SEMINOLE, Fla. - After a few frustrating weeks on the Professional Women's Bowling Association Tour, Shannon O'Keefe of O'Fallon, Illinois, got back to feeling like herself again, and it showed as she captured the No. 1 seed for the TV finals of the 2017 PWBA St. Petersburg-Clearwater Open.
O'Keefe held the overall lead after the second round of qualifying at Seminole Lanes, and she never relinquished the top spot despite her 2-4 record during the match-play portion of the event Saturday.
She topped the Group A standings with a 5,616 total, locking up a spot in the championship round, which will be taped for delayed broadcast Aug. 6 at Plano Super Bowl in Plano, Texas, and air on CBS Sports Network on Aug. 22.
O'Keefe withstood a potential challenge from Group B leader Giselle Poss of Montgomery, Illinois, who defeated defending champion Rocio Restrepo of Louisville, Ohio, in an epic position-round battle to clinch her first career PWBA TV appearance.
Poss earned the No. 2 seed based on total pinfall, including bonus pins for each of her wins in match play (5,503). O'Keefe and Poss will be joined by No. 3 seed Danielle McEwan of Stony Point, New York, and No. 4 seed Clara Guerrero of Colombia.
O'Keefe, 38, had been battling some issues in her physical game during the past few events, which contributed to her not cashing at the PWBA Greater Detroit Open and the Go Bowling PWBA Players Championship. The recovery period began last week at the PWBA Orlando Open, where she began to feel better and more confident with the help of her ball rep and husband, Bryan.
With an extra set of eyes, O'Keefe focused on a different portion of her physical game each round and ultimately left Orlando with a top-five finish.
"When I start getting in trouble, my shoulders get overactive," O'Keefe said. "When I push the ball, I'll chase it with my right shoulder, and then I pull back a little bit and the ball gets stuck behind my back. I'll have a lot of shots where I'll miss a little right, and then I'll grab one. I was really just trying to tighten everything back up, making sure I just drop the ball from the spot in my pushaway, don't let my shoulder chase it into my swing and keep my left arm really stable. Those things are really important for my success."
This week, O'Keefe put it all together on the 40-foot Sport Bowling-certified lane condition and will make her first trip to television as a competitor in 2017. She claimed three titles in 2016, including her first professional singles title, but her time on TV this season has been as a sideline reporter on the PWBA telecasts.
"It just feels good," said O'Keefe, who won the Pepsi PWBA Lincoln Open last season as the No. 1 seed. "It feels good to know I haven't lost it. I missed back-to-back checks, and those little mental demons do come at you. You start thinking, 'Gosh, did I lose it? Do I still have what it takes?' because these young girls are really good. But, I'm still ok. I'm not the old lady yet. I just have to take it one shot at a time and fight my own mental demons, which everybody does."
Poss, a recent graduate of Vanderbilt University and PWBA Tour rookie, entered the position round trailing Restrepo by 16 pins, which meant the winner of the match would earn an automatic TV bid.
Both players began the match with six strikes, and both players saw their strings end in the seventh frame. Restrepo left a 2-8-10 split for an open frame, while Poss left a 4 pin, which she converted.
Poss, 22, opened in the ninth frame, chopping the 2-4-8 combination, and she needed a double and eight pins in the final frame to shut out Restrepo. Poss showed great poise after the open by tossing three strikes in the 10th frame for a 247-231 victory.
"I've been working a lot on my emotions, and after I have an open frame, I tend to have another open frame," said Poss, who was a 2017 National Tenpin Coaches Association First Team All-American. "I tried to calm myself down as quickly as possible with breathing. Plus, I had nothing to lose, so I just put it all out there for three shots. The third wasn't the best, but it struck, and I'm happy about that."
McEwan, 25, made the most of the PWBA's time in the state of Florida as she qualified for her second television show in as many weeks, this time defeating Stefanie Johnson of McKinney, Texas, 208-198, in the Group A stepladder final.
McEwan, who began to feel more like herself recently during the Tour's second major of the season, now will head to her home state of New York next week looking to qualify for a third consecutive TV appearance. McEwan earned the No. 2 seed for the finals of last week's PWBA Orlando Open.
"It started at the (Go Bowling) Players Championship, where I started to feel like myself again," said McEwan, who finished fourth at the 2017 PWBA Storm Sacramento Open. "I told myself to make every tournament for the rest of the season better than the last. So, that mentality has been helping me not put so much pressure on each individual event and instead just focus on improving myself."
Stefanie Johnson defeated two-time reigning PWBA Player of the Year Liz Johnson of Deerfield, Illinois, 219-159, in the Group A semifinal to advance. It was the first time this season Liz Johnson qualified for match play and did not advance to a television final. She has advanced to the championship round seven times in 2017.
Guerrero averaged 246 during the Group B stepladder finals and captured her spot by defeating Restrepo, her Team Colombia teammate, 244-204, in the final. It has been a tough year for Guerrero, who is battling a finger injury and has come up just shy of television in multiple events.
Guerrero, 35, couldn't hide her excitement after securing her return ticket to television.
"It feels amazing," Guerrero said. "I've been close twice, and it has been heartbreaking missing the show those times. It has been quite a season mentally, more than anything else. It feels amazing to be back. It feels amazing to get it done against such great players in the stepladder. Just to bowl great again feels amazing and I'm happy to be back on TV."
Guerrero defeated Erin McCarthy of Omaha, Nebraska, 248-227, in the Group B semifinal.
Competition this week at the PWBA St. Petersburg-Clearwater Open included two six-game qualifying blocks Friday at Seminole Lanes to determine the 32 players for Saturday's cashers' round.
An additional six-game block Saturday morning narrowed the field from the 32 cashers to 12 players for round-robin match play.
The 2017 PWBA Tour season continues next week with the Nationwide PWBA Rochester Open at AMF Gates Lanes in Rochester, New York.
Qualifying and match-play rounds of PWBA Tour events are broadcast on Xtra Frame, the exclusive online bowling channel for the Professional Bowlers Association.