LAS VEGAS - For the second time in his career, Venezuela's Amleto Monacelli hoisted the trophy at the United States Bowling Congress Senior Masters, this time averaging more than 246 while climbing the stepladder at the Sam's Town Bowling Center.
The 57-year-old right-hander entered Sunday's championship round as the No. 5 seed and won five games to secure the coveted major title and $20,000 top prize. His run included a pair of wins over top seed Stoney Baker of Canton, Georgia, and made him the eighth bowler in history to win the USBC Senior Masters twice.
Monacelli, a USBC and Professional Bowlers Association Hall of Famer, struck at least eight times in each match and closed the finale against Baker with five strikes for a 237-200 victory.
Because Baker had made it through the event's 64-player double-elimination match-play bracket without being beaten, he needed to be defeated twice to be denied the title. Monacelli topped Baker 255-243 to force the second game.
"It's a great feeling, and running through the stepladder, which is the hardest way, is even more special," said Monacelli, now a nine-time PBA50 Tour winner and 20-time PBA Tour titlist. "I think when I have to run the stepladder, it makes me a little more relaxed and more focused about how I'm going to play the lanes. I tried to come in without any expectations and just bowl my best. Luckily, things went my way today."
Baker, a 56-year-old right-hander and 31-time PBA regional champion, started the opening game with seven consecutive strikes, before a 10 pin ended his run at perfection. An unconverted 1-2-10 washout in the ninth frame gave Monacelli a chance to lock up the game, and the 2015 Senior Masters champion took advantage of the opportunity.
Monacelli, who defeated fellow hall of famer Pete Weber of St. Ann, Missouri, two times to win the 2015 event, kept pace with Baker, slowed only briefly by a 7-10 split in the third frame. He followed the open frame with seven consecutive strikes and a single-pin spare to shut out Baker.
"I was two good shots away from winning this thing," Baker said. "I kind of rolled the thumb in the eighth frame. In the ninth, I didn't quite roll it off my hand. It didn't see any early friction at all, and that's why it just kept going on that shot."
Even as a part-timer on the PBA50 Tour, Baker has found success, including a previous-best finish of fourth. He's also the reigning PBA South Region Senior Player of the Year.
Since joining the PBA in 1986, the bowling center proprietor has enjoyed competing with and against the Tour's top stars, two of whom joined him in the finals Sunday - Monacelli and Norm Duke of Clermont, Florida.
"Amleto had great reaction and is a fabulous bowler, so you have to bring it when you bowl him, especially when he's got a few games on the pair and knows what's going on," Baker said. "It was my first time in a title match in a national event. I don't care who you are, you're going to have some nerves. I just didn't make enough good shots.
"If I could have thrown those two shots in the first game a little better, it might have been a different story. But, I'm not blaming anybody but myself. Overall, though, I'm happy to do what I did."
To earn his meeting with Baker, Monacelli remained unrattled after an eighth-frame gutter ball against Duke and closed with four strikes to escape with a 239-222 victory. Sunday marked Duke's third consecutive appearances in the Senior Masters stepladder, where he has collected finishes of fourth, second and third, respectively.
"The key today was just to get within myself and my process and try to keep my heart rate down, because I needed to be really relaxed before throwing the ball," Monacelli said. "My game is a game where I need to be careful about getting too fast. Overcoming a mistake like throwing it in the gutter is more of a mental test, but you have to remember, it was just a mistake. If anything, it reminded me to stay more behind it and throw good shots, and that's what I did the rest of the time."
Monacelli was one of the three players who advanced to Sunday's stepladder through a four-player shootout that included the last competitors in the Elimination Bracket. Having the third-highest score in the shootout earned him the No. 5 spot.
In the opening match of the championship round, Monacelli struck six times on his first seven shots on the way to a 258-188 win over Tom Adcock of Decatur, Illinois. He then overcame a missed single pin to defeat Gary Faulkner of Norfolk, Virginia, 245-223.
"It was a long road, but winning this title means a lot," said Monacelli, who now will head across town to compete in the 2019 Suncoast PBA Senior U.S. Open presented by Storm. "It's always special when you win, but this is another major title, and it's a tough tournament with 300 bowlers. I am going to enjoy today and think about tomorrow's event tomorrow."
Walter Ray Williams Jr., the only player to win both the USBC Masters and Seniors Masters twice each, was the last No. 1 seed to win the senior edition, doing so in 2017.
In 2018, Chris Warren of Grants Pass, Oregon, defeated the top-seeded Duke twice to join Williams and Dave Soutar as the only players to win both the Masters and Senior Masters.
Warren's title defense this week at Sam's Town was short-lived. After qualifying third for match play, he lost his first two matches and was eliminated.
The Senior Masters is the premier event for USBC members age 50 and older, and the 2019 edition featured 300 entries.
All competitors bowled 15 games over three days to determine the 63 bowlers who joined Warren in the bracket.
BowlTV.com provided wire-to-wire coverage of the 2019 Senior Masters.
For complete standings or more information on the Senior Masters, visit BOWL.com/SeniorMasters.
2019 USBC SENIOR MASTERS
At Sam's Town Bowling Center, Las Vegas
1, Amleto Monacelli, Barquisimeto, Venezuela, 1,234 (five games), $20,000
2, Stoney Baker, Canton, Ga., 443 (two games), $12,000
3, Norm Duke, Clermont, Fla., 222 (one game), $9,000
4, Gary Faulkner, Norfolk, Va., 223 (one game), $7,500
5, Tom Adcock, Decatur, Ill., 188 (one game), $6,000
Match One - Monacelli def. Adcock, 258-188
Match Two - Monacelli def. Faulkner, 245-223
Semifinal - Monacelli def. Duke, 239-222
Championship - Monacelli def. Baker, 255-243 and 237-200