PORTLAND, Maine (June 1, 2019) – Dark horse contender Kris Prather of Plainfield, Illinois and veteran Bill O’Neill of Langhorne, Pennsylvania, will bowl for the inaugural Professional Bowlers Association Playoffs Championship Sunday after emotional victories in the semifinal round Saturday at Bayside Bowl.
Sunday’s championship match between Prather and O’Neill for a $100,000 first prize will air live on FOX at 12:30 p.m. EDT.
Prather, the lowest seeded player in the finals at No. 9, needed a win in the two-frame roll-off to eliminate No. 4 seed Anthony Simonsen of Little Elm, Texas, while the No. 7-seeded O’Neill was nearly perfect in sweeping his “race to 2 points” match against No. 6 Sean Rash of Montgomery, Illinois, 258-214 and 289-266.
In the opening match, Prather spotted Simonsen a 19-pin lead after two frames when he fouled in the second frame. But he rebounded with a string of five strikes, taking advantage of Simonson’s inability to put any strikes together, to run away with the first game, 217-179.
“My feet got quick (on the foul) because I was trying to throw the ball a little too hard,” Prather said, “but I’m kinda glad I did that because it helped me refocus. I was throwing the wrong ball, so I made a ball change and I was fine.”
Simonsen made a big move to the inside of the lane in game two, and threw a string of six strikes of his own for a 247-216 win to send the match into the two-frame roll-off, which Prather won, 49-40, when he struck on his first two shots while Simonsen struck, but then left a 7 pin on a weak pocket hit on his second attempt.
“I was nervous as hell,” Prather said. “Normally I take a couple of deep breaths to release the energy and calm down, but down the stretch, I was kind of out of it. I’m honestly surprised I threw a double in the roll-off. My hand was shaking when I tried to grip the ball.
“I didn’t think I was going to win after I didn’t strike (on my third shot) because his look was so good. I’m kinda mind-blown about that. When he started striking, I knew the (Bayside fans) we’re going to ring that bell (signaling a roll-off was going to decide the match). I’m thinking it’s going to come down to four more shots and then you realize it’s going to come down to one shot for a shot at $100,000.
“It’s almost impossible not to think about (the money),” Prather continued, “but now that I’m in the final two, life for my wife and I is going to be different, no matter what happens.”
O’Neill and Rash, two future PBA Hall of Famers with very similar credentials, engaged in a strikefest that was much closer than the scores might indicate. O’Neill threw 10 strikes to win the first game, 258-214, but after throwing a 4-9 split and failing to convert in the first frame, Rash rallied behind a string of five strikes and had a chance to tie the match with another strike in the ninth frame. He left a 10 pin and missed, and O’Neill threw four more strikes to close the match and win by 44 pins.
“Sean’s shot in the ninth frame was probably his worst in the whole match, and it wasn’t that bad,” O’Neill said.
In the second game, neither player missed the pocket until the match was decided. The difference was an 8 pin Rash left on a perfect pocket hit in the fourth frame while O’Neill flirted with perfection, throwing the first 10 strikes before leaving a 10 pin on his 11th attempt.
“My mental approach for this event, and my past few times on TV, has really helped me out,” O’Neill said. “It keeps me grounded, keeps my tempo under control. It was especially important with as great as Sean was bowling.
“I almost feel bad for him, but I’ve been on the other side of it, too,” O’Neill said.
His bid for a nationally-televised 300 game wasn’t a factor until after he had thrown his first strike in the 10th frame to clinch the win.
“I wasn’t focusing on 300; I was focusing on the match,” O’Neill said. “I didn’t make that great of a shot in the 11th, but I knew I had the match won and then I got a little excited because I’ve never been in that situation before. At that moment, I wasn’t thinking about 300. I didn’t care.”
Sunday, Prather and O’Neill will bowl for the richest prize either of them has ever won. Prather’s incentive? After the 2018 season, he was seriously pondering putting his bowling balls in the closest and calling it a career. But after clinching a chance to win $100,000 Sunday, he’s no longer thinking about giving up on the PBA. “Bowling is going to be my job for as long as I can make it,” he said.
For O’Neill, vastly more experienced and the winner of 10 Go Bowling! PBA Tour titles, Sunday’s match is going to be another day at the office.
“I’m looking forward to it,” O’Neill said, “but I’m going to try to do what I did today – not change a thing.”
(A Go Bowling! PBA Tour event)
Bayside Bowl, Portland, Maine, Saturday
Semifinal Match One (Race to 2 Points format)
Kris Prather, Plainfield, Ill., def. Anthony Simonsen, Little Elm, Texas ($20,000), 217-179, 216-247, 49-40 in two-frame roll-off.
Semifinal Match Two (Race to 2 Points format)
Bill O’Neill, Langhorne, Pa., def. Sean Rash, Montgomery, Ill. ($20,000), 258-214, 289-266.