BY JILL WINTERS
Lake Wales, Florida - With the top overall seed Jason Belmonte already knocked out of the 2022 Kia PBA Playoffs, No. 2 Anthony Simonsen took to the lanes inside the Kegel Training Center against No. 15 Maldonado.
Simonsen had a three-pin advantage through three frames in game one but then in the fourth frame Maldonado experienced a medical scare after delivering his first shot.
“Right as I was about to release it something locked up on my right lower back, which is why it didn’t hook at all,” Maldonado said about leaving the 1-2-4. “My mobility was limited. I felt like if I did move, I had to go slow.”
The two-hander had felt this pain before dealing with back issues over the years, but this time the discomfort didn’t dissipate quickly and it lingered, leaving him concerned his back was going to go out and he wouldn’t be able to finish the match.
During the commercial break he got advice from tour roommate Tom Daugherty who was on-site and has experienced similar back issues. Daugherty encouraged him to sit differently in the chair or to stand up and tried to reassure Maldonado his back wouldn’t give out.
“It shut my ball speed down a lot, and I think it benefitted me,” he said. “To hurt my back on TV and have to pull out on TV, that would have been terrible for me. I would have been devastated.” Maldonado took game one, 204-192, and dominated game two starting out with nine straight strikes before leaving a 2-pin. If Maldonado had shot 300, he would have earned $10,000 from the PBA. He swept Simonsen, 267-174.
“I was still going for the $10,000 saying, ‘Come on, old man,’” Maldonado told himself. “The fact that I was able to finish and perform was pretty incredible for me.”
After upsetting Simonsen, Maldonado said his plan is to visit a sports doctor when he returns home to Texas to find out what is really going on with his back, so he doesn’t have to “keep going on this rollercoaster of pain and emotion.” For now as he advances to the quarterfinals, he is going to use muscle relaxers and try to visit a chiropractor for a temporary fix to get him through the tournament.
The second match of the day featured No. 7 Jakob Butturff against No. 10 AJ Johnson. Butturff started with a four-bagger to take an early lead before his Team USA teammate closed out the game with nine consecutive strikes as Johnson earned the win, 270-232.
Johnson decided to switch to a Motiv Venom Shock in the first frame of game two, leaving a 3-pin and quickly changed back to the Motiv Jackal Ghost he used in game one. Johnson had a few double dribbles on the left lane holding a two-pin lead through four frames. The righty then rolled a five-bagger for the 245-224 win.
“On the left lane I had to make sure my speed was a little softer and that I got it going to the right so I would get around the urethane traffic from the match before,” Johnson said about dealing with the lane transition. “When you are bowling on something like this you want to be aggressive and play as close to your ‘A’ game as possible.”
This was Johnson’s first time bowling at the Kegel Training Center, which is home to Webber International. Johnson thrived on the energy from the contingent of collegiate bowlers in the crowd.
“The college kids love to bring energy and I love to bring it when I am on TV,” the former McKendree University bowler said. “It makes me feel more comfortable out there and allowed me to throw some really great shots.”
Johnson, who is seeking his first career PBA Tour title, will face Maldonado at noon ET May 1 on Fox Sports’ FS1 in the quarterfinals.
The winner of the Kia PBA Playoffs will earn $100,000 and a PBA Tour title.
Follow the tournament bracket and live scoring here
Match 1 – Maldonado def. Simonsen 204-192, 267-174
Match 2 – Johnson def. Butturff 270-232, 245-224