Top seed Russo wins all-two-handed stepladder finals

A theme developed at Strobl Arena inside Thunderbowl Lanes in Allen Park, Mich. On Tuesday night, in an all-two-handed stepladder final, Matt Russo took down the No. 2 seed to claim the second PBA Tour title of his career.

The top-seeded Russo defeated Packy Hanrahan, 228-192, in the PBA Scorpion Championship title match as part of the World Series of Bowling XV.

“I’ve dreamed of this since I was a kid,” Russo said. “It’s one thing to win off TV, but to do that in front of those people was phenomenal.”

The stepladder finals featured five two-handers — Russo, Hanrahan, Keven Williams, Jason Belmonte and Jesper Svensson — and it included four left-handers.

After Svensson dispatched Belmonte in the opening match, only southpaws remained in title contention. With the additional transition on the 42-foot Scorpion pattern, players saw ball reaction they had not seen throughout 15 games of qualifying or two rounds of best-of-five-games match play.

“I really wasn't comfortable or confident in my ball selection on the show,” Russo said. “I just wanted to make sure I threw good shots on the right lane. I knew that would be the trouble lane based on the league and other shows. I got the hits, made my spares and here I am as the Scorpion champion.

“They were so different from when we bowled qualifying,” Russo elaborated on the lane conditions. “I knew they were gonna break down. I actually thought they were going to hook more than they did. But trusting my reps, myself and my eyes, I was able to take advantage of a good opportunity.”

While two-handed, Russo did put his thumb in the ball until about three months ago. After missing the cut at the season-opening Players Championship, Russo drilled an arsenal for the U.S. Open without thumb holes.

The adjustment paid dividends as Russo finished 17th in the U.S. Open, made the show two weeks later in Missouri and never looked back.

“The best thing that ever happened is that I missed the cut at the Players,” Russo said. “If I make that cut, I don’t (take my thumb out), I’m not standing here as a champion and I’m not leading the World Championship."

Russo hugs his father, Tom, after winning his first title on television.

Svensson eliminated Belmonte, the man who pioneered the two-handed movement, in the opening match, 223-213. Belmonte split twice on the right lane; while he converted the 2-10, the non-strikes put him too far behind the powerful Swede.

Svensson started the next match against Williams by leaving the 7-pin in five of his first seven frames, all with urethane. In the meantime, Williams fired four consecutive and five out of six strikes to build a 31-pin lead.

Williams nearly coughed up the entire lead with a missed 7-pin in the eighth frame. But Svensson, who switched from urethane to reactive in his own eighth frame, made the adjustment too late and ultimately fell 235-184.

The third match pitted Williams against his close friend and PBA pre-game show co-host in Hanrahan. The southpaws immediately incorporated the crowd, exchanging messengers and WWE-style celebrations throughout the match.

Williams, who left a pocket 7-10 in the second frame, had a chance to win the match with all three strikes in the 10th frame. He said a fan’s sneeze broke his concentration and he was not able to regain it, leaving the 2-pin and falling 247-225.

Hanrahan carried his positive momentum into the title match as both he and Russo had a 279-max score available into the sixth frame. But everything flipped in an instant.

Hanrahan left a pocket 7-10 of his own in that sixth frame, then whiffed a 7-pin in the seventh. Russo, who led qualifying and lost just one game during match play, didn’t need any more cushion and cruised along to his second career title.


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Russo will return to Strobl Arena on Wednesday night for the PBA Shark Championship, where this time he will have to climb the ladder as the No. 5 seed.

Top seed Shota Kawazoe looks to become the first Japanese player to win a PBA Tour singles title. He will await the victor of EJ Tackett, Anthony Simonsen, Kris Prather and Russo.

Russo also leads the PBA World Championship, which consists of all 45 games of qualifying across the Cheetah, Scorpion and Shark Championships. Russo holds a 209-pin lead entering Thursday’s 16 games of round-robin match play.

The top nine players after match play will advance to this weekend’s stepladder finals, airing in two parts on Saturday and Sunday.

Championship Round Scores

Match 1: No. 5 Jesper Svensson def. No. 4 Jason Belmonte, 223-213
Match 2: No. 3 Keven Williams def. No. 5 Jesper Svensson, 235-184
Match 3: No. 2 Packy Hanrahan def. No. 3 Keven Williams, 247-225
Championship: No. 1 Matt Russo def. No. 2 Packy Hanrahan, 228-192

Final Standings

  1. Matt Russo, $20,000
  2. Packy Hanrahan, $13,000
  3. Keven Williams, $11,000
  4. Jesper Svensson, $9,000
  5. Jason Belmonte, $7,000

More information on the PBA Scorpion Championship is available here.