By Daniel Farish and Aaron Smith
Note: Results from the Go Bowling! PWBA Regional Showdown, which airs Saturday, Aug. 24 on CBS Sports Network, are included at the bottom of this news release.
FINAL STANDINGS | STEPLADDER
ORLANDO, Fla. - Shannon O'Keefe of Shiloh, Illinois, became the first player in nearly 20 years to claim four titles in a Professional Women's Bowling Association Tour season by winning the 2019 BowlerX.com PWBA Orlando Open at Boardwalk Bowl.
O'Keefe, the reigning PWBA Player of the Year, edged Danielle McEwan of Stony Point, New York, in the championship match Saturday, 207-202, to record her 12th career PWBA Tour title and take home the $10,000 top prize.
The stepladder finals of the BowlerX.com PWBA Orlando Open aired live on CBS Sport Network.
"I don't know if there are words to describe it," O'Keefe said. "I'm very proud of my season, proud of how I'm competing and proud of how I've been mentally approaching it. This season, more than any other, has just been so vivid to me."
O'Keefe and McEwan have been at the top of the PWBA points list the last two seasons, and the title tilt lived up to expectations, as both players entered their respective final frame with the chance to secure the win.
O'Keefe, who finished the match first, had made a ball change on the left lane in the eighth frame but elected to switch back to the ball she used throughout the stepladder finals after making a bad shot and leaving a 3 pin, which she converted.
"We decided to be a little gutsy in the eighth frame," O'Keefe said. "I threw that ball in the fill the previous game, and it read the lane so well. We were trying to strike on that lane, and I just threw a bad shot."
With a strike in the ninth frame, she needed to roll two strikes in the 10th for the chance to shut out McEwan. After recording the first strike, she left a 4 pin on her second shot to give McEwan an opportunity to lock up her second win of 2019.
"The left lane was just a little tricky," O'Keefe said. "It had a little wiggle spot, but if you got it going up the lane, it wanted to hook. I was really making sure my hand was soft through the bottom and to stay down on my shots. I told myself to just execute and be proud of my execution. I threw the first one in the 10th so good, but I twirled the second one just a bit."
McEwan's first delivery in the 10th frame was left of target, resulting in a 6-10 combination.
O'Keefe's run of success since the relaunch of the PWBA Tour in 2015 is apparent, but her ability to keep putting herself in position to win now has her name being mentioned with great bowlers from different eras.
The last time a player won at least four titles in a season on the PWBA Tour was 2001, when future United States Bowling Congress Hall of Famers Carolyn Dorin-Ballard (seven wins) and Liz Johnson (four wins) and Australia's Cara Honeychurch (four wins) each accomplished the feat.
The 2001 season featured 23 events, while O'Keefe claimed her fourth title in the 12th event of the season.
The PWBA ceased operations during the 2003 season before the relaunch in 2015.
"As I get older and my career progresses, it's very cool to hear your name mentioned in the same sentence as the people you've looked up to," O'Keefe said. "To be able to achieve something like that is very humbling for me."
O'Keefe was the No. 2 seed for Saturday's championship round after a miscue in her final frame during the Round of 12 earlier in the day cost her the chance to tie for the top seed and force a one-game roll-off with McEwan.
Needing a double in the 10th frame to secure the top spot outright or a strike and spare to tie McEwan, O'Keefe delivered the first strike but left and missed a 10 pin to finish the frame and fall one pin short of McEwan's overall qualifying total of 4,788 for 22 games.
McEwan admitted to not making the shots she needed in the title match, but she's still seeing improvement in her game as the 2019 season nears completion.
"It wasn't a good shot (in the 10th frame), and I had too many bad shots against the greatest player on the planet in Shannon O'Keefe," said McEwan, a five-time PWBA Tour champion and the 2019 U.S. Women's Open winner. "That's just something you can't do.
"I ended up holding onto a spot on the show, though, which is an improvement from last week. I'm happy to still be seeing small improvements in my game from week to week, especially at this point of the season."
In Saturday's semifinal, O'Keefe rolled four consecutive strikes, starting in the fourth frame, to jump ahead of Colombia's Rocio Restrepo and never looked back, earning her spot in the title match with a 226-201 win. Restrepo, a four-time PWBA Tour champion who has been fighting injuries all season, was making her first championship-round appearance of the year.
Restrepo advanced to the semifinals by staying clean in a 197-179 win over Liz Kuhlkin of Schenectady, New York. Kuhlkin won the 2018 U.S. Women's Open at Boardwalk Bowl, winning four consecutive matches on her way to the title.
In Saturday's opening match, Kuhlkin rolled eight strikes on the way to a 228-194 victory over Katelyn Simpson of Emmett, Idaho. Simpson was making her first career championship-round appearance.
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 Pepsi PWBA Louisville Open) secured automatic spots in the field, while a pre-tournament qualifier (PTQ) held Thursday at Boardwalk Bowl 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.
The elite field bowled 16 games Friday to determine the top 12 competitors, who advanced to bowl 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.
A second event was taped for broadcast Saturday at Boardwalk Bowl after the conclusion of the BowlerX.com PWBA Orlando Open.
The Go Bowling! PWBA Regional Showdown, a made-for-TV event showcasing the top PWBA regional players of the 2019 season, also will be shown on CBS Sports Network, airing on Saturday, Aug. 24 at 5 p.m. Eastern.
Julia Bond of Aurora, Illinois, was able to record the win and claim the $6,000 top prize, besting former University of Nebraska teammate Gazmine Mason of Cranston, Rhode Island, in the two-game total-pinfall match, 441-420.
Bond, the winner of two PWBA regional events this season, advanced to the finals by defeating Kayla Bandy of Salisbury, Maryland, 214-204. Mason, the winner of the PWBA East Hartford Regional, defeated PWBA Greater Cleveland Regional champion Elise Bolton of Merritt Island, Florida, 217-214, to earn her spot in the finals.