Erin McCarthy of Omaha, Nebraska, saved her best performance of the week for the right time and averaged 261 in her final two matches Monday to earn the top seed for the televised finals of the 2015 United States Bowling Congress Queens, a Professional Women's Bowling Association event.
The 24-year-old right-hander downed Singapore's Kristin Quah, 771-603, to guarantee herself a spot on the TV show and then defeated USBC Hall of Famer Liz Johnson of Cheektowaga, New York, 795-651, to lock up the No. 1 spot at The Ashwaubenon Bowling Alley.
"This feels surreal, and I don't even think it has sunk in yet," said McCarthy, a Team USA member. "I'm going to treat tomorrow like a brand new tournament and just try to throw the 10 best shots I can."
The event will conclude with the live ESPN2 finals Tuesday at 8 p.m. Eastern. The tournament champion will take home the coveted Queens tiara and $20,000 top prize. The total prize fund at the 2015 event is more than $125,000.
Johnson, the 2009 USBC Queens champion, will be the No. 2 seed, while 2006 winner Shannon Pluhowsky of Dayton, Ohio, defending champion Maria Rodriguez of Austin, Texas, and former collegiate standout Liz Kuhlkin of Schenectady, New York, advanced to the stepladder finals through a four-bowler shootout round.
Pluhowsky earned the third seed with a 681 series in the shootout and was followed by Rodriguez (667) and Kuhlkin (661). Quah posted a 591 set and was eliminated. She finished sixth overall this week.
Tuesday's telecast won't be the first TV appearance for McCarthy, who helped the University of Nebraska to an NCAA title in 2009 and led Midland to a runner-up finish at the 2012 XBowling Intercollegiate Team Championships, but it will be her first time under the lights without a team behind her.
"It's great to be out there with a team behind you, but I'm really looking forward to this new experience, too," McCarthy said. "I struggled during qualifying and drilled a ball that really gave me some room out there, so I feel pretty good. I wanted to do well, but I never expected to be the No. 1 seed. This is pretty amazing."
McCarthy is looking to become the third consecutive No. 1 seed to win the Queens, but the rest of the field is motivated, too.
Should Rodriguez come away with another victory, she would become just the fifth woman to successfully defend a Queens title, joining Katsuko Sugimoto (1981-82), Donna Adamek (1979-80), Dorothy Fothergill (1972-73) and Millie Ignizio (1970-71).
Johnson and Pluhowsky also are looking to join the other eight bowlers who have won multiple titles since the Queens began in 1961, with USBC Hall of Famers Wendy Macpherson and Ignizio as the only three-time winners. The other two-time champions are Lynda Barnes (1998, 2008), Kulick (2007, 2010) and Aleta Sill (1983, 1985).
More than 200 players bowled 15 games of qualifying over three days to determine the 63 bowlers who would join Rodriguez in match play.