NORTH BRUNSWICK, N.J. — Ryan Ciminelli drew a tough assignment in the first match of Sunday’s stepladder finals of the USBC Masters Championship at the Brunswick Zone Carolier. All he has to do is knock off the top qualifier, defending champion and reigning Player of the Year Jason Belmonte to move on in the television finals (ESPN, 13p.m.).

The 27-year-old Cheektowaga pro earned the No. 4 seed in the finals by finishing third in the four-bowler rolloff to decide the third, fourth and fifth slots in today’s stepladder. The top spot belongs to last year’s PBA Rookie of the Year, 21-year-old E.J. Tackett of Huntington, Ind., who went through the double-elimination match play without a loss. Michael Haugen Jr. is the No. 2 seed.

In his six matches, Tackett won by an average of almost 90 pins in cruising to the top seed. He will be looking for his first PBA Tour title in his third career TV appearance. “If I were to win, it would be the biggest thing that has happened in my entire life,” Tackett said. “This is what I’ve dreamed of my entire life, and it’s a pretty surreal feeling.”

Tom Smallwood led the rolloff with a 738 to grab the No. 2 slot. Ciminelli bowled 652 and Belmonte 614. Dom Barrett of England was the low man and eliminated with a 605 total. Barrett needed a spare in the final frame to secure the fifth seed, but left a 4-6-7-10 split and Belmonte threw a clutch double to go around him and take the last spot.

Ciminelli, who was 3-0 in match play Friday, began Saturday with a 627-563 triumph over Dick Allen before losing to Haugen, 758-704. Tackett then defeated Haugen, 793-620 in the winners’ bracket final.

John Szczerbinski of North Tonawanda won his first match in the elimination bracket Saturday morning, over Bryan Goebel, 689-555, but was eliminated by two-time former champion Doug Kent of Newark, N.Y., 644-557. Barrett then knocked Kent out of the tournament, 674-648.

Kent, who is retired from full-time competition on the PBA Tour, was looking for his third Masters title.

Johnny Petraglia, the 66-year-old pro from Jackson, N.J., was the sentimental favorite in the tournament after he qualified for match play. However, he lost his opening match to Kent on Friday, then won three matches before he was eliminated by Jaime Gonzalez of Columbia, 555-473.

Ciminelli was third in the 2010 Masters, his best finish in pro bowling’s four major tournaments. Belmonte is trying to become the first repeat winner since Billy Welu in 1964 and 1965 and join Mike Aulby as a three-time winner.

No. 2 qualifier Walter Ray Williams Jr., lost in the second round to Dick Allen, then after two wins in elimination matches on Friday, lost to Goebel, 754-664.