ARLINGTON, Texas - Junior Team USA member Jillian Martin of Stow, Ohio, made history Tuesday night by becoming the youngest bowler to win a Professional Women's Bowling Association Tour event.
The 17-year-old phenom defeated England's Verity Crawley in the title match of the 2021 PWBA BowlTV Classic, 221-188, to claim the $10,000 top prize and a place in the bowling record book.
The BowlTV Classic was held at the International Training and Research Center as part of the four-event PWBA Summer Classic Series, and all rounds of competition were broadcast live on BowlTV.
Martin, who celebrated her birthday on July 25, bested the 35-year-old mark set by PWBA and United States Bowling Congress Hall of Famer Wendy Macpherson, when she won the 1986 U.S. Women's Open as an 18-year-old high school senior.
"I was very nervous going into that match, but I reminded myself how special it was to have an opportunity to win a tournament against the best ladies in the world," Martin said. "I wanted to make the most of it and have some fun. I kept telling myself that the whole match. I made a couple bad shots, but it was incredible to have that opportunity and be able to find success at the highest level."
The loss was Crawley's second runner-up finish of the Summer Classic Series, and sixth since joining the PWBA in 2017, but she did break through for her first PWBA Tour title at the 2021 Greater Nashville Open in June.
She started Tuesday's title tilt with a pair of strikes, before back-to-back washouts in the third and fourth frames left her in a hole she could not climb out of.
In the championship match of the PWBA International Bowling Campus Classic on Saturday, she fell to Jen Higgins of Lewis Center, Ohio, 252-155.
Though Crawley won't leave Arlington with a trophy, she did make her way into the race for PWBA Player of the Year. She's now second on the 2021 PWBA points list behind Julia Bond of Aurora, Illinois, who has won two titles this year.
"It has been a phenomenal few weeks," said Crawley, a 27-year-old right-hander who was the only bowler to make the cut in all three Summer Classic Series events. "If you would've told me coming into this that it would turn out this way, I 100% would've walked away completely satisfied with those finishes. I'm very proud of myself and how I competed each event and how I stayed mentally strong."
After sparing a 10 pin in her first frame back under the BowlTV lights, Martin struck in six of her next seven frames to put the match out of reach.
Not only did Martin help herself to the brink of history Monday and Tuesday, she also set herself up for a chance at redemption.
At the 2021 PWBA Kickoff Classic Series in January, Martin found herself in a similar position, when she earned a meeting with Bryanna Coté in the title match of the PWBA ITRC Classic. Unfortunately, it wasn't Martin's time, and Coté won the game, 244-238.
"I made good shots last time against Bryanna and bowled the best game I could to give myself a chance, and while it was a hard loss, I learned from it and wanted to come back from it," Martin said. "I knew I'd be back out here competing at some point in time, but I didn't know it would be this soon. I figured that whenever that time came, I'd try to be the best I could be and take advantage of the opportunity."
It was Martin's performance at that event, and the PWBA Kickoff Classic Series it was a part of, that earned her a special exemption into the Summer Classic Series from USBC and the Bowling Proprietors' Association of America.
Along with the second-place effort against Coté, Martin added third- and eighth-place finishes at the Kickoff Classic Series, plus a 299 game.
Returning to the lanes this week, knowing she had previous success at the ITRC, allowed Martin to be comfortable and confident from the start of the Summer Classic Series.
She posted the highest average (212) and turned in an event-best 20-4 record over three rounds of match play on the 41-foot oil pattern at the BowlTV Classic to lead the field by more than 200 pins and earn the top seed for Tuesday's stepladder.
She had a high game of 244 and low game of 166, and it was her consistency over the two days that left her just one win away from becoming the answer to a trivia question.
"I had a good look on the pattern and felt I was able to play to my strengths," said Martin, who's latest visit to the ITRC also included a 13th-place finish at the PWBA Go Bowling Classic and a 22nd-place effort at the IBC Classic. "My shot making this tournament was absolutely incredible. The two tournaments before, I just felt a click off, but I felt so close. I put it all together for this last tournament and was able get it done, so that was incredible."
Crawley earned the opportunity to meet Martin by defeating Coté in Tuesday's semifinal match, 208-182. Nine clean frames from Crawley after a first-frame 7-10 split, including three consecutive strikes as the game reached its midpoint, proved to be enough to hold off the two-time PWBA Tour winner, who left a pair of splits along the way.
Coté made her way to the semifinal with an eight-strike, 233-194, win over Germany's Birgit Noreiks. A split and a washout from Coté in the fifth and sixth frames, respectively, had four strikes on either side, while Noreiks did not throw a double until her final frame.
Noreiks was looking for her second title at the Summer Classic Series. She won the series-opening Go Bowling Classic for her first singles win, and second victory overall, on the PWBA Tour. She also won the 2017 Professional Bowlers Association/PWBA Striking Against Breast Cancer Mixed Doubles with Jason Sterner.
In the opening match, Noreiks struck in four of her first five frames to take a lead over Jordan Richard of Maumee, Ohio, but Richard rallied with four consecutive strikes, starting in the fourth frame, to cut the deficit.
A 4-6-7-9-10 split from Noreiks in the eighth frame gave Richard the lead for the first time, along with a chance to lock up the win.
Richard struck in her ninth frame, before leaving, and converting a 3-10 split, but a six-count washout on her fill ball opened the door for Noreiks. Instead of needing a double to advance, the German right-hander got the job done with a strike and a spare for a 205-204 victory.
A total of 24 bowlers qualified for the BowlTV Classic, the final tournament of the 2021 Summer Classic Series, based on their 18-game qualifying totals from the Go Bowling Classic and International Bowling Campus Classic (nine games each).
All pinfall dropped heading into the BowlTV Classic, and total pinfall, plus bonus pins for each win or tie in match play, determined the five players for Tuesday's stepladder.
The 2021 PWBA Summer Classic Series brought 56 players, representing more than a dozen countries, to the ITRC.
The Summer Classic Series also included the 2021 PWBA Dallas/Fort Worth Regional, won by past Junior Team USA member Taylor Bailey of Joliet, Illinois, a member of the 2021 PWBA Tour rookie class.
Next up on the PWBA schedule is the PWBA Spokane Open at Lilac Lanes & Casino in Spokane, Washington, from Aug. 19-21.
Ahead for Martin is a pre-planned visit to "FOX & Friends" on Saturday to help celebrate National Bowling Day. She'll now have a little more to talk about.
"I didn't even think about that," Martin said of the upcoming appearance. "I'm so in the moment. I have this awesome trophy. It's so crazy. Yeah, it's going to be really cool to go out there and be able to say I won a PWBA tournament at 17. I knew that was going to be a great experience, and this will make it even better, for sure."
To learn more about the PWBA Tour, visit PWBA.com.
About the PWBA
The Professional Women's Bowling Association (PWBA) originally was formed in 1960. The PWBA Tour has events throughout the country, offering high-level competition and top prize money for women bowlers. The PWBA is supported by the Bowling Proprietors' Association of America (BPAA) and the United States Bowling Congress (USBC).