November 28, 2007 19:00
After a sluggish start to the 2007-08 Denny’s PBA Tour season, Billy Oatman finally has his groove back.
The 2006-07 PBA Rookie of the Year averaged over 249 Thursday to earn the top spot in match play with a 3,491 14-game pinfall in the Great Lakes Classic at Spectrum Lanes.
Last season, Oatman became the first African-American to win the PBA’s Rookie of the Year award and at 41 years old also became the oldest bowler to win the award. He’s looking to win his first career Denny’s PBA Tour title this week after finishing second in last season’s Motel 6 Classic in Henderson, Nev., for his best career finish.
This season, Oatman has been struggling, making match play just once in his first four events. He recovered Thursday with games of 299 and 300 in the second block to take the lead away from PBA Hall of Famer Parker Bohn III.
“After practice yesterday I knew I had a pretty good shot, but I’ve been working on my mental game a lot lately and I said this week I won’t let anything bother me,” Oatman (Chicago) said. “I said whatever happens, happens. I was just trying to think ‘free your mind and your body will follow.’ I tried to just have fun and here I am averaging 249. It’s unbelievable.”
Oatman needed a big week to move up in the PBA World Point Rankings as he came into the week just 60th. The top 40 in points at the end of the season earn exemptions for the 2008-09 season. A high scoring pace this week has helped Oatman improve on that standing.
“I have no problems with a shootout,” Oatman said. “I do not mind a carry contest, as long as I’m invited to the party.”
Like Oatman, Bohn has struggled this season as he came into this week just 41st in the PBA World Point Rankings. The 30-time titlist has not won in his last 59 events which marks the longest title drought of his career.
Bohn (Jackson, N.J.) also shot one of the day’s four 300 games and finished with 3,405, good for a 243.21 average.
Finishing third with 3,305 was rookie Rhino Page (Topeka, Kan.), who was been making a name for himself this season by advancing through the Denny’s PBA Tour Qualifying Round four times in five tries. Page is looking to earn as exemption as the top non-exempt bowler in the PBA World Point Rankings, or via the top 40 in points. He came into this week 37th.
Riga Kalfas (Florence, Ky.) finished fourth with 3,271 while PBA Hall of Famer Tom Baker (King, N.C.) is fifth with 3,264. The 53-year-old Baker is the only exempt bowler who also bowls on the PBA Senior Tour. He was recently named the 2007 PBA Senior Player of the Year becoming the first bowler in history to win the award three consecutive years.
In addition to Baker, another elder-statesman made the cut to match play as 61-year-old Dale Eagle (Tavares, Fla.) finished 10th with 3,210. The 10-time PBA Senior Tour titlist advanced to the Round of 64 through Wednesday’s Qualifying Round.
Oatman will face No. 32 Dave D’Entremont (Middleburg Heights, Ohio), who won a one-game roll-off against Mike DeVaney, 193-188, for the final spot in match play after the two tied with 3,304. Bohn will face No. 31 Brad Angelo who finished second in last week’s CLR Windy City Classic.
Local favorite Mike Eaton Jr. (Wyoming, Mich.) finished seventh to advance to match play in the center his father owns. Eaton will face No. 26 Mike Mineman on Friday.
This week also features the fourth and final PBA Women’s Series event, a special mini-tour sponsored by the United States Bowling Congress (USBC) which features 16 of the best female bowlers in the world. Leading the field of 16 was Liz Johnson, who finished with 3,028.
Johnson, who won 11 titles on the now-defunct Professional Women’s Bowling Association (PWBA) Tour, has a memorable history at Spectrum Lanes. In 2005, Johnson competed in the 2005 Banquet Open against the men and became the fist woman to advance to the championship round in a Denny’s PBA Tour event. Johnson won her first match against Wes Malott that Sunday before falling to Tommy Jones in the title match to finish second.
Thought she came up short that week, the memory is still the most cherished in her illustrious career.
“This house will always bring back great memories,” Johnson (Cheektowaga, N.Y.) said. “Without a doubt, I’ve won a lot of titles, but to make a men’s TV show, that tops all of them. I won 11 times on the ladies’ tour and won a bunch of other meaningful titles, but I’ve gotten more notoriety for that show and finishing second.
“It was just a very special moment in my life. Even when I’ve bowled poorly here, in the back of my mind I always think how good this place has been to me.”
In this season’s PBA Women’s Series, Johnson has bowled as consistent as anyone despite not winning a title. She qualified third twice and fourth once in the previous three events, finishing fourth, fifth and second overall. She fell to Joy Esterson in the title match of the Lake County Indiana Classic two weeks ago, losing a one-ball sudden death roll-off for the title after the two tied at 226.
“I’ve been pretty consistent and today was probably the worst I’ve bowled and I’m leading somehow,” Johnson said. “My timing was off all day but tomorrow is a new day and hopefully the pins drop in match play.”
Finishing second was Olivia Sandham (Wichita, Kan.) with 3,025 followed by Amy Stolz (Castle Rock, Colo.) in third with 3,023.
Johnson will face 20-time PWBA champion Carolyn Dorin-Ballard in the Round of 8 Friday afternoon. Dorin-Ballard (North Richland Hills, Texas), who was out of the cut most of the day, fired a 249 the final game to earn the final spot by 39 pins.
Sandham will face Tish Johnson (Colorado Springs, Colo.) while Stolz will face Diandra Asbaty (Chicago), who finished sixth. Asbaty was a late fill-in for Robin Romeo, who was already taking the place of exempt PBA Women’s Series player Wendy Macpherson who took the week off. Asbaty bowled the Wednesday Qualifying Round against the men and missed the cut, but she took Romeo’s spot when she injured her thumb Wednesday.
Match play, which is single elimination best-of-seven games, gets underway Friday with the men’s Round of 32 at 9 a.m. followed by the Round of 16 and women’s Round of 8 at 2 p.m. The men’s Round of 8 and women’s Round of 4 get underway at 7 p.m.
The top four men and top two women advance to Sunday’s live ESPN-televised championship round at 1 p.m. EST. The two men’s semifinals take place first, followed by the Women’s Series title match which will award the winner $10,000. The men’s title match follows and awards the winner $25,000 and an exemption for the 2008-09 season.
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