March 30, 2007 19:00
Heading into the final event of the 2006-07 Denny’s PBA Tour season, the PBA Player of the Year race was still up in the air.
After Saturday’s Round of 8 at Mohegan Sun Arena, two front runners took a big step forward.
Norm Duke, who has a Tour-leading three titles this season, put his foot down first, knocking off Robert Smith (Captain Cook, Hawaii), four-games-to-two. Chris Barnes, looking to defend his 2006 Tournament of Champions crown, responded in the second set of matches with a 4-1 win over Mike Wolfe (New Albany, Ind.).
Early on it looked like Duke would falter in his quest to appear in his fourth TV appearance of the season, falling in a quick 2-0 hole as Smith posted a score of 227 in the first two games compared to the 26-time titlist’s 202 and 212, respectively.
Seeing his chances for a third career PBA Major title and a second PBA Tournament of Champions title slipping away, the 25-year Tour veteran awoke and responded with a vengeance, taking the next four games to end the match.
“This one means a lot to me because of the Player of the Year race,” said Duke (Clermont, Fla.). “I’m sure Chris Barnes feels the same elation because he is in the race as well. We are the last two remaining bowlers in this tournament who are in major contention in the Player of the Year race, so it means that much more.”
Duke planted the seed for his comeback with a 247-219 win in game three before making it two straight with a 234-222 win in game four. It was the closest margin that Smith would build as Duke took the next two games, 279-239 and 258-206, respectively.
Duke will look to put himself one step closer to the award when he takes on Tony Reyes in the semifinals in Sunday’s ESPN televised finals.
Reyes advanced to his third consecutive TV appearance and fourth on the season by dispatching of all-time Denny’s PBA Tour title leader Walter Ray Williams Jr. (Ocala, Fla.), 4-1. Reyes (San Bruno, Calif.) came out slow with three open frames in the first game giving Williams a 289-179 win.
It was all Reyes from that point on as the right-hander, who is in the midst of a career-year, took the next four matches, striking in 21 of 23 frames between games three and four, earning 289-269 and 299-191 wins, respectively. Reyes closed out the match with 268-257 win in game five.
While it looked like Barnes would advance with a sweep, Wolfe forced the match to five games after dropping the first three. In a match in which scoring seemed to rise with each game, Barnes opened with wins of 220-193, 234-204 and 279-226.
In the seventh frame of the first match, Barnes (Double Oak, Texas) jumped on an early wave of momentum that he rode throughout the match. Up by just seven pins, Barnes took advantage of Wolfe’s open frame by firing the fourth in a string of six strikes that came after two open frames of his own.
Wolfe, on the edge of being swept, posted his highest score of the match in a 279-235 game four win, stringing together nine strikes. Barnes would quickly diminish all hope that Wolfe had by striking in 10 of 12 frames, including the final seven frames, in a 268-201 win in game five.
Barnes will not have an easy defense of the Tournament of Champions title as he takes on 2005-06 PBA Player of the Year Tommy Jones (Simpsonville, S.C.).
Jones knew his match against PBA Hall of Famer Parker Bohn III (Jackson, N.J.) wouldn’t be easy. After edging Bohn in the first game, 221-218, Jones widened his winning margin with a 226-204 in his second win of the match.
Bohn, who has 30 career Denny’s PBA Tour titles, flexed his muscles in the third game of the match with a 254-225 win.
Jones seeing his chance to win his second career Major title in sight closed the door with two consecutive 258’s in games four and five while Bohn was only able to counter with games of 245 and 217, respectively.
The four bowlers advance to Sunday’s live ESPN televised finals at 1 p.m. ET at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. The winner will take home $60,000 and a two-season exemption through the 2008-09 Denny’s PBA Tour season.
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