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Two-handed Belmonte makes bowling history

NORTH BRUNSWICK, N.J. — Jason Belmonte converted two splits late in the game to defeat Ryan Ciminelli of Cheektowaga in the first of his four match-play triumphs on the way to a historic USBC Masters Championship Sunday at Brunswick Zone Carolier.

The two-handed star from Australia became only the third to win successive Masters titles, the first since Billy Welu in 1964 and ’65.

Besides Ciminelli, Belmonte defeated Tom Smallwood, Michael Haugen Jr. and finally No. 1 seed E.J. Tackett to capture his second major title of the season.

The “Thunder from Down Under,” who led the Masters qualifying, also won the PBA Tournament of Champions last month.

“This tournament is so difficult to win,” said Belmonte, who won his ninth career PBA Tour title and his third major. “I always have high expectations for myself, but to go down in history as the third one and first in 50 years to win back-to-back is a huge honor.”

Belmonte’s wins on Sunday ran the gamut.

He overpowered one opponent, edged another, capitalized on errors by another and avoided a potential letdown caused by his own bad shots.

As it turned out, Ciminelli, the 27-year-old left-hander, had a shot at spoiling Belmonte’s day.

By the time Ciminelli solved the right-hand lane in the match, he trailed by more than 50 pins, before things got interesting.

After an opening spare, Belmonte strung six strikes to open his big lead.

Then in the seventh he left the 2-4-10 split, but converted that.

In the eighth he threw an even worse ball and left the 3-4-6-7-9-10, but he converted that one, too.

He bailed himself out twice and all but mathematically clinched going into the 10th frame.

Ciminelli, who was third in the 2010 Masters and was looking for his first major title, had only one open frame – the fifth when he left the 3-7-9 split.

The 3-7 split in the ninth halted a run of three strikes by Ciminelli and assured Belmonte of the victory.

Ciminelli struck on six of his seven balls on the left lane but had only one strike on the right.

In the second match, Smallwood missed three spares to lose, 202-173, even though Belmonte was struggling.

By his third game, though, Belmonte was lined up with the right equipment. He needed to be to edge Haugen, 235-234, then overpowered Tackett, the frail-looking 21-year-old from Indiana who was last year’s PBA Tour Rookie of the Year. It was an anticlimactic, 221-177 triumph.

“I wish I would have had a chance, but Jason did what he had to do to win,” Tackett said. “I’m disappointed I didn’t win, but it’s an experience I’m going to learn from this and hopefully next time I can win.”

After trailing the entire semifinal, Haugen tripled in the 10th frame then left one pin. Belmonte spared in the 10th and filled it with a strike when he needed at least eight.

The victory was worth $50,000 to the 30-year-old Belmonte. Ciminelli collected $8,000 for finishing fifth.