Kent, Sean Lavery-Spahr, AJ Johnson, Jake Peters and EJ Tackett advance to Saturday’s championship round

After three thrilling rounds of best-of-seven-games elimination match play, Marshall Kent will be the No. 1 seed in the PBA Illinois Classic.

The finals will air live Saturday at 7 p.m. Central (8 p.m. Eastern) on FS1.

Sean Lavery-Spahr, in pursuit of his first career PBA Tour title, defeated Jason Belmonte to snag the No. 2 seed.

AJ Johnson, who grew up an hour south in Oswego, swept Tom Daugherty in the Round of 8 to earn the No. 3 seed.

Jake Peters took the No. 4 seed after defeating EJ Tackett. Tackett, the No. 2 qualifier, seized the fifth seed for Saturday's championship as the highest-seeded player eliminated in the Round of 8.


A post shared by PBA TOUR (@pbatour)

Kent sits one game away from this first PBA Tour singles title since 2017. The 31-year-old said a win on Saturday would mean the absolute world to him.

“It would mean that I'm back,” Kent said.

Kent, who led the 18 games of qualifying, was guaranteed a berth on the show after winning his Round of 16 match against Chris Via. After taking a 2-0 lead over Sean Rash in the Round of 8, Kent’s ball reaction disappeared for the first time all week. He lost three straight games to fall behind 3-2.

With the No. 1 seed on the line, Kent made his signature move to complete the comeback.

“I said screw it: I'm gonna go even further left,” Kent said. “When in doubt, move left and hit it harder. It seems to work more often than not.”

Kent’s last title came at the 2017 Grand Casino Hotel & Resort PBA Oklahoma Open, though he did win the PBA Roth/Holman Doubles Championship with Tackett in 2022.

“It’s been a while since I've been in this position, but I'm excited,” Kent said. “I finally got that fire back towards the end of last season. Before I was fighting with myself to get up and go practice. It was a struggle to get myself in the bowling center. I got to the point where I didn’t know if I really wanted to do this anymore.

“I took a lot of things for granted in my early years,” Kent continued. “I had some success and I didn't feel like I needed to put in as much time. Then I had a lot of personal issues outside the center that carried over into my performances. I don't know if I just hit a point where I said enough is enough or what, but getting that fire back and feeling like I can still do this was huge. Even if this one doesn't work out, I have a lot of encouraging things going into the rest of the season.”

Lavery-Spahr, who finished 22nd in points last season, said he was disappointed he was not able to make a championship round last season, particularly in Shawnee, Okla. But the 33-year-old Texan felt confident he could make a run during this week’s elimination match play.

“I've told everybody for a long time that I really like these head-to-head matches,” Lavery-Spahr said. “You get on one pair of lanes and you make somebody beat you, I love it.”

For the first time, Johnson will bowl in a televised singles finals without the lack of a title looming over him. Johnson, who won the Storm Lucky Larsen Masters to close last season, would love nothing more than to win his second career title in the city where he grew up.

“I don't know that there's anything better than making the show in your hometown,” Johnson said. “I was born and raised here and to have an event in Illinois, you know, it's pretty surreal. I'm going to have a lot of friends and family to show and I'm hoping they're going to be loud.”

Johnson qualified in sixth after firing a massive 1,431 six-game third round of qualifying. After a bye, he defeated AJ Chapman in five games before sweeping Tom Daugherty in the Round of 8.

“I bowled probably one of the best six-game blocks I've put together in a long time,” Johnson said. “I ended up getting a bye and I think that gave me that little extra (confidence) because I'm executing just as good, if not better than anyone in this field right now. I just need to keep letting it happen and just keep executing.”


A post shared by PBA TOUR (@pbatour)

Peters, after escaping a seven-game, Round of 8 barnburner against Tackett, won’t be competing too far from his hometown of Decatur, Ill., either.

Tackett shot 261 and 265 to take a 2-0 lead, but Peters fought evened the match with wins of 259-220 and 266-265. Tackett regained control with a 265-219 win in Game 5.

After Tackett shot 257 in Game 6, Peters doubled to shoot 264. Peters managed to out-strike Tackett one more time in Game 7 with a 242-237 win.

Peters will look to win his second career title and first since 2013.

Though Peters won the match 4-3, in terms of total pinfall, Tackett outscored Peters 1,770-1,634.

"I'm a little disappointed that I'm not the No. 2 seed," Tackett said. "I feel like I bowled better in that match than my opponent did — not to say that Jake bowled bad, but I felt like I out-bowled him. I'll try to out-bowl him again on Saturday."

If Tackett is able to climb the stepladder and win his 22nd career title on Saturday, he will have to go through his Roth/Holman PBA Doubles partner in Kent.

“It would actually be the second time Marshall and I bowled for a title,” Tackett said. “We bowled for a title in Lubbock almost seven years ago. He bettered me then, so hopefully I can get back and maybe get a little revenge and revenge on my partner."

Round of 16 Matches

No. 1 Marshall Kent def. No. 17 Chris Via, 4-0
No. 8 Sean Rash def. No. 24 BJ Moore, 4-1

No. 2 EJ Tackett def. No. 18 Anthony Simonsen, 4-1
No. 7 Jake Peters def. No. 23 Nathan Bohr, 4-1

No. 14 Tom Daugherty def. No. 3 Bill O’Neill, 4-2
No. 6 AJ Johnson def. No. 22 AJ Chapman, 4-1

No. 13 Jason Belmonte def. No. 4 Tommy Jones, 4-3
No. 5 Sean Lavery-Spahr def. No. 21 Kyle Sherman, 4-1

Full scores are available here.

Round of 8 Matches

No. 1 Marshall Kent def. No. 8 Sean Rash, 4-3
No. 7 Jake Peters def. No. 2 EJ Tackett, 4-3
No. 6 AJ Johnson def. No. 14 Tom Daugherty, 4-0
No. 5 Sean Lavery-Spahr def. No. 13 Jason Belmonte, 4-1

PBA Illinois Classic Schedule

Bowlero Mt. Prospect | Mt. Prospect, IL

All times Eastern

Saturday, Feb. 10
8 p.m. — PBA Illinois Classic finals