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Liz Johnson averaged 249.75 in match play during the tournament.
Robert Kirkham / Buffalo News

Updated: 05/18/09 07:18 AM

Liz Johnson hangs tough to win Obenauer


Check off another item on Liz Johnson's list of goals to accomplish before her bowling career is complete.

The Niagara Falls native and Cheektowaga resident added another achievement to her already impressive career list Sunday when she became the first woman to win the Greater Buffalo USBC Association's George A. Obenauer Masters championship at AMF Airport Lanes.

Johnson defeated Mike Mallwitz of Grand Island twice Sunday to join 33 males who have won previous Obies.

Perhaps none of the men, though, won in as impressive a style as Johnson in the six-day tournament.

For the tournament, Johnson averaged 241.8 overall. Her average in match play was 249.75. She had only one score under 700 in her eight matches.

She collected the $1,400 top prize plus a paid entry and travel to the 2009 USBC Masters Tournament in Las Vegas.

The first person to give her a victory hug was her mother, who rarely gets to see her well- traveled daughter bowl live in competition.

"There's nothing better to win a tournament at home when you're backed by your family and friends," Johnson said. "I think the last time my mother saw me win was when I won the U.S. [Women's] Open in 2007."

After suffering a loss to Jeff Tycz, 23, an Erie Community College computer student from Cheektowaga on Saturday night, Johnson came back Sunday to eliminate Chuck Jagodzinski of Lancaster and Tycz in the once-defeated bracket. Then she defeated Mallwitz, 710-708 and 740-646, in the championship showdown.

"I feel probably as strong mentally and physically as I have ever felt," said Johnson, who won her first USBC Queens title last month in Reno, Nev.

Johnson said that victory, her first in the Queens tournament, put her in a relaxed frame of mind for her hometown championship.

"There was no pressure. I felt I had nothing to prove," she said. "I could just go out and have fun bowling, and that's how I felt all week."

Tycz, who competes mostly out of Broadway Sports Center and Manor Lanes, bowled a 300 in the third game of the winners bracket final, but it was not enough to overtake Mallwitz, who won, 718-700. At the same time, Johnson was defeating Jagodzinski, another Broadway campaigner, 653-628.

Johnson then defeated Tycz, 722-681.

That put her into the championship round against Mallwitz, the 2008 Tri-City Masters champion.

The Grand Island bowler had better scores in two of the three games in the first match, but Johnson's 268-245 victory in the middle game, which she closed with six strikes, turned out to be the difference.

Trailing by 18 pins after two games, Mallwitz made it interesting by stringing together seven strikes before leaving a 6-pin on his last ball. But Johnson had struck in the last three frames for a 239, to close out the match.

In the final match, Johnson took charge right away, striking in frames two through five and finishing with five more to open a 64-pin advantage, 258-194. Mallwitz struck in five of the last seven frames for a 256-245 win in the second game, leaving him 53 pins behind going into the final game.

Johnson closed with seven strikes for a 225 game, topping Mallwitz's 196.

"I gave it a whirl. She's pretty good," said Mallwitz in a bit of an understatement. "Last year I was seventh. I felt I could finish a little higher than that this year and I did move up a few notches on the list."