LAS VEGAS – Bill O’Neill of Langhorne, Pa., completed a dramatic performance to win his fourth Professional Bowlers Association Tour title in the Alka Seltzer Plus Cold Cheetah Championship, the opening tournament in the 2012-13 PBA Tour season, at South Point Hotel and Casino.
O’Neill, who won his last title in the 2010 Pepsi Viper Championship, started the title match with seven strikes and cruised to a 243-192 victory over top qualifier Mike Wolfe of New Albany, Ind.
The title match concluded an uphill battle that began when O’Neill barely made it into the Round of 16 in 16th place by two pins. After sneaking into the Round of 16, he advanced 12 positions to qualify fourth for the four-man stepladder finals by 28 pins.
In the stepladder finals, O’Neill eliminated Chris Loschetter of Avon, Ohio, 248-223, and Jeff Roche of Dearborn, Mich., 246-177, to advance to the title match where he raced to an easy victory over Wolfe.
The Cheetah Championship finals, conducted as part of the GEICO PBA World Series of Bowling IV, aired Sunday on ESPN.
“I was definitely confident today,” O’Neill said. “I wanted to get off to a good start. I knew what I needed to do. I had to stay mentally right and keep focused on my game, and make sure I wasn’t throwing errant shots.”
In his opening match, Loschetter started with five strikes before leaving a 10 pin and missing the spare. O’Neill answered with a string of six strikes after converting a single-pin spare in his first frame, taking a 23-pin lead after seven frames which Loschetter couldn’t overcome.
He had an easier time against Roche, who missed three spare attempts in the first five frames of his national television debut. O’Neill led by only 11 pins after four frames, but started a string of eight strikes in the fifth frame and ran away with the victory.
“When Jeff started off slow, I got a little complacent and I almost threw one shot in the gutter,” O’Neill said, “but I made the spare, and took a deep breath, and tried not to look ahead to the championship match.
“Winning again was definitely important. After not making any TV shows last season, I just wanted to bowl well. I wanted to compete again, and be in the hunt to make shows,” O’Neill added. “I made a lot of top 10s last season, but I never even threatened for a show. That’s what I wanted to do coming into the World Series. I worked really hard on my game over the summer and it’s paying off.”
In the title match, O’Neill admitted thoughts of bowling a nationally-televised 300 games began dancing in his head after building a big lead with seven strikes to start the contest. Wolfe, who didn’t throw consecutive strikes until the seventh and eighth frames, was all but eliminated after six frames.
“When I got the strike in the seventh frame, I knew I just needed one more mark to lock up the title,” he said. “I got to thinking it would be really cool to shoot 300, because Tony Reyes bowled 300 for his first title on this lane condition, and that was kind of going through my mind. I got a little jittery in the eighth and threw it a little quick, and left the 2-8-10. That’s what happened.”
Reyes, a close friend, died in late September of injuries sustained in a traffic accident near his northern California home.
“Tony was on all of our minds,” O’Neill said. “There was a masking unit with his picture on it in the bowling center and every time you saw it, it was sad, but you have to put it out of your mind. You just had to know he’d want you to do well. We all wish he was here.”
The 2012-13 PBA Tour season on ESPN continues next Sunday at 1 p.m. ET with the finals of the Viper Championship. Stepladder finalists will include Mike Fagan of Dallas; Finnish native Mika Koivuniemi of Hartland, Mich.; reigning PBA Player of the Year Sean Rash of Montgomery, Ill., and top qualifier Brad Angelo of Lockport, N.Y.
Pre- and post-telecast shows for all PBA-ESPN telecasts will be available on Xtra Frame, PBA’s online bowling channel.
ALKA SELTZER PLUS COLD CHEETAH CHAMPIONSHIP
South Point Exhibition Hall, Las Vegas
Final Standings: 1, Bill O’Neill, Langhorne, Pa., $20,000. 2, Mike Wolfe, New Albany, Ind., $10,000. 3, Jeff Roche, Dearborn, Mich., $7,000. 4, Chris Loschetter, Avon, Ohio, $5,000.
Stepladder Results: Match One – O’Neill def. Loschetter, 248-223. Semifinal Match – O’Neill def. Roche, 246-177. Championship – O’Neill def. Wolfe, 243-192.