Anthony Pepe of Elmhurst, New York, in his national television debut, won the PBA Cheetah Championship presented by PBA Challenge Mobile Game at the new South Point Bowling Plaza with an emotional 224-206 come-from-behind victory over top qualifier Dick Allen of Columbia, South Carolina.
The Cheetah finals, the first of five GEICO PBA World Series of Bowling VI title events, aired Sunday on ESPN. It also was the first national telecast originating from the new state-of-the-art 60-lane bowling facility at the South Point Casino, Hotel and Spa complex on Las Vegas’ south side.
After converting the 6-10 in the first frame of the title match, Allen ran off a string of six strikes to take control of the match, But a 2-4-6-7-9-10 split in the eighth frame, a 6-7 split in the ninth frame and a pocket 7-10 in the 10th frame opened the door for Pepe. After leaving back-to-back 6 pins in the eighth and ninth frames, Pepe threw three strikes in the 10th frame to clinch the title.
“I couldn’t believe it when (Dick) left that split in the 10th frame, but I just told myself to stay calm and execute a good shot,” Pepe said. “After all of those hours of working hard, practicing alone, for this moment, it’s unbelievable.”
In the opening three-player, all-New York shootout match, Pepe, a 26-year-old self-proclaimed healthy-lifestyle advocate, thrilled the crowd by taking a perfect game to his final shot, where he faltered, leaving the 2-4-6-7-8 for a 295 game. It was more than enough to eliminate Brad Angelo of Lockport, who rolled a 226 game, and to spoil the title dreams of Liz Johnson of Cheektowaga, who finished with a 224. The first woman ever to qualify for two PBA TV finals had hopes of joining Kelly Kulick as the second woman to win a PBA Tour title, but Pepe made sure she never had room to recover after she left the 4-6-7-10 split in her second frame.
Pepe came within one shot of matching a feat performed only one other time in PBA history: a 300 game in a player’s first-ever game on national television. Bob Benoit of Topeka, Kansas, is the only player to do that, winning the 1988 Quaker State Open in Fort Worth, Texas, with a 300-255 victory over PBA legend Mark Roth.
“On that 12th shot, I was a bundle of nerves,” Pepe admitted. “To think I had the first 11 strikes in my first game on TV…I kinda grabbed (the ball) at the bottom (of my arm swing) and I paid the penalty.”
Pepe also refused to give in to Allen in the title match, despite missing a 7 pin in the sixth frame which put him in a 29-pin hole with four frames to go.
“I just told myself to make better shots,” he said. “It was unfortunate what happened to Dick, especially in the 10th frame – he threw that (7-10) shot really well – but I came up in the 10th and knew I only needed a mark a win. When all 10 pins fell down, I fell down, too.
“There are no words to describe the feeling,” Pepe continued. “I’ve dreamed of this since I was a little kid. (PBA Tour champions) Patrick Allen, Mike Fagan and Ryan Shafer all told me to get my PBA card because they thought I had the potential to be successful out here. That kinda gave me a little confidence. That meant so much to me and the fact I’m now holding this trophy, well, it’s an indescribable feeling.”
The next GEICO PBA WSOB VI final to air on ESPN will be the Viper Championship on Sunday, Dec. 21, at 1 p.m. ET. In the title match, top qualifier Connor Pickford of Charlotte, N.C., making his PBA television debut, will bowl the winner of a three-player shootout match involving No. 2 Ronnie Russell, Marion, Ind.; No. 3 Dom Barrett, England, and No. 4 Mika Koivuniemi, Finland.
A preview of the Viper Championship telecast, and all other WSOB VI telecasts, will be available on Xtra Frame and PBA’s YouTube page on Monday prior to the ESPN telecast.
PBA CHEETAH CHAMPIONSHIP
presented by PBA Challenge Mobile Game
South Point Bowling Plaza, Las Vegas
Championship: Anthony Pepe, Elmhurst, N.Y. ($20,000) def. Dick Allen, Columbia, S.C., ($10,000), 224-206.
Shootout Match (winner advanced to championship match; eliminated players earned $6,000): Pepe (295) def. Brad Angelo, Lockport, N.Y. (226) and Liz Johnson, Cheektowaga, N.Y. (224).