FINAL STANDINGS | STEPLADDER
By Daniel Farish and Aaron Smith
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Dasha Kovalova of Ukraine became the fourth bowler in Professional Women’s Bowling Association Tour history to roll a televised 300 game as she captured the win at the 2019 Pepsi PWBA Louisville Open on Saturday.
Kovalova posted 12 consecutive strikes in the championship match at Executive Strike and Spare to defeat United States Bowling Congress Hall of Famer Liz Johnson of Palatine, Illinois, 300-163, to win her second career PWBA Tour title.
The 24-year-old right-hander claimed $10,000 for the win and an additional $10,000 for the perfect game on CBS Sports Network from Go Bowling!
“Honestly, I don’t remember too much – I had tunnel vision,” said Kovalova, who won the 2019 USBC Queens. “I was really nervous, but once I tripped that 4 pin (on the 10th shot) I knew I had to make a move. That’s what brought me back. When I’m nervous, it’s good for me to go back to basics. I made a one-and-one move, made two shots and it worked.”
Kovalova rolled 19 strikes in her two wins Saturday, never missing the pocket, but her look prior to her semifinal match against Colombia’s Maria José Rodriguez suggested she may be relying more on her spare shooting to advance.
A jump to the left quickly changed her path on the way to a 226-198 win against Rodriguez, and she didn’t lose any momentum against Johnson, who was looking for her 25th career PWBA Tour title.
“In practice, I really didn’t have great ball reaction,” Kovalova said. “And I was nervous because I saw everybody else’s ball reaction. After talking with Chuck (Gardner), I decided to make a really big jump and just go softer with my hand.”
Kovalova’s breakout season now has her joining reigning PWBA Player of the Year Shannon O’Keefe of Shiloh, Illinois, as the only players with multiple wins in 2019.
“It’s cool,” Kovalova said. “Last season was good, but not that good. I didn’t really expect it to be this good. I’m just happy things are going the way they are, and I’m excited for more. ”
Johnson, who led the event by nearly 100 pins to earn the top seed Saturday, used the same ball throughout the first two days at Executive Strike and Spare but felt she needed to make a change on the championship pair.
Although the final game didn’t go as she hoped, she was happy with her overall performance for the week.
“I was feeling like the farther I had to move in, I couldn’t get the angle I wanted,” said Johnson, who rolled a 300 game in the championship round of the 2001 Paula Carter Classic in Davie, Florida. “I thought the ball I started the finals with was going to give me the angle I wanted on the back part of the lane. It wasn’t my best choice, but I wasn’t making great shots either, so the combination of the two obviously hurt me. But, I’m incredibly proud of myself for the way I bowled this week.”
Rodriguez, who was making her second consecutive championship-round appearance after a fourth-place finish at the PWBA East Hartford Open, advanced to the semifinals by defeating Germany’s Birgit Pöppler, 190-181. Pöppler also had made the show in East Hartford, Connecticut, last week, finishing as the runner-up to O’Keefe.
Rodriguez kicked off Saturday’s stepladder by edging Missy Parkin of Laguna Hills, California, in a high-scoring match, 248-237. Rodriguez struck on her first delivery in the 10th frame and knocked over nine pins on her second to lock up the victory.
A total of 32 players earned spots in this week’s main field. The top 24 players on the 2019 PWBA points list (through the PWBA East Hartford Open) secured automatic spots in the field, while a pre-tournament qualifier (PTQ) held Thursday at Executive Strike and Spare determined the bowlers filling the rest of the field.
Singapore’s Cherie Tan was the lone player in the top 24 not to compete this week, which allowed nine bowlers to advance from the PTQ.
Defending PWBA Louisville Open champion Erin McCarthy of Omaha, Nebraska, finished the week in 32nd place.
The elite field bowled 16 games Friday to determine the top 12 competitors, which bowled an additional six games Saturday. Total pinfall for 22 games determined the five finalists.
BowlTV.com provided livestream coverage of all rounds leading up to the stepladder finals.
The 2019 season will continue next week at the BowlerX.com PWBA Orlando Open. The event will take place Aug. 15-17 at Boardwalk Bowl in Orlando, Florida, with the stepladder finals airing live Aug. 17 at 4 p.m. Eastern on CBS Sports Network.