LAS VEGAS – Sean Rash of Montgomery, Ill., won the PBA Tournament of Champions at Red Rock Lanes Sunday, ending a five-year, 14-tournament television drought with a 239-205 victory over Ryan Ciminelli of Cheektowaga, N.Y.
Rash, who hadn’t won a title since the 2007 United States Bowling Congress Masters, started the title match with four strikes and bowled an almost error-free game to win the $80,000 first prize and the fifth title of his career.
“This one ranks right up there with the most important titles I’ve ever won,” Rash said. “Your first title is always special, and so is your first major, but this tournament is special because everyone who bowls in it is a champion. The other guys in the finals are all great young players.
“The biggest thing is learning from your failures. I learned that a long time ago, and I’ve worked hard to overcome my mistakes,” the 29-year-old said. “The great thing about winning a title like this is we’re all family out here. Every other player wants the other guy to succeed. It really feels good.”
With his title, Rash also inserted himself into the PBA Player of the Year chase. He unofficially led the Tour in earnings, average and competition points while finishing in the top 10 in 11 of 14 tournaments.
Ciminelli had nothing but praise for Rash’s performance after eliminating two PBA Player of the Year candidates in his first two matches.
“I’m disappointed I didn’t win, but Sean bowled a great game. He earned it,” Ciminelli said. “Getting to the title match was another step in my career. I won by far the biggest check I’ve ever gotten ($40,000), I qualified for the Japan Cup and I’ll get to bowl in the PBA Summer Series, so it was a big week for me.
“And I think I handled the pressure well,” the 26-year-old left-hander said. “I usually beat myself up, but this week I’m proud of myself. There are going to be many, many more opportunities. I’m very young.”
In the semifinal match, Ciminelli missed a 7 pin in the first frame but raced away to a 257-223 victory over Australia’s Jason Belmonte, striking on nine of his next 10 shots. Belmonte couldn’t solve the right lane until the 10th frame and by then it was too late. Belmonte came into the finals with three victories during the 2011-12 PBA Tour season and was considered a leading contender in the PBA Player of the Year race.
In the opening match, Ciminelli defeated another Player of the Year contender, Mike Fagan of Dallas, 190-182, in a mistake-filled match. Fagan opened in three of his first five frames before rallying with a late turkey. Ciminelli also survived a pair of unconverted splits, throwing the first string of three strikes in the match to protect his slim lead and converting a 7 pin in the 10th frame to lock up the win. Fagan had won a pair of 2011-12 titles including the United States Bowling Congress Masters, one of the PBA Tour’s four major championships.
With Ciminelli’s loss, the PBA Tour completed its first season since 1962 without a left-handed title winner.
While the PBA Tour’s regular season ended with the Tournament of Champions, a special post-season PBA Summer Shootout is planned for Memorial Day weekend in Chicago. Details will be announced soon.
PBA TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS
Red Rock Lanes, Las Vegas, Sunday
1, Sean Rash, Montgomery, Ill., one game, 239 pins, $80,000.
2, Ryan Ciminelli, Cheektowaga, N.Y., three games, 652 pins, $40,000.
3, Jason Belmonte, Australia, one game, 223 pins, $20,000.
4, Mike Fagan, Dallas, one game, 182 pins, $12,000.
Match One: Ciminelli def. Fagan, 190-182.
Semifinal Match: Ciminelli def. Belmonte, 257-223.
Championship: Rash def. Ciminelli, 239-205.