There isn't much talk of rivalries, but it's no doubt that Ray Beierling and Justin Slater are presenting the best head-to-head matches in crokinole. The championship match in London featured the two again, for third championship face-off this year, and in a wild finish of twists and turns, Ray Beierling gained the decisive edge to win his hometown crown.
55 crokinole players gathered in the hall of the Saint James Westminster church for the 9th Annual Forest City Flickers Crokinole Tournament. Both the London club and tournament date back to 2009 and the beginning of the National Crokinole Association Tour. The tournament has always pulled in a big group competitive and recreational players, and this year was no exception.
Justin Slater was making his first appearance at the event since his second place finish in 2010, and he came through the morning with the top score of 58 points and 86 20s, leading Nathan Walsh and Jason Beierling who both scored 57 points. Jon Conrad topped Pool B with 56 points and a tournament high of 96 20s, while Andrew Hutchinson finished second in the pool with 52 points. Jeremy Tracey, making his NCA debut scored 41 points to edge out Dwayne Campbell at 38 points for the final spot in the A group for the afternoon.
The 31 player Recreational pool was split into 3 pools after the morning play. In Pool C, Maxine Whitmore just outscored Dianne Willis by a point for the final spot in the playoffs, and from there went on to finish 2nd. Peter Holman and Caroline Baker finished 3rd and 4th respectively, but Paul Trnka was the top of the class, cruising to first in the round robin by as many as 13 points, and then backing it up with top spot finish in the playoffs for the C title.
In Pool B, Kathy Geris grabbed the final playoff spot, just ahead of Pat Weiler and Vera Gutske, all at 35 points. Similar to Pool C, it would be Karen Robinson grabbing the B title after a comfortable top finish in the round robin portion. Janet Diebel would finish second, while Kathy Geris would jump up to a 3rd place finish and Kelly Fischer would finish 4th in Pool B.
The top of the table was quite tight in Pool A as Jo-Ann Carter, Janet Waite and Bill Harris all scored 46 points. Derek McKie earned the final playoff spot with 42 points to finish just ahead of MJ Andreola with 41 points. The playoff round-robin was fierce, and from it Janet Waite would win the Recreational title in her NCA debut, as Bill Harris finished 2nd, Derek McKie earned 3rd and Jo-Ann Carter finished 4th.
The Competitive B section saw a decent amount of separation of the playoff combatants as Dwayne Campbell, Clare Kuepfer, Wayne Scott and Cathy Kuepfer all made playoffs with a 5 point buffer before Bill Geris in 5th place. Dwayne Campbell was strong the whole way and finished the day off with the Competitive B title as Wayne Scott finished 2nd, and Cathy and Clare Kuepfer finished 3rd and 4th respectively.
Meanwhile, the action was incredibly tight in Competitive A with only 7 points separating 1st from 7th place. Justin Slater finished as the top seed with 54 points, Andrew Hutchinson earned the second seed with 52 points and a tournament high 102 20s, Ray Beierling finished 3rd at 52 points, and Jason Beierling rounded out the top 4 with 50 points. That left Tom Johnston (49 points), Roy Campbell (48 points) and Nathan Walsh (47 points) on the outside looking in.
In the playoffs, each match was played with a "First to 9 points" format. Justin Slater and Jason Beierling were all square at 4-4, before Justin Slater pulled away and advanced to the final. The other semifinal of Andrew Hutchinson and Ray Beierling was a rematch of last year's London final, which was dominated by Beierling. This time the match would be much tighter with Hutchinson overcoming a 7-3 deficit to level the match, but it would be Ray Beierling winning the final round for a 9-7 victory.
So the final was Ray Beierling and Justin Slater with so much on the line.
- It would be their third meeting in a final this NCA Tour season, following a Slater doubles victory in Brucefield and a Beierling singles victory in Hamilton.
- Both were sitting at 17 total NCA titles coming into the final, just two back of Brian Cook's all-time record of 19.
- With the win, Justin Slater could clinch the 2016-2017 NCA Tour title, barring a BC trip from Ray Beierling or Fred Slater.
Justin Slater got the early edge in the final with a 4-0 lead, but Ray Beierling came back to tie it at 4-4. It looked like Slater might take the edge back as he had control in 5th round, but Ray Beierling made a tough follow-through takeout to steal two points against the hammer, and followed it up with another two points for an 8-4 lead. And, from an entertainment perspective, that's when the match went from good to amazing.
Justin Slater won two points with the hammer to cut the lead to 8-6, but needed another two points in the following round to stay alive. Ray Beierling played a strong round with the hammer and had managed to be level in the 20 count and have two discs on the board. That was until Justin Slater's final shot:
An epic shot, but it was only Beierling's miss on the next shot that made it two points for Slater and pushed the match to a 9th round at 8-8.
Amazingly, Beierling was able to overcome the thought of missing an open 20 for the victory, and even overcame a small deficit in the final round to draw even. And with a tie game, an open board, and only one shot left for each player, Ray Beierling made the open 20, and Justin Slater's shot fell short.
It was a thrilling finish and a great match that ended in a 10-8 victory for Ray Beierling. Perhaps one of the greatest crokinole matches ever, and it encapsulated everything that a thrilling sport match could have: top players facing off with a lot at stake, great shots made under pressure, and the odd mistake that makes every shot that much more exciting.
So Ray Beierling wins the Forest City Flickers Crokinole title for the 5th time, and keeps the race alive for the 2016-2017 NCA Tour title, with only the BC Provincial Championships, and the Ontario Provincial Championships remaining on the calendar.