His first game of the night on Feb. 5 at the local alley, 2365 East St., was a perfect 300.
It was a good start, but hardly a surprise, considering Kelley, 23, of Modesto, averages 242 per game and had bowled 19 perfect games before, including one earlier in the men’s league season.
By the end of the night, he would log a series score of 879 for his team, the Pound Aways, and set a record at West Valley Bowl.
It was his 26th series above 800, and third at the alley.
According to Herb Hunter, owner of West Valley Bowl, the previous series record was 860, set by Galen Gentry in 1982.
Kelley said he just concentrated on how he starts and how he finishes.
“After the first seven strikes, it wasn’t really setting in my mind what I was going to do,” he said. “My logic with 300 games is get the first one — the next two are a little bit easier. The first strike and the 10th are always the hardest ones.”
Well into his second game on Feb. 5, he realized he had bowled 20 strikes in a row, and the rare achievement of back-to-back 300 games was within reach. The pressure was on, and his shot in the 10th frame appeared off-target.
“I didn’t get into it all the way, so I’m begging the ball, ‘Please come back, please come back,’” he said. “I got a lucky break and got a strike.”
The next shot was solid, and his teammates — including Benny Sanchez Jr. of Tracy, Benny Sanchez Sr. of Oakdale and Cody Stocke of Modesto — were concentrating just as hard as Kelley.
Kelley’s 12th throw of the second game didn’t hit the head pin like he wanted, but it sent pins scattering, and the team watched them topple one by one.
“It was like a slow-motion strike,” Sanchez Jr. said.
Kelley couldn’t help but think of his potential for a third consecutive perfect game. Only 21 bowlers in the U.S., two of them in California, have achieved a perfect 900 series since 1997, according to the United States Bowling Congress.
Hunter, who also plays in the Strikers league, said that by the end of Kelley’s second game everyone was paying attention
“It got real tense,” he said. “It’s really quite a feat.”
Kelley started with his 25th consecutive strike, but on the second frame he left the No. 2 pin standing.
He relaxed and bowled nine more consecutive strikes, then left the No. 10 pin standing on his final roll for a score of 279 and a series of 879.
Kelley, who started competing at age 7, has participated in the Professional Bowlers Association western region tournaments.
When he’s not on the lanes, he works the front desk at Yosemite Lanes in Modesto, his regular job for the past six years.
That’s where he and co-worker Stocke met the Sanchez father-son duo three years ago after Sanchez Jr. bowled a 1,105 four-game series, the first 1,100 series at the Modesto lanes in seven years.
They formed their team for leagues in Modesto, and in September 2012 Sanchez Jr. convinced the others to visit West Valley Bowl once a week for the 36-week Strikers league.
Most nights they don’t even worry about scores, Kelley said — they got into the Tuesday night league for the camaraderie.
Sanchez Sr. said bowling gave him new vitality after he had a heart transplant in 2004, and also gave him a chance to be inspired by younger people, like Kelley.
“Nick and Cody, both of these guys are like my own sons,” he said. “They became a big part of my life with this game.”
• Contact Bob Brownne at 830-4227 or firstname.lastname@example.org.