Russo wins 2024 PWBA Southern Indiana Open for first career title

Final Standings

Lauren Russo of Ballwin, Missouri, took home her first Professional Women’s Bowling Association Tour title at Blackiston Bowl in Clarksville, Indiana, after one of the highest-scoring stepladder finals in recent memory, defeating Jordan Richard of Tipton, Michigan, 267-259.

Russo went up against the former Team USA member and 2023 PWBA Player of the Year in the stepladder title match and the theme of high scores that had been present all event long did not stop.

Russo started with the first six strikes to start the match while Richard had five of six strikes, with only a 10 pin, spare in the second frame keeping her just on Russo’s heels. Russo’s seventh potential strike shot went high, leaving a 6 pin which she converted, while Richard tacked on two more strikes to take control.

In the ninth frame, on what was one of Richard’s best shots of the event, she wrapped a 10 pin and slightly yelled in frustration before running the single pin down. Richard finished first and struck all three in the 10th frame to finish with 259, leaving Russo only needing a strike to win.

Russo quietly stepped up and delivered her ninth flush strike to win and finished at 267 to win and close out the title match as the second-highest combined total score title match since the relaunch of the tour in 2015 at 526. She immediately went to her husband, Matt and embraced him.

“I feel like all the hard work I’ve put in behind the scenes has paid off,” said Russo after her victory. “I have an incredible support system here that pushes me every day to get to this moment, and I’ve been motivated more when things haven’t gone my way.”

Being the first-time champion at Blackiston Bowl is more meaningful to her than one might think at a glance, as Russo’s grandma grew up around the Clarksville area.

“It’s a memorable place and it’s pretty cool to be here taking home the title. It’s so surreal.”

Russo won the $20,000 top prize and a custom-made trophy of a bourbon barrel lid with the tournament’s name and center wood burned on it. Richard earned $10,000 for her runner-up finish as well as a customized Louisville Slugger bat that has the same information on it as the lid.

The stepladder finals began with Ukraine’s Dasha Kovalova and Erin McCarthy of Elkhorn, Nebraska. Kovalova began with the first five strikes and never relinquished control of the match, even when McCarthy started striking herself, moving on with a 247-225 victory. McCarthy earned $5,500 for her fifth-place finish.

In the second match, Kovalova went up against Shannon Pluhowsky of Dayton, Ohio, and it was the most exciting match of the finals. Both competitors strung strikes together, but it was Pluhowsky who could end it with all three strikes in the 10th.

She was unable to get the third strike and ended with 245, making Kovalova need her own punch out in the 10th to tie and force a roll-off. Kovalova did just that but left a light 5-10 split while Pluhowsky struck to advance to the semifinals. The Ukrainian earned $6,500 for her fourth-place finish.

The semifinal match pitted Pluhowsky against Richard, where Richard began the match with the first seven strikes while the left-handed Pluhowsky struggled to get good pin carry on the right lane. Pluhowsky left five single pins on that right lane and never was able to get back into the match as Richard ended with a 265 to advance to the finals against Russo. Pluhowsky’s 189 was not enough, and she collected $7,500 for her third-place finish in her fourth stepladder appearance of 2024.

For Russo, the victory was emotional as her grandfather passed away before the season began but knows his support will always be there in spirit.

“I hadn’t seen him since 2018 but he was always saying ‘Hey I got your back, I’m with you every step of the way’, I’m grateful he’s watching everything I do and I know he’s got the best seat in the house.”

All rounds of qualifying and the stepladder finals were streamed live on BowlTV. The PWBA Tour now heads to Indianapolis as the U.S. Women’s Open starts June 11.