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HOOPER FACES HEAVYWEIGHTS IN FIRST SHOT AT A PBA FINAL

In one corner, from Jamestown's neighboring community of Maple Springs, is 5-foot-10, 155-pound Chris Hooper.

His opposition -- three of bowling's heavyweights, all Professional Bowlers Association millionaires -- Pete Weber, Walter Ray Williams Jr. and Norm Duke, as well as veteran Ernie Schlegel.

They'll meet in tonight's main event -- the final of the Rochester Open (7:30, ESPN) at Marcel's Olympic Bowl.

The 27-year-old Hooper vaulted past Williams in the position round to earn the No. 2 seed. The Maple Grove High School and Fredonia State graduate beat Duke, 268-188, in the last game Tuesday, while Williams was losing a 236-225 test to the top-seeded Weber.

"It's awesome. There's nothing like it," Hooper said after earning his first shot in a TV show.

Duke held on for third place and Schlegel moved up from seventh place in the position round to earn tonight's fifth spot. Schlegel beat Jimmy Davis, 256-254, in the position round to overtake Chris Warren and Eugene McCune.

Hooper started the final eight-game block in fifth place and won his first three matches against big-time opponents Brian Voss, Williams and David Traber.

Against Hall of Famer Voss, Hooper overcame a missed 10-pin in the sixth frame to win, 246-191. Hooper was clean in the next game and beat Hall of Famer and defending champion Williams, 257-221. Against Traber, Hooper overcame an open fifth frame with a four-bagger to prevail, 235-214.

"It was important to get off to a good start and build a cushion so I wouldn't have to do it all in one game to make the show," Hooper said. "And that's the way it worked out."

Hooper lost the next two games but rebounded against Brian Eaton, opening with seven strikes in a row and winning, 249-224.

Brad Angelo of Newfane, a member of the 1997 TEAM USA and appearing in his only PBA tournament of the year, had a 6-2 record in the last block and finished 16th to earn $1,430. He won his position-round game against Ryan Shafer of Elmira to finish 14-10 and average 222. He started the night in 21st place.

Angelo earned his spot in the tournament by winning a local qualifier at Olympic Bowl.

Brian Eaton of Amherst started the night 23rd and went 6-2 in the last block, including a 219-168 win over Michael Luft in the position round. He finished 9-15 with a 219.8 average and earned $1,290.

Weber, a 21-time PBA champion, has already surpassed his best finish of the year -- third in the BPAA U.S. Open -- with his No. 1 seeding for tonight. He can finish no worse than second. Weber finished 12-11-1 in match play, averaging 237.45. First place tonight is worth $16,000.

Williams has three titles and three second places this year. He went 13-11 and averaged 233.8. Duke and Schlegel were 17-11, with Duke averaging 229.4 and Schlegel 225.8.

Hooper's best finish in 15 tournaments this year, his rookie season, was 22nd last week in the Ebonite Classic in Allen Park, Mich.

"I just want to stay clean and enjoy the crowd (tonight)," said Hooper, who expects a good measure of vocal support from his friends in the Buffalo and Jamestown areas.

Tuesday night the crowd was cheering for "Hoop." Tonight it could be, "Hoop, there it is."

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