In a day filled with 20s you'd expect Justin Slater to be at the top of the pile (in both points and 20s), but it was noted defensive expert, Jon Conrad, who would be right there with Slater at the end of the day fighting for the Hamilton title.
45 competitors piled into the sixth stop on the 2017-2018 NCA Tour from St. Jacobs, Waterloo, Grimsby, London, Toronto, New York, Michigan and Penetanguishene.
The field was split into 4 groups for the morning round robin, where high 20 counts were the story, and just a small indication of what was to come later. Justin Slater scored the highest in points with 72 out of a possible 80, while Ray Beierling racked up the highest 20 count at 137 through 11 games (which normalizes to 125 in 10 games). In the morning, a total of 9 players surpassed the 100 20s marker.
Both Slater and Beierling topped their groups and would be joined in the afternoon A pool by the other top 3 finishers of each group: Nathan Walsh, Jason Beierling, Jon Conrad, Andrew Hutchinson, Connor Reinman, Roger Vaillancourt, Eric Miltenburg and Nolan Tracey. Fred Slater earned the final qualification spot from Group B with 57 points to beat out Michael Meleg, who had 53 points, while Peter Carter grabbed the final spot from Group C with 52 points, narrowly finishing ahead of Roy Campbell at 51.
There were even smaller gaps separating the afternoon breakdown into Pool B and C as Andrew Korchok and Andrew Van Andel both scored 42 points to grab the final spots in Pool B, just ahead of Cathy Kuepfer and Howard Martin who both had 41 points and would have to settle for a spot in Pool C.
Brian Henry hit his stride in the afternoon and grabbed the high score in Pool D with 56 points. He was followed by Jacob Westerhof at 51 points and Janet Diebel at 45 points. The very last semifinal spot went to Doreen Sulkye who's 44 points was just enough to surpass Braden Van Andel and Lorne Argent both at 42 points. In the semifinals, Henry continued his strong form and won the best 2-out-of-3 match 6-0, 6-2 over Sulkye. The Diebel/Westerhof semifinal went the full 3 games with Diebel overcoming a first game loss to win 2-6, 5-1, 6-0. In the Pool D final, Diebel once again started slow, but eventually overcame a 4 point deficit in the first game to defeat Henry 6-4, 6-2 for the title.
In Pool C, Cathy Kuepfer and Al Carter eased into the semifinals with 50 and 52 respectively. Meanwhile Bev Vaillancourt, Howard Martin and Jo-Ann Carter were in a dead heat for the other two playoff spots, but it was Vaillancourt and Martin coming out ahead with 46 points each to 44. In the playoffs, Al Carter defended his number one seed with a 5-1, 6-2 win over Vaillancourt, while Kuepfer rolled a close game one victory to a spot in the finals with a 6-4, 6-2 win over Martin. The finals between Al Carter and Cathy Kuepfer was incredibly close and required the full use of the Wimbledon Rule with Carter taking game one 6-4, Kuepfer taking game two 6-0, and then the third game finishing tied at 4 points each, sending the match to extra rounds. They alternated wins through the first set until Carter earned the decisive tie for a 5-3 victory in extra rounds, and the Pool C title.
Similar to Pool C, the first two playoff spots in Pool B were won with a comfortable margin by Roy Campbell (57 points) and Derek McKie (52 points). Bill Geris finished 3rd with 45 points ahead of a 3-way tie at 44 points between Clare Kuepfer, Reid Tracey and Michael Meleg. Kuepfer had the edge on tiebreakers due to his 6-2 victories over Tracey and Meleg in the round robin. Both semifinals were tense as they went to the 3rd game. McKie won over Geris 5-3, 2-6, 6-2 and Campbell just barely beat out Kuepfer 3-5, 6-4, 8-4, after requiring a couple extra rounds to be played to break the tie. However, the excitement of the semifinals left the finals to be a bit anticlimactic as Roy Campbell overpowered Derek McKie in two straight games for the Pool B title.
In Pool A, the high 20 scores of the morning left a few thinking about record possibilities on the famously 20-friendly boards of the Hamilton tournament. For a long time the 20s record through 10 games of play was held by Jarmo Puiras, with 108 scored at the 2004 World Championships, before Wilfred Smith increased the mark to 109 at the PEI provincials. But when Justin Slater racked up 142 20s at the 2012 World Championship, the flood-gates were open for high 20 scores, but never had the mark been beat. The best attempts came from Nathan Walsh during the 2013 Ontario Singles Championship when 138 20s were scored in 10 games, and Ray Beierling at the 2014 World Championships with 131 20s. But with the perfect mixture of boards and high quality competition, people were right to think some records could be set, and they got just that.
Justin Slater took the top seed with 62 points and 160 20s through 11 games, which averages out to 145 20s in 10 games, and enough to surpass his old record. Ray Beierling finished second with 58 points and 152 20s (averaging to 138 20s in 10 games). 8 of the 12 competitors in Pool A scored 120 or more 20s in 11 games, enough to average more than the 109 20s mark that previously stood as a high several years ago. Not surprisingly, there was also several perfect rounds of 8 20s scored with Justin Slater scoring two of them, Ray Beierling, Andrew Hutchison, Jason Beierling, Nathan Walsh, Connor Reinman and Fred Slater each earning another.
Amidst the flurry of 20s (some would say too many) Jon Conrad scored 52 points for the 3rd seed, and the Andrew Hutchinson scored 50 for 4th. Jason Beierling was just on the outside with 48 points for 5th.
The Slater/Hutchinson match saw both players gunning for their first win of the NCA Tour, and the first time the two had met in a singles playoff match. Hutchinson earned the early edge with a 5-3 win in game one and had Slater on the ropes with a 3-1 lead in game two. But then Slater caught fire and won 5 straight rounds to win the match 3-5, 5-3, 6-0.
Jon Conrad and Ray Beierling met for a rematch of the Owen Sound final they played two months ago. Ray Beierling won game one 6-4, but just like the other semifinal, Conrad responded well to the early loss and won the next two games 6-2 to make the final.
The finals began with both players looking confident and playing solidly as they traded hammers for a score of 2-2. The advantage swung to Conrad when Slater's first shot of the third round went threw the house, and Jon Conrad was able to use multiple "Conrads" to maintain the edge. But that turned quickly when a takeout went awry for Conrad, leaving a Slater disc on the board and a Conrad disc sitting for a hangar. Slater took the opportunity to score the 20 and win his hammer round for a 4-2 lead. In the fourth round, Slater had a 20 lead multiple times, and multiple times Conrad was able to score a ricochet 20, but each time Slater made his open 20 shot, and would seal game one 6-2.
Game two saw a few more errors from both sides and slowly the two had drawn to a 4-4 tie and a need to play a 5th round tiebreaker for the second game. Conrad had the hammer and a chance once Slater missed an open 20, but Conrad's takeout caused him to lose his shooter giving Slater a chance to put the match away, but he subsequently missed another open 20 allowing Conrad some hope. However, Conrad could not make a touch-20 and instead left a hangar for Slater, who made the shot that was the definitive edge, as he won the match and the Hamilton title 6-2, 6-4.
With the win, Justin Slater keeps his hopes of the 2017-2018 NCA Tour title alive. He, along with Jon Conrad, Ray Beierling and Connor Reinman can surpass Nathan Walsh with victories in both the London and St. Jacobs events.
Speaking of which, the next NCA Tour stop will be the 2018 Forest City Flickers Crokinole Tournament in London, on Saturday March 24th.