04/03/11 — Two-dollar gamble could pay big dividends for Matt Sander

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Two-dollar gamble could pay big dividends for Matt Sander

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on April 3, 2011 1:51 AM

The first $2 fee paid off and the next $10 fee proved even more fruitful. Those two minimal wagers could lead to a $50,000 payday for Mount Olive resident Matt Sander.

The 27-year-old bowler will test his luck April 8-9 during the $600,000 National-In-League Tournament -- the nation's richest amateur bowling competition -- in Las Vegas. Sander is just one of seven North Carolinians who will battle more than 100 other bowlers in four divisions for the grand prize on the Orleans Hotel and Casino lanes.

Sander pulled the two bones out of his wallet and began a nine-week qualifying period in his own "house" -- AMF Boulevard Lanes in Goldsboro. Once he made it through the center qualifying round, he dished out $10 for the center finals and earned a trip to Raleigh.

Thirty-plus frames later, Sander emerged the district champion and punched his ticket to Sin City.

"Two dollars for a chance to go to Vegas? That was pretty much the incentive," said a grinning Sander. "Once I got in the top 50, it was hard not to spend the ten dollars."

Sander will compete in the "B" division in Vegas. He'll duel with 26 other bowlers in an elimination-style format that spans four rounds in two days. The bowler in each division who has the highest pins-over-average (POA) score or closest to average, will walk away with the $50,000 paycheck.

Regardless of his finish, Sander will receive a cash prize. An heating and air mechanic, he hopes it's enough to buy his wife a new car.

"She's looking forward to that," laughed Sander.

A native of Yuma, Ariz., Sander migrated to the East Coast with his parents. He bowled on several occasions with his late father, William, in whose memory he has dedicated the national tournament.

Sander is regarded a natural on the bowling circuit.

With no bad habits to eliminate, he consistently shoots in the 200s during play in the Tuesday Boulevard Classic League in Goldsboro. He also received valuable "tips" from Clarke Hill, who put Sander on his team when the youngster first arrived at the AMF Boulevard Lanes.

"Clarke has taught me how to read lanes, when I needed to do a ball change, keep my speed up and keep my hand underneath the ball," said Sander. "Everything really came naturally, but he helped me fine-tune it."

But Sander never expected a Vegas trip.

When he made the final cut for the district tournament, he felt confident about his chances. He bowled a 701 (three-game series) in Raleigh and kept the mental edge necessary to succeed on each frame.

"I just kept my speed up and made sure I 'carried'," said Sander. "When you hit the pocket, sometimes you leave either a 10 pin or a nine pin, or sometimes a 7-10 split. It should be a strike and you hope that the pins go down, but you get robbed a lot.

"You can't get mad if you don't carry and you can't get mad if you miss a spare. Once you get mad, then it's downhill from there. I didn't carry two balls all weekend (in Raleigh), which is very good for me.

"So I really didn't have to deal with that part of my game this weekend."

Sander has taken his game to a new, fun and friendly competitive level in an AMF league. And he's treating the Vegas trip as a vacation since he'll get to see relatives from the San Diego area as well.

"I am going to go out there and do the best I can do ... not put too much pressure on myself," said Sander. "Hopefully, I can win some money."

And turn that $12 into a bigger treasure.