It began on Thursday, May 30 with a preliminary tournament made up of 30 lower-ranked players from the Women’s Professional Billiards Association (WPBA) and ended on Sunday night, June 2 with the crowning of defending champion Brittany Bryant, who had to come from the loss side (five matches) to meet Kyoko Sone in the finals of the WPBA’s Signature Tour Stop, the Blue-Emu Southern Open. The $10,000-added event drew a total of 62 entrants, including Janet Atwell to her venue, Borderline Billiards in Bristol, TN.
The event was not exactly a proverbial ‘walk in the park’ for the WPBA’s #4-ranked player. Bryant won the event, having won less than 60% of the games she played in it (70-49; 58.8%). The seven opponents she faced in races-to-8 chalked up an average of five racks against her. She got by Kelly Cavanaugh, Jessica Barnes and Mary Rakin by an aggregate score of 24-7, but against her other four race-to-8 opponents (LoreeJon Hasson, Allison Fisher, Melissa Little & Jennifer Baretta) she chalked up an aggregate of 32-26, or 55%. Not surprising necessarily, given the upgrade in the competition over those four matches. And then, of course, there was the third-round, 4-8 loss to Gail Eaton, which really did a job on the ‘numbers.’ Without that loss, Bryant would have finished with an overall game-winning average of just over 60% (62.8), rather than less.
“I go to every event to win it,” said Bryant, “but I didn’t go with any expectations this year. “There were actually a few more players who were higher up (in rankings) than there were last year when I won it.”
The ‘First Stage’ double elimination bracket yielded 16 players who advanced to the Final Stage; eight from the winners’ side and eight from the loss side of that bracket. Among those who emerged from that bracket was runner-up Kyoko Sone, who lost her opening round match, double hill to Mary Rakin. Rakin advanced to defeat Kelly Isaac 7-5 and become one of the eight winners’ side competitors to advance to the Final Stage. Sone moved to the loss side, where she defeated Toni Esteves and Janet Ritcey, both 7-2, to become one of the eight loss-side competitors to advance to the final stage.
The other winners’ side competitors to advance to the Final Stage were Jennifer Berzinski, Jessica Human, Hiroko Makiyama, Ashley Burrows, Stephanie Mitchell, Kia Sidbury and Billie Billings. The other loss-side competitors to advance were Autumn Duncan, Kelly Isaac, Susan Wilbur, Julie Cooper, Angela Janic, Stephanie Goens, and Catherine Tschumper.
Moving into the Final Stage, beginning on Friday, May 31, the 16 arrivals from the preliminary bracket faced 16 players more or less in the middle of the WPBA rankings (approximately #17-#32). The winners in this opening round of Final Stage play advanced to meet the WPBA’s top 16 players, who had been awarded opening round byes.
Of the WPBA’s top 16 players who waited until Friday evening to begin competing, only three failed to advance on the winners’ side past their opening match; Jessica Barnes (WPBA-ranked #16) was defeated 8-2 by Kyoko Sone, Gerda Gregerson (#8) lost to Mary Rakin 8-6 and Emily Duddy (#10) joined them on the loss side following an 8-3 defeat at the hands of Naomi Williams. Among the more notable matches in this round of play, and the only one to go double hill was the battle between Allison Fisher and Russian teenager Kristina Tkach, who, a week earlier, had been the only female to compete in the Open/Pro event of the 9th Annual George “Ginky” Sansouci Memorial in New York City (she finished in the tie for 5th place). She was defeated by Fisher here and went on to win two loss-side matches before being eliminated by Line Kjorsvik.
A final round on Friday night brought the field down to the winners’ side quarterfinals. Kyoko Sone had sent Line Kjorsvik to the loss side and on Saturday night, faced Mary Rakin, who, after her victory over Gregerson, had sent hostess and WPBA-ranked #9 Janet Atwell over. Brittany Bryant, who’d defeated Loree Jon Hasson was to meet up with Gail Eaton, who’d gotten by Melissa Little. Fisher followed up her win over Tkach with a victory over Jia Li and on Saturday night, faced Naomi Williams, who had just survived a double hill battle against Helena Thornfeldt. The last of the winners’ side quarterfinals pitted Jennifer Baretta against Monica Webb.
These matches elicited the winners’ side semifinals, which began immediately afterwards. Sone, who’d downed Rakin 8-5 met Eaton, who’d sent Bryant to the loss side 8-4, as Fisher, who’d defeated Williams 8-3 met Baretta, who’d gotten by Webb 8-5.
“I have to give Gail so much credit,” said Bryant of her only loss in the tournament. “I have never seen her play that well. I was down 7-1, took a break, composed myself and got it to 7-4.”
“I wasn’t disappointed,” she added. “I didn’t play poorly and Gail took control when she needed to.”
Sone advanced to the hot seat match 8-3 over Eaton. Fisher and Baretta, almost predictably, fought to double hill before Baretta prevailed to join Sone in the hot seat match. Sone downed Baretta 8-4 to claim the hot seat and waited on what turned out to be Bryant’s fateful return.
Meanwhile, back at the loss-side ranch, Bryant and Melissa Little were laying in wait for Fisher and Eaton, respectively. Bryant had defeated Jessica Barnes 8-2 and Mary Rakin 8-3 to draw Fisher. Little had won four loss-side matches, including a double hill win over Naomi Williams and an 8-4 victory over Kjorsvik to draw Eaton. Little made it five in a row with an 8-5 win over Eaton and advanced to the quarterfinals. Bryant joined her after surviving a double hill fight against Fisher.
“I expected to go back and forth with Allison,” she said. “It was actually the first time I had ever beaten her. I ended up breaking and running at double hill to win it.”
Bryant followed her double hill win over Fisher with a double hill win over Little in the quarterfinals and for the second time, she finished with a break and run. In the semifinals, Jennifer Baretta came within a game of giving Bryant a third straight, double hill challenge, but Bryant edged out in front at the end to win it 8-6.
“I was up 6-2 in that match and she came back (to almost tie it),” Bryant said. “And then, there was a big game swinger, when she could have tied it at 6-6, but I won to go up 7-5. She won a game and I won the next game to win the match.”
The finals between defending champion Bryant and Sone came within a game of going double hill, as well, but for the second time in a row, Bryant edged out in front at the end to win it 10-8 and claim the 2019 Blu-Emu Southern Open.
“We didn’t make a lot of mistakes,” said Bryant of the final match. “She broke and ran the opening game and we had a few safety battles. I was up 6-2 and she started to make a comeback.”
As with the semifinal match against Baretta, Sone had the opportunity to tie things up at 6-6.
“She missed a key 8-ball to tie it up (at 6-6),” she said, “so it was 7-5 and I won the next three.”
WPBA representatives thanked Janet Atwell and her Borderline Billiards staff for hosting the event, as well as sponsors Simonis Cloth, Aramith, Diamond Billiard Products and Outsville.com. The next WPBA event, scheduled for August 8-11, will be a $10,000-added Signature Event, to be held in Fairfield, IL. Further details will be available soon. Bryant said that she plans to be in attendance.