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Pelech goes undefeated to win NJ Garden State Pool Tour’s 2022 season opener

Clint Walker, Don Henriquez and Justin Pelech

There’s nothing like a handful of cash to inspire a pool player to move on to bigger and better things. Look, therefore, for the name of Justin Pelech, likely to appear at a regional tour stop near you, sometime in the near future. According to our records, prior to Saturday, January 8, Justin Pelech had cashed in only two events, finishing in the tie for 9th place at the MD State 10-Ball Championships about a month ago, and in 2020, finishing in the tie for 5th place at the NJ Garden State Pool Tour’s 4th Annual Fall Brawl. He nearly tripled the amount of cash he earned at both of those events by winning the Garden State Pool Tour’s 2022 season opener, going undefeated at the $350-added event that drew 38 entrants to Shooter’s Family Billiards in Wayne, NJ. The room was recently awarded the Tour Players’ Choice Host Room Award, voted on by tour players in the 2020/2021 season.

As Pelech was sitting in the hot seat, awaiting the results of the semifinals, he may have been counting cash chickens ahead of their hatching and thinking ahead to those bigger and better things. But he was also likely to have been watching the loss-side progress of a scenario that can spoil plans for big cash in the future; a competitor coming at him from that loss side of the bracket, chalking up twice as many match wins as he’d amassed getting to the hot seat. On that Saturday, in Wayne, NJ, it was Donald “Big Don” Henriquez, who’d lost his opening match and then won 10 straight for the right to challenge Pelech in the finals.

Rewind to the winners’ side semifinals. In the upper bracket (B & C+ players), Pelech, after downing Frank Rodriguez, Nick Torocca, and Rob Wetherhold, faced Sumit Bansal. From the lower bracket (C and lower), Clint Walker, who’d sent Fritz Innocent, Kris Manuel and Marc Lamberti to the loss side, squared off against Dakota Zbuchalski in the other one.

Pelech advanced to the hot seat match 7-2 over Bansal and was joined by Walker, who’d defeated Zbuchalski, 6-1. Pelech claimed the hot seat, double hill, and waited for Henriquez to complete his loss-side run.

Henriquez did. The last of his victories came in the semifinals, when he defeated Walker 6-1.

Henriquez began the finals with three beads on the wire in a race to 8. Pelech broke dry in the opening rack and Henriquez ran the rack. Henriquez broke and ran the second rack, too, which, with his three beads already in place, gave him a 5-0 lead. At which point, any dreams Pelech may have been harboring about gold at the end of this particular rainbow may have seemed to be in jeopardy.

But Pelech came back to win six straight. Confidence lit the rainbow back up, until Henriquez chalked up the 12th rack, tying the score at 6-6. Pelech reached the hill with rack 13, though, and when Henriquez missed, just barely, a shot at the 6-ball in the next rack, Pelech pounced and dropped the rack’s final four to claim the event title.

Tour representatives thanked Shooters Family Billiards owner, Kris Consolvo-Kemp for his hospitality and presented him with his room’s award as the Players’ Choice Host Room for 2020/2021. The next stop on the NJ Garden State Pool Tour, scheduled for Saturday, January 29, will be hosted by Players Billiards in Eatontown, NJ.