By Daniel Farish and Aaron Smith
RICHMOND, Va. – The finalists now are set at the 2019 Professional Women’s Bowling Association Tour Championship, and four players will return to the Old Dominion Building at Richmond Raceway on Wednesday to compete for the final major of the season.
Shannon O’Keefe of Shiloh, Illinois, and Danielle McEwan of Stony Point, New York, were automatically seeded into the semifinals this week based on their rankings in the season-long points list, and they’ll be joined by Stefanie Johnson of McKinney, Texas, and Ukraine’s Dasha Kovalova after each completed their run through match play on Tuesday.
The knockout-style championship round, which will feature O’Keefe taking on Johnson and McEwan against Kovalova, will be broadcast live on Wednesday at 8 p.m. Eastern on CBS Sports Network. The winner of the season-ending event will take home $20,000.
O’Keefe earned the top seed after putting together a season that already includes four wins and a second consecutive PWBA Player of the Year award.
The 40-year-old right-hander won her first career major at the 2017 Tour Championship and also was the top seed at the 2018 event. She plans to rely on the same mental approach that has helped her throughout the season as she competes against a close friend and longtime Team USA teammate in Johnson.
“The number one thing I’m taking into the show is to keep doing what I’ve been doing,” said O’Keefe, who will be looking for her third major and 13th career PWBA Tour title. “I’m going to focus on what I can control and execute to the best of my ability. It’s what I’ve done all year and has been my formula for success this season. All you can do is put yourself in position to win, and we’ve both done that this week. I’m proud of her, and even though we’re competing against each other, we’re really competing against the lane. I’m just going to try and pay attention to what I’m seeing, make quick moves and listen to my gut.”
Much like O’Keefe, McEwan also is seeded onto the show for the second consecutive season. She’s already claimed a major in 2019 after winning the U.S. Women’s Open, and she was the inaugural winner of the Tour Championship in 2015.
The 28-year-old right-hander has seen some changes since her first opportunity to practice on this week’s 40-foot oil pattern on Sunday, and she’s going to try to keep her angles in front of her against Kovalova.
“There definitely is a defined spot that everyone who has been winning was playing,” said McEwan, who’s in search of her sixth career PWBA Tour title. “It looks like they’ve changed quite a bit from practice day, when they were a bit drier and forced everyone left. Now, they’ve tightened up. My game plan will be to find the bowling ball that will allow me to keep it in front of me without hooking too much.”
Johnson had the longest journey of the four players advancing to the semifinals, entering the event as the No. 12 seed. She defeated defending champion Maria José Rodriguez of Colombia on Monday in the best-of-five format, 3-1, and recorded wins on Tuesday against United States Bowling Congress Hall of Famer Liz Johnson of Palatine, Illinois (3-1), and Colombia’s Clara Guerrero (3-2) to earn her spot in the championship round.
The 35-year-old right-hander was down 2-1 against Guerrero but bounced back with wins of 257-203 and 227-213 to advance to face O’Keefe. She’ll be looking for her second career major championship and fourth career PWBA Tour title on Wednesday.
“None of my matches were easy, and the match against Clara was the only one that went five games,” said Johnson, the runner-up at the 2015 Tour Championship. “I had to dig deep, make great shots and hope my carry would be better than hers. The journey to get to this point was a little overwhelming, but it shows that all of my hard work paid off. I love Shannon, and she’s a fierce competitor. It’s going to be a tough match, but I won’t approach it any differently. I’ll fight the lanes and make the best shots I can.”
Kovalova received a first-round bye as the No. 3 seed and eliminated Bryanna Coté of Red Rock, Arizona, in her first match Tuesday, 3-1. She then won a back-and-forth match against Singapore’s Shayna Ng, 3-2, to make her third championship-round appearance in a major this season.
The 24-year-old right-hander won her first career title in May at the USBC Queens and recorded a fifth-place finish at the QubicaAMF PWBA Players Championship to start September.
Kovalova noted her ability to make quick changes to try and carry the corner pins in her match against Ng, and she’ll again adapt to her environment in her fourth championship-round appearance of 2019.
“There were ups and downs with carry,” said Kovalova, who also won the 2019 Pepsi PWBA Louisville Open. “I had to stay patient, and I did. I made five ball changes in five games. I only missed the pocket four or five times today but kept leaving 7 and 10 pins. I had to trust what Chuck (Gardner) was putting in my hands and that it would help my ball reaction and carry, and it did. I’ll see what’s out there tomorrow, adapt and take what comes to me.”
The 16-player field at the Tour Championship included all of this year’s eligible PWBA Tour champions, and the final spots in the bracket were filled in using the 2019 PWBA points list.
Four lanes once again were specially installed inside the Old Dominion Building by QubicaAMF, the official supplier of bowling equipment for the 2019 PWBA Tour Championship.
All rounds leading up to the championship round were broadcast live on BowlTV.com.