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By Aaron Smith, USBC Communications
LAS VEGAS - Early in his career, Stoney Baker of Canton, Georgia, decided he was going to be a part-time bowler and full-time businessman.
The 56-year-old right-hander was all business Saturday at the Sam's Town Bowling Center as he rolled undefeated through match play to earn the No. 1 seed for the stepladder finals of the 2019 USBC Masters.
Baker, the owner of Canton's Cherokee Lanes, defeated USBC and PBA Hall of Famer Norm Duke of Clermont, Florida, 717-672, in the match to determine the top seed.
The championship round will be broadcast live on BowlTV.com on Sunday, beginning at 1 p.m. Eastern, with the winner taking home a $20,000 top prize and the second major title of the 2019 PBA50 Tour season.
Duke will make his third consecutive appearance in the USBC Senior Masters stepladder, this time as the No. 2 seed, and he'll look to improve on last year's runner-up finish, which was the result of a final-frame miscue that has haunted him on the PBA50 Tour ever since.
Baker and Duke will be joined in the championship round by No. 3 Gary Faulkner of Norfolk, Virginia, No. 4 Tom Adcock of Decatur, Illinois, and No. 5 Amleto Monacelli of Venezuela, who all advanced to the stepladder from an exciting four-player shootout Saturday evening.
Adcock and Monacelli will face off in the opening match, and the winner will meet Faulkner.
"My first line of business is my bowling center, which is my baby, but I like to get out and bowl whenever I can, and I've kind of been a part-time bowler my whole life," Baker said. "I'm 56 years old, and I just enjoy the game. To be on the lanes with guys like Walter (Ray Williams Jr.) and Norm is an incredible thing.
They're the best. All these guys, I look up to them, and it's an honor to bowl with and against them. Norm, he's my idol, and to beat him is an amazing feeling."
Total pinfall for three games determined the winner of each match in the double-elimination match-play bracket, while the championship round will be single-game matches. As the undefeated top seed, Baker must be defeated twice to be denied his first PBA50 Tour title.
Baker averaged more than 231 in his six match-play wins this week at Sam's Town but saved his two biggest sets for last.
To guarantee himself a spot in the stepladder, he rolled the event's 13th perfect game and downed PBA Hall of Famer Ron Mohr of Las Vegas, 772-680. That set up the meeting with Duke, and a 290 in the second game propelled Baker to the top seed.
"Being in this position feels amazing," Baker said. "I plan to go out there and give it my best and make the 10 best shots I can. To win this event would mean everything. I have bowled a decent amount of PBA50 events, and being able to win one would be incredibly special."
To earn their spots in Sunday's stepladder, Faulkner, Adcock and Monacelli made their way through the Elimination Bracket and survived the three-game shootout round.
Faulkner posted the highest score, a 719 series, to take the third spot, while Adcock and Monacelli had 711 and 691, respectively. Ron Mohr of Las Vegas shot 594 and was eliminated, finishing sixth overall.
Monacelli is the 2015 Senior Masters champion and is looking to become the eighth two-time winner.
As a PBA member since 1986, Baker has collected 31 PBA regional titles and is the reigning Senior Player of the Year in the PBA South Region. Nationally, his best finish on the PBA50 Tour prior to this week was fourth.
“I went out on the PBA Tour for a while and just didn't love all the travel and being gone all the time," Baker said. "I decided to go into the bowling business, which started with a pro shop, and then I got the bowling center. I chose to be a part-time bowler, and I sometimes wonder 'what if,' but I'm ultimately very happy with the direction I chose."
Duke, a 55-year-old right-hander, has made his career on the lanes, collecting 40 PBA Tour titles and five PBA50 Tour wins along the way.
After finishing fourth at the 2017 Senior Masters, Duke turned in another solid performance in 2018, earning the No. 1 seed for the finals, but was defeated by Chris Warren of Grants Pass, Oregon, 269-220 and 246-241.
In the deciding game of the title tilt, Duke stepped up in his final frame needing to strike on the first shot and get at least eight and a spare to win by a single pin.
After delivering the strike he needed, Duke left the 3-4-6-7-9-10 combination to fall short, a moment that has stuck with him for a year and stalled his success on the PBA50 Tour.
As a competitor on both the Go Bowling! PBA Tour and the PBA50 Tour, Duke essentially is living two separate lives.
Earlier this year, he proved he still can strike and win against the up-and-coming stars of the PBA Tour, winning a pair of titles in back-to-back weeks, but he has been winless on the PBA50 Tour this year, despite making the stepladder of all three events he's entered. He has collected finishes of fifth, third and fourth.
"I've had more trouble on this tour than I have on the regular tour for two years now, but as easily as you can lose yourself out of a roll you're on, you also can win your way out of a funk," Duke said. "I feel like I've been bowling well out here, but I just haven't taken anything home as far as hardware. I know it's up to me to step up and perform, if I'm going to get out of this thing. Right now, there's the mental battle, along with the physical requirement to out-bowl people. It's not anything I haven't experienced before, but unless I can rise to the occasion, it's going to be prolonged."
A win at the 2019 Senior Masters would make Duke the fourth player in history to win both the USBC Masters and the senior version. Dave Soutar, Williams and Warren are the other three, with Williams winning each twice. Duke's Masters title came in 1993.
"I think the way last year's Senior Masters ended is the major contributing factor in what I'm dealing with mentally right now," Duke said. "I let that one get away, and if I get that one, maybe that's the start of a serious roll. But, I didn't. Honestly, it's agonizing at times, and the longer it takes, the more pressure there is. There's a lot of talent on the show, but I'm grateful for the chance. If I'm going to get it done, I've got a lot of work to do."
Duke, who owns two PBA50 major titles, joins fellow hall of famer Pete Weber of St. Ann, Missouri, as the only bowlers to win both the U.S. Open and PBA Senior U.S. Open.
A total of 300 USBC members age 50 and older took to the lanes this week at the 2019 Senior Masters for three five-game sets over three days to determine the 63 bowlers who joined Warren in the double-elimination bracket. Match play features three-game total-pinfall contests to determine which players advance.
As the defending champion, Warren was guaranteed the No. 64 spot in the bracket, but he averaged 232 through 15 games to improve his seeding to No. 3. He then lost to Mark Williams of Beaumont, Texas, and
Ryan Shafer of Horseheads, New York, in consecutive matches to end his hopes of becoming the first repeat winner since USBC Hall of Famer Tom Baker in 2007.
For complete Senior Masters results click on https://www.bowl.com/Senior_Masters/Senior_Masters_Home/2019_Results/