While Ray Beierling had had success at the Golden Horseshoe Crokinole Tournament, he, along with many others, hadn't had so much success against Justin Slater. But a Singles tournament win streak for Slater that had began in May of 2015, came to an end on the last Saturday of January 2017, when Ray Beierling was unrelenting, and ultimately came away as the victor.
It was another big crowd at the event, where even with a few late withdrawals, the total attendance still matched the record set in 2015 of 44 entries. The morning round robin split the field into 4 groups of 11, separating the players from Grismby, London, Waterloo, Kitchener, Milverton, Owen Sound, Toronto, Switzerland, and of course, Hamilton.
While the morning round consisted of players jockeying for position in the afternoon, some ambitious fellows were also looking to claim the glory of the first "Perfect Game" of the tournament. It didn't take long, only to game 3, for Ray Beierling to claim that title, on his way to a tournament high of 123 20s in 10 games. Beierling also topped the tournament in points with 73, ahead of Justin Slater at 67, Jon Conrad at 64, and Fred Slater at 64.
The afternoon split the field into 4 groups of equal skill with cash prizes on the line. Gloria Walsh topped the D Group with 48 points, and was joined in the playoffs by Lucas Merkli, Brian Henry and Cindy Paul, with Dorothy Rigg missing the playoffs by one single point. A playoff substitution required David Murray to compete in the semifinals, and it took the second seeded Merkli three games to win the match 6-2, 2-6, 6-0. The Walsh vs Paul semifinal was an even tighter affair with the two deadlocked and requiring extra rounds before Walsh won the match 6-0, 2-6, 8-4. In the battle of the top 2 seeds, it was Switzerland's Lucas Merkli showing top form, winning the D Pool final by a score of 6-4, 6-0.
The competition in Pool C saw a greater separation of the top 4 finalists as Jake Ruggi topped the group with 62, Jo-Ann Carter finished with 56, Lynda Baumann earned 50 and Peter Carter nabbed the final spot with 47 points through 10 games. Ruggi ploughed through the first game 6-0, but was nearly caught off guard with a late comeback from Peter Carter, who erased a 4-0 deficit in game 2, before Ruggi won the 2nd game tiebreaker and the match. Lynda Baumann was equal to the task early in the match, but Jo-Ann Carter's consistency would win the bother semifinal 6-2, 6-0. The final between Carter and Ruggi pitted together two players who could have easily challenged for a solid spot in the A pool, and their match showed some fine skill, with the victory going to Jo-Ann Carter, over Hamilton's hometown man 5-3, 6-2.
Group B also consisted of a remarkably strong group, who only competed in the section perhaps due to a slow start in the morning, or a highly competitive field of attendance at the tournament. The two Vaillancourt's, Bev and Roger, sandwiched Eric Miltenburg at the top of the pile, with Bob Jones finishes 4th in the round at 46 points, to edge out Christina Campbell at 5th with 43. Jones remarked later that he wasn't quite sure how all of the shots fell in to place, but he took his 4th seed into the finals after defeating Bev Vaillancourt 5-1, 5-1 in the semifinal. Roger Vaillancourt also scored an upset victory, in terms of seeding, over Eric Miltenburg, as he won the mach 5-3, 6-4. In the final, Bob Jones continued to play well, and earning one point in the final round of game one to take the first game 5-3. But Roger Vaillancourt responded incredibly well, winning the next two games 6-0, 6-0 to win the match and the B title.
In Pool A, Justin Slater and Ray Beierling, as they always seem to, found themselves entangled at the top of the scoreboard through the second round. Both earned 62 points, with Slater getting the top seed with 121 20s to Beierling's 117, through 11 games. Jon Conrad earned 57 points and the third seed, while Nathan Walsh scored 55 points for the 4th seed. It was Andrew Hutchinson, finishing 5th for the second tournament in a row, with 51 points, and Fred Slater at 6th with 50. Both semifinals gave rematches of previous NCA finals this year: Slater vs Walsh in Belleville and Tavistock, Beierling vs Conrad in Owen Sound. Both semifinals would end in the exact same score of 6-4, 6-0, but it was Justin Slater backing up his previous head-to-head victories over Walsh, while Ray Beierling flipped the result of the Owen Sound final won by Conrad.
And so the final matched Ray Beierling, making his 5th Hamilton final, against Justin Slater, looking for his 7th consecutive title. The match began with each player trading 2 points on hammer, when Slater scored a slight edge in the 3rd round of game one, tying the round without hammer, and taking a 3-3 game into the 4th round. Slater finished the first game with 2 points on hammer in the next round for 5-3.
Beierling stole 2 points to start game 2, but Slater looked to be back in it when he sole 1 point in the following round. However, Beierling was near perfect on the 20s, and won the third round against the hammer, 5-1, to force a decisive game. Beierling jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the third game, and was ahead for most of the 2nd round, until Slater scored a takeout and 20 on the final shot to tie the round. However, Beierling pushed on and won the match in the next round 3-5, 5-1, 5-1.
The win is Ray Beierling's 17th NCA title. He now sits 2 behind Brian Cook's top mark of 19, and level with Justin Slater, also at 17. The win is also Beierling's second title of the 2016-2017 NCA Tour, which at least puts him within striking distance of challenging Slater for grand prize, if Beierling can manage one more victory before the finale in St. Jacobs.
And if Beierling is looking for one more victory, he may find it most fitting to earn the victory at the London tournament, which he has dominated, winning 4 titles. That event is the next on the NCA Tour, happening on Saturday, March 25th at the St. James Westminster Anglican Church.