‘Rocket’, ‘Belle’ Enter BCA Hall of Fame

For smooth-stroking lefty “Rocket” Rodney Morris, the call informing him of his election into the Greatest Player wing of the Billiard Congress of America Hall of Fame came as both a shock and a relief. “I want to cry,” Morris said after getting the news. “It’s validation and recognition of all the years and hard work I’ve put into this game. [It is] especially gratifying because I came from a broken home, was raised on the streets and made just about every mistake you can make. But I persevered, which proves that everyone can do something great if they dedicated themselves to it.”

Morris, 46, will be joined in the Hall of Fame by “The Texas Belle,” Belinda Calhoun, who was elected in the Veteran Players category. The United Billiard Media Association announced the results in a release, July 19.

Born in Anaheim, Calif., but raised in Hawaii, Morris scored his biggest win in 1996, topping the legendary Efren Reyes in the final of the U.S. Open 9-Ball Championships. The 26-year-old Morris still considers his title-match win the highlight of his illustrious career.

“Efren was at the top of his game,” Morris recalled. “When I used to practice, I always visualized playing Efren in my mind. That’s how I trained myself. Then, to beat him in the U.S. Open final was unbelievable. Now, to be able to say I’m in the Hall of Fame with him is even bigger.” Just when Morris was hitting his competitive stride, though, he was convicted on federal drug charges and spent nearly four years in jail. Remorseful and recommitted, Morris returned to the pro tour in 2001 and promptly won the Sands Regency Classic. Over the next six years, Morris added the UPA Pro Tour Championship, the World Pool League crown and the World Cup of Pool title. In 2006, Morris suffered his biggest heartbreak in competition, falling to Reyes in the final of the ill-fated International Pool Tour World 8-Ball Championship in Reno. Reyes earned $500,000 for the title, while Morris had to settle for $150,000.

“Efren was my biggest win, and my biggest loss!” Morris said. Morris also made eight appearances representing Team USA in the Mosconi Cup, earning MVP honors in 2004. Still active, Morris has added titles at the Turning Stone Classic and the U.S. Open 10-Ball Championships in recent years. Calhoun, 63, was born in Austin, Texas. As Belinda Campos, she became one of the Women’s Professional Billiards Associations biggest starts in the ’80s, winning a pair of BCA National 8-Ball Championships titles, the Texas River City Open crown and the NPCA Classic Cup. Calhoun was dominant in 1985, winning the Women’s World 14.1 title, the WPBA National 9-Ball Championship and the U.S. Open 9-Ball Championship. Calhoun’s big year earned her Billiards Digest Player of the Year honors.

“I had resolved myself to the idea that [getting into the BCA Hall of Fame] wasn’t going to happen,” said Calhoun, who had been moved into the Veteran Player category after failing to earn election in the Greatest Player category before turning 60. “This is a wonderful surprise. I’m honored. I had always thought my career was deserving.” In extremely tight voting, Morris edged WPBA champions Gerda Hofstatter and Vivian Villarreal by a single vote. Kim Davenport, Shannon Daulton and Jeremy Jones were also on the ballot.

Corr Pulls Ahead of the Pack

Karen Corr is on a roll. Last month at the Florida Classic, she knocked off Allison Fisher in the final, and this month, at the Midwest Classic, she defeated the other Fisher, Kelly, in a final that tested the bladder control of many an audience member. With three titles so far in the 2006 season, Corr has left both Fishers, who have a title apiece, in the dust for the Player of the Year race.

Nine of the tour’s top players competed in the International Pool Tour’s North American Open just days before the Midwest Classic commenced at the Par-a-dice Hotel and Casino in Peoria, Ill. Sarah Ellerby went the farthest in the 8-ball event, and had to fly overnight from Vegas to make it in time for her first match in the Midwest.

While an exhausted Ellerby was knocked out early, the rest of the IPT members didn’t seem affected by the transition from 8-ball to 9-ball. After three rounds, eight players remained undefeated: Corr, Monica Webb, Kim White, Kelly Fisher, Allison Fisher, Jeanette Lee, Xiao-Ting Pan, and Belinda Calhoun.

The remaining players battled it out in the one-loss side to reach the top 16. The bottom eight were Sarah Rousey, Val Finnie, Julie Kelly, Ga-Young Kim, Ewa Laurance, Megan Minerich, Gerda Hofstatter and Pam Treadway.

In the single-elimination matches to determine the semifinalists, Allison Fisher was knocked out by Chinese up-and-comer Xiao-Ting Pan. She, along with Webb, Corr, and Kelly Fisher advanced.

Both semifinal matches were decided by crucial plays at 4-4. Kelly Fisher outplayed Pan in the semifinal, 7-4, after the tiny 24-year-old fouled on a jump shot. Fisher said that revenge was sweet, as Pan had knocked her out in San Diego. Corr also won 7-4, pulling ahead against Webb after an untimely scratch.

In the final between Fisher and Corr, the game of 9-ball had never so resembled ping-pong. The former snooker players battled back and forth, going 2-2, 3-3, 4-4, and 5-5 after Corr jarred an easy 9 ball. With a race-to-2 determing a difference in payouts of $5,000, Corr ran out to reach the hill. Fisher broke in the case game, and executed a safety. Corr mulled over the shot, and ended up scratching. Fisher sank the 2 and played safe on the 3, which Corr pocketed with a surprising two-rail bank shot, which proved to be the winning shot. She ran out the rest of the rack for the $13,000, and her third title of the season.

Check out www.wpba.com for the full bracket and photo highlights.

Fisher Wins 46th WPBA title

Allison Fisher, “The Duchess of Doom,” fended off some hungry foes and battled some personal demons, but managed to pull off her 46th Women’s Professional Billiard Association tournament win at the Great Lakes Classic stop of the WPBA’s 2006 season, March 8-12 in Michigan City, Ind.

Fisher suffered defeat in her very first match of the tournament, by Chinese up-and-comer Xiaoting Pan. Pan, age 24, speaks little English, but surely knows how to use the technique of the same name. With a fluid stroke and precise ball placement, she defeated her childhood idol, 9-7.

“She didn’t think that she could beat Allison Fisher so early, she didn’t expect it at all. It was a boost of confidence,” Pan communicated through her interpreter.

Fisher dropped down to the losers’ bracket where she had a near-fatal match against Wendy Jans. A 22-year-old Belgian that plays far beyond her years, Jans’ solid play found her leading Fisher, 7-5. Jans’ felt the pressure in the final games, however, dogging a 9-ball, followed by a scratch on a crucial play. Fisher closed out the match, 9-7.

“I just couldn’t finish it today. I had my chances, so actually I should’ve won, but I didn’t,” Jans said .

That win put Fisher in the final eight of the distinguished one-loss side, among Ewa Laurance, Vivian Villareal, Monica Webb, Jeanette Lee, Laura Smith, Kim White, and Alice Rim. Following a new format for 2006, the final eight submitted to a blind draw of the winners’ bracket players for single-elimination games. The winners’ side represented a melting pot of players including Pan, Karen Corr, Gerda Hofstatter, Ga Young Kim, Kelly Fisher, Helena Thornfeldt, Jennifer Barretta and Belinda Calhoun.

White, of Houston, has been struggling to recapture her top 16 ranking after an injury in 2004. The confidence boost of being recently elected WPBA president for 2006-07 was apparent in her play as she defeated veteran Calhoun, 9-5, and then squashed the steady advance of Alice Rim, 9-1, to land her in the semifinal, her first televised match and best finish to date.

Villareal was uncharacteristically quiet, but her play was unpenetrable as she whipped Kelly Fisher, 9-3, to meet Korean Ga Young Kim in the semifinal. Kim, who had just defeated Webb, fell victim to the “Texas Tornado,” 9-6.

Pan put away Smith, 9-4, but despite her earlier brilliance, could not make a run against Lee, who eliminated her, 9-2.

Meanwhile, Fisher drew the formidable Corr, who was coming off a big win at the first WPBA tour stop two weeks prior. The format dictated that one of the top two players would not make it to the semifinal. That unfortunate player was Corr, whose defensive play couldn’t slow down Fisher. Her sniper-like jump shot at hill-hill might have been the tournament-winning shot.

The semifinal matched Lee vs. Villareal, Fisher vs. White. Villareal’s patient defensive play against Lee eventually afforded her a win in the lengthy battle. White came out strong against Fisher, 2-0, but made a few untimely errors that allowed Fisher to heat up an run away with the 7-4 win.

In the final, Fisher looked fatigued against Villareal and made several uncharacteristic errors, but the former snooker player’s safety play took the wind out of the “Texas Tornado.” “I might as well just play with my jump cue,” said Villareal of her frequent escape attempts.

Fisher made it to the hill, 6-1, and despite Villareal’s best efforts, coming back 6-4, “The Duchess” eventually administered her doom, sinking the final 9 ball.

The semifinals and final game of the Great Lakes Classic will be aired on ESPN in April. Check back with HeadString News for specific air dates and times.