Sean Rash, now living in Suburban Chicago (Montgomery) IL, the runaway qualifying leader in the Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) World Championship preliminary rounds, advanced to the Jan. 15 final round with a victory in the Johnny Petraglia Division finals that aired Sunday on ESPN.
Rash, who won his only major title in the 2007 United States Bowling Congress Masters, defeated PBA Hall of Famer Pete Weber of St. Ann, MO, 246-222, to capture the third of four berths in the World Championship finals at South Point Hotel Exhibition Hall.
The divisional finals consist of three one-game rounds, starting with four players. The lowest-scoring player after each game is eliminated.
Rash will join Finland’s Osku Palermaa, winner of the Don Carter Division; Ryan Shafer of Horseheads, NY, winner of the Billy Hardwick Division, and the winner of next Sunday’s Mike Aulby Division finals in the World Championship finals on ESPN on Sunday, Jan. 15, at 1 p.m. ET. The PBA World Championship offers a $50,000 first prize and the first major title of the 2011-12 PBA Tour season.
Rash, a four-time PBA Tour winner who is trying to end a four-year title slump, survived a high-scoring opening game led by Weber’s 279. Left-hander Ryan Ciminelli of Cheektowaga, NY, was second with a 267 and Rash posted a 257. Nathan Bohr of Wichita, KS, rolled a respectable 236 in his PBA television debut, but was eliminated.
Rash took command in game two, starting with nine strikes before leaving the 6-10 on his first shot in the 10th frame and finishing with a 278 game. Weber was right behind, starting with eight strikes on his way to a 268. Ciminelli was ousted after rolling a 219 game.
In the final game, Weber lost the strike pocket for four frames, allowing Rash to jump into a 34-pin lead after five frames, and he never let the 35-time PBA Tour titlist back into the match.
“I think we broke down the lanes extremely well,” Rash said. “Ciminelli was all by himself on the left side. Nathan played a little right of where Pete and I were playing. We were in the track area and just chased the transition to the left. Pete’s got a phenomenal ball roll. He can do things the rest of us can’t. But I got into a little groove and my confidence got higher and higher.”
Rash said beating Weber was a “special thing” because of a bond the two have developed ever since Rash arrived on the scene.
“Pete and I have been friends since I came out on tour,” he said. “A lot of people figure I’m the new bad-(boy), the role Pete played for 25-or-so years. He has given me a lot of great advice, to be who I am, not worry about what people think and not try to change. When I’m on the lanes I’m by myself. The only people I care about are my wife and family. But to beat Pete is a special thing.”
Rash also will head into the PBA World Championship finals with a dark cloud hanging over his head. He has not won a title in his last eight television appearances.
“I’ve had some mental issues over the years. Everyone knows that,” he said. “I’ve had some things come up bowling-wise, family-wise that get in the way of the sport sometimes. And some personal things. Physically, I bowled well for several years, but I remember Chris Barnes made 12 shows in a row and never won. Look at Amleto (Monacelli) and Walter (Ray Williams Jr.) and they had years between titles. Chris Barnes told me a long time ago – and Parker Bohn the same thing – that you have to put yourself in position to win. No one remembers who bowled Friday night in the Round of 32. You remember the guys who got to TV on Sunday and had a chance to win. And now I’m in position to win again.”
Rash also noted he was inspired during the Petraglia round by the presence of new-found friend Dan McCarty, an 8-year-old who was born with a medical condition commonly called “brittle bone disease.” Rash met the youngster during a “Best Buddies” gathering in Las Vegas prior to the PBA World Series of Bowling, struck up a friendship and invited McCarty to attend the television show.
“It was a thrill to have Danny at the show,” Rash said. “When you realize what that kid’s been through, what he lives with his entire life, he’s such an inspiration.”
The Petraglia finals were conducted on the PBA’s Scorpion lane condition, selected by Rash as the high qualifier.
The Mike Aulby Division finalists will be the final group to bowl, on Sunday, Jan. 8, at 1 p.m. ET on ESPN. Australia’s Jason Belmonte is top qualifier for that group which also includes Brian Kretzer of Dayton, OH; PBA Tour rookie Josh Blanchard of Gilbert, AZ, and Mike Fagan of Dallas, TX.
Special pre-game shows for each World Series of Bowling telecast will be webcast beginning on the Wednesday preceding the ESPN finals on pba.com’s Xtra Frame and a post-game Xtra Frame interview with the winners will immediately follow the Sunday telecasts.