With six games to go in the qualifying finals, Nikki Gianulias took the lead last night in the Women's Professional Bowlers Association National Championship Tournament at Bowl America Shirley in Alexandria.

Competition resumes today at 2 p.m. as the field of 18 is whittled to five. The finals start tonight at 8. The ESPN cable network will tape the matches.

Gianulias, the 1979 WPBA rookie of the year, bowled a 12-game total of 2,978. She has a 23-pin advantage over Pat Costello. Robin Romeo is third, 29 pins off the lead.

Gianulias was the last bowler to make the cut Wednesday night. With everyone starting fresh, she stood in fifth place after six games yesterday afternoon and never fell lower than fourth during the evening, rolling 268 and 258 games.

Gianulias, a resident of Vallejo, Calif., said she feels no added pressure because she is leading.

"I don't think about that," she said. "I think about executing my shot. I'm just glad I'm there. I hope to keep it up."

Gianulias' only tour victory came last December in Nashville, but she was third on the money list, winning $18,513.

Right behind her is Costello, another Californian and one of the all-time leading money winners. She also was consistent, starting the evening competition is third place.

"I don't care if I'm first or fifth," Costello said. "Tomorrow (Friday) at this time is when I'll care."

Romeo led the field after the first six games and remained near the top throughout the evening. Last year's champion, Cindy Coburn, is in eighth place.