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From the loss side, Rodriguez chalks up first Sunshine State Pro Am Tour victory in three years

Mike DeLawder, Trenton White and Ricardo Joel Rodriguez

Barnes goes undefeated to claim concurrently-run Ladies event

One did it the hard way, while the other opted for the shorter, arguably more difficult easy way. Ricardo Rodriguez, looking for his first win on the Sunshine State ProAm Tour in three years, lost his third winners’ side match at this past weekend’s (Oct. 8-9) tour stop He then won seven straight on the loss side before downing Trenton White in the finals to claim the event title. Jessica Barnes took the shorter route in the concurrently-run Ladies event, winning five in a row and downing Nicole Cuellar twice to claim the ladies’ title.

The $1,500 added main event drew 60 entrants to Brewlands Bar & Billiards North in Lakeland, FL. The $500-added Ladies event drew 16 entrants to the same location.

Rodriguez’ path took him past Marcos Bielostozky and George Saunders, both 7-5, before he ran into a double hill match versus Desi Derado that he lost. Mike DeLawder and Trenton White, in the meantime, worked their way forward toward their hot seat match; White advancing through Mike Xiarhos, Jr., Leon Micco, Dale Stanley and Konnor McFayden to arrive at a winners’ side semifinal against Robert Noon, while DeLawder sent Anthony Cruz, co-tour-director Bobby Garza, and both Manuel Montas and John Souders (both double hill) to the loss side to draw Ameet Kukadia in the other winners’ side semifinal.

DeLawder came within a game of being forced into his third straight double hill fight, but just did edge out in front near the end to defeat Kukadia 7-5. White joined him in the hot seat match after surviving his double hill struggle against Noon. White shut Delawder out to claim the hot seat.

On the loss side, it was Kukadia who drew the finals-bound Rodriguez, who’d just eliminated junior competitors Kaylee McIntosh 7-2 and Konnor McFayden 7-4. Noon picked up David Singleton, who’d defeated John Souders 7-3 and survived a double hill match versus Garza to reach him.

Rodriguez defeated Kukadia 7-5 and was joined in the quarterfinals by Noon, who’d put Singleton on the wrong side of his second straight double-hill match. Rodriguez took the quarterfinal match 7-5 over Noon and then, by the same score, denied DeLawder his second chance against White.

Rodriguez waste little time. He took the finals against White 9-5 to claim the event title

Nicole Cuellar, Sofia Mast and Jessica Barnes

Barnes gets into a 7-3 groove to the hot seat match

Jessica Barnes seemed to decide that since she had gotten herself into a groove of some kind that she should probably stick with it. She defeated her first three opponents on her way to the Ladies win by the same 7-3 score, defeating co-tour-director Janene Phillips, Erica Pennington and, in a winners’ side semifinal, the Pink Dagger (aka junior competitor Sofia Mast). Nicole Cuellar, in the meantime, got by Sandra Micco, Cami Becker and in her winners’ side semifinal, Margie Soash 7-1.

Cuellar knocked Barnes out of her 7-3 groove in the hot seat match, but it wasn’t enough. Barnes survived Cuellar’s double hill challenge to claim the hot seat.

On the loss side, Soash picked up and was defeated by Helen Caukin 5-1, as The Pink Dagger drew and eliminated Kaylee McIntosh by the same score. Mast defeated Caukin 5-2 in the quarterfinals, only to have her brief, loss-side run upset by Cuellar’s desire for a rematch against Barnes. Cuellar won that battle 5-1. Barnes downed Cuellar a second time, 9-5, to claim the Ladies title.

Tour directors Janene Phillips and Bobby Garza thanked Larry Wathall and his staff at Brewlands “for taking great care (them) all weekend,” as well as title sponsor Predator Cues, Kamui Brand, Diamond Billiard Products, Jamison Daniels, Stitch It To Me Embroidery, AZBilliards, Dr. V’s Custom Shop and Central Florida Pool League. ‘Shout outs’ were extended to Bobby Garza and Lights Out Streaming for providing great stream and commentary, along with Jimmy Antonietta, Rob McLaren, Mike D and George Saunders for their commentating and  Adam Hanas for helping run the boards. 

In light of the fact that the tour had a junior competitor among the final three in both of this past weekend’s events (Trenton White and Sofia Mast) and because, like so many others,  who enjoy watching these young competitors succeed in their early pool careers, Phillips and Garza thanked Asia Cy for donating an entry fee to a junior lady, Leah Holler and wished to make mention of two local individuals who are “doing great things for the junior competitors’ –  Danielle Fee with Shooting for the Stars and Eddie Altman with Junior Billiards Scholarship Fund. If you’d like to help support a junior program, reach out to either of these organizations.

The next and final stop of the year for the Sunshine State ProAm Tour, scheduled for the weekend of Nov. 26-27 and hosted by Racks Billiards in Sanford, FL will feature two events; a $1,000-added Open One Pocket event and a $2,500-added Open 9-Ball Bar Box Championship. 

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Childress and Tate are at the top of “18 & Under Boys” and “ProAm” rankings on JIC

Trena Wolford, Joey Tate, Ra Hanna, Nathan Childress and Kory Wolford

Tate and Heyman at the top of “18 & Under Girls; Mast and Tate lead “13 & Under” groups

On the Wire Creative Media’s series of Junior International Championships crossed its midway point this past weekend (May 28-30) at the 4th event in the series, hosted by Center Pocket Billiards in Bowie, MD. Technically, it did so somewhere in the middle of this event, because although there are eight total events scheduled, the last will be the tour finale, scheduled to coincide in time (more or less) and space (Norfolk,VA) with Pat Fleming’s US International 9-Ball Open, scheduled to take place between Oct. 23-31.

The rivalries in the different age groups are becoming clearer now, as the junior competitors, all 92 of them, at this event, with a lot of categorical/division crossover, have begun facing each other on a more or less regular basis. Through four events, Nathan Childress and Joey Tate are battling it out for the top-ranking spot in both the “18 & Under Boys” division, as well as the  ProAm division. Childress has gone back-to-back in the “18 & Under Boys” event, with Joey Tate as runner-up both times. Tate, who’s younger than Childress by three years (18-15), has the upper hand in the ProAm rankings, having won the event back in April and finishing as runner-up before that (March). Childress, who won this most recent Pro Am, finished 3rd back in January, was 13th in March and 4th in April.

Talking to On the Wire Creative Media’s Ra Hanna, one would think that these five-division tournaments being run simultaneously for most of this year are as simple as opening a given venue’s doors, pointing children at tables and telling them to play. It’s not, but you wouldn’t know it from Hanna, who’s professional demeanor and unflagging enthusiasm for the entire project never seems to diminish. Nor does his awareness that he isn’t doing it alone.

“Truthfully,” he said, reflecting on the midway point of the series of tournaments, “there are a lot of supportive parents. We’ve gotten positive feedback and a lot of help.”

“This, to me, is always where we were headed,” he added. “It took a while for me to do it the way I wanted to do it.”

Among the surprises he has encountered, he has discovered that a part of the original plan had to be scrapped to accommodate the junior players themselves.

“When we first started,” he said, “the plan was to have separate (by age) brackets, so that you wouldn’t have kids flying all over the country to go two and out, but the younger kids wanted to play the older kids.”

“I had to open it up,” he added, “and as it turned out, the older players mentored the younger ones.”

In the most heavily-attended event of the weekend, the “18 & Under Boys” division, which drew 32 entrants, the marquee matchup between Nathan Childress and Joey Tate happened twice. Childress worked his way through Garrett Vaughan, Dylan Waugh and Hunter Frazier to arrive at a winners’ side semifinal against Landon Hollingsworth. Tate, in the meantime, had sent Konnor McFayden, Adrian Prasad, and Riley Adkins to the loss side and faced Ivo Linkin in the other winners’ side semifinal. 

Tate downed Linkin 7-1. Childress joined him in the battle for the hot seat, after engaging in a successful double hill fight against Hollingsworth. Tate claimed the hot seat 7-5 and waited for Childress to get back from the semifinals, which he did (downing Linkin 7-3). The wait wasn’t long, but the extra match was apparently to Childress’ benefit, as he returned to defeat Tate in the finals 9-4.

In the next most heavily-attended event, the Pro Am, which drew 26 mixed-gender-and-age entrants, Childress went undefeated to claim the title. He and Tate met in a winners’ side semifinal in this one. Childress had gotten by Jacob Kohl, Ben Kleinfelter and Payne McBride to draw Tate. Trenton White in the meantime, had been awarded an opening round bye and then defeated Ivo Linkin and Landon Hollingsworth to face Lukas Fracasso-Verner in the other winners’ side semifinal.

Childress sent Tate to the loss side from which he would not return 7-2. White downed Fracasso-Verner 7-5. Childress took the first of his two matches against White 7-2 and claimed the hot seat. On the loss side, Fracasso-Verner and Tate eliminated Linkin and Hollingsworth, respectively, before Fracasso-Verner ended Tate’s Pro Am run 7-3 in the quarterfinals. White defeated Fracasso-Verner a second time in the semifinals 7-5 and then, fell a second time to Childress, who claimed the event title 9-5 in the finals.

The older girls and the younger divisions do battle 

There was a bit of a shakeup in the rankings of the top four young women in the “18 & Under Girls” event, which drew 13 entrants. Coming into the weekend, Kennedy Meyman was leading the pack of 18 that had competed, so far. She’d won the first event and placed third in April. Bethany Tate (14) was second, having finished as the runner-up in the first two events. Sofia Mast (12) was third, having finished third in the second event. Skylar Hess (12) rounded out the top four in the rankings, having not been among the top three finishers in any of the first three events. When the recent event was over, Tate, Meyman and Mast were in a tie for the top spot, with Hess, who finished as runner-up, maintaining her 4th place position.

Trena Wolford, Sofia Mast, Ra Hanna, Skylar Hess and Kory Wolford

Mast went undefeated to win the event and had to defeat Hess twice; hot seat and finals. She’d defeated Bethany Tate’s younger sister, Noelle (11) and in a winners’ side semifinal, Courtney Hairfield, whom she defeated 7-3 to get into the hot seat match. Hess had downed Precilia Kinsley and Carley Tomaszewski and in the other winners’ side semifinal, Kennedy Meyman 7-5 to join Mast in the struggle for the hot seat.

Mast won the first of their two 7-3 to claim it. Hess moved to the semifinals where she ran into Bethany Tate, who, in a way, had exacted revenge on behalf of her sister, when she faced Meyman in the quarterfinals. Meyman had just defeated Noelle Tate. Bethany eliminated Meyman 7-4 in those quarterfinals, but was then eliminated herself, by Hess, in a double hill semifinal fight. The final fight was a double hill affair, as well, with Mast winning it 9-8 to claim the “18 & Under Girls” title.

The finish of the 8-entrant, “13 & Under Girls” event, looked a lot like the finish in the “18 and Under” division. Not exactly, though. Mast and Hess were in the finals, but the result was reversed, with Hess claiming the title. Bethany Tate finished in 3rd place for the second time.

The final rankings in the two female groups are very much alike, as well; Bethany Tate, Kennedy Meyman, Sofia Mast and Skylar Hess leading the way among the older young women. Mast, Tate, Hess and Noelle Tate leading the younger crowd in current rankings.

Hess and Mast split the two matches that they played, with Hess winning the second one in the finals. After Mast had shut out Ashley Prasad in a winners’ side semifinal and Hess had sent Franki Spain to the loss side 7-5, Mast downed Hess 7-4 to claim the hot seat. On the loss side, the Tate sisters met in the quarterfinals, once Bethany had eliminated Franki Spain (8) and Noelle had done likewise to Ashley Prasad, both 7-2. The elder Tate, Bethany, downed her younger sister Noelle 7-3 and then, engaged in a double hill, semifinal fight for a shot at Mast in the finals.  Hess won it, though, and then, defeated Mast 9-6 to claim the “13 & Under Girls” title.

Konnor McFayden, Adrian Prasad and Jayce Little

Adrian Prasad retained his top spot in the “13 & Under Boys” division by winning this division for the second straight and third, overall time. He had to come from the loss side to do it. He’d been sent over in a winners’ side semifinal, double hill, by Konnor McFayden, who went on to  defeat Jayce Little 7-4 to claim the hot seat. Prasad moved over and in three matches, gave up only four racks; two to D’Angelo “Jaws” Spain, and one each to Grayson Vaughan in the quarterfinals and Jayce Little in the semifinals. Prasad claimed the title by downing McFadden in the finals 9-4. This was only McFadden’s second appearance in the championship series, where in the opening event in March, he’d finished in 4th place. That put him in 4th place in the rankings, as well. In his absence, over the next two events, his place among his peers slipped. As this event’s runner-up, he moved up to #7 in the rankings.

Ra Hanna noted that Landon Hollingsworth had won the event’s Sportsperson Award, while Timothy Cossey won the Jeanette Lee Comeback Award. Hanna thanked the ownership and staff at Center Pocket Billiards for their hospitality, as well as his assistants Chris Robinson (handling photography) and the Wolfords, Corey and Treena, for their help. In addition to thanking Chris Wilson, owner of the League Room in Parkersburg, WV and Mike Littman of Littman Lights (“there from the beginning,” said Hanna.), he gave a shout out to all the families of the junior players, whose camaraderie has made these events, “truly, one big travelling family.”

The series of events, Hanna noted, has exceeded his expectations.

“Truthfully,” he said, “I knew we could get here, I just didn’t know it would be so fast.”

“If it weren’t for COVID, it would have been easy to get 128 (juniors) into these events,” he added. “We’re already outgrowing the spots we’re at.”

Stop #5 on the Junior International Championships (JIC), scheduled for the weekend of June 25-27, will be hosted by Stixx and Stones in Lewisville, TX. The complete schedule of events is available on the JIC Facebook page or in our calendar here at AZBilliards; link to the Tours/Events tab and then find “Junior International Championship.”