Sean Rash of Anchorage enjoyed an $80,000 payday and his first victory in five years with a single-game effort Sunday in Las Vegas that put him in contention for the Professional Bowlers Association's Player of the Year award.
Rash, 29, captured the season-ending PBA Tournament of Champions title with a 239-205 victory over Ryan Ciminelli, a triumph that puts him atop the league's money-earnings and points list for the season.
It was the fifth title of the Dimond High graduate's career, which began when he was a youth bowler in Anchorage, continued in college at Wichita State and carried him in 2005 to the PBA, the sport's highest level.
"This one ranks right up there with the most important titles I've ever won," Rash said in a press release from the PBA. "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 Tournament of Champions, a week-long event, featured an elite field of 77 that included the top-ranked players plus the winners of every tournament this season. Among those entered was Eagle River's Ron Mohr, 56, the PBA's reigning Senior Player of the Year. He finished 51st.
If Rash goes on to claim Player of the Year honors, Alaska would boast both of the PBA's overall champions.
Rash inserted himself into the Player of the Year conversation with his win Sunday at Red Rock Lanes.
The top qualifier for the four-man stepladder finals, Rash earned an automatic berth in the championship match. Ciminelli, a left-hander from Cheektowaga, N.Y., was the No. 4 qualifier and started the day with a 190-182 quarterfinal victory over Mike Fagan of Dallas. In the semifinals, he beat the No. 2 qualifier, Jason Belmonte of Australia, 257-223.
The PBA described Rash's championship match as "almost error-free."
"I'm disappointed I didn't win, but Sean bowled a great game. He earned it," said Ciminelli, 26, whose loss left the PBA without a left-handed winner for the first season since 1962.
Rash lives in Montgomery, Ill., but his roots remain in Anchorage. He founded the Sean Rash "Stars of the Future" Bowling Tournament in Anchorage and most years returns home for the event, which raises scholarship money for young bowlers.
Rash, Belmonte and Fagan are the top contenders for the Chris Schenkel Player of the Year award.
Rash's case for the honor: He leads the prize-money list with $140,250 (Belmonte is second with $136,375); he tops the points list with 201,293 points (Belmonte is second with 187,844); and he boasts the season's best average at 228.19 (Fagan is second at 227.73).
He played in 13 of the season's 14 tournaments, winning once, finishing second three times and posting 11 top-10 finishes.