointed she had the letdown in the third game. But when she bowls a 595 series, I'm not going to whine about that.
"But these scores are the worst we've ever had. It's a new team, so you can't judge it against previous seasons. But we've never lost all 10 points."
Amber Granzow had Sterling's second-best series of 531 (182-190-159). She opened Game 2 with a hambone before having the 6-pin wrap around the 10 on a spare attempt. She struck in the next two frames before another wrap-around on a 4/7 spare try.
Day was buoyed by fellow senior Devan Gearhart's 520 series (158-182-180).
"I'm just really focused, this being my last year," Day said. "I really wanted to start big, and I want to end big."
Star of the match: Autumn Day, Dixon, 658 series, games of 223, 214 and 221
Shot of the match: Dixon sophomore Michaela Barnes' conversion of a 6-7-10 split in the eighth frame of Game 3
Up next: Dixon, Sterling at Rock Island Invite, 9 a.m. Saturday