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Ciminelli's run ends in final

LAS VEGAS, Nev. -- Ryan Ciminelli scrambled the PBA Player of the Year picture with victories over Mike Fagan and Jason Belmonte but he was no match Sunday for one of the hottest bowlers in the Tour -- Sean Rash.

Rash ended a five-year, 14-tournament television drought with a 239-205 victory over Ciminelli in the championship match of the PBA Tournament of Champions at Red Rock Lanes.

The victory was worth $80,000 to Rash. Ciminelli collected $40,000 for second, by far the biggest payday of his career for the 26-year-old left-hander from Cheektowaga.

Rash, who hadn't won a title since the 2007 United States Bowling Congress Masters, started the title match with four strikes and bowled an almost error-free game to win the fifth title of his career. Ciminelli has one title.

"I'm disappointed I didn't win, but Sean bowled a great game. He earned it," Ciminelli said. "Getting to the title match was another step in my career. I won by far the biggest check I've ever gotten, I qualified for the Japan Cup and I'll get to bowl in the PBA Summer Series, so it was a big week for me.

"And I think I handled the pressure well. I usually beat myself up, but this week I'm proud of myself. There are going to be many, many more opportunities. I'm very young."

Ciminelli, the No. 4 qualifier, struggled in his 190-182 triumph over Fagan in the first game of the stepladder final, but his opponent had even more problems.

Fagan opened three times in his first five frames but stayed in the match with a three-bagger on his first ball in the 10th, forcing Ciminelli to mark. Ciminelli converted a 7-pin for a spare, though, to win.

Ciminelli struck nine times in his win over Belmonte, the Australian with the two-handed style. After missing a 7-pin in the first, he strung four strikes. A string of five strikes put the match away, 257-223.

Belmonte and Fagan both are in the running for Player of the Year and a victory in the T of C might have given one or the other the edge.

Rash, though, is firmly in the picture now. He leads the Tour unofficially in earnings, average and had finished in the top 10 in 11 of 14 tournaments. Now he has a title, too.

"This one ranks right up there with the most important titles I've ever won," Rash said. "Your first title is always special, and so is your first major, but this tournament is special because everyone who bowls in it is a champion. The other guys in the finals are all great young players.

"The biggest thing is learning from your failures. I learned that a long time ago, and I've worked hard to overcome my mistakes," the 29-year-old from Montgomery, Ill., said. "The great thing about winning a title like this is we're all family out here. Every other player wants the other guy to succeed. It really feels good."

Fagan was nearly perfect in the left lane against Ciminelli, striking six times. He wasn't bad on the right, either. His only mistake came in the ninth when he left the 3-6-9-10. He converted that tricky spare, then let out a bellow when he closed it out with a strike on his first ball in the 10th.

Ciminelli had six strikes in the final, but he had one costly mistake. He left the 2-4-7 in the fifth frame, then missed the spare, leaving the 2-pin. At that point he was already 21 points behind because of Rash's opening salvo.