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  • Courtesy Professional Bowlers Association E.J. Tackett, a native of Huntington, competes Tuesday in Orlando, Fla., where he won the Main Event PBA Tour Finals for his third championship of the year.

  • Courtesy Professional Bowlers Association E.J. Tackett, a native of Huntington, rolls the ball Tuesday in Orlando, Florida, where he won the Main Event PBA Tour Finals for his third championship of the year. He is the reigning Player of the Year on the Professional Bowlers Association Tour.

Thursday, June 29, 2017 1:00 am

PBA's No. 1 still rolling; Tackett gets 3rd win in '17

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

Having eight championships on the Professional Bowlers Association Tour is impressive. When you factor in the age of Huntington native E.J. Tackett – 24 – it's even more so.

Tackett got the latest victory of his five-year pro career Tuesday night in Orlando, Florida, beating Jason Belmonte 666-628 in a three-game pinfall match at the Main Event PBA Tour Finals.

Not only did it make it Tackett the first three-time winner of this PBA season, it was a message to the rest of the tour that he's not resting on his laurels after a fabulous 2016 that saw him win the Chris Schenkel PBA Player of the Year Award.

He's the tour's leading money winner right now, having earned $34,953 more than everyone else.

Like Tackett, Belmonte has won both the player and rookie of the year awards and is no easy foe. Belmonte led 225-224 after the first game Tuesday before he was overtaken by Tackett, who had gotten to the title match by besting Tommy Jones, Dom Barrett and Ryan Ciminelli in preliminary rounds.

“The lanes were a little weird at times,” Tackett said. “I don't know if it was from Tommy (Jones) or Belmo, or a little of both of them moving the oil around. But I threw a couple of shots that I thought were really, really good, and I had a solid 10 pin on one and a stone 9 pin on the other that I didn't see coming at all. I really thought I had struck.

“I also threw a couple of bad shots that shouldn't have struck, and did, so it all evens out. It was back and forth, not only with pin carry but bad shot making. I missed a couple of spares. He missed a couple. I had chances to take the lead in both 10th frames in the first two games but didn't. In the second game, I could have taken a huge lead but left that stone 9 pin. That's stuff you can't control.”

Tackett won the third game in commanding fashion, 220-212. 

“The last game I threw a couple of bad shots, but down the stretch I threw probably my best two shots of the tournament – in the eighth and ninth frames,” he said. “I knew getting those two strikes would force (Belmonte) to strike out to force me to spare, so they were very important.”

Despite having defeated Belmonte en route to the Detroit King of the Swing, a special event, Tackett came into Tuesday with an 0-2 record against the Australian in title matches. The PBA is billing Tackett vs. Belmonte as a fledging rivalry, since they've met in title matches at the USBC Masters and the Grand Casino Hotel & Resort Oklahoma Open.

“Now I'm 1-2 against him, so we'll have to meet more and see where the record goes,” said Tackett, who has won two majors – the 2016 PBA World Championships and the 2017 FireLake PBA Tournament of Champions.

Tackett's victory Tuesday earned him $30,000 and brought his career earnings to $487,202, including $123,632 this year, when he's averaged a score of 227.05 in 10 events, winning money in eight of them. His scoring average is eighth best this season.

He's ahead of his Player of the Year pace from 2016, when he averaged 224.49 and earned $168,290 in 26 events.

Tackett, Belmonte and Francois Lavoie are the nominees for the Best Bowler ESPY – voting is at www.espn.com/espys/ – which will be awarded July 12.

As a teenager, Tackett was one of the top golfers in the nation and one of the best bowlers in the world, a member of the IPFW golf team before opting to commit to pro bowling full time. When he won Player of the Year in 2016, after voting by his peers and media, it ended Belmonte's string of three straight years with the honor.

jcohn@jg.net