Stanbach, Greenwald Dethrone Three-Time Defending Bocce Champs

By David Biggy | Aug 28, 2019
Photo by: David Biggy Bill Stanbach (left) and Gail Greenwald celebrate with the Mike Vitulli Cup after snagging the Beach Haven Bocce League championship with an 11-7, 11-7 victory over three-time defending champs Rita Rapella and Steve Jusick on Aug. 24.

Beach Haven — By the time Bill Stanbach and Gail Greenwald scored their first point, it appeared Rita Rapella and Steve Jusick were on their way to a rout in the championship match of the Beach Haven Bocce League.

“We really had no expectations,” said Greenwald, part of the winning duo that dethroned the three-time defending champs and captured the Mike Vitulli Cup on the grounds of Joan Barron’s home on Aug. 24. “We just wanted to be in the match and not be part of a blowout. We were here for the fun of it.”

No doubt Jusick and Rapella were there for fun as well – except their fun in past years meant winning the title. And early on, they looked to be in control, taking a 6-0 lead during the first 2½ rounds.

After scoring single points during Rapella’s first two turns and one during Jusick’s first set of throws, Stanbach was in a solid position to score multiple points when he set up a pair of balls in front of the pallina about two-thirds of the way down the court. Unfortunately, his final throw of the round happened to be too precise as it squeaked between the two blockers and pushed the pallina ahead. It settled between two of Jusick’s green balls for a 5-0 lead for Jusick and Rapella. Rapella scored another point on her next turn for the six-point advantage.

“We had a rough start, but I think we just had to get into a rhythm,” Greenwald said. “We had to take a breath and start concentrating a bit more.”

Stanbach managed a point during his third round, prompting Greenwald to announce to the crowd of some 35 spectators, “We’re on the board!” as she lifted her arms and provided a light-hearted victory stance. What it really did was announce that the young bocce giants – both Stanbach and Greenwald had  started playing the game only three years ago, and this was their first season paired up – had awakened.

From there, they gradually chipped away at the deficit, tying the contest at 6-6 during Greenwald’s sixth round and taking the lead on Stanbach’s sixth, before Rapella scored a point during her seventh round to temporarily knot up the first game. Stanbach and Greenwald scored the next four points to win, 11-7.

In the second game, it didn’t take Greenwald and Stanbach long to establish their rhythm. After the first round, the teams were tied at 2-2 before Stanbach managed to cluster his four balls close enough together to the front of the pallina to score them all, giving his team a 6-2 advantage.

However, the defending champs put together a three-round run, scoring four unanswered points to again tie the contest, 6-6. Stanbach’s fourth round produced a pair of points to squash the comeback bid.

“I’ve done that before, scored points in bunches,” Stanbach said. “But the truth is, from where I was standing, it’s hard to know how many you might have. On that four-point set, it looked like I only had two at the most. I just look at court and throw. I don’t try to hit spots here because it gets more difficult to do that as the court gets bumpy.”

Rapella scored once more on her fourth set of throws to cut the lead to a point, 8-7, but Stanbach scored one on his next turn before Greenwald used a beautiful drag shot on her last throw to push the pallina away from two of Rapella’s balls, making it 10-7.

During the men’s set of round 6, both guys threw wide or long of the pallina, but it turned out one of Stanbach’s balls – the second one he tossed off to the right of the marker ball by roughly 17 inches – ended up winning the match with another 11-7 tally.

“The difference for me this year was that I had Gail as a partner,” said Stanbach, also a golfer. “She’s a good player. She’s very much into the game and has a lot of enthusiasm for what we’re doing, which motivates me. I’m just here for the ride, to have a good time.”

Of course, Greenwald downplayed that aspect of the partnership.

“Bill’s really good,” she said, noting that she was the beneficiary of some “lucky lemonade” made by her granddaughters, Nina and Lilly. “But he has a very light attitude, and just tells me to play my best and have fun. I think that helps a lot, that we just enjoy playing.”

Jusick, who next season will be partnered with somebody new, still had fun despite the loss.

“Most of the time, on most of our rolls, we get the benefit of it,” he said. “Today, we just didn’t get the lucky rolls. In that first game, Rita had a couple of balls in there and Gail ended up scoring. That was a three-point swing, and we never recovered.”

Rapella, whose name is engraved on the Vitulli Cup far more than the combined number of years her opponents have been playing the game, gave credit where credit was due.

“They were really good,” she said. “Gail was very good at putting the ball where she needed to put it, and Bill scored four in the second game to put the pressure on us. This was a good run for us, but now it’s over.”

Stanbach said he and Greenwald, who went undefeated this summer, were more confident going into the match after beating Jusick and Rapella during their regular-season clash.

“We weren’t intimidated this time,” he said. “We beat them earlier in the season, but that took three perfect games for us to win. But that helped our confidence and made a difference for us today.”

— David Biggy

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