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Canadian rookie Francois Lavoie wins PBA Shark Championship


Canada’s Francois Lavoie dramatically improved his Professional Bowlers Association Rookie of the Year chances when he defeated the PBA’s all-time titles leader, Walter Ray Williams Jr., 204-196, to win the PBA Shark Championship and spoil Williams’ bid for history.

Pictured above from left, PBA CEO-Commissioner Tom Clark, PBA Shark champion Francois Lavoie and USBC Hall of Famer Bob Hart.

The Shark Championship was the fourth and final PBA animal pattern championships conducted during the GEICO PBA World Series of Bowling VIII, presented by Silver Legacy Resort & Casino, at Reno’s National Bowling Stadium. The Scorpion and Shark Championships aired back-to-back Sunday, Dec. 25, on ESPN.

Lavoie (left), who joined the PBA late in the 2016 season, threw the only back-to-back strikes in the title match and bowled an otherwise error-free game to edge the 57-year-old Williams. The 23-year-old former Wichita State University star survived two 4 pin leaves on high pocket shots by Williams – both times following strikes – to claim his second victory of the year. In November, the Quebec City native won the U.S. Open, bowling the first nationally-televised 300 game in U.S. Open history en route to his first PBA title.

“Being able to bowl someone like Walter is special,” Lavoie said after his Shark victory.

“I watched him a lot when I was a kid. It seemed like he was always on TV. It’s amazing he’s still competing with us, but to be able to bowl against him is a privilege. It was definitely a close match, and I was fortunate to come out on top.”

Williams (right), at age 57 years, 65 days, was in position to become the oldest player to win a PBA Tour title when he advanced out of the four-player elimination match to open the championship round.

Williams broke open that match with three late strikes for a 227 game. Lavoie was second with a 212, followed by a 208 by Andrew Cain (left) of Phoenix and a 201 by Matt O’Grady (below right) of South Amboy, N.J.

The record for the oldest PBA Tour titlist is held by John Handegard, who was 57 years, 55 days old when he won the PBA Tour event in Kennewick, Wash., in 1995. The significance of bowling Williams for the title wasn’t lost on the young Canadian.

“He’s definitely the most accomplished player I’ve ever beaten, so it’s great,” Lavoie said. “We talk about the history and a little part of me kinda feels bad it didn’t happen, but when we’re competing like this, everyone has to be a little selfish. I wanted to do it for myself.

“That’s what you dream about as kids,” he said after throwing a decisive strike on his first shot in the 10th frame.

“Anyone who’s a true competitor wants to be in that position, wants to have the ball in your hand to win a title. It’s one of those dreams come true, but I always try to stick with the process and not think of things I shouldn’t be thinking about. When you do that, it’s a lot easier to throw a shot in a situation like that.”

Williams (left), who continues to defy the calendar, was disappointed, but he took the loss in stride.

“It wasn’t my best game and Francois deserved to win,” the 47-time PBA Tour titlist said. “Hopefully it won’t be the last chance I get. Winning another PBA Tour title is something I definitely want to do.”

The Shark Championship was the final PBA Tour event of the 2016 season, but ESPN’s World Series of Bowling coverage continues with an encore presentation of the PBA World Championship on New Year’s Day at 4 p.m. ET., followed by the special USA vs. The World team event on Sunday, Jan. 8, at 1 p.m. ET.

The PBA’s first event of the 2017 season will be the DHC PBA Japan Invitational Jan. 11-14 at Bentencho Grandbowl in Osaka, Japan, featuring a field of 16 PBA international players and 16 Japan PBA competitors in a 32-game match play event.

The winner will earn a projected $40,000 first prize and a PBA Tour title (if he/she is a member). The entire tournament will be live streamed on PBA’s exclusive online bowling channel, Xtra Frame.

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From left, Matthew O’Grady, Andrew Cain, Walter Ray Williams Jr. and Francois Lavoie.

2015 PBA Shark Championship Finals

National Bowling Stadium in Reno, Nev., USA (Nov. 29 – Dec. 10, 2016), aired on ESPN on Sunday, Dec. 25.

Championship Round:
1. Francois Lavoie, Canada, $20,000
2. Walter Ray Williams Jr., Oxford, Fla., $10,000
3. Andrew Cain, Phoenix, $5,000
4. Matthew O’Grady, South Amboy, N.J., $5,000

Playoff Results:
Elimination Match (top two scores advanced):
Williams Jr. 227, Lavoie 212, Cain 208, O’Grady 201
Championship: Lavoie def. Williams, 204-196.

Herbert Bickel

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