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Ciminelli takes top seed over Williams Jr.

It might not mean much today, but for a while on Thursday night, finishing first was the first thing on Ryan Ciminelli's mind.

That's understandable. He's 21. He had to work through the qualifying round just to make it into the Denny's Professional Bowlers Association tournament. And he was going toe-to-toe with all-time wins leader Walter Ray Williams Jr.

"I was keeping track of what Walter Ray had, and basically, I had him shut out," said Ciminelli of the last game of the round of 64 at Lava Lanes.

Yeah, it was a little important to him.

Ciminelli capped his day at the Lumber Liquidators Earl Anthony Medford Classic with a pedestrian 204 game, but it was more than enough to emerge as the top seed entering today's match play, which begins at 9 a.m. with the round of 32.

The overall leader the day before in the Tournament Qualifying Round, Ciminelli had games of 247, 269, 269, 264, 255 and 277 before the finale to make a humongous charge in the day's second seven-game block.

His pinfall for all 14 games was 3,402 to the 3,367 of Williams. Rhino Page (3,328) and Parker Bohn III (3,300) finished third and fourth.

Williams opened the morning block with the lone 300 of the tournament and stayed on top most of the day. But he couldn't get out of the way of the do-no-wrong Ciminelli.

Ciminelli usurped the lead after 13 games on the strength of his 277 and a 209 by Williams. That gave the kid a 56-pin lead over the 48-year-old Hall of Famer going into the last game.

"I knew he had a big lead on me, and I knew I needed a huge game," said Williams. "It would be nice to lead, but there's not a huge difference. You drop all the pins and you bowl who you bowl."

Ciminelli faces Troy Wollenbecker today in the round of 32. Williams gets Doug Kent, the reigning player of the year, in one of the marquee matchups.

Other top matches to open action today pit recent player-of-the-year winners Patrick Allen (2005) against Tommy Jones (2006), and defending champion Sean Rash against Michael Haugen Jr., who notched his first career victory in the first half.

Like Williams, Ciminelli downplayed the importance of being the top seed.

"All those pins go to waste," he said. "Now it's one versus 32. That's it."

He noted that last week, the top two seeds lost their opening matches.

Still, this was special for Ciminelli, who used Williams, bowling on a nearby pair of lanes, as a carrot in his chase "to keep me focused. I didn't think I could catch him, but every dog has his day."

More important was what it revealed about himself.

"It feels good," said Ciminelli, who made it into the tournament only one other time this season through the TQR, placing 11th in Baltimore. "It lets me know I can do this, lets me know I can keep up with these guys, especially when I feel comfortable."

Ciminelli had a good look all day and played his "A" game: hard and straight.

The good carry he thought would eventually leave him never did.

Williams was in a similar state from the time he threw the first ball of his 300.

"That's a great sign," he said of his 74th career perfect game, including four this season, "considering yesterday in practice I wasn't excited about my carry. I was happy to bowl well."

In the last couple games, Williams moved around on the lanes to try different approaches should he need them in his repertoire today. Essentially, he found out he could throw a big hook if need be, something he doesn't normally do.

"It just gives you a second look," he said.

Among the notable players who didn't advance to match play are former winners here Pete Weber, Mike Wolfe and Brian Himmler; Chris Barnes, Norm Duke, Danny Wiseman and Chris Warren.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 776-4479, or e-mail ttrower@mailtribune.com