Sean Rash of Montgomery, Illinois, achieved what all bowlers aim for when they march to the lanes at the United States Bowling Congress Open Championships - he bowled well enough to take the lead.
Two years ago, however, he was part of one of the most exciting doubles and singles squads in tournament history and barely had his bowling shoes off before his scores were beaten.
This time, he was able to enjoy the moment with friends and teammates, sign autographs and take photos with fans, all with plenty of time to walk across the South Point property to see his name and 2,264 nine-game total at the top of the Regular All-Events standings.
The 38-year-old right-hander started his return trip to the South Point Bowling Plaza by being recognized for his third-place all-events finish at the 2019 USBC Open Championships, and he then set out to improve on that performance.
Rash quickly made his presence known with games of 230, 258 and 257 for a 745 series in his team event Tuesday at the Bowling Plaza, and it only got better from there during doubles and singles Wednesday at the South Point Bowling Center.
He added sets of 747 in doubles and 772 in singles to surge past Kevin Bienko of Kenmore, New York, who previously held the lead with 2,226.
A 9 pin to start his final frame cost Rash a potential spot among the top three in Regular Singles and another 22 pins of cushion with only 11 days of competition left in the 2021 Open Championships. Team USA member and 2018 USBC Masters champion Andrew Anderson of Holly, Michigan, leads Regular Singles this year with 802.
“I bowled good, kept it in front of me, made my spares, filled frames and took advantage of a couple shots here and there,” said Rash, a former Team USA member and 16-time Professional Bowlers Association Tour champion. “I was fortunate to win an Eagle once, and I’ve had a couple close, so to win again would be pretty special. It always feels good when you’re in the lead in something, but there are still some really good bowlers to show up.”
The 2021 Open Championships marked Rash’s 15th appearance on the tournament lanes, which included a handful of visits to the Masters, which he won in 2007.
In his tournament debut in 2003, Rash (683) teamed with Derek Sapp of Keokuk, Iowa (857), to win Regular Doubles with a then-record 1,540 total. Sapp’s series still is tied for the third-highest series rolled in 117 years of Open Championships competition.
Rash returned the next year and tossed a 300 game during doubles.
This year after doubles, Rash needed a 735 series to take the all-events lead. He started singles with games of 258 and 267, which meant he only needed a 210 game to top Bienko.
Rash knew he needed a good game but didn’t know the exact number. He started the final game with an open frame, which was his first of the day and third overall in 2021. He spared in the second frame, made some minor adjustments, and struck until the 9 pin ended the string in the 10th frame.
Rash has spent much time in the spotlight and has collected accolades through every level of his career, from Junior Team USA to Team USA to the collegiate ranks, where he was a national champion with Wichita State, to the PBA.
In addition to his success on the lanes, Rash enjoyed bowling with former teammates from the Wichita area and other friends this week in Las Vegas, including PBA and USBC Hall of Famer Marshall Holman and PBA Commissioner Tom Clark. Rash bowled doubles with Clark’s son, Rory, a first-time participant. They combined for a 1,262 total.
“Anytime you get a chance to bowl with friends or family and have success, it’s just icing on the cake,” Rash said.
Rash also took a few minutes to reflect on the exciting all-events run he made in 2019, where he briefly held the lead in both Regular Singles (792) and Regular All-Events (2,151).
Minutes after Rash settled into the top spot, defending Regular All-Events champion, Kurt Pilon, tossed three 10th-frame strikes for an 800 singles series and 2,150 all-events total.
On the same pair as Pilon, Ryan Mouw closed out the night with a memorable 299 game that gave him an 802 singles series and winning all-events total of 2,156.
They finished first, third and fourth in all-events and third, fourth and sixth in singles.
“What a crazy 45 minutes in the Plaza,” Rash recalled. “I remember vividly that if I would have doubled in the 10th frame, I would have won two Eagles that day. Now, this is a little bit of redemption.”
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