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Kennedy and Meglino split the top two prizes on the Predator Sunshine State Pro Am Tour

Tommy Kennedy, Anthony Meglino and Justin Gilsinan

They were the last two standing at the season finale of the Sunshine State Pro Am Tour in December, 2019 and this past weekend (March 5-6), they were the last two standing at the $1,000-added, second stop on the 2022 Predator Sunshine State Pro Am Tour, which drew 38 entrants to Cue-Phoria Billiards and Café at Winter Park, FL. Neither of the events featured a final match because at the end, reported as 3 a.m. in both cases, Tommy Kennedy in the hot seat and Anthony Meglino, coming back from a few matches on the loss side (both times), opted out of a final and split the top two prizes. Kennedy, in the hot seat, was the official winner both times.

It was, thanks in part to the pandemic, Kennedy’s first win since that 2019 event on the same tour. He’d won an event on his own Southeast Open 9-Ball Tour in August of that year. Meglino, on the other hand, had chalked up six event victories in that time frame, four of them on the Predator Sunshine State Pro Am Tour, and three of them in 2021, which turned into his best recorded earnings year, to date. Meglino is well on his way to making 2022 better than last year at the tables.

Kennedy opened his campaign with wins over Michael Anderson, David Nguyen and Raymond Linares, advancing to a winners’ side semifinal against former tour director of the New York City area’s Predator Pro Am Tour and now, transplanted Floridian competitor, Tony Robles, who, in the preceding winners’ side quarterfinal, had sent Meglino to the loss side, double hill. In the meantime, Justin Gilsinan, winner of this past January’s Florida State Amateur 9-Ball Championship, had defeated Michael McGuire, Brent Mireles and KC Donahey to meet up with Justin Toye in the other winners’ side semifinal.

Kennedy sent Robles to the loss side 7-5 and in the hot seat match, was joined by Gilsinan, who’d survived a double hill battle over Toye. Kennedy claimed the hot seat 7-5 over Gilsinan.

On the loss side, Robles picked up a rematch against co-tour director of the Predator Sunshine State Pro Am Tour, Bobby Garza, who, after that 7-1 loss had embarked on a five-match, loss-side streak that had recently eliminated Donahey 5-3 and Monthep Hongsyok, double hill. It was Toye who picked up the battling-back-to-the-finals Meglino, who’d followed his loss to Robles with wins over Orlando Dixon 5-1 and Raymond Linares 7-3.

Garza and Robles locked up in a double hill fight that eventually sent Garza to the quarterfinals. He was joined by Meglino, who’d defeated Toye 7-3. Meglino allowed Garza just a single rack in those quarterfinals and advanced to the semifinals against Gilsinan.

Gilsinan didn’t give up his potential second shot against Kennedy in the hot seat easily. He fought for it right down to the 13th deciding game, but Meglino closed out what proved to be the last match of the event. He and Kennedy agreed on the split as the sun was painting thin, early colors in the horizon skies over Winter Park, FL.

Tour directors Janene Phillips and Bobby Garza thanked Faheem Zia and the staff at Cue-Phoria Billiards and Cafe for their hospitality, as well as title sponsor Predator Cues, Diamond Billiards Products, Kamui Brand, Stitch It To Me Embroidery, AZ Billiards, Safety Harbor Resort and Spa, Central Florida USA Pool League, Jamison Daniels, Eastern Billiards and Andy Cloth. Phillips went on to thank her co-tour director Garza for providing the Lights Out Streaming, sponsored by Jacksonville Roofing and Andy Cleary for his graphics. She also noted and thanked Brent Mireles, Jimmy Antonietta and Tony Robles for their commentary on the stream.

The next event on the Predator Sunshine State Pro Am Tour, scheduled for the weekend of April 9-10, will be a $1,500-added event hosted by Brewlands North in Lakeland, FL.

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Linares and Mills go head-to-head in season opener of Sunshine State Predator Pro-Am Tour

Raymond Linares, Donny Mills and Rich Schau

Raymond Linares recorded his best earnings year at the tables in 2021. His second-best occurred 10 years ago, one year before he won the American College Unions International Collegiate Men’s Championship in 2013. He’s started 2022 by chalking up his first tour victory this past weekend (Feb. 5-6) on the Sunshine State Predator Pro Am Tour’s season opener. Opposing him in both the hot seat and finals was Donnie Mills, who also had a good 2021 at the tables, although not even close to his best earnings year, which happened in the same year (2009) that Linares first started showing up on payout lists of Florida tournaments like the Seminole Tour. They’re familiar combatants on the Florida felt (to others and each other) and graced spectators at their most recent battles for a regional tour title with a good show. The $2,300-added event drew 63 entrants to Stroker’s Billiards in Palm Harbor, FL.

Linares opened his bid for the title by giving up only seven racks to his first four opponents;  Ronnie Mercer (1), Manuel Montas (0), Rich Schau (4) and Michael McGuire (2). He advanced to a winners’ side semifinal versus Konner McFayden. Mills, in the meantime, gave up just a single rack to three of his first four opponents; one each to James Green, Nathan Rose and Marcus Murillo. In the second round, though, Mike Delawder had given him the proverbial ‘run for his money,’ chalking up six racks against him and forcing a deciding game that did eventually advance Mills to a winners’ side semifinal against Jerry Arvelaez. 

Linares advanced to the hot seat match 7-3 over McFayden and was joined by Mills, who sent Arvelaez to the loss side 7-4. Mills claimed the hot seat with a surprising (to a few) 7-3 win over Linares and waited for him to come back from the semifinals.

On the loss side, McFayden picked up Rich Schau, who’d followed his third-round loss to Linares with three loss-side wins that had recently eliminated Marcus Murillo 7-2 and Robert Batson 7-1. Arvelaez drew a rematch versus Trenton White, whom he’d sent to the loss side in the third round 7-4 and who’d just chalked up loss-side wins #3 and #4 against Bobby Garza and Han Berber, both 7-3, to earn the rematch.

Schau downed McFayen 7-1, as White was wreaking his vengeance on Arvelaez with his sixth in a row, 7-2. Schau stopped White’s loss-side streak at that sixth win, defeating him 7-5 in the quarterfinals. Schau and Linares battled to double hill in the semifinals before Linares prevailed for a second shot at Mills.

In the finals that followed, Linares jumped out to an early 5-1 lead, which, after watching Mills chalk up the rack that made it 5-2, prompted stream commentator and event competitor, Bobby Garza to note that Mills seems to have a preference to starting out slow.

“I think (Mills) likes to start out from behind,” Garza said. “He finds his stroke midway, catches up and then destroys his opponent.”

Just after the midway mark of the two-hour match, Mills chalked up his first two-in-a-row and seemed to be making Garza’s point, as he pulled within two at 6-4. Mills made it three-in-a-row to draw within one at 6-5, they traded racks to 7-6 and then began a wild rack #14 that featured Mills’ attempt at a 5-9 combination, resting near a corner pocket. The 9-ball didn’t drop, but the 5-ball went three rails and did. Shortly afterwards, Mills shot at the 7-ball and watched it rattle in the hole. He then watched Linares step to the table and take aim at the same 7-ball and a clear opportunity to finish the rack and reach the hill first. The 7-ball didn’t drop, but the cue ball took a ‘cross country’ trip to the opposite end of the table and did. Mills didn’t miss the three balls left and it was tied at 7-7.

Mills took his first lead in the match, winning rack #15, but Linares roared back to chalk up rack #16 with a 5-9 combination. Linares had the break and took full advantage of the opportunity. He dropped three balls on the break and ran the table to claim his first 2022 title on the Sunshine State Predator Pro Am Tour.

In the event that featured three junior competitors, seven ladies, and six USAPL players that attended at a reduced entry fee, the top junior finisher, Trenton White and the top lady finisher, Jeannie Seaver, took home $50 each. 

Tour directors Janene Phillips and Bobby Garza thanked Jose and Lyshia Westbrook-Del Rio and their Stroker’s Billiards staff for their hospitality, as well as title sponsor Predator Cues, Diamond Billiard Products, Kamui Brand, Stitch It To Me Embroidery, AZBilliards, Safety Harbor Resort and Spa, Central Florida USA Pool League, Jamison Daniels, and Eastern Billiards. Janene thanked Bobby for providing the Lights Out Streaming, sponsored by Jacksonville Roofing USA and Andrew Cleary for his graphics. The next stop on the Sunshine State Predator Pro Am Tour, scheduled for the weekend of March 5-6, will be the $1,500-added Open 9-Ball Bar Box Classic, hosted by Cue-Phoria Billiards and Café in Winter Park, FL.