ROHNERT PARK, Calif. – Brandi Branka of Fairview Heights, Illinois, made the first Professional Women’s Bowling Association (PWBA) Tour event of 2017 a memorable one by capturing the No. 2 seed for the championship round of the QubicaAMF PWBA Sonoma County Open.
She will be joined on the TV show by a pair of Colombian standouts, No. 1 Rocio Restrepo, who resides in Louisville, Ohio, and No. 4 Maria Jose Rodriguez, who lives in Austin, Texas, along with the PWBA Tour’s top left-hander, Shannon Pluhowsky of Dayton, Ohio, who went winless in five championship-round appearances in 2016.
The TV finals of the QubicaAMF PWBA Sonoma County Open will be taped Tuesday, May 23 during the United States Bowling Congress Queens and is scheduled to air June 6 on CBS Sports Network.
Branka’s day at Double Decker Lanes began with games of 256 and 257 to open Cashers’ Round, and the momentum continued into match play, where the 12 remaining bowlers, from the field of 32 cashers, were divided into two six-player groups for round-robin competition.
Branka, who trailed Group A leader Diana Zavjalova of Latvia by 39 pins entering the final game of match play, entered the 10th frame needing a double and good count on her fill shot to claim the Group A lead and an automatic television berth.
The 26-year-old right-hander rose to the occasion in the final stanza to earn her first career TV finals appearance as the No. 2 seed. Restrepo, who topped the Group B standings, earned the top seed for the TV show based on total pinfall for 24 games, including 30 bonus pins for each win in match play.
It was an accomplishment for Branka made even more impressive considering the demanding 40-foot lane condition all competitors faced during the first PWBA stop of 2017.
“I was nervous going into the match,” Branka said. “I don’t normally play as deep as I was on the lanes, so that made me a little nervous, but I just told myself to make sure to get it to the 3 pin and through the front part of the lane. Today, I wanted to make consistent shots, and I just kept telling myself to fill frames and whatever happens, happens. Stay consistent, get the ball to the headpin and make the spare. That’s what I’ve been taught since college, so I just take that and just go with it.”
The feat not only is a win for Branka, but as the head women’s bowling coach at Maryville University, it’s a win for her program as well. While Branka pushes the girls to be better, they also do the same for her.
“This means a lot,” Branka said. “My girls push me every day to get better. When I go out on tour my goal is to win a title, but I also have smaller goals of making the cashers’ round and making match play every week. If I continue to reach the smaller goals each week, I’ll be able to reach the larger goal. Hopefully, I’ll be able to reach the larger goal soon.”
Restrepo, who won two titles in 2016, has learned to use previous experiences to help her on tough lane conditions.
“Previous events have taught me to be patient and be consistent,” Restrepo said. “Today, I won three matches with 190s, and that was something I didn’t do at the U.S. Women’s Open last year. So, I feel bowling previous events, and not winning there, have led me to this because this is probably the hardest pattern I’ve bowled on in my life. I felt everyone was giving their best this week, and it shows the versatility these women have. To stay patient on something so demanding shows the character of the PWBA women.”
The players in the second, third and fourth positions in each group at the conclusion of match play advanced to their respective group stepladders Saturday at Double Decker Lanes and battled for the final two spots on the TV show.
Pluhowsky will make her first television appearance of the season after defeating amateur Karen Rosprim of Albany, California, 193-170, in the final of the Group B stepladder. Rosprim advanced by defeating Kelly Kulick of Union, New Jersey, 192-191.
The final TV spot went to Rodriguez, who defeated Zavjalova in the Group A final, 187-181. Rodriguez advanced on the strength of a 206-152 victory over Missy Parkin of Laguna Hills, California.
The No. 3 and No. 4 seeds were determined by average, though Pluhowsky and Rodrigues will meet in the opening game of the TV stepladder.
Competition at the 2017 QuibicaAMF PWBA Sonoma County Open began Friday with two six-game qualifying blocks to determine to the 32 players for Saturday’s Cashers’ Round.
An additional six-game block Saturday morning narrowed the field from the 32 cashers to the top 12 players for round-robin match play.
The 2017 PWBA Tour season continues next week with the PWBA Storm Sacramento Open at Steve Cook’s Fireside Lanes in Citrus Heights, California.
Go to PWBA.com for more information about the PWBA Tour. Qualifying and match-play rounds of PWBA Tour events are broadcast on Xtra Frame, the exclusive online bowling channel for the Professional Bowlers Association.