There was a taste of redemption in the air for a few players as the playoff matchup were set at the Tuscarora Nation House on Saturday. In one match you had the World Championship runner-up in Jon Conrad facing off against Justin Slater, who had defeated Conrad a few months earlier in the semifinals of the St. Jacobs event. And in the other semifinal, there was Nathan Walsh facing Ray Beierling, one year after losing the New York title to Beierling despite hold a lead as large as 6 points in the final.
A field of 39 entered the Turtle Island Nation House for the unofficial kick-off of the 10th National Crokinole Association Tour, which officially began at the 2017 World Championships. After numerous surprise finishes at the World Championships (watch all videos here), the NCA Tour rankings were as tight as they have ever been to kick off a season, leading many to hopeful thoughts of what might be if they can put together some strong results.
Jon Conrad was in classic form in the morning round, scoring a tournament-high 63 points in in 10 games, despite finishing 14th in the 20-count with 47. Justin Slater, also in classic form, grabbed the second spot in points with 60, and the 20s spot with 85.
Jeremy Tracey, Dwayne Campbell and Roger Vaillancourt rounded out the Top 8 and moved into Pool A for the afternoon, while Christina Campbell was in the unfortunate 9th spot, just missing Pool A by 2 points.
On the Recreational side, Derek McKie showed no signs of fault from limited preparation. Even with a late cancellation to a lawn bowling tournament, he was able to make the trip over the border and lead the Recreational side in both the morning and afternoon round-robins to earn the top seed for the playoffs. An Owen Sound triple of Jo-Ann Carter, Janet Diebel and Doreen Sulkye rounded qualifiers on the Rec A side playoffs. While Jo-Ann Carter made a charge with 15 points in the final four, Derek McKie lead the tournament from nose-to-tail, earning 18 points for the Recreation A title.
For the Recreation B pool, Sarah Beierling was the top seed after scoring 35 points through 6 games in the second round. She was followed by Thomas Sharpe at 30 points, and the final four group was completed with Jeremy Printup and Tiffany Henry at 24 and 22 points respectively. Printed and Henry would finish in a dead-tie for 3rd, both scoring 9 points and 7 20s, leaving the battle between Beierling and Sharpe, but when the dust settled, Sarah Beierling remained on top with 17 points, to Sharpe's 13, for the Recreation B title.
Back on the competitive side, Cathy Kuepfer just edged tournament organizer Dale Henry for the top playoff seed with 29 points to Henry's 27. Kuepfer used that momentum to defeat Ezra Jantzi 9-5 in the "first-to-9-points" semifinals, while Mouser overcame his lower seeding to beat Dale Henry 9-5 in the other semifinal. The finals was close, but Cathy Kuepfer eventually pulled away in the "first-to-11" final, winning by a score of 12-8.
Neither Eric Miltenburg or Fred Slater had the morning they were looking for, but both eventually found their range in the afternoon and powered through their semifinal opponents of Wayne Scott and Michael Meleg to make the finals. In an enjoyable match, both in terms of quality, strategy and conversation, Fred Slater took the final and the B title 11-7.
In the A pool, Justin Slater, Ray Beierling and Nathan Walsh comfortably made the playoffs after scoring 34, 34 and 32 points in 7 games. That left only one spot in the playoffs and a myriad of players looking for it. Dwayne Campbell and Roger Vaillancourt fell on the opportunistic side of "just-made-it" vs "just-missed-it" in the morning, but the results fell the other way as their 26 points missed the playoffs by 2 points. Clare Kuepfer was even more unfortunate, finishing with 27 points, which was not enough to pass Jon Conrad's 28 points for the final spot.
That left the semifinal matchups of Justin Slater vs Jon Conrad, and Ray Beierling vs Nathan Walsh. As previously mentioned, the last Beierling/Walsh meeting in New York saw Walsh jump out to a 7-1 lead, before losing the "first-to-11" match 11-9 as Beierling won the 2016 New York title. This "first-to-9" semifinal was much close through. Walsh earned a small edge early by tying a round against the hammer, which he was able to stretch to a 7-5 lead, before winning another two points against the hammer as Walsh won the semifinal 9-5.
The last Slater/Conrad semifinal had Justin Slater winning 6-2, 6-2 (with a perfect round) on his way to his 7th Ontario Singles Championship. In New York, Justin Slater started with the hammer, stole 2 points and earned another 2 points for a 6-0 lead. Staring down the barrel of a quick defeat, Jon Conrad got on the board with 2 points on his own hammer to make it 6-2. However, Conrad didn't stop there and ended up reeling off 10 straight points for a 10-6 victory and a birth in the finals.
This was the first ever meeting between Jon Conrad and Nathan Walsh in a tournament final, and only their 2nd head-to-head playoff matchup (the first being a semifinal victory for Walsh at the 2015 Hamilton event). This was Jon Conrad's 3rd trip to the New York finals, previously losing to Ray Beierling and Brian Cook in 2013 and 2014, while it was Nathan Walsh's first final since his triplet of runner-up finishes at the World Championships, New York and Belleville in 2016.
The match began with both players "holding-serve" for 4-4. In the 5th round, Conrad put a lot of pressure on Walsh, who missed an early open 20, but Walsh was able to recover to earn one point on his hammer with the match moving to 5-5. Conrad was better in the open 20s in the 6th round as well, but Walsh managed to get a lucky break on his final shot as his follow through attempt missed the hole but bounced off a peg straight back into the 20 hole for a 7-5 lead.
Not to be out-done, in the very next round Jon Conrad used his final shot to score a mid-range ricochet 20, which levelled the match at 7-7 after Walsh missed his last open 20 attempt. The highlight reel continued in the next round with Walsh scoring a long-range ricochet 20 on his second-to-last shot for a 9-7 lead and hammer in the next round. In the 9th round, Walsh got an early edge and maintained it for an 11-7 victory and his first singles championship title since the 2014 London event.
The loss for Conrad means he's suffering the same fate as Walsh one year ago, as both lost the World Championship and New York finals back-to-back in narrow fashion. Meanwhile, the NCA standings, while still quite early, show Nathan Walsh in first place with 134 points, and Jon Conrad in second with 126.
The next event on the 2016-2017 NCA Tour is the Belleville Crokinole Challenge coming up Saturday, September 23rd.