Well, did I lie? Last week I said this Sunday's episode of the PBA World Championship on ESPN would be filled with thrills, chills and spills - and the four players who comprised the Mike Aulby Division Finals did not disappoint.
A 300 game by Jason Belmonte! A tight finish between Mike Fagan and Brian Kretzer for the last spot in the title match. And a harrowing fall by rookie Josh Blanchard made this week's show by far the most talked-about telecast of the season.
Let's get right to the action because this group was fighting for the last of four spots (Osku Palermaa, Ryan Shafer and Sean Rash nailed down the first three) in the PBA World Championship finals next week on ESPN. Our opening match, unlike the scorefests we've seen the last two weeks, illustrated the difficulty of the Shark oil pattern (Belmonte's choice), with no one really looking 100% comfortable and two players (Belmonte and Blanchard) looking very lost indeed.
Blanchard began to unravel after flagging a 7-pin in the 2nd, following that miss up with two more open frames to give the rest of the guys a chance to breathe. Belmonte gave Blanchard hope however, as he struggled for the opening five frames, only holding on to an 18-pin advantage at the halfway point. Fagan was able to stay out of trouble throughout the match, while Kretzer, who likes to play well left with slow speed, seemed to have the best look of the finalists early.
As the match wore on, Belmonte settled down and began to hammer the pocket. Two rock-solid 9-pins after a double kept him from pulling away from Blanchard, but the young, recently graduated collegiate star just couldn't find it. When he left the 2-10 in the 9th, any outside chance he might have had went by the wayside, but on the spare attempt things went from bad to worse for poor Josh.
Throwing a brand-new spare ball, Blanchard hung up in the thumb - and I'm talking HUNG UP - as in, it didn't come off his hand. The momentum of the ball carried Blanchard awkwardly out onto the lane surface, where he then slipped and fell right on his keyster between the right edge of the lane and the right gutter. Like a gentleman, Belmonte went out to check if he was OK - he was - but the real damage was undoubtedly more to Blanchard's ego.
I can tell you that the moment was just as scary live as it was on tape - and equally as shocking. I wish I could say that I've never seen anything like this before - but I have. I did it myself during a PBA regional event. Of course, when I did it no one was there with a video camera (let alone ten HD ESPN cameras) and it didn't end up on youtube or yahoo's home page or Sportscenter.
One fan wondered on Facebook why the PBA didn't edit out the moment from the telecast to spare Josh the ignominy. My feeling on that is that Josh will make many more shows in the future and will experience a lot of success in the sport. Omitting it would have robbed Josh of the ability to gain new fans, plus what will be the satisfaction of redeeming himself the next time he finds himself under the TV lights.
The show went on in Match 2, and Randy and Chris Barnes' astute observation that Jason Belmonte would start to get comfortable the longer he stayed on the show began to come true in a big way. Belmonte (and really everyone through the first half of the game) started to get lined in and the strikes began to mount. Both Fagan and Kretzer slowed down in the latter part of the match, but Belmonte continued to strike, staying perfect heading into the 10th. He threw three great shots there to cap off an astounding display of accuracy and power that saw him become the 21st player in PBA history to roll a 300 game on television (and a $10,000 bonus).
It was probably also the only time in PBA history that a televised match was not decided after the first player to finish shot 300. That's because Fagan and Kretzer were still close heading into the 10th. Kretzer finished first and had a chance to close out the match with 9 pins on his fill ball. He threw a rocket at the pocket that bounced off the headpin like Rodney Dangerfield's shot in this Miller Lite commercial (look for a cameo from the late, great Don Carter) and left a pocket 8-10. Fagan needed three strikes to tie. So what does he do? HE MAKES A BALL CHANGE!
That's right folks. A ball change. (A move that Chris Barnes said he liked and I also happened to agree). Fagan guessed right and struck on the first one, but the second shot hooked a bit high for a 4-pin, giving Kretzer a 231-220 win and the chance to get slaughtered by - oops, I mean - to bowl against, Belmonte.
Although Belmonte did begin to lose his reaction in the middle and then again towards the end of the final match, Kretzer seemed to be the one suffering from a "300 hangover" as he never was able to figure anything out in the title match. Belmonte's quick start buried Kretzer early and, by the time things started to get really interesting for Belmonte, he just needed to stay clean in the 9th and 10th to lock up the match. He did so, winning 196-179, and now we have an unbelievably great final four for next week's competition for the first major of the PBA season.
See you all next week!
PS - And if you're also upset that a guy falling down got more coverage in the national media than a guy throwing a 300 on TV with two freaking hands, then feel free to vent your frustrations in the direction of those responsible!
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