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Mike Johnson returns to the tables for an undefeated run on the Garden State Tour

Mike Johnson, Gary Barnish and Kervin Santamaria

Prior to last weekend (Sat., Feb. 26), at appearances in six different events since 2007, Mike Johnson had recorded finish-payouts (with us) ranging from 17th place (Starcase Billiards Fall Classic; 2015) to 9th (NJ State 8-Ball Championships; 2018), to a few 5th place finishes on the Blaze Tour (’07), and in 2013, The Great Southern Billiard and Mezz Pro Am Tours. We understand from representatives of New Jersey’s Garden State Tour, that while unreported to us, he has climbed the single-event ladder on that tour as high as runner-up. Looking at the entries on his profile page here at AZ, you can’t help but notice that after his 5th place finish on the Blaze Tour in ‘07, he didn’t show up on our payout lists again until 2013, and then, seemed to embark on repetitive absences that have increased in an apparent pattern, over time; from 2013 to 2015 to 2018 to now (’22).

He went undefeated on the Garden State Tour last weekend to claim his first reported regional tour title. It also turned the barely-begun 2022 into his best earnings year, at which, already, he’s earned more money at the tables than in all of his previously-recorded years combined. The $200-added event drew 23 entrants to Clifton Billiards in Clifton, NJ. 

It wasn’t exactly a “merrily we roll along” trip to the winners’ circle for Johnson. In the upper bracket, after a bye, he was challenged in two straight double hill battles right at the start, versus Paul Madonia, Sr. and Kevin Scalzitti. He dodged both of those bullets to arrive at a winners’ side semifinal against Gary Barnish. In the meantime, Kervin Santamaria had his own double-hill problems at the start, but recovered quickly; winning the double-hill fight against Ginny Lewis and then, bouncing back to shut out Luigi Daminan. He got by Don Henriquez 6-4 to arrive at his winners’ side semifinal against Steve Persaud.

Johnson downed Barnish 7-4, though as it turned out, he’d be back. Santamaria locked up in a second double hill fight, eventually prevailing 6-5 over Persaud to join Johnson in the hot seat match. 

Surprise, surprise. . . a double-hill hot seat battle. Won by Johnson, who savored the moment, parked in the hot seat and waiting for the return of Barnish.

On the loss side, Barnish got by Rob Wetherford 7-3 and then handed Persaud a double hill loss in the quarterfinals. In what at this point must have seemed like an endless series of double hill contests, Barnish and Santamaria engaged in what would prove to be the last of them, in the semifinals. Barnish won it 8-7 to earn his second shot at Johnson.

In the words of tour representatives, the final match was “all Johnson,” who allowed Barnish one less rack in the finals (3) than he had in their winners’ side semifinal (4). Johnson earned the event title, his first (that we know about), though presumably not his last.

Tour representatives thanked the ownership and staff at Clifton Billiards for their hospitality. The next stop on the Garden State Tour, scheduled for Sunday, March 20, will be hosted by 9-Ball Breaker Billiards in Clifton, NJ.

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