Herndon hangs on to win NAPT West Coast Challenge
Skip Maloney
Jun. 26, 2019
Melissa Herndon, Eleanor Collado, Khanh Ngo and Veronique Menard
Melissa Herndon, Eleanor Collado, Khanh Ngo and Veronique Menard
It’s the kind of match that spectator fans love to see. A player sends an opponent to the loss side in an early round and that opponent treks all the way back through the loss side to face that opponent in the finals. And then, it’s a double elimination final and the loss side opponent wins the first set, double hill. They battle a second time to double hill and the hot seat occupant finally wins it. So went the North American Pool Tour’s (NAPT) Division I West Coast Challenge, a 10-ball tournament, held on the long weekend of June 20-23 at Hard Times Billiards in Sacramento, CA. It was Melissa Herndon who sent Veronique Menard to the loss side in the event. Menard won seven on the loss side and defeated Herndon double hill in the opening set of the double elimination final. Herndon returned the favor, defeating Menard in the second set, double hill to claim the title. The event drew 33 entrants to Hard Time Billiards.
 
Herndon and Menard clashed first in the second round of play. Herndon had opened with a 7-1 victory over Samantha Hill, while Menard was busy downing Sher Ahola 7-3. Herndon took the first of their three matches 7- 4 and moved on past Bernie Store (7-3) to arrive at a winners’ side semifinal against Rachel Lang. Eleanor Callado, in the meantime, who’d almost been sent to the loss side in the opening round, survived that double hill match against Laura Bendikas and advanced to defeat Amani Ali 7-1, and shut out Kelly Nickl to arrive at the other winners’ side semifinal against Khanh Ngo.
 
On the loss side, it was Lang who ran into Menard, four matches into her loss side streak, which had most recently eliminated Stephanie Hefner 7-3 and Nickl 7-5. Ngo picked up Bernie Store, who, following her defeat at the hands of Herndon, had survived two straight double hill fights against Janna Sue Nelson and Sher Ahola. 
 
Bernie Store’s third straight double hill match was not the proverbial ‘charm’ she’d hoped it would be. Ngo hung on to win the match and advance to the quarterfinals, where she was met by Menard, who’d chalked up loss-side win #5 against Lang 7-1. Menard then put an end to Ngo’s weekend with a 7-3 win in the quarterfinals and followed up with a 7-5 win over Callado in the semifinals. 
 
It was clear from the opening set of the final that neither of these women was going to go quietly. Menard had the usual momentum boost from seven matches on the loss side and Herndon knew she only had to win one more set to go home with the top prize. Herndon arguably had more at stake than Menard did. They’d both been around competing since the turn of the century, but in recent years, Herndon had been taking time off for a job and a husband routine. For her, standing on the brink of her first major title in years, there was an “I’m back” feel to the whole process, which would have felt good no matter how the finals turned out, but winning it was clearly on her mind and in her game.
Menard took an early, short lead in the opening set, but Herndon caught up to tie things at 4-4. The ninth rack turned into a back-and-forth safety battle as they both worked at dropping the 5-ball. Menard broke through, but jumped up, shooting at the 8-ball and turned the table over to Herndon. Herndon dropped it, but scratched shooting at the 9-ball, giving Menard a ball-in-hand shot at the 10-ball and immediately thereafter, the lead.
 
Herndon took the 10th rack to tie things at 5-5. Menard took game 11 to reach the hill first. With a connect-the-dots finish to rack #12, Menard missed the 9-ball, allowing Herndon to finish and force a deciding rack. Menard broke and ran rack #13, claiming the first set and forcing a second.
 
Tension mounts in the second set of a true double elimination final like an old-fashioned Jack in the Box. Especially when it goes back and forth as this one did. The crank keeps turning, ratcheting up the tension, as you brace for that damn clown to jump out at you.
 
Two things were evident right from the start of the second set. No one was going to jump out to any kind of substantial lead. They were both tight and cautious, one game at a time. And they were getting a bit tired. Making mistakes; missing shots, rattling them in holes, putting each other in tough situations and alternately shooting right out of them.
 
They established a lead/tie pattern right from the start, with Menard taking the first rack, Herndon, the second. Back and forth to a 2-2 tie, until Herndon threatened to go out in front for the first time as she aimed at the 10-ball. She missed it, tapping the 10-ball to concede the rack and the pattern resumed, all the way to a 4-4 tie.
 
Herndon broke the pattern, and took her first lead, 5-4, in game #9, and with nothing byt the 9 and 10-ball to go in rack #10, she threatened to go up by two. She left herself in an awkward position shooting at the 9-ball and missed it, allowing Menard to knot things at 5-5.
 
Herndon misjudged a position shot in game #11 that left a 5-ball hanging in the pocket and allowed Menard to recapture the lead and reach the hill first at 6-5. 
 
At this point, Menard was probably the only person in the room, or the extended chat world that didn’t want Herndon to tie things up at 6-6 to force a deciding game. Herndon being the strongest proponent for forcing a game #13, tried to accomplish it a little early, going for a 5-10 combo, which she rushed and missed. Menard dropped the 5-ball and with five balls down and five to go, things looked grim for Herndon.
 
Menard made it to a shot at the 8-ball, which she attempted to put into a side pocket. But she over-anxiously hit it way too hard and when it caromed off the rail next to the side pocket, it looked as though it had enough speed on it to reach a table in New York City. Herndon stepped to the table and promptly tied the match at 6-6.
 
Herndon broke the final rack, sinking the 8-ball and giving herself a decent look at the 1-ball. But like Menard, she got a little over-anxious and bounced the 1-ball off the side rail. Subsequent ball action dropped two other balls. Since the ball at which Herndon was shooting didn’t drop, 10-ball rules dictated that Menard had the option of taking over or allowing Herndon to keep shooting. Menard chose to shoot, ran to the 5-ball and rattled it in and out of the side pocket. 
 
Herndon played safe and Menard safed her right back, but not quite good enough. Herndon made a terrific, long-table, oblique angle shot on that 5-ball that drifted it within less than an inch or two of two other balls on its way into the corner pocket. Herndon dropped the last three balls and claimed the NAPT’s West Coast Challenge title.
 
NAPT President Adrianne Beach thanked the ownership and staff at Hard Time Billiards, as well as Cue Sports Live and the players who made it out to play. The next Division I NAPT event, scheduled for August 15-18 will be the 4th Annual NAPT Summer Classic, to be hosted by Shooter’s Sports Bar and Billiards in Grayslake, IL.