Storm star Jason Belmonte will have a huge task ahead if he wants to defend his USBC Masters title.
Belmonte barely escaped a challenge from fellow staffer Dom Barrett Saturday in order to have a chance at defending.
Barrett needed a spare in the final frame to secure the fifth seed, but left a 4-6-7-10 split and Belmonte threw a clutch double to go around him and take the last spot.
Tomorrow on ESPN, the two-hander will have to run the ladder against a tough field.
Should Belmonte win the Masters and successfully defend his title, he would become the first player to do so in nearly 50 years. Billy Welu won the event in 1964 and 1965, while Dick Hoover was the first to win consecutive titles in 1956 and 1957.
The last defending champion to get this close to repeating was Hall of Famer Mike Aulby, who after winning in 1995, lost in the championship match the following year.
Storm National Tour Representative Del Ballard Jr. reports that Belmonte used the new Zero Gravity and the legendary Hy-Road in the four player shootout.
Rising star E.J. Tackett of Huntington, Ind., earned the top seed for Sunday's stepladder finals.
Tackett, the PBA Rookie of the Year last season, defeated Michael Haugen Jr. of Phoenix, 793-620, in a matchup of the remaining unbeaten players in the winners bracket to earn the top seed at Brunswick Zone Carolier. Haugen will be the No. 2 seed for Sunday's ESPN finals, which will air live at 3 p.m. ET.
In his six matches, Tackett won by an average of almost 90 pins in cruising to an undefeated match-play record. He will be looking for his first PBA Tour title in his third career TV appearance.
"If I were to win, it would be the biggest thing that has happened in my entire life," the 21-year-old Tackett said. "This is what I've dreamed of my entire life, and it's a pretty surreal feeling."
En route to earning the top seed, Tackett defeated Barrett of England, 697-652; Mike Fagan of Fort Worth, Texas, 682-633; Bryan Goebel of Shawnee, Kan., 653-517; John Janawicz of Winter Haven, Fla., 707-610; Tom Smallwood of Saginaw, Mich., 604-569; before defeating Haugen.
Rounding out Sunday's ESPN stepladder field will be Smallwood; Ryan Ciminelli of Cheektowaga, N.Y., and Belmonte of Australia. Smallwood won the four-player final elimination match with a 738 series to earn the No. 3 seed for the finals. Ciminelli was second with 652 and Belmonte was third with 614. Barrett shot 605 and was eliminated.
The Masters, which features a total prize fund of $315,000 including a first-place prize of $50,000, is a major event on the PBA Tour and is part of the World Tenpin Bowling Association World Bowling Tour for the fourth consecutive season.
2014 USBC MASTERS
At Brunswick Zone Carolier, North Brunswick, N.J.
Double elimination, three-game matches decided by total pinfall
ROUND 4 WINNERS BRACKET
Jason Belmonte, Australia def. Tom Smallwood, Saginaw, Mich., 710-651
EJ Tackett Huntington, Ind., def. John Janawicz, Winter Haven, Fla., 707-610
Ryan Ciminelli, Cheektowaga, N.Y., def. Dick Allen, Columbia, S.C., 627-563
Michael Haugen Jr., Phoenix def. Doug Kent, Newark, N.Y., 679-621
ROUND 5 LOSERS BRACKET
(Losers eliminated, earn $3,500)
John Szczerbinski, North Tonawanda, N.Y., def. Bryan Goebel, Shawnee, Kan., 689-585
Dom Barrett, England def. Patrick Girard, Canada, 610-603
Dan MacLelland, Canada, def. Rhino Page, Dade City, Fla., 683-622
Brian Himmler, Cincinnati def. Jaime Gonzalez, Colombia, 652-605
ROUND 5 WINNERS BRACKET
Tackett def. Smallwood, 604-569
Haugen def. Ciminelli, 758-704
ROUND 6 LOSERS BRACKET
(Losers eliminated, earn $4,000)
Kent def. Szczerbinski, 644-557
Barrett def. Allen, 663-649
Janawicz def. MacLelland, 773-697
Belmonte def. Himmler, 664-621
ROUND 7 LOSERS BRACKET
(Losers eliminated, earn $5,000)
Barrett def. Kent, 674-646
Belmonte def. Janawicz, 704-577
ROUND 6 WINNERS BRACKET
(Winner earns No. 1 seed for Sunday's ESPN finals; loser is No. 2 seed)
Tackett def. Haugen, 793-620
ELIMINATION BRACKET ROUND EIGHT
(Three highest scores advance to ESPN finals, high score is No. 3 seed, second high is No. 4, third high is No. 5, lowest score is eliminated, earns $6,400)
Smallwood 738, Ciminelli 652, Belmonte 614, Barrett 605