Kent wins sixth career title and first singles title since 2017

Marshall Kent said he felt the passion that once burned relentlessly within him starting to come back towards the end of last season. He rededicated himself this offseason, practicing more than he ever had before.

Kent put in the work. The results followed this week at Bowlero Mount Prospect near Chicago.

The top seed defeated AJ Johnson 214-180 to win the PBA Illinois Classic and his sixth career PBA Tour title. The win marked his first singles title since 2017.

“I'm back,” Kent said. “I'm definitely back — and it feels great."

After chopping the 3-6 spare in the seventh frame, Kent rallied by throwing four consecutive strikes to shut out Johnson.

“Every practice for the last two months has been about imagining throwing two strikes in the 10th to win a title,” Kent said. “That mental preparation for that moment really significantly helped.”

“Those are the moments as an athlete you live for,” Kent added. “I feel like I'm never uncomfortable in those moments. I love when I'm a little shaky. I love when I know I need it. I think not shying away from that has been huge. I know those moments are gonna come — sometimes I'm going to feel great, sometimes I'm not — but I can't be afraid of it.”

Kent and his ball rep, Jason Wojnar, said the outcome following the open frame may not have been the same as recent as a year or two ago. But Kent’s rededication to the game paid dividends in that moment.

Kent, who moved to Michigan six months ago, said he spent the winter preparing for the 2024 season practicing at Holly Lanes.

“Brian Aubuchon opening Holly Lanes for me to practice has literally been the biggest reason I'm here right now,” Kent said. “Having the peace and comfort of knowing you can go into by yourself to work at your craft, it's unlike any other. Their staff has pretty much been a career saver.”

Kent picked up the win in Mount Prospect, which is just 30 minutes northwest of where he spent his college days. Kent was a three-time All-American and two-time Most Valuable Player at Robert Morris-IL University (now Roosevelt University).

“Driving into town before the week started, this place brought back so many memories from college,” Kent said. “I think I fed off those memories a little bit subconsciously.”

In the one All-American season in which Kent did not win the MVP, Johnson won the award at McKendree University.  The Oswego, Ill. native, sought to win his second career title in his home city.

Johnson said he stuck to his gameplan in the title match, but how the lanes transitioned was unlike anything he saw during the week.

“Whenever the lanes got like that, my go-to was the Venom Shock from the left, throwing it a little slower and wrapping my hand around,” Johnson said. “That’s what I was doing, and for whatever reason, on that right lane it just did not want to come off of the spot. I really felt like I threw some great shots. It just didn't hook. It’s information for next time. I’ll learn from it and move forward.”

Johnson threw two strikes in the 10th frame to beat Sean Lavery-Spahr in the semifinal, 208-178. He also defeated Jake Peters 234-226 in the second match of the night.

In Saturday’s first match, a rematch of their thrilling Round of 8 bout, Peters took advantage of a few errant shots from fifth-seeded EJ Tackett to win 244-198.


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After clinching the win, Kent shared an emotional hug with his mom, Susan. 

“She’s never gotten to watch me win a PBA event in person,” Kent said. “Before it was always my dad coming to these events. To have her and my girlfriend here, and having them see me win on TV,  it's what I've dreamed up my entire life. It means the absolute world to me because I wouldn't be here without them.”

Kent’s father, Jim, passed away in September 2020. While Kent would’ve loved nothing more than for him to be in Mount Prospect on Saturday night, he knows exactly what his dad would’ve said:

“I’m so proud of you, budro.”

The PBA Tour now heads south to Springfield, Mo. for the fourth title event of the season: The PBA Pete Weber Missouri Classic.

Rounds 5-6 of the PBA Elite League presented by Snickers takes place on Tuesday night (7 p.m. ET on BowlTV) before main event qualifying begins on Wednesday morning.

Championship Round Scores

No. 4 Jake Peters def. No. 5 EJ Tackett, 244-198
No. 3 AJ Johnson def. No. 4 Jake Peters, 234-226
No. 3 AJ Johnson def. No. 2 Sean Lavery-Spahr, 208-178
No. 1 Marshall Kent def. No. 3 AJ Johnson, 214-180

Final Standings

  1. Marshall Kent, $25,000
  2. AJ Johnson, $15,000
  3. Sean Lavery-Spahr, $12,500
  4. Jake Peters, $10,000
  5. EJ Tackett, $8,000

More information on the PBA Illinois Classic is available here.


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