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Williams looks like man to beat

This can't come as good news to the other three finalists in today's championship round of the Denny's PBA Tour Etonic Championship at AMF Thruway Lanes in Cheektowaga:

Walter Ray Williams is still at the top of his game -- maybe even better.

"I'm bowling as well now as I've ever bowled," Williams declared after his victory over Pete Weber in the round of eight Friday night.

The statement carries weight when you consider that Williams has won a record 43 PBA Tour titles and at least one in each of the last 15 seasons starting in 1993. That includes last week's victory in the Motor City Classic after a fourth place the week before in the USBC Masters.

He averaged 251 in defeating Jim Tomek (4-3), Jason Lundquist (4-1) and Weber (4-1) in match play Friday. For the season so far, Williams is averaging 248.

Despite his long stay at the top of the pro bowling ranks, Williams seems to have lost none of his drive.

"Why bowl if you don't want to win? It's very difficult to do," he said.

In today's first semifinal (ESPN, 1 p.m.) the 48-year-old Ocala, Fla., veteran will face Californian Mike DeVaney, 35, who will be looking for his second career title and first since 2003.

The second semifinal will pit eight-time Tour winner Chris Barnes of Double Oak, Texas, against two-time winner Mike Wolfe of New Albany, Ind.

Barnes, who like Williams had little success in previous Tour stops at Thruway, had to come from behind in his win over Mike Machuga, who had plenty of vocal support from family, friends and fans who made the trip from his hometown of Erie, Pa.

"Ch-oo-oog" was the cry every time the former University of Nebraska star struck.

"I thought I was IN Erie," joked Barnes, who described his previous experience in Tour stops here as "miserable."

"I didn't make match play the first time and lost in the round of 32 to Tommy Jones last time," Barnes recalled.

Barnes overcame a 2-0 deficit to defeat Machuga in seven games Friday.

"It seems like I've been behind for three-four weeks now," Barnes said. "I've been getting off too slow. I lost the first game in all three matches [Friday]."

While the Weber-Williams match was getting all the attention, Wolfe and Chris Loschetter were staging the most sensational duel in the round of eight. Loschetter got out to a 3-0 lead, including a 300 game (against Wolfe's 280) in the second game. Wolfe won the next four bowling 244, 276, 278 and, finally, 300 to advance.

The women's final will be between former University of Nebraska star and 2006 USBC Queens winner Shannon Pluhowsky and USBC Hall of Famer Tish Johnson, a 25-time champion on the Professional Women's Bowling Association Tour.

"I had to quit my job to bowl in this [the PBA Women's Series]," Johnson said. "But if this leads to the return of a women's tour, I wanted to be a part of it."

The two men's semifinals will take place first today followed by the women's title match, which will award the winner $10,000. The men's title match follows with the winner taking home $25,000 and an exemption for the 2008-09 season.


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