Storm Internatonal star Jason Belmonte qualified in the second position for Sunday’s ESPN finals in the PBA Tournament of Champions at Red Rock Lanes. A showdown with Sean Rash is likely.
Rash of Montgomery, Ill., won six of his final nine matches and tied two others, including his final game with Belmonte, to win the top qualifying position for Sunday’s finals in the PBA Tournament of Champions at Red Rock Lanes.
Belmonte, who led the tournament going into Friday night’s final round, spent the day texting his pregnant, overdue wife between frames. The 28-year-old two-handed player qualified second with 8,825 pins. He will try for his fourth title of the season – and the first major championship of his career – in the final event of the 2011-12 PBA Tour season.
Rash, 29, is seeking his fifth PBA Tour title and first since winning the 2007 United States Bowling Congress Masters. He also is trying to break a streak of 14 consecutive television finals without a title, including six previous telecasts this season. Rash advanced to the 1 p.m. ET ESPN finals Sunday with a 12-4-2 match play record and 235.94 average for an 18-game total of 8,884 pins.
Mike Fagan of Dallas and Ryan Ciminelli of Cheektowaga, N.Y., will round out Sunday’s field. Fagan, who has won two titles this season including the USBC Masters, won his last six matches to qualify third with 8,717 pins. Ciminelli made it into the finals with 8,676 pins, slipping past defending champion Mika Koivuneimi of Hartland, Mich., by 15 pins in the final game.
All four players have a lot riding on a victory Sunday, but none was under the kind of pressure Belmonte faced Friday. He made the 8,000-mile, 16-plus-hour trip to the United States at his wife Kimberly’s insistence because a Tournament of Champions victory will give him a decided edge in the PBA Player of the Year race.
“Kimberly is an amazing person,” Belmonte said. “She’s about to have a child (the couple’s second) and she’s the one who pushed me to go. I would have been perfectly content to stay home.
“I was messaging her basically every frame,” he added. “She was due three days ago, but she’s really hanging in there. Now it’s really a race against time.
“There’s a lot riding on this tournament, so you don’t want to come this far and fail. As happy as I am to be in this position, I won’t be happy to come this far and not accomplish what I came here to do. The mission is to win. That’s what I left Australia to do, but I’m pretty sure that’s what everyone else in this field came here to do as well.”
“My biggest goal all day was to be patient,” Rash said. “Tonight I got off to a great start, won four straight matches, and gained some ground. Sunday, I’m here to win. Finishing second would suck. I was told long ago you can’t win if you don’t bowl on Sunday. I’ve been on this stage before. I won the (2007) Masters, but I know I’ll have my hands full.”
PBA TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS
Red Rock Lanes, Las Vegas, Friday
FINAL ROUND OF 36 STANDINGS (after 36 games, including match play bonus pins. Top 4 advance to ESPN stepladder finals Sunday at 1 p.m. ET):
1, Sean Rash, Montgomery, Ill., 12-4-2, 8,884.
2, Jason Belmonte, Australia, 12-5-1, 8,825.
3, Mike Fagan, Dallas, 9-9, 8,717.
4, Ryan Ciminelli, Cheektowaga, N.Y., 10-8, 8,676.
Did not advance:
5, Mika Koivuniemi, Finland, 11-7, 8,661, $10,000.
6, Rhino Page, Dade City, Fla., 9-9, 8,579, $9,500. (Storm)
7, Wes Malott, Pflugerville, Texas, 13-5, 8,503, $9,000. (Storm)
8, Osku Palermaa, Finland, 10-8, 8,436, $8,600. (Storm)
9, Eugene McCune, Munster, Ind., 9-9, 8,330, $8,300.
10, Bill O'Neill, Southampton, Pa., 8-10, 8,319, $8,100.
11, Chris Loschetter, Avon, Ohio, 8-9-1, 8,281, $7,900.
12, Pete Weber, St. Ann, Mo., 7-11, 8,243, $7,700. (Storm)
13, Robert Smith, Los Angeles, 6-12, 8,171, $7,500.
14, Tom Daugherty, Wesley Chapel, Fla., 9-9, 8,161, $7,400.
15, Andres Gomez, Colombia, 8-10, 8,135, $7,100. (Storm)
16, Dave Wodka, Henderson, Nev., 8-10, 8,094, $6,900.
17, Ryan Shafer, Horseheads, N.Y., 7-11, 8,080, $6,700. (Storm)
18, Stuart Williams, England, 4-14, 7,745, $6,600.