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Linares wins seven on the loss side, meets and defeats Rodriguez in Bar Box Championship final

Joel Rodriguez, John Gore & Raymond Linares

It’s been a while since Raymond Linares has made any ‘noise’ on any of the country’s pro tours. Prior to this past weekend (Nov. 14-15), the last recorded victory for him in our database was the last of three times that he won the American College Unions International Collegiate Pocket Billiards National Championship in 2013, at the age of 26. Linares won it two years in a row (’10-’11), skipped a year, and then, in the same year that he won the APA’s Amateur Championship, 2013, he won it a third time. 

Linares was a very active participant in the Florida-based Seminole Pro Tour, prior to these victories of his, but it was during his time with the tour, and as it neared its end around 2011, that his interest started a shift in the direction of camera operation, videography and the production end of promotional material. Before the days of YouTube, circa 2008, he worked with George Torres of Video.com, at a time that coincided with his taking pool lessons from John DiToro of the Seminole Tour, who introduced him to Torres.

“John DiToro recommended him to me, as a person who could help me with entry fees if I agreed to help him,” said Linares. “George and I hit it off from there.” 

It was the start of three or four years, during which Linares carried Torres’ bags, helped him set up equipment and worked with (at the time) DVDs. It became Linares’ passion and his career. He won his first ACUI championship as a result of being enrolled in film production courses at Miami Dade College.

“Florida’s the place where that foundation was built,” he said, “and John DiToro was my early coach and inspiration.”

Pool’s loss was videography’s gain and as Linares settled into a career, marriage and a recently, a daughter, pool slipped quietly, though not completely into the background, which accounts for his limited appearances in events after about 2013. He is currently a videographer with Spectrum, a part of the company’s news offering within its cable channel operations.

A few years ago, Linares got an invitation from Mark Wilson to go and train with him at Lindenwood University. His career, being what it was, often time-consuming, he put it off for quite a while and then accepted the invitation; staying with Wilson and training. The training led, more or less, directly to this past weekend, when Linares entered a 93-entrant field for the Sunshine State Pro Am Tour’s $1,500-added Amateur 9-Ball Bar Box Championships, held at Rack’s Billiards in Sanford, FL. Linares was awarded an opening round bye, and won two matches; shutting out Donnie Lester and defeating Justin Toye 9-6, before being sent to the loss side by Chris Daly 9-7. Linares won seven on the loss side for the right to meet Joel Ricardo Rodriguez in the finals, where a nail-biting, double hill final gave him his first major victory in a long time.

It was, said Linares, not really a surprise to him, because as a result of his training with Wilson and a table in his home, he’d been working his way back into pool shape. In a letter he’d written to Wilson recently, he described a new difference in the way he was positioning himself at the table.

“I’m not sure what it is,” he wrote to Wilson, “but lately I’ve had a noticeable settling in to the stance and stroking position where there’s incredible stillness during the cueing motion.

“Likely,” he added, “due to residual effects of regular training and implementing of foundational basics, now becoming well-seasoned and embedded into normal operations.”

Well, sure. . . whatever works, right?

As Linares began his work on the left side of the bracket in this Sunshine State Pro Am Bar Box Championship, the man who’d sent him over there, Chris Daly, advanced to a winners’ side semifinal against Joel Ricardo Rodriguez, who’d gotten by Will Harper, David Angelo, Steve Wiggam, Rhyan Hunter, and Mike Griffin to reach him. John Gore and James Sandaler squared off in the other winners’ side semifinal.

Rodriguez sent Chris Daly to an immediate loss-side re-match against Linares with a 9-3 win. Gore sent Sandaler over 9-7. Rodriguez claimed the hot seat, sending Gore off 9-7 to a semifinal against Linares.

Daly caught Linares four matches into his loss-side streak, which had begun with victories over Serafin Serrano, Jerry Arvalaez and most recently, included wins over Dennis Brown 7-5 and Obbie Cirillo 7-3. Sandaler picked up Justin Gilsinan, who’d recently defeated Mike Delawder 7-5 and survived a double hill battle versus Mike Griffin.

The rematch was a somewhat predictable double hill fight, eventually won by Linares, who advanced to the quarterfinals. Gilsinan joined him after shutting Sandaler out. It looked as though there might be fireworks in that quarterfinal struggle, but it didn’t turn out that way. Linares defeated Gilsinan and semifinalist, Jon Gore 7-3.

Another predictable double hill battle ensued in the race-to-11 finals that followed between Linares and Rodriguez. After the back and forth battle that led to the 10-10 tie and the 21st deciding game, Rodriguez dropped two balls on the break and looked to have a fairly open, connect-the-dots-to-the-winners’-circle layout. Following his drop of the 2-ball, Rodriguez found that he’d under-run his position for the 3-ball. He made that 3-ball, but it was tricky enough to send the cue ball into the jaws of a corner pocket. Shooting at the 4-ball, he missed and watched as the cue ball moved cross corner, dropped the 8-ball and followed it in. Linares took ball in hand, sunk the remaining four balls and claimed the event title.

Linares had not been playing competitively until the last few months, during which he had competed and won a few small venue tournaments here and there. This event, he explained, wasn’t exactly a breakthrough for him.

“The breakthrough for me had been in my training,” he said. “Getting consistent time on the table and seeing the evolution of what I’d done in the past.”

“One of the things I noticed as the tournament went on,” he added, “was that as I was going through it, I felt like matches were not like individual matches. Instead of the highs and lows of one match following another, it was like every match was a small piece of a big match. It was very encouraging and I knew I had a chance to win it. When I get to that place, I’m liable to beat anyone.”

He’s reached two peak places this year. In addition to this Bar Box Championship, Linares also won a 2020 Emmy award for a documentary he helped shoot for Spectrum, NY, called “Northern Boulevard,” detailing the historic significance of Flushing, Queens, as it relates to religious freedom in the US.

Double threat. Look for him in the credits on your television shows and watch out for him, perhaps sooner than you think, at a pool table near you.

Tour directors Janene Phillips and Bobby Garza thanked Pedro Botta and his staff at Rack’s Billiards for their hospitality, as well as title sponsor Predator Group, Kamui, Diamond Products, Stitch It To Me Embroidery, Central Florida USA Pool League and AZBilliards. They also extended thanks to Jeffrey DeLuna for stream commentary, along with Jimmy “Hollywood” Antionetta and Rob McLaren, photos from Bill Katchuski, assistance from Jessica Ammons for running the boards, and raffles help from Leah Nusbaum and Danielle Cirillo.

Davis, Jr. comes from loss side & behind in finals to win Sunshine State Pro Am One Pocket

Montas wins concurrently-run, 600-and-under Fargo Rate 9-ball event 

(l to r): Mike Davis, Mike Delawder, Anthony Meglino & Pedro Botta

Fresh off his fourth victory at the 7th Annual NC State Open 9-Ball Championships (March 1-2) in Hickory, NC, Mike Davis, Jr. traveled about 555 miles southwest, to sign on to the Sunshine State Pro Am Tour’s second 2020 stop; the $500-added One Pocket part of it, that drew 16 entrants to Racks Billiards in Sanford, FL. Sent to the loss side in a winners’ side semifinal, Davis returned to meet the man who’d sent him over (Mike Delawder) and defeat him in an exciting, double hill final match.

In a concurrently-run, $1,000-added ($500 from Racks Billiards & $500 from Predator Cues) event for Fargo Rates of 600 and below that drew 56 entrants, Manuel Montas went undefeated to claim that title.

It was a four-match march to the One Pocket hot seat for Delawder and a seven-match march to the title for Davis. Delawder got by Justin Gilsinan and Pedro Botta, before sending Davis to the loss side 3-1 in a winners’ side semifinal. Anthony Meglino, in the meantime, downed George Saunders and Adam Wheeler to face Kyle Bova in the other winners’ side semifinal.

Delawder beat Davis 3-1 and in the hot seat match, faced Meglino, who’d shut Bova out. Delawder claimed the hot seat by shutout and waited for Davis to finish his three-match, loss-side trip.

Davis began his trip back to the finals with a shutout over James Sandaler, who’d eliminated Bobby Garza and Adam Wheeler to reach him. Bova was defeated double hill by Pedro Botta, who’d previously eliminated George Saunders and Nathan Rose.

Davis dropped Botta into 4th place with a 3-1 quarterfinal victory and got his second shot at Delawder, following a shutout over Meglino in the semifinals.

The race was extended to 4 in the finals and early on, things weren’t looking to good for Davis, Jr. Delawder reached the hill at 3-0 before Davis was able to respond, but when he did, he came back strong, winning four in a row to claim game, set and match.

Montas and Kukadia split top prizes, with undefeated Montas claiming 9-ball title 

Ameet Kukadia, Manuel Montas and Cody Ingle

With a Fargo Rate differential of two points, Manuel Montas (596) and Ameet Kukadia (598) played against each other once in a straight-up race to 7 in the 9-ball tournament. Montas won that single matchup and as the undefeated occupant of the hot seat claimed the event title, when he and Kukudia agreed to a split of the top two prizes.

Montas’ path to the hot seat went through Muhammand Ali, Jeffrey McDonald, Francisco Gika and Brent Mireles to arrive at a winners’ side semifinal versus Guy Skehan Jackson; a 596 (Montas)/531 (Jackson) matchup. Three of the four matches that Kukudia (598) played to arrive at his winners’ side semifinal against Cody Ingle (546) went double hill and the fourth one was an ‘almost.’ He won his second round match against Lenny Reid 7-5, but he had to play a 13th deciding match against Evan Huynh, Katie Bowse and Kristian Dimitrov to reach Ingle.

Montas and Jackson battled to double hill before Montas advanced to the hot seat match. Kukadia gave up only a single rack to Ingle and joined Montas in what would prove to be the title match, battling for the hot seat. Montas won it 7-3.

On the loss side, Jackson picked up Stan Delonjay, who was working on a seven-match, loss-side winning streak that was about to end and had included recent wins over Kristian Dimitrov 5-1 and Vernet Lasrado 5-3. Ingle drew Evan Huynh, who, after his double hill defeat at the hands of Kukadia, was working on a six-match, loss-side streak that was also about to end and had recently included victories over Larry English 5-2 and Brent Mireles 5-1.

Jackson and Ingle ended the loss-side streaks of their respective opponents by the same 5-2 score; Jackson over Delonjay and Ingle over Huynh. Jackson and Ingle then battled to double hill in the quarterfinals. Ingle prevailed and had his modest, loss-side streak ended by Kukadia 5-2 in the semifinals.

The decision to split the cash involved with the top two prizes was negotiated and reached. As the undefeated occupant of the hot seat, Montas became the official winner.

Tour directors Janene Phillips and Bobby Garza thanked the ownership and staff at Racks Billiards, as well as title sponsor Predator Cues, Diamond Products, Kamui, Central Florida USA Pool League, Stitch it To Me Embroidery, AZBilliards, and the live streaming of the events by Xtreme Pool. The next stop on the Sunshine State Pro Am Tour, scheduled for April 25-26, will be hosted by Brewlands in Tampa, FL.

Mills and Meglino split top prizes in Open division of Sunshine State Pro Am

(l to r): Justin Hall, Anthony Meglino & Donny Mills

Rose comes from the loss side to down Adams and capture Amateur title
 
It’s impossible to know how many times Donny Mills and Anthony Meglino have faced each other on Florida-based and other regional tours, but having spent over a decade as part of a ‘Florida Gang’ of top-tier competitors (along with, among many others, Tommy Kennedy, Mike Delawder and Tony Crosby), we can safely call it ‘a lot.’ This past June, they met in the semifinals of a stop on the Sunshine State Pro Am Tour (Meglino 5-3 over Mills). On the weekend of Oct. 6-7, they would have met twice during Stop #11 on the Sunshine State Pro Am Tour, had they not opted out of a final match. Mills, as the undefeated occupant of the hot seat at the time, claimed the $1,000-added 10-Ball Open event title, which drew 40 entrants to Capone’s in Spring Hill, FL.
 
In a concurrently-run, $300-added, 9-Ball Amateur event, Nathan Rose won five on the loss side to eventually meet and defeat hot seat occupant James Adams to claim that title. The Amateur event drew 45 entrants to the same location.
 
Following an opening round bye in the Open event, Donny Mills downed Anthony Fisher, Robert Batson (both 7-2), and Tommy Kennedy 7-4 to draw Justin Hall in one of the winners’ side semifinals. Meglino, with an opening round bye as well, got by Ed Peterson 7-3, Bill Stroup 7-1 and Marcus Murillo 7-2 to face Nathan Rose (winner of the Amateur event) in the other winners’ side semifinal.
 
Mills defeated Hall 7-5, as Meglino was busy downing Rose 7-4. Mills claimed the hot seat, and, as it turned out, the event title with a 7-4 win over Meglino.
 
On the loss side, Rose picked up Kennedy, who, following his defeat by Mills, downed Trenton White (the event’s top junior player in both events) 6-4, and shut out Stroup. Hall drew Justin Gilsinan, who’d shut out Joe Vetrono and eliminated Joselito Martinez 5-2. Kennedy and Rose locked up in a double hill fight that eventually advanced Kennedy to the quarterfinals against Hall, who’d defeated Gilsinan 5-2.
 
Hall ended Kennedy’s modest, three-match, loss-side winning streak 5-2 in those quarterfinals, and then fell to Meglino 5-3 in the semifinals. Meglino and Mills opted out of the final and the event title went to Mills.
 
Rose wins five on the loss side to meet and defeat Adams
 
Nathan Rose, who was the official winner of Stop #8 on the tour back in July (he split with Jason Sheerman), got sent to the loss side in a winners’ side quarterfinal match of the Amateur event and won five on the loss side before meeting and defeating hot seat occupant James Adams in the finals. Rose had downed Derek Laprairie, Trenton White (top junior in this event, as well), and Justin Gilsinan before running into Ameet Kukadia in a winners’ side quarterfinal.
 
Kukadia sent Rose to the loss side, double hill, and advanced to face Alec Saputo in one of the winners’ side semifinals. James Adams, in the meantime, following victories over Lisa Perez, Rhyan Hunter, and Dale Stanley met up with Justin McNulty in the other winners’ side semifinal.
 
Saputo chalked up a double hill win over Kukadia and in the hot seat match, faced Adams, who’d shut out McNulty. Adams claimed the hot seat 7-4 over Saputo and waited on the return of Rose.
 
Rose opened his loss-side trip to the finals with a 6-3 win over Hunter and eliminated Trenton White 6-4 to draw McNulty. Kukadia picked up Stanley, who’d defeated Gilsinan and Jai Smith, both 6-2. By identical scores of 6-3, Stanley (over Kukadia) and Rose (over McNulty) advanced to the quarterfinals, where Rose prevailed, double hill, over Stanley.
 
Rose downed Saputo 6-4 in the semifinals, and then defeated Adams 9-5 in the finals to claim the Amateur event title.
 
Tour directors Janene Phillips and Bobby Garza thanked the ownership and staff at Capone’s, as well as sponsors Cyclop Balls, Diamond, Kamui Tips, Play the Game Clothing Co., Jacksonville Roofing USA, Inc., and AZ Billiards. The next stop on the Sunshine State Pro Am Tour (due to cancellation of a stop in November) will be the tour’s Season Finale, scheduled for December 1-2 at Park Ave. Billiards in Orange Park, FL.