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U.S. Open: Van Boening in Hot-Seat

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Despite their much heralded domination of professional pool in the past two decades, the Philippines has collected just two U.S. Open crowns, with Efren Reyes’s win in 1994 and Alex Pagulayan’s 11 years later. But that seven-year winless streak looked a good bet to end, when five of the six remaining players at this year’s event had connections to the island nation.

A Pinoy champion, though, will have to go through Shane Van Boening. The American throttled Pagulayan in Saturday afternoon’s hot-seat match. Clearing six racks from the break, Van Boening sprinted away from his frequent foe, eventually taking the match, 11-5.

The left side of the bracket, meanwhile, looked like a mini-tournament in Manila. Efren Reyes topped Ronnie Alcano late Friday evening, 11-9, in what was an uncharacteristically sloppy match. Dennis Orcollo bested Jose Parica, 11-4, in a one-sided set where the 63-year-old appeared to tire after a thrilling run deep into the tournament.

On Saturday afternoon, Orcollo then faced Reyes, with the winner then getting Pagulayan in the third-place match. Though making fewer and fewer trips to the United States in recent years, 58-year-old Reyes electrified the crowd with his play throughout the U.S. Open’s first week.

The greatest thrill came in his 11-10 victory over two-time defending champ Darren Appleton. Facing a tricky kick shot on the 4 ball in the case game, Reyes sent the pink off three rails and into the 9 ball, which then crawled into the side pocket for the win. From there, Reyes topped China’s Wang Can and Orcollo, before losing to Pagulayan.

In a left-side rematch with Orcollo, the Magician was unable to find a rhythm. Orcollo opened up an early three-rack lead, which he maintained until the final 9 ball fell for an 11-8 win.

With Van Boening now resting until Saturday night’s final, Pagulayan and Orcollo are facing off for the second seat in the championship set. Orcollo holds and early 4-2 lead in the modified race to 11.

Van Boening Takes U.S. Open Title No. 2

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Dennis Orcollo is arguably the best tournament player on the planet. But in the final of the U.S. Open 9-Ball Championship, he barely stood a chance. Shane Van Boening, riding a break that bordered on the sublime, blasted his way past the Filipino powerhouse to take his second U.S. Open crown by a count of 13-7.

The 29-year-old American jumped out to an early 9-2 lead in the modified race to 13. Winning eight straight at one point, Van Boening dropped a ball on the break seven straight racks, four of which he cleared without letting Orcollo to the table. Following a scratch on the break in the 12th game, Van Boening’s only unsuccessful break in the set, Orcollo made an impressive run of his own, closing the gap to just 9-7. But a missed table-length jump on the 1 ball was the end of Orcollo’s road. Van Boening cleared that rack, then broke and ran the final three for an emphatic stamp on his U.S. Open victory.

“I’ve been playing a lot of pool the last month or so,” Van Boening said, shortly after his victory. “I felt really good coming here. I had a lot of confidence and started out [playing well].”

His path through the winners bracket and into the hot-seat included a number of world-class players, only one of whom managed to stay with the two-time BD Player of the Year. In his third match, Van Boening throttled Mosconi Cup foe Nick van den Berg, 11-4, before besting Chris Melling by the same count. In the next round, he faced Ronnie Alcano, his opponent from the 2007 U.S. Open final. The lanky Filipino stood within a rack advancing, but Van Boening collected the final two racks for a thrilling 11-10 win.

That would be his one and only close call. Two more Filipinos fell, with Van Boening topping Jose Parica and Alex Pagulayan, both 11-5, to take his spot in the final.

On the one-loss side, Orcollo was gathering steam after his loss to Efren Reyes. He won three straight, including an 11-7 victory that ended Darren Appleton’s hopes for a third straight Open crown, to earn a rematch with Reyes. The 58-year-old legend was the story of the tournament’s opening week, but Orcollo was too much. He sent Reyes packing, 11-8, before eliminating Pagulayan in third place.

While Van Boening and Orcollo are far from strangers — the two frequently match up in money games — the American would not be denied. With title no. 2 at just 29, Van Boening didn’t waste time looking forward, if only in jest.

“What do I need, three more to tie Earl?” he said, acknowledging Earl Strickland’s record five U.S. Open titles.

If he can come anywhere close to replicating his dominant form over the past week, though, the joke might be on his competition.

Dozen Remain in U.S. Open Hunt

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — If you’re looking for story lines at the 2012 U.S. Open 9-Ball Championship, the winners-side final four should provide plenty. Efren Reyes, Jose Parica, Alex Pagulayan and Shane Van Boening remain unbeaten. Young vs. old, Philippines vs. U.S., former champions chasing titles or an overdue contender closing in on his crown, the final 24 hours of the U.S. Open should be riveting.

Parica, 63, is chasing his first Open title after finished second in 2003. He will face the 29-year-old Van Boening, who has been absolutely dominant thus far. In a superb match against Ronnie Alcano — a rematch of the 2007 final, won by the American — Van Boening erased a late two-rack deficit to take an 11-10 victory.

On the other side of the bracket, Pagulayan and Reyes will square off. The Magician has been nothing short of magical in his march through the right side. He topped two-time reigning champ Darren Appleton, 11-10, on Thursday afternoon, then outlasted Wang Can, 11-7, that evening. On Friday, he then trumped Dennis Orcollo, leader of the Philippines’ next generation of stars, 11-7.

Over on the one-loss side of the bracket, it’s tough to find a player without top-tier credentials. Johnny Archer faces Darren Appleton, with the Englishman plodding through the left side in search of his third straight U.S. Open title. World 9-Ball champ Chang Jung-Lin, China’s Li Hewen and Netherlander Niels Feijen top an impressive international class of hopefuls.

Stay tuned, as updates will be posted as each round of play concludes.

Appleton Loses Bid for Third U.S. Open

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — It goes without saying that you can’t win the U.S. Open 9-Ball Championship without a lucky break or two. In the case of Darren Appleton, who went unbeaten on his way to victories in 2010 and 2011, this year’s story took a turn with a very unlucky break. In a Thursday match with Efren Reyes, the Brit watched the Filipino legend fluke in the 9 in the case game. The loss sent Appleton to the left, where his pursuit of a third consecutive title would be much more difficult.

On Friday evening, that pursuit ended with an 11-7 loss to Dennis Orcollo. Like Mika Immonen, who chased the three-peat in 2010, Appleton showed championship mettle, but simply couldn’t muster the magic of the previous two years.

With the win, Orcollo earned a spot opposite Jose Parica in Friday’s last round of matches. The winner, as well as the winner of the set between Ronnie Alcano and Reyes, will be among the final four players to advance to Saturday.

While the eliminations continue, two unbeaten players — former champs Shane Van Boening and Alex Pagulayan — have punched tickets to Saturday afternoon’s hot-seat match. In his set with Parica, Van Boening struggled to get rolling at first. But he built a lead against the 63-year-old Filipino, and eventually ran away with the match, 11-5.

Pagulayan, meanwhile, sprinted to an early lead in his match with Reyes. Taking the first six racks, Pagulayan never relented in his pressure until he dropped the clinching 9 ball for an 11-5 victory.

U.S. Open Primed for Big Weekend

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Heading into the final two days of the 2012 U.S. Open 9-Ball Championships, it’s clear that the strong have survived. At the conclusion of play on the winners side on Thursday night, just eight players remained. And that octet packed plenty of star power.

Former champions Shane Van Boening, Alex Pagulayan and Johnny Archer are all chasing title No. 2. But in perhaps the most thrilling story of the U.S. Open to this point, 58-year-old Efren Reyes strung together five victories — including an electrifying 11-10 win over two-time defending champ Darren Appleton — to put himself in contention for the Open crown. He will square off against countryman Dennis Orcollo on Friday. Pagulayan and Archer will square off in the other match on that side of the bracket.

Scotland’s Jayson Shaw will face 63-year-old Jose Parica on the other side of the bracket. Parica, runner-up at the 2003 U.S. Open, advanced via a dominant victory over a resurgent Earl Strickland, 11-5. The winner of that set will then face the victor in Shane Van Boening’s match against Ronnie Alcano, a rematch of the 2007 U.S. Open won by the American.

While eight players have two bullets left in their revolvers, the left side is packed with championship-caliber talent. Most notably, late Thursday evening, Darren Appleton trailed American Oscar Dominguez. In search of his third-straight title, the Englishman was struggling to rally in the second match after his heart-breaking loss to Reyes.

Leading the charge on the one-loss side, Japan’s Yukio Akagariyama, China’s Li Hewen and Taiwan’s Chang Jung-Lin are major title winners seeking glory on American soil. Europe’s Albin Ouschan, brother of women’s star Jasmin and rising star on the EuroTour, joins England’s Chris Melling in the title hunt. American hopes settle on Corey Deuel, who dropped a Thursday night set to Jayson Shaw, and five-time titlist Strickland.

Archer Remains On Target For Final In Calgary

Quarter-final matches will take place today between undefeated players Johnny Archer and Luc Salvas, Alex Pagulayan and Jason Klatt at the 2006 SML 9-Ball Open in Calgary.

Archer’s path to the final was almost thwarted by young Shane Van Boening in an early match on April 13, the third day of the tournament. The match was tied at 10-10 with Van Boening breaking, but a scratch on the break proved fatal as Archer ran out the final rack to remain undefeated.

After beating Stan Tourangeau, Archer’s next obstacle is Salvas of Quebec, who has built momentum with wins over formidable Filipinos Edwin Montal and Dennis Orcollo.

Defending champion Pagulayan and 2004 champion Archer are favored for the final.

Jason Miller, the New Darling of Derby City, Joins Pagulayan on IPT

Miller's Time: Jason dominated at Derby.

Miller’s Time: Jason dominated at Derby.

It’s wasn’t too bad a week for Jason Miller, a sports bar owner from Dayton, Ohio.

After hardly playing pool for a year, Miller arrived at the Eighth Annual Derby City Classic and wrested the Master of the Table title and its $20,000 prize from perennial all-around champion Efren Reyes. Then he strolled undefeated through a tough-as-nails 46-player qualification tournament for the International Pool Tour and won a berth on the million-dollar 8-ball circuit for 2006.

So when we say Miller arrived at the nine-day Derby City Classic, held Jan. 5-14 at the Executive West Hotel in Louisville, Ky., we mean he really arrived.

“I’m extremely excited,” Miller enthused. “This is great. The week was great … and then winning this card is just icing on the cake. It’s been a long ten days. A marathon. I just concentrate on one match at a time, and that’s about it. I got a good night’s sleep every night, didn’t stay up late, no gambling matches. It was well worth it.”

During the nine-day Derby endurance test, Miller won the 9-ball banks division, placed second in the one-pocket pack, and held on long enough for a 15th-place finish in the 9-ball contest. Reyes, who blitzed Miller 3-0 in the 20-minute one-pocket final, needed to top the 9-ball field to keep his Master of the Table title from 2005, but fell short in the semifinal versus fellow Filipino Rodolfo Luat.

As the 9-ball division was wrapping up on Jan. 14, the IPT kicked off the first of its four qualifiers for a handful of open spots on the 150-player tour. Each of the 46 players paid a $2,000 entry fee, and the only reward would be tour cards for the top two finishers.

The all-star field made for perhaps the most intimidating qualifier in pool history. At the top of the list was reigning U.S. Open champ Alex Pagulayan, but there wasn’t much of a drop-off from there, as the dream of competing on the IPT brought a passel of national 8-ball champs from the BCA and VNEA amateur leagues (Shane Van Boening, Brian Groce), 9-ball pros (Tang Hoa, Robb Saez, George Breedlove) and international studs like Hungary’s Vilmos Foldes, Germany’s Thomas Engert and the U.K.’s Imran Majid.

Miller was the first to qualify on Jan. 15, besting Foldes, 10-6, in the winners-bracket final. Pagulayan then outplayed Foldes, 10-2, to win his tour card. The Killer Pixie jigged around the table, crying out, “I made it! I’m in the IPT now!”

“It’s not only the IPT,” Pagulayan admitted afterward. “I’ve been here all week. I was doing good in the banks, and for some reason, they played like God on me. I was doing good in one-pocket, and for some reason Efren — he didn’t play like Efren. He played better than Efren. And then in 9-ball, Luat beat me, played his best against me. … At least I got this. I think I got the most important thing, I think. That might make me a millionaire, I think.”

Ralf Souquet felt almost as fortunate, breaking something of a dry spell to win the 9-ball division at Derby City. Among the top three players in he world in 2002, Souquet has struggled recently with physical and personal woes, and was seeking chiropractic treatment in Louisville for intense back pain during the Classic.

After crushing Luat, 7-0, in the 9-ball final, Germany’s “The Kaiser” was all smiles.

“I don’t know what it is,” Germany’s “The Kaiser” demurred. “… I do have a new girlfriend.”