PLANO, Texas – Missing the first eight events of the 2017 Professional Women’s Bowling Association Tour season didn’t keep Stefanie Johnson of McKinney, Texas, from punching her ticket to the season-ending Smithfield PWBA Tour Championship.
Returning to the PWBA Tour following maternity leave, Johnson didn’t skip a beat as she climbed the stepladder to claim her second career PWBA title with a 189-184 victory over Germany’s Birgit Poppler in the title match of the PWBA Orlando Open.
The Johnson family grew to four in March, as Stefanie, her husband, Chris, and their son, Levi, welcomed Kenzie in March. Two months after her daughter was born, Stefanie was cleared to bowl and made the PWBA Orlando Open her first competitive event because it, too, represented family.
Qualifying and match play rounds were held at Boardwalk Bowl in Orlando, Florida, with the stepladder finals taking place at Plano Super Bowl, where Johnson is the center’s group sales manager. The finals aired Tuesday on CBS Sports Network.
“I’m kind of at a loss for words because I started it in Orlando, which was my first tournament back, and where I really fell in love with bowling at UCF (University of Central Florida),” Johnson said. “I worked there, I bowled there … I lived there. To start it there and finish it here, my new home, I just don’t know how it could be any better.”
The title match saw Johnson and Poppler match strike for strike in the opening frames, before Johnson left the 4-9 split in the fourth frame and failed to convert it. A 7-10 split for Poppler in the fifth fame allowed Johnson to get right back in the game.
In the eighth frame, Poppler left the 3-4-6-7-9-10 combination, getting only three more for her second open frame, and Johnson took advantage with back-to-back spares. She would step up in the 10th frame needing just eight pins for the title.
“It was the lowest scoring of the matches, but I love having to be up and know what I need to do,” Johnson said. “I knew at that point, if I got count, I was OK. Having it in your hands is more special to me, because you are holding your fate.”
As the No. 4 qualifier, Johnson opened the stepladder finals against two-time reigning PWBA Player of the Year Liz Johnson of Deerfield, Illinois, who was coming off her sixth U.S. Women’s Open title. Strikes in frames five through nine allowed Stefanie to advance with a 210-176 victory.
Her next match against Danielle McEwan of Stony Point, New York, was close through the first seven frames. While McEwan would close with back-to-back strikes, a spare and nine-count, Johnson rolled five consecutive strikes to win, 245-216, and advance to the title match.
Johnson said the finals were a great opportunity to showcase the PWBA to her friends.
“My support here (at Plano Super Bowl) goes beyond my family,” said Johnson, who earned a spot in the 16-player Smithfield PWBA Tour Championship field with her victory. “It’s just exciting to be able to perform at that level in front of them, so they can see first-hand how it actually is. I’m glad they got to sit under the lights, see the emotion, the back and forth, the tension, the quietness – all the factors.”
Competition at the 2017 PWBA Orlando Open included two six-game qualifying blocks to determine the 32 players for the six-game cashers’ round. The top 12 players then advanced to round-robin match play based in their 18-game pinfall totals.
The final round of the Orlando Open was one of three PWBA standard-event finals taped for broadcast at Plano Super Bowl in conjunction with the U.S. Women’s Open.
The PWBA St. Petersburg-Clearwater Open will air Tuesday, Aug. 22, at 8:30 p.m. Eastern, and the Nationwide PWBA Rochester Open will be televised on Tuesday, Aug. 29, at 8 p.m. Eastern, both on CBS Sports Network.
Qualifying and match-play rounds of PWBA Tour events are broadcast on Xtra Frame, the exclusive online bowling channel for the Professional Bowlers Association.
PWBA ORLANDO OPEN
1, Stefanie Johnson, McKinney, Texas, 644 (three games), $10,000
2, Birgit Poppler, Germany, 184 (one game), $5,000
3, Danielle McEwan, Stony Point, N.Y., 216 (one game), $3,500
4, Liz Johnson, Deerfield, Ill., 176 (one game), $3,000
Match One – S. Johnson def. L. Johnson, 210-176
Semifinal – S. Johnson def. McEwan, 245-216
Championship – S. Johnson def. Poppler, 189-184