Tuesday was a big day for the underdogs in the Professional Bowlers Association Scorpion Championships at Thunderbowl Lanes where defending champions Wes Malott of Pflugerville, Texas, and Michelle Feldman of Auburn, N.Y., were among the victims, and a local player who is the face of Michigan’s struggling automotive industry was one of the heroes.
Thomas Smallwood of Saginaw, who decided to give the professional tour a try after being laid off from his job at General Motors, out-lasted 34-time PBA Tour champion Norm Duke of Clermont, Fla., to make his first television final. Smallwood’s 211-207 victory ended a 4-3 best-of-seven-game match and knocked Duke out of the tournament. Smallwood had never finished higher than eighth in limited PBA Tour competition over the past few years.
“I’m just beat up, drained,” Smallwood said. “Norm is probably one of the three greatest bowlers ever and I won. He left a couple of 7 pins that probably shouldn’t have stood up, but I’m okay with that. And to get past Chris Barnes in the Round of 16, too?
“Two months ago I was going to go find a job, but now I’m here and I made a TV show. To get to this point is unbelievable,” the 31-year-old added. “To beat two of the best players ever is amazing.”
Malott, who dominated on the PBA Scorpion lane condition last season, nipped Venezuela’s Amleto Monacelli, 4-3, in their best-of-seven-game Round of 16 match, but was no match for Sean Rash of Wichita, Kan., in the Round of 8, losing, 4-2. In the other matches, Australia’s two-handed sensation, Jason Belmonte, ousted No. 3 qualifier Steve Jaros of Yorkville, Ill., 4-2, and Mike DeVaney of San Diego advanced to the Sept. 6 ESPN finals with a 4-2 decision over Jack Jurek of Lackawanna, N.Y.
Reaching the TV final brought a sense of relief to Belmonte, who is experiencing pressure – external and self-imposed – to duplicate the success of his first PBA Tour victory in Long Island, N.Y., late in the 2008-09 season.
“I really got off to a bad start in the World Series,” Belmonte said, “but I’ve come to realize it’s a long road out here. I tend to be short-sighted, to see what’s in front of me right now, but you have to get past all that and just bowl.
“Today was a real roller coaster of emotions for me. I started great against the greatest bowler ever to walk the face of the earth – Walter Ray Williams Jr. – and once I got past him, I had this feeling that I shouldn’t lose to anyone else.”
Liz Johnson of Cheektowaga, N.Y., who has won every significant women’s title over the past two years except a PBA Women’s Series singles title, cruised into the Women’s Scorpion Championship title match with a 4-0 victory over Feldman. Johnson will bowl for the title on Sept. 6 against Shannon Pluhowsky of Phoenix, who upset top qualifier Kelly Kulick of Union, N.J., 4-2.
“I was able to play an outside line tonight with an aggressive ball and it really worked,” Johnson said. “I still have my eye on that title, but the only way to get one is to keep making TV shows.”
The TV final is the second in World Series of Bowling competition for both women. Johnson also has qualified for the Sept. 5 Women’s Viper Championship along with Lynda Barnes of Double Oak, Texas, while Pluhowsky is a finalist in the Women’s Chameleon Championship where she’ll bowl Carolyn Dorin-Ballard of Keller, Texas, on Sept. 6.
The PBA Scorpion Championships which will be taped for delayed telecast on ESPN on Sunday, Nov. 29.
PBA SCORPION CHAMPIONSHIPS
Thunderbowl Lanes, Allen Park, Mich., Aug. 25
Round of 8 (best of seven games, winners advance to ESPN final on Sept. 6; losers eliminated and earned $4,600)
Thomas Smallwood, Saginaw, Mich., def. Norm Duke, Clermont, Fla., 4-3
Mike DeVaney, San Diego, def. Jack Jurek, Lackawanna, N.Y., 4-2
Jason Belmonte, Australia, def. Steve Jaros, Yorkville, Ill., 4-2
Sean Rash, Wichita, Kan., def. Wes Malott, Pflugerville, Texas, 4-2
PBA WOMEN’S SERIES PRESENTED BY BOWL.COM SCORPION CHAMPIONSHIP
Thunderbowl Lanes, Allen Park, Mich., Aug. 24
Semifinal Round (best of seven games, winners advance to ESPN final on Sept. 6; losers eliminated and earned $4,000)
Liz Johnson, Cheektowaga, N.Y., def. Michelle Feldman, Auburn, N.Y., 4-0
Shannon Pluhowsky, Phoenix, def. Kelly Kulick, Union, N.J., 4-2