Clark hits perfect 10
TENPIN bowler Ashley Clark broke a finger shortly after his ninth perfect 300 game in February.
But he's shown no long-term ill effects, achieving the 10th perfect score of his career in the recent Far Northern Region Series.
The effort was the first time someone had bowled a 300 in the competition's 27-year history.
It also came at a crucial time, as Grafton fought to defend its title in the series, which it has won 15 times.
Grafton went into the final round at Coffs Harbour trailing Port Macquarie by just four points and met it in the first game of the day.
"There was quite a good vibe before we even got on the lanes," Clark said.
"Heading into the day I had the highest score of the season with 242, but when I was chatting to the blokes from Armidale we agreed it would probably be broken.
"When it happened, my daughter, who was bowling on another lane with the women's team, came over to congratulate me.
"She said 'well done, just don't break another finger'.
"Just to see a 300 scored gives people a real buzz."
Grafton won that match 5-2 to be just one point adrift Port Macquarie's A team. As the day panned out, Grafton went into its final game against the Port B, trailing Port A by half a point.
Despite returning home with a 6-1 victory, Port A won its match against Grafton's B team 7-0 to take the title by 1.5 points.
"It came down to that last game in Coffs - it could've gone either way," Clark said.
Grafton still comfortably qualified for the Country Challenge finals, which take place in Maitland this weekend, with the top three progressing.
Grafton's maintained a regular presence at state level for the past 15 years. However, Clark is confident this particular squad can eclipse its best-ever finish.
"Our best placing is fifth and we are hoping to reach higher this year," Clark said.
"Campbelltown and Gosford are generally the teams to watch out for, but we don't have to worry about Maitland - they didn't actually qualify.
"Hopefully this year we can get in the top four," Clark said.
Clark, Matt Beetson, Matt Wormald, Mark Lowe and Rod Lloyd make up the squad taking the fast lane to the Hunter Valley.
Clark, Wormald and Lloyd are right-handed bowlers while Beetson and Lowe are left-handed.
Clark said the left and right combination could work in the squad's favour.
"The majority of bowlers are right-handers," he said. "So the condition of the lane dries out faster on the right-hand side.
"The other side of the lane remains fresh for the left-handers to keep making big scores."
The five bowlers range in experience from Clark, who was ranked 12th in Australia in 2004, to Lloyd, making his first appearance at the Country Challenge.
"Rod is the rookie of the team," Clark said. "But he still throws down some good scores.
"This will be Mark's third state finals and Matt Beetson's been to a lot of regional tournaments."
Grafton's five-man squad will play 11 games over the two days against the top teams from Far Northern, Northern, Western and Southern regions.
The Grafton women narrowly missed qualification, finishing fourth in the Far Northern Series.