CHAMPION - Newton Falls native Mike Benton has had his fair share of success in Pennsylvania, where he now calls home.
The Sharpsville resident, who still bowls in Warren on a weekly basis, has won the Mercer County Masters three years in a row (2010-2012), but he had never won the Warren Men's Challenge, a tournament he's bowled in 14 times.
That was until Sunday.
Tribune Chronicle / Dana Sulonen
Warren Men’s Challenge tournament director Ted Snyder, left, hands Mike Benton his check after winning the 35th annual tournament.
With a total pin count of 3,261, Benton won the 35th annual Warren Men's Challenge at Champion Lanes, defeating Dean Groover, 255 to 254, in the final game. Groover finished the tournament with a pin count of 3,210.
The day started off slow for Benton as he did not take the lead until after the fifth of 12 games. But once the lefty took the lead, he didn't let it go. While he admitted fatigue did start to kick in toward the end, he said he did have an advantage over other bowlers - he was the only left-handed thrower in the tournament.
"By the seventh game I was pretty gassed out, but the adrenaline was getting me through," Benton said. "I was just trying to win matches and get a big lead going into the last game so I didn't have to try and shoot something big at the end.
"Today (being left handed) was a big advantage because I didn't have to move a lot. It did get tricky a couple pairs, but for the most part I had an advantage over these righties."
Benton went into the final game with an 82 pin lead. However, Groover, who won the Challenge in 2007 and 2010, was doing all he could to try and come away with his third title. After hitting a spare in the first frame, Groover rolled off seven straight strikes. But a split in the eighth frame gave Benton the cushion he needed to walk away with the $1,000 prize.
"(Dean) always makes this interesting," Benton said with a chuckle. "We grew up together, it's fun bowling with someone that I grew up bowling with on a weekly basis when we were little. So that was fun. And a little more relaxing."
Overall, Benton had an actual pin total of 3,021 (an average of 251 for the day) and received 240 bonus pins for winning eight of the 12 games he bowled on Sunday. Groover also won eight games and had an actual of 2,970. Groover also had the highest game of the finals, bowling a 298.
Bob Haynie finished in third place with 3,146 followed by Robert Blose in fourth with a 3,139. Both bowlers each won nine head-to-head games in the finals. In fifth was 2003 Men's Challenge winner Jeff Czerniak with a 3,103.
Two-time defending champion Adam Barta finished sixth with a 3,043. Rounding out the field was Robert Harvischak (2,871), Dave Joseph (2,862), Patrick Logan (2,823), Frank Florjancic (2,804), Andy Ruetz (2,769) and Chris Morrison (2,738).