Hite vs Rojas and KVD vs Krieger in Elite 8 Final Four in Niagara

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Final Four to Face Off in Elite 8 Bracket Semifinal - illustrations courtesy of Bassmaster

Final Four to Face Off in Elite 8 Bracket Semifinal – illustrations courtesy of Bassmaster

BUFFALO, N.Y. — And then there were four. The first round of the Bassmaster Classic Bracket tournament on the upper Niagara River is over and half the field is driving back home.

The two Elite Series anglers from Arizona are staying though, as Brett Hite dominated and Dean Rojas performed some last-minute heroics during the first round, stamping their tickets to the semifinals.

Michigan’s Kevin VanDam and Koby Kreiger of Florida round out the semifinalists heading into Thursday’s head-to-head clashes in hopes of winning the lion’s share of the $50,000 purse and a berth into the 2017 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by GoPro.

The unusual format of this derby has generated a lot of excitement from the anglers and fans watching on Bassmaster.com and WatchESPN, as every second of fishing has been streamed live.

The anglers are also getting updates from BASSTrakk to know how much weight their rival has caught, and officials on each boat immediately weighing and releasing the fish once the information is logged.

“I love this format,” said Rojas, who fished against Alabamian Jordan Lee. “We fished for 5 1/2 hours, and I was losing for all but two minutes of the match. When I caught that last fish, fans got to watch in real time the excitement and incredible circumstance that gave me the win.”

Rojas was 5 pounds behind Lee when he hooked a 3-pounder. He had five minutes left when he hooked another big one. It came off. His next cast produced another bite and he swung another 3-pounder into the boat with two minutes left.

“I’m a slow starter, but I finish strong,” Rojas said. Rojas ended with a two-day total weight of 13-9, and Lee with 12-9.

Hite wasn’t sweating a bit. With the second-heaviest limit on Tuesday, he had a 2-pound cushion over Texan Keith Combs, his first round opponent.

“I knew some big ones lived in my spot, and when they bit early, I felt like I was in good shape,” Hite said.

After boating the biggest limit of the event so far (11-2) in the first two hours of competition, Hite was more than 7 pounds ahead of Combs, who ended the day with just 6-12.

“I felt really good with my weight, so I went exploring for the last hour. I found some stuff that should help me tomorrow,” Hite said.

Speaking of help, Kreiger beat Jacob Powroznik with the help of Jacob Powroznik.

The two anglers are roommates on the Elite Series, and Powroznik vowed to help Kreiger make it to the Classic. Winning this tournament is the Florida pro’s only chance to get there.

Kreiger fished for more than 2 1/2 hours without a bite while Powroznik watched, and even coached, from his boat nearby. Kreiger finally got a bite, and the fish jumped off. With 27 minutes left in competition, Kreiger set the hook and boated a 1-7, enough to finally eclipse Powroznik’s Day 1 total.

“Thank the Lord and thank Jacob Powroznik!” Kreiger said. Powroznik ended the first round with 9-15, and Kreiger moves to the next round with a two-day total of 10-4.

VanDam had nearly a 9-pound lead over Florida pro Drew Benton heading into Wednesday’s elimination match and could have slept through the second session and still won. However, that’s not KVD. He went out and caught 10-4 for a two-day total of 20-8. Benton finished with a final total of 5-10.

“I was watching BASSTrakk and knew Drew was having a tough time, so after I boated one pretty good one, I went practicing,” VanDam said. “Based on what I found, I feel really good about my future in the derby.”

Thursday’s semifinal round on July 21 will pit Rojas vs. Hite and VanDam vs. Kreiger. The weights will go back to zero, and all anglers will fish from 8:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. ET.

The winner of those two matches will advance to Friday’s championship round. With weights starting from zero again, the anglers will fish head to head from 8:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. for the title.

Bassmaster LIVE will broadcast coverage of the entire tournament Thursday and Friday, from first cast until the fishing stops, with a camera in every boat.

The payout for the bracket event will be distributed as follows: $10,000 and a Classic berth for first place, $8,000 for second place, $6,000 for third and fourth place (eliminated from semifinals) and $5,000 each for fifth through eighth place (eliminated from quarterfinals).

There was no entry fee for the tournament. The local host for this event is I Love New York.

2016 Bassmaster Elite Series Premier Sponsors: Toyota, Nitro Boats, Skeeter Boats, Triton Boats, Yamaha, GoPro, Berkley, Huk, Humminbird, Mercury, Minn Kota

2016 Bassmaster Elite Series Supporting Sponsors: Lowrance, Phoenix Boats, Power-Pole, Rapala, Shell Rotella, Shimano, Academy Sports + Outdoors, A.R.E. Truck Caps, Carhartt, Dick Cepek Tires & Wheels, Livingston Lures

About B.A.S.S.
B.A.S.S. is the worldwide authority on bass fishing and keeper of the culture of the sport, providing cutting edge content on bass fishing whenever, wherever and however bass fishing fans want to use it. Headquartered in Birmingham, Ala., the 500,000-member organization’s fully integrated media platforms include the industry’s leading magazines (Bassmaster and B.A.S.S. Times), website (Bassmaster.com), television show (The Bassmasters on ESPN2), social media programs and events. For more than 45 years, B.A.S.S. has been dedicated to access, conservation and youth fishing.

The Bassmaster Tournament Trail includes the most prestigious events at each level of competition, including the Bassmaster Elite Series, Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Open Series, Academy Sports + Outdoors B.A.S.S. Nation presented by Magellan, Carhartt Bassmaster College Series presented by Bass Pro Shops, Costa Bassmaster High School Series, Toyota Bonus Bucks Bassmaster Team Championship and the ultimate celebration of competitive fishing, the GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by GoPro.

2016 Bassmaster Classic Bracket 7/19-7/22
Niagara River, Buffalo, N.Y.
Standings Day 2

Angler           Hometown                No./lbs-oz      Big Bass
Kevin VanDam     Kalamazoo, Mich.        4 Bass 10-4     Big Bass: 3-11
Drew Benton      Panama City, Fla.       2 Bass  4-4     Big Bass: 2-8

Jacob Powroznik  Port Haywood, Va.       0 Bass  0-0     Big Bass: 0-0
Koby Kreiger     Bokeelia, Fla.          1 Bass  1-7     Big Bass: 1-7

Brett Hite       Phoenix, Ariz.          4 Bass  11-12   Big Bass: 3-11
Keith Combs      Huntington, Texas       4 Bass  6-12    Big Bass: 2-8

Jordan Lee       Vinemont, Ala.          3 Bass  4-10    Big Bass: 1-15
Dean Rojas       Lake Havasu City, Ariz. 5 Bass  9-14    Big Bass: 3-3