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Cristian Azcona becomes first Puerto Rican to win PBA Tour title

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Puerto Rico’s Cristian Azcona became his country’s first Professional Bowlers Association champion Sunday when he defeated AJ Johnson of Oswego, Ill., 217-214, to win the PBA Xtra Frame Wilmington Open at Ten Pin Alley Family Fun Center in Wilmington, North Carolina.

From left: Cristian Azcona with XF announcer Randy Pedersen and Ten Pin Alley proprietors Margaret & Jim Grago.

In a title match between two players vying for their first PBA Tour title, three pins separated the pair heading into the 10th frame when the 24-year-old Azcona (right) threw three strikes to clinch the title and hand the 25-year-old Johnson his fourth second-place finish in PBA Tour competition.

“It feels amazing,” Azcona said. “I’ve always thought about this, but it feels amazing.”

Both players struggled with the touchy lane conditions but Azcona found the solution first, throwing a late string of three strikes to take the lead.

“I moved in a little and hooked the ball a little more,” he said. Knowing he needed two strikes and at least eight pins in the 10th frame to lock up his first title, “I thought thank God I’m finishing on my good lane, and then I just concentrated on making good shots.

“I wasn’t sure (I was the first Puerto Rican to win a PBA Tour title), but knowing the bowlers in Puerto Rico, I had a pretty good idea. I figured if it ever happened, I’d be the first one.”

Making bowling history for his country was secondary, however, to winning his first PBA Tour title.

“I’ve been thinking about that ever since I decided to take this sport seriously, which is most of my life,” he said. “It’s a dream come true.”

The two finalists have followed remarkably similar paths in their young PBA careers. Azcona, a former collegiate star at Lindenwood University, was the PBA South Region’s Player of the Year in 2017, his PBA rookie year.

Johnson (left), a former All-American with McKendree University, was the 2017 PBA Midwest Region Player of the Year. Azcona is a five-time member of Puerto Rico’s national bowling team; Johnson is four-time member of Team USA.

In the opening match, Tom Daugherty of Riverview, Fla., took advantage of Tommy Jones’ (right) inability to strike on the right lane until the ninth frame, eliminating the tournament qualifying leader, 214-185.

But after building a 29-pin lead on four strikes in five frames in the semifinal match, Daugherty (left) lost his shot at the title when he left and failed to convert the 4-6-9-10 split in the ninth frame while Johnson ran off a string of five strikes on his way to a 224-201 win.

The Wilmington Open was the second of eight PBA Xtra Frame Tour events in 2018 and a part of the Go Bowling! PBA Tour. The third PBA Xtra Frame Tour event will be the Greater Jonesboro Open at Hijinx in Jonesboro, Ark., June 1-3.

For Xtra Frame subscription and schedule information click here.

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2018 PBA Tour Schedule & Champions

PBA Xtra Frame Wilmington Open – Stepladder Finals

Ten Pin Alley Family Fun Center in Wilmington, N.C., USA (May 18-20, 2018)

Championship Round:
1, Cristian Azcona, Puerto Rico, 217 (1 game), $10,000
2, AJ Johnson, Oswego, Ill., 438 (2 games), $5,000
3, Tom Daugherty, Riverview, Fla., 415 (2 games), $3,000
4, Tommy Jones, Simpsonville, S.C., 185 (1 game), $2,000

Playoff Results:
First Match: No. 4 Daugherty def. No. 3 Jones, 214-185
Semifinal Match: No. 2 Johnson def. Daugherty, 224-201
Championship Match: No. 1 Azcona def. Johnson, 217-214.

PBA Xtra Frame Wilmington Open – Round of 8 Standings

Players with position, hometown and 17-game total; top 4 advanced; n-denotes non-member.

1, Cristian Azcona, Puerto Rico, 4,075
2, AJ Johnson, Oswego, Ill., 3,922
3, Tommy Jones, Simpsonville, S.C., 3,914
4, Tom Daugherty, Riverview, Fla., 3,905

Missed Cut:
5, Andrew Anderson, Holly, Mich., 3,869, $1,500
6, Chris Polizzi, Spring Hill, Fla., 3,857, $1,400
7, Tim Foy Jr., Seaford, Del., 3,786, $1,300
8, Bill O’Neill, Langhorne, Pa., 3,751, $1,200

Round of 16 Cashers (after 15 games):
9, Marshall Kent, Yakima, Wash., 3,343, $1,250
10, Anthony Simonsen, Austin, Texas, 3,321, $1,100
11, Chris Loschetter, Avon, Ohio, 3,306, $1,000
12, Michael Vitalone, Jr., Lake Worth, Fla., 3,302, $900
13, Sean Wilcox, Altamonte Springs, Fla., 3,287, $875
14, Richie Teece, England, 3,285, $850
15, Eric Cornog, Cherry Hill, N.J., 3,238, $825
16, Greg Ostrander, Freehold, N.J., 3,221, $800

Cashers Round Cashers (after 12 games):
17 (tie), Graham Fach, Canada, and
Andrew Klingler, Grand Rapids, Mich., 2,589, $745
19, Brian Robinson, Morgantown, W.Va., 2,575, $730
20, Brandon Curtis, Manson, N.C., 2,559, $720.
21, Bobby Hall II, Landover, Md., 2,545, $710
22, Zachary Seals, Kingsland, Ga., 2,534, $700
23, Zeke Bayt, Westerville, Ohio, 2,530, $690
24, Kole Payne, Charlotte, N.C., 2,525, $680
25, Lee Vanderhoef, Canton, Ga., 2,502, $670
26, Connor Pickford, Charlotte, N.C., 2,486, $655
26, n-Brian Locke, Raleigh, NC, 2,486, $655
28, Leon Platt, Summerville, S.C., 2,474, $640
29, Cody Mullis, Crystal River, Fla., 2,471, $625
29, Mark Tarkington, Elizabeth City, N.C., 2,471, $625
31, Kristian Rogers, Salisbury, N.C., 2,450, $610
32, Joe Paluszek, Bensalem, Pa., 2,359, $600

300 games (2) – Marshall Kent, Cristian Azcona.

Herbert Bickel

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