When the bowling ball leaves Aleta Sill's hand, it pops like a champagne cork.
Sill, from Dearborn, Mich., came ever so close to having a reason to pop open the real thing at the conclusion of the Ladies Professional Bowlers Tour tournament at Kearny Mesa Bowl Wednesday night.
It would have happened if champion Robin Romeo of Van Nuys hadn't uncorked so many strikes in the championship match of the stepladder finals. Romeo busted the pins and excited the crowd from the first frame, striking seven times to defeat Sill, 215-190, and win $5,000.
"I just wanted to be aggressive," said Romeo, who now has nine career titles after also winning two weeks ago at Canoga Park. "Coming from the first spot, that's the only way you can go out there and win."
Romeo was seeded first after match play with 8,970 pins, ahead of San Diego's Wendy Macpherson (8,850) and Judy Soutar (8,822) of Leawood, Kan.
Sill, who earned $2,500 for second place, won three matches to reach the finals, if not always in picturesque fashion.
She was solid in defeating Leanne Barrette of Oklahoma City, Okla., 211-173, in the second match. Then, after beating Soutar, a 29-year veteran, in the third, Sill won a ragged battle of splits and open frames against Macpherson, the hometown favorite.
Macpherson got an early indication of what was ahead when she left a pin for an open first frame. She smiled and shook her head afterward but was soon shaking her head without the smile.
"I had no clue where to stand, where to play," Macpherson said. "How much confidence do you have if you haven't gotten a strike (going into) the 10th?"
Evidently not enough. Sill closed with three spares and a strike to take a narrow, 157-150 victory. Macpherson earned $2,000 for third.
The night soon belonged to Romeo, who opened the championship match with two strikes. They were not the kind where a pin wobbles several times before dropping. These were "see you later" strikes.
Romeo looked as confident as the score indicated. Wearing sunglasses to cut the glare from the television cameras, she was cool throughout, leaving just one open frame, after the match had pretty much been decided.
She wore the sunglasses at Canoga Park, too. They may look somewhat strange, she says, but the results suit her just fine.
"I saw the TV monitor and said, 'Oh, God. I can't believe how funny I look,' " she said.
Are the shades intimidating to others?
"Who knows?" Romeo said. "They might be."
Sill's problem wasn't the sunglasses. She wasn't confident after a shaky morning round that included scores of 164, 166 and 170. She entered the stepladder seeded fourth.
"I already had it in my mind that I was going to bowl my one match and be done with it," she said. "It was really, really weird."
But she got by with what little she had until Romeo came along. Romeo had a 4-hour wait before she was able to perform. She knew by the earlier scores she probably wouldn't have to bowl a top game to win.
"'I didn't expect her to shoot a 250 game at me," Romeo said. "When I got the double, it got my adrenaline flowing."
Barrette advanced to the second match against Sill with a 207-166 victory over Jeanne Maiden of Solon, Ohio.