Qualifying: Rd. 3 | Rd. 4
LINCOLN, Neb. – A day before her 47th birthday, Liz Johnson of Niagara Falls, New York, earned a long-awaited gift as she put together an unforgettable performance to win her 25th Professional Women’s Bowling Association Tour title at the 2021 PWBA Lincoln Open.
Johnson collected three victories to run the ladder in Saturday’s championship round at Sun Valley Lanes, averaging 261 in her three wins, which included a 300 game in the semifinal and a 238-213 victory over Kelly Kulick of Union, New Jersey, in the title match.
The 10-time major champion earned $10,000 for the win, and a $10,000 bonus from Go Bowling for rolling a perfect game during the stepladder finals.
BowlTV.com provided wire-to-wire coverage of the 2021 PWBA Lincoln Open, including the stepladder finals.
“This is probably the best birthday present I’ve ever had,” said Johnson, a United States Bowling Congress Hall of Famer. “I couldn’t ask for a better present, and this is one I’ll never forget.”
The title tilt featured Johnson holding the slight edge through the first seven frames, with a 7-10 split from Kulick in the eighth frame giving Johnson a 25-pin lead as the game neared its conclusion.
Needing eight pins in two shots to secure the win in the final frame, Johnson rolled a strike to claim her first title since the 2018 Nationwide PWBA Columbus Open.
The win moves Johnson into a tie for fourth place on the PWBA’s all-time titles list, joining Patty Costello and Tish Johnson. Lisa Wagner tops the list with 32 wins, with Aleta Sill and Leanne Hulsenberg following with 31 and 27 victories, respectively.
Johnson’s historic run Saturday, which also included the right-hander becoming the first bowler in PWBA history to roll multiple 300 games in championship-round appearances, was the result of trying to do something different in attacking the event’s 46-foot oil pattern after the scoring pace slowed down toward the end of qualifying.
There have been five perfect games rolled in championship rounds on the PWBA Tour, with the last being achieved at the 2019 Pepsi PWBA Louisville Open by Ukraine’s Dasha Kovalova. Kovalova’s 300 game was against Johnson in the title match.
“They were brutal earlier today, and after talking to my ball reps, we tried something out,” said Johnson, who rolled her first 300 in a championship-round appearance during the title match of the 2001 Paula Carter Classic. “I wanted to take a ball and put some surface on it to see how it looked from the outside part of the lane. It was the same ball I had used most of the week, but from different angles. I was fortunate to find the right combination.
“I felt really focused tonight. It was probably the most I’ve been in a long time, and everything kind of fell into place. My mindset was good, I felt great physically and was making the shots I needed. I was very excited to have another chance to shoot 300, and being able to do that and win tonight was absolutely amazing.”
Johnson’s 300 game in the semifinal was against Gazmine Mason of Cranston, Rhode Island, who was making her first championship-round appearance on the national tour after winning a pair of regional titles in 2019 and 2020. Mason rolled 232 in the match.
Saturday’s opening game featured Johnson besting Shannon Pluhowsky of Dayton, Ohio, 245-223.
Mason and Pluhowsky were part of a large contingent of former University of Nebraska standouts competing at the PWBA Lincoln Open this week.
Mason helped the Cornhuskers win the 2015 NCAA Women’s Bowling Championship, while Pluhowsky was part of three national-title-winning teams (2001 Intercollegiate Team Championships and 2004 and 2005 NCAA) and recently helped Nebraska claim the 2021 NCAA title as an assistant coach.
Johnson qualified as the No. 4 seed for the stepladder after rolling 216 in her final qualifying game to jump into the top four. Kulick, who finished third at last week’s PWBA Twin Cities Open and was looking for her seventh PWBA Tour title, earned the top seed by averaging more than 224 for 24 games, finishing with a 5,381 total.
The 65-player field bowled 12 games Friday, before the first cut to the top 32 athletes. Advancers bowled an additional six-game block Saturday morning, with the top 12 competing in a final six-game round to determine the four bowlers for the stepladder finals, based on 24-game pinfall totals.
The 2021 PWBA Tour season, which features 20 events, will head next to Yorktown Lanes in Parma Heights, Ohio, for the PWBA Greater Cleveland Open. The event will take place May 6-8.