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Justin Muller, in honor of a deceased friend, wins the Empire State Amateur Championships

Gabriel Palacios and Justin Muller

Three days before the Empire State Amateur Championships (February 20-21), a very close friend of Justin Muller's, John Kalsky, passed away. By the time Muller hit the tables on Saturday, he was sporting a t-shirt, in commemoration of that friend. He wore it throughout the $2,000-added event that drew 125 entrants to Raxx Billiards in West Hempstead, NY. All the way to the finish line, which he crossed ahead of Gabriel Palacios in the event finals.
"It's been one of my biggest goals, to win this tournament," he said in the AZBTV broadcast booth, shortly after winning, adding that in the midst of on-going grief over the loss of his friend and the exhilaration of his victory, he was "just happy" that he'd won it for his friend.
By Sunday, the date of the memorial service for Kalsky, Muller had made it to a winners' side semifinal, facing Elvis Rodriguez. Palacios, in the meantime, squared off against Dany Recinos. Muller gave up only a single rack to Rodriguez and advanced to the hot seat match versus Palacios, who'd sent Recinos to the loss side 7-3. It was Palacios who moved into the hot seat, with a double hill win.
On the loss side, Rodriguez and Recinos ran right into their second straight losses. Rodriguez picked up Manny Stamatakis, owner of Steinway Billiards, and winner, at that point, of four loss-side matches on a march to the semifinals. Stamatakis had eliminated Austin Tripp 7-3 and Rhys Chen 7-2 to reach Rodriguez. Recinos picked up Rick Miller, who'd gotten by Jessica Lynn 7-2 and Rene Villalobos 7-4.
Stamatakis, chalking up his fifth loss-side win, and Miller advanced to the quarterfinals over Rodriguez and Recinos, both 7-4. Stamatakis went on to defeat Miller, double hill, in the quarterfinals.
Though Stamatakis would force a deciding game against Muller in the semifinals, it was Muller  who advanced back for a second shot at Palacios in the hot seat. Muller prevailed in the single set final 10-5 to complete his undefeated run and honor his friend, John Kalsky.