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The Grinder (aka April Larson) wins third On the Ball Ladies Tour stop in Houston, TX

Robyn Petrosino, April Larson, Michelle Cortez and Michelle Yim

Combined with her second straight and third overall win on the 2022 On The Ball (OTB) Ladies Tour in Texas this past weekend (Sat., Oct. 15), April Larson has won six of the 10 events in which she has cashed this year. She had previously won in May (Stop #3) and in September (Stop #5), adding to wins at the Scotty Townsend Memorial and the Midwest Open, both in March. Her victory over Melissa Helland in a 9-Ball Challenge Match in April rounds out the six event victories for her, while her two 2nd and 3rd place finishes completes the list of 10 in which she’s cashed.

The Grinder made it to the hot seat undefeated, downing Robyn Petrosino in the winners’ side final. She lost the first set of a true double elimination final to Michelle Cortez, who’d won five on the loss side to challenge her, and then, in a double hill fight, won the second set to claim the title. The event drew a short field of 12 entrants to R House Bar & Grill in Houston, TX.

Larson made it to the hot seat with an aggregate score of 28-7 (80%). Three of the seven game losses came as a result of her opening match versus veteran Ming Ng. Larson advanced from that match to down Christy Grigsby (1) and draw Terry Petrosino in one of the winners’ side semifinals. Robyn Petrosino, in the meantime, got by Michelle Yim 7-4 and tour director Teresa Garland 7-5 to arrive at her winners’ side semifinal against Chris Fields.

Larson defeated Terry Petrosino 7-1 as Robyn Petrosino sent Chris Fields to the loss side 7-4. Larson claimed the hot seat 7-2 over Robyn and waited for Cortez to complete her loss-side run.

Following her 7-1, opening-round loss to Natalie Mans, Cortez advanced on the loss side through Garland 7-3 and Ming Ng 7-1 to draw Terry Petrosino. Fields picked up Michelle Yim, who’d survived a double hill match versus Natalie Mans and then downed Vania Davila 7-3 to reach her.

Cortez defeated Terry Petrosino 7-2, as Yim stayed busy and eventually won a double hill fight against Fields. Cortez won the quarterfinals that followed 7-5 over Yim and completed her loss-side trip 7-3 over Robyn Petrosino in the semifinals.

In winning the opening set of the true double elimination final, Cortez chalked up as many racks as all of Larson’s previous opponents combined. The 7-4 Cortez win forced a second set that went double hill before Larson prevailed to claim the event title.

Tour representatives thanked the ownership and staff at R House Bar & Grill for their hospitality, as well as title sponsor On the Ball Co. for their continuing support of the tour. They also gave a “shout out” to Lonnie Best and Lisa Bailey with Backward Billiards “for jumping on board to do the live streaming.”

The On the Ball Ladies Tour’s season finale, scheduled for the weekend of November 19-20, will be a $3,000-added event, hosted by Skinny Bob’s Billiards in Round Rock, TX. The tour will crown its 2022 Champion at the event. 

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Helland over Shahbazi for California State Women’s 9-Ball Title

Melissa Shahbazi and Melissa Helland

It must have felt like old times. Melissa Helland and Melissa Shahbazi were back on the road, heading off to compete in a California State Women’s 9-Ball Championship. Helland (formerly Melissa Herndon) and Shahbazi (formerly Melissa Morris) met and started their pool careers over 20 years ago, but hadn’t even seen each other for four years before they decided on playing the 2022 California State Women’s Championship at Hard Times Billiards in Sacramento California on the September 18-19 weekend. 

Even with all of that time since they started off their pool adventure together, it was still Helland and Shahbazi meeting up at the end of the event. Shahbazi rode the top half of the bracket with wins over Kamilah Torch Morton, Lyndee Russell and Milianne Chin, while Helland took the bottom half of the bracket with wins over Cassandra Gray, Alicia Rousseau, Jamie Stewart and Savannah Easton. 

Shahbazi is just getting back to pool after a 10 year absence from the game, while Helland has been back in the game for a couple of years now, but it was Shahbazi scoring a 7-5 win to send Helland to the one loss side. 

The semi-final match between Helland and Savannah Easton was a rematch from their earlier meeting on the winner’s side and ended with the same result, an 8-4 win for Helland. Helland had nothing but praise for young Easton. “She played her heart out and I can tell she’s going to be a champion if she sticks with it.” said Easton. 

After the competitive hot-seat match, it was a different story in the double elimination finals, as Helland scored back to back 8-2 wins to capture another California State Women’s 9-Ball trophy to display next to the 2001 California State Women’s title that she won at College Billiards twenty one years ago. 

Helland commented on how it felt to be playing her old friend in the finals of an event again. “It was wonderful to have her back on the scene and playing in a competitive setting.  Of course, it can be difficult to find that killer instinct against a close friend (and roommate for the weekend), so I think we both struggled in the finals.  I’ve kept up with competitive play over the years, while she is just re-emerging, so I think that gave me the edge in terms of being able to grind out the win. “

Helland thanked her sponsors Golden State Billiard Supply and Jam Up Apparel for their continued support. Even with the win on this weekend, combined with a great 9th place finish at the WPBA event in Vegas earlier this year, Helland is hesitant to utter the famous “I’m back” line from Paul Newman in Color of Money. “I still wouldn’t consider myself “back”.  It’s more like having a foot through the door, but life/work keep me from barging 100% back into the room.   Hard Times Sacramento is like a home away from home and I always feel comfortable there.  I won the NAPT stop there in 2019, and now this CA State Championship.” she said. 

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