No Western New York bowler has won the USBC Masters tournament, one of the sport’s major events. However, Western New York pros have figured in the final day drama in recent years.
Three times in the last six Masters, a Western New York pro has made it to the television finals of the event, which will be held this year at Brunswick Zone Carolier in North Brunswick, N.J. It’s the first time the Masters has been held in the East since it was staged in Syracuse in 1999. Most of the top local pros are expected to enter.
Jack Jurek of Lackawanna was runner-up in 2006 and 2011 after leading the qualifying. Ryan Ciminelli of Cheektowaga was third in 2010.
Buffalo native Tom Baker was third in 1981 and fourth in 1982 and 1999. Tom Harnisch was fourth back in 1966.
This year, Mike Fagan, a former Long Islander now based in Dallas, will be trying to become the first repeat champion since Billy Welu in 1965. Dick Hoover accomplished the same feat in the 1950s.
Last year, Fagan defeated Chris Barnes, 245-213, in the final, the second Masters championship loss for Barnes.
The Masters is a major because of the size of the field, a difficult oil pattern and the grueling format. More than 410 bowlers are entered for the tournament, which will run six days — three days of qualifying and two days of match play before the two-hour television finals Feb. 24 (ESPN, 3 p.m.), which will be different than the standard stepladder final.
The tournament field is large because it is open to any USBC league member with an average of 190 or better. It features a first-place prize of $50,000 out of a total prize fund of at least $300,000.
“The Masters is tough to win because of the format and being a dominant player in that environment is extremely tough,” Fagan said. “But if the lanes are as challenging as they have been in the past for the Masters, then I like my chances. I’m on my game right now and feeling good.”
Aside from outright titles he won, the Masters probably has provided Jurek with his pro career highlight. In 2006, Jurek lost to Doug Kent in the final match when the Newark, N.Y., bowler strung nine strikes starting in the third frame and went on to a 277-230 win.
“It’s disappointing not to finish it off, but it’s probably the best week I’ve ever had,” Jurek said at the time. “This is my biggest payday [$50,000], and no matter what happens from here I’m going to have my biggest year.”
Jurek lost to first-time tour winner Tom Hess of Urbandale, Iowa (225-219), in the 2011 final.
When Jurek stepped up in the final frame of the championship match that year, he trailed by one pin. He delivered a clutch strike on his first shot, but left a pocket 7-10 split on his second shot and got one pin.
“Even a spare there forces him to go spare, strike to win and for your first title and a major title, that’s not the easiest thing to do,” Jurek said. “Throwing the second strike in the 10th and forcing him to double to win would have put a whole new emphasis on things. It was a huge shot.”
The 2010 Masters was probably Ciminelli’s highlight moment as a pro — aside from winning a standard Tour event, of course. He lost to one of the best — Hall of Famer Walter Ray Williams, Jr., 258-224 — in the semifinal match. Walter Ray went on to win his second Masters championship.
In Fagan’s favor is that he automatically makes the 64-player double-elimination match-play bracket as defending champion. He will bowl qualifying to try to earn the highest seed possible, however.
• Erie Community College usually is a contender for the men’s and women’s team titles at the NJCAA championships, which will be held here in two weeks. However, the Kats will face some tough competition from right in their own backyard in Niagara County CC, where the sport has been revived in a big way.
Last weekend, NCCC bowlers dominated the Boulevard Bowl Collegiate Classic in Schenectady.
NCCC bowlers finished 1-3-4 among the women with Hannah Mosher leading the way with 256-1,361 for six games. Teammates Audrelle Gospodarski (246-1,274) and Brooke Seimell (230-1,255) finished third and fourth. The NCCC women won the team title.
The Trailblazers men’s team finished third, led by a first-place finish by Jake Hayes and a third place by Eric Michalski (Amherst). Hayes had 276 and 267 games in his 1,461 total. Michalski closed with a 247 to earn a tie for third with his 1,382.
• Matthew Ciminelli is the top seed going into Sunday’s match play portion of the Tri-City Masters Tournament at Island Lanes on Grand Island.
Ciminelli took the qualifying lead with a 268 in the fifth of his six qualifying games last Sunday at Island. His 200 in the final game was enough to hold off former champion John Masiello, who finished with a 207 and dropped from second to third. Jason Ciliberto averaged 241.8 in his final four games after a slow start to grab the No. 2 seed.
The talented field includes defending champion Gary Kinyon and another former winner, Mike Hanes.