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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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Valania wins his first in two years, going undefeated on the Garden State Tour

Robert Calton and Joe Valania

About 18 months ago (Sept. 2020), Joe Valania and Daniel Dagotdot split the top two prizes on the second stop of the Mac Attack Tour in Clifton, NJ. As the undefeated occupant of the hot seat at the time, Valania was declared the official winner and in effect, hadn’t been heard from since, at least on any recorded payout lists. That Mac Attack Tour victory was only Valania’s second recorded payout anywhere, since he’d finished 17th in a Windy City Open 9-Ball event, 17 years ago.

On Saturday, Feb. 12, not only did Valania chalk up his second recorded win anywhere (of three payouts in the money), this time on the Garden State Tour (Stop #3), but in so doing, he turned 2022 into his best recorded earnings year at the tables, picking up more cash in the one event than he earned in the previous two. The $600-added event drew 61 entrants to Rockaway Billiards in Rockaway, NJ.

Four of the first five matches that Valania played went double hill; only his winners’ side quarterfinal match against Frank Kasetta, which he won 6-4, avoided that fate, though only by a game. In a final deciding game, he got by (in order), Ginny Lewis, Marc Lamberti, Steve Persaud, after which he downed Kasetta to meet newcomer Onexi Flores. 

Rob Calton, in the meantime, who’d battle Valania twice (hot seat and finals), had to survive two double hill fights in his run to the winners’ side semifinals. He sent Chris Schmidt 7-5, Paul Raval 7-3, Rafael Acosta (double hill) and Jaydev Zaveri (double hill) to the loss side and turned to face Kevin Scalzitti in the other winners’ side semifinal.

Flores and Valania battled to double hill, as well, for a seat at the hot seat match table. Valania won it to face Calton, who’d downed Scalzitti 7-5. With Valania prevailing in yet another double hill fight to claim the hot seat, half of the 12 matches the two combatants had played went double hill.

On the loss side, Flores and Scalzitti handed David Jusis and Christian Orque their second straight loss and turned against each other in the quarterfinals. Flores prevailed 7-5 over Scalzitti to join Robert Calton in the semifinals. They’d both been sent to the loss side by Valania, waiting for one of them in the hot seat.

It was Calton who got the second shot at him, punctuating the semifinal victory by shutting Flores out. In the extended-race-to-9 finals, Calton needed to reach seven racks first for a chance to extend the race to nine games. Didn’t happen. At 2-2, Valania chalked up the next five to complete his undefeated run and claim his second regional tour title.

Valania will likely be looking to chalk up his third regional tour victory when the Garden State Tour settles in for an event this weekend (Sat., Feb. 26), at the site where Valania picked up his first – Clifton Billiards in Clifton, NJ. 

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Trobiano wins Tri-State in his own room

Brian Hunter, John Trobiano and Pat Mareno

As he's done numerous times in the past, John Trobiano entered a Tri-State tournament on March 1, that, as owner of Castle Billiards in East Rutherford, NJ, he was hosting. As he has also done a number of times, he won the $1,000-added AB-CD event that had drawn 35 entrants to his location. Occupying the hot seat at the end of the night, Trobiano and Brian Hunter, who'd won five on the loss side, opted out of a final match, splitting the top prizes, while conceding the event victory to the undefeated Trobiano.
 
Trobiano would open his five-match run on the AB side, with a victory over Borana Andoni. He followed with victories over Antonio G.errero, and Asia Cycak, before meeting up with house pro Scott Simonetti in one of the winners' side semifinals. Pat Mareno, working on the CD side initially, got by Steve Persaud, Allison Honeymar and Eddie Perez, before coming up against Ryzard Szpila in the other semifinal. Trobiana survived a double hill fight against Simonetti, and in the hot seat match, met Mareno, who'd defeated Szpila, also double hill. Trobiano won what would prove to be his last match of the night, defeating Mareno 9-7.
 
On the loss side, Simonetti ran right into the streaking Hunter, who'd defeated Mike Zimny 7-4 and Asia Cycak 7-3, to reach him. Szpila met up with Jennifer "Sweet P" Pedutem, who, having been sent to the loss side by Szpila in the third round of play, was on a streak of her own. She got by Jan Mierzwa 8-5 and Frank Siezcka 7-2 to meet Szpila a second time. Hunter and Pedutem advanced to the quarterfinals; Hunter downing Simonetti 7-2 and Pedutem wreaking her vengeance on Szpila, ending his day 8-4.
 
It was Hunter who won the quarterfinal battle, ending Pedutem's run 10-5. He then defeated Mareno in the semifinals 8-6 for a chance against Trobiano, which never happened. The two finalists opted out of the final match, leaving Trobiano as the undefeated winner.
 
Tour representatives congratulated Trobiano and thanked him and his staff for their hospitality. Thanks were tendered to tour sponsors Sterling-Gaming, Ozone Billiards, Qpod, Cues, Kamui Tips, Phil Capelle, BlueBook Publishing, and Human Kinetics, as well. The next stop on the Tri-State Tour, scheduled for March 22, will be hosted by Steinway Billiards in Astoria, NY.

Karmoeddien comes from the loss side to take down Kennedy and win first Tri-State

Dennis Kenedy, Akbar Karmoeddien and Marco Costello

Two weeks ago, Dennis Kennedy had to forego a finals re-match against Scott Bannon and missed an opportunity to chalk up a second Tri-State win. On Saturday, December 21, Kennedy was sitting in the hot seat, looking, once again, to chalk up a Tri-State win. This time, Akbar Karmoeddien, whom he'd sent to the loss side, came back and made him a runner-up for the second time this month. The $750-added event drew 24 entrants to House of Billiards in Staten Island, NY.
 
They met for the first time among the winners' side final four, with Kennedy advancing to the hot seat match 6-5. Joining Kennedy in that hot seat match was Marco Costello, who'd sent Matthew Harricharan west 7-4. Kennedy chalked up his final win of the day and got into the hot seat 9-5 over Costello.
 
Karmoeddien, in the meantime, opened up his three-match march back to the finals against Steve Persaud, who'd defeated Joe Varvaro 6-5 and Paulo Valverde 6-4.  Harricharan picked up Omar Alli, winner of the December 14 stop on the tour, who'd defeated Keith Adamik 7-5 and Basdeo Sookhai 7-3.
 
Karmoeddien advanced to the quarterfinals with a 6-3 win over Persaud, as Alli made it clear he was looking for a second straight win on the tour with a shutout over Harricharan.  Karmoeddien ended that bid with a 7-3 win in the quarterfinals and earned his second shot at Kennedy with a shutout over Costello in the semifinals.
 
Karmoeddien and Kennedy fought back and forth, trading racks to a 3-3 tie; Kennedy with the initiative, and Karmoeddien coming back to tie each time. Karmoeddien then won two straight to go ahead 5-3, before Kennedy came right back with two of his own to knot the score at 5-5. Karmoeddien ended it right there, winning three straight to complete his first win on the Tri-State Tour.
 
Tour representatives thanked the ownership and staff at House of Billiards, as well as sponsors Sterling-Gaming, Ozone Billiards, Qpod, Heptig Cues, Kamui Tips, Phil Capelle, BlueBook Publishing, and Human Kinetics. The next stop on the Tri-State, scheduled for December 29, will be hosted by The Cue Bar in Bayside (Queens), NY.