Tackett earns top seed for USBC Masters finals

NORTH BRUNSWICK, N.J. - Rising star E.J. Tackett of Huntington, Ind., earned the top seed for Sunday's stepladder finals at the 2014 United States Bowling Congress Masters by going undefeated in six bracket matches.

Tackett, the Professional Bowlers Association's Rookie of the Year last season, defeated Michael Haugen Jr. of Phoenix, 793-620, in a matchup of the remaining unbeaten players in the winners bracket to earn the top seed at Brunswick Zone Carolier. Haugen will be the No. 2 seed for Sunday's ESPN finals, which will air live at 3 p.m. ET.

In his six matches, Tackett won by an average of almost 90 pins in cruising to an undefeated match-play record. He will be looking for his first PBA Tour title in his third career TV appearance.

"If I were to win, it would be the biggest thing that has happened in my entire life," the 21-year-old Tackett said. "This is what I've dreamed of my entire life, and it's a pretty surreal feeling."

En route to earning the top seed, Tackett defeated Dom Barrett of England, 697-652; Mike Fagan of Fort Worth, Texas, 682-633; Bryan Goebel of Shawnee, Kan., 653-517; John Janawicz of Winter Haven, Fla., 707-610; Tom Smallwood of Saginaw, Mich., 604-569; before defeating Haugen.

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Rounding out Sunday's ESPN stepladder field will be Smallwood; Ryan Ciminelli of Cheektowaga, N.Y., and defending champion Jason Belmonte of Australia. Smallwood won the four-player final elimination match with a 738 series to earn the No. 3 seed for the finals. Ciminelli was second with 652 and Belmonte was third with 614. Barrett shot 605 and was eliminated.

Barrett needed a spare in the final frame to secure the fifth seed, but left a 4-6-7-10 split and Belmonte threw a clutch double to go around him and take the last spot.

Should Belmonte win the Masters and successfully defend his title, he would become the first player to do so in nearly 50 years. Billy Welu won the event in 1964 and 1965, while Dick Hoover was the first to win consecutive titles in 1956 and 1957.

The last defending champion to get this close to repeating was Hall of Famer Mike Aulby, who after winning in 1995, lost in the championship match the following year.

The Masters, which features a total prize fund of $315,000 including a first-place prize of $50,000, is a major event on the PBA Tour and is part of the World Tenpin Bowling Association World Bowling Tour for the fourth consecutive season.

For more information on the Masters, including live scoring, visit BOWL.com/Masters.