November 15, 2007 19:00
Two years ago in Hammond, Ind., Michael Haugen Jr. got his job back. One year ago in Hammond, he made a championship round appearance in honor of his dying grandmother. This week in nearby Merrillville, Ind., Haugen will look for a special three-peat in the area with his first career Denny’s PBA Tour title.
Haugen defeated Sean Rash, four-games-to-one, in the Round of 8 Friday to advance to the championship round of the 2007 Lake County Indiana Classic presented by United Way at Stardust Bowl II.
Haugen, an 11-year Tour veteran, failed to qualify for the Tour in 2005-06 via the PBA World Point Rankings and was on the verge of losing his job until a second-place finish in the 2006 Denny’s PBA Tour Trials at Stardust Bowl I in Hammond.
Last year at Stardust Bowl I, Haugen made his first championship round in over two years when he made the finals of the 2006 Lake County Indiana Classic. With his grandmother hanging on to watch him try and win his first title, Haugen fell to Norm Duke, 279-233.
On Sunday, Haugen will try again for his first title in 200 career events.
“The first year here was for an exemption, last year was for my grandmother and this year is for me,” Haugen (Cave Creek, Ariz.) said. “It was such a relief to get my job back at Tour Trials and then to come back last year and feel comfortable knowing I had bowled well in the center was huge. Everyone has been saying, ‘It’s destiny and this is your week.’ Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. But winning would mean everything to me. It’s what I’ve always dreamed of and it really solidifies everything.”
Haugen will face another great success story from the Lake County area as last year’s Tour Trials leader, Todd Book (Cantonment, Fla.), ended the run of PBA Hall of Famer Walter Ray Williams Jr. (Ocala, Fla..) The 36-year rookie earned his first career exemption at Stardust Bowl II this summer by leading four of the five days of the Tour Trials. He stopped Williams from making his fourth consecutive championship round appearance with a 4-2 win.
In the other semifinal Sunday, Chris Barnes (Double Oak, Texas) will face Wes Malott (Argyle, Texas), who defeated Steve Jaros, 4-3. Barnes is making back-to-back championship rounds after finishing fourth in last week’s Etonic Championship. Barnes defeated PBA Hall of Famer Pete Weber, 4-1.
On the women’s side, Joy Esterson (Annapolis, Md.) finally broke through with her first championship round appearance in the four-week PBA Women’s Series. Esterson led both the men and women in qualifying in last week’s Etonic Championship but fell to Kelly Kulick, 4-1, in the Round of 8. Esterson got some revenge on Kulick in the Round of 4 Friday night, knocking her out with a 4-2 win.
Esterson will face Liz Johnson (Cheektowaga, N.Y.) in the third PBA Women’s Series title match. Johnson, who made history in 2005 as the first woman ever to make the finals of a Denny’s PBA Tour event, defeated Carolyn Dorin-Ballard, 4-3.
The live ESPN-televised finals take place Sunday at 1 p.m. EST at Stardust Bowl II. The two men’s semifinals take place first followed by the women’s title match, which will award the winner $10,000. The men’s title match follows with the winner taking home $25,000 and an exemption for the 2008-09 season.
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