by Tom Fryer
TJ Back received a nice early Christmas present at bank shot Billiards in downtown Louisville, KY, over the December 13-14 2008 weekend. Promoter Truman Hogue was assigned the task of filling a 64-player field for a $40-entry, $500-added 9-ball banks tournament on bank shot’s early style Diamond 9-footers. As always, Hogue filled the field with players from four states days before the first rack was broken. Although no elite players were invited, the charts were filled with dangerous match-ups, and the upsets started early.
In fact, only one of the winners’ side semifinals would be considered pretournament favorites. In that round, defending champion Bryan Roberts drew TJ Back of Middletown, OH. It was Back who then established himself as the man to beat with a 3-0 win featuring a barrage of warp speed straight back banks. In the other semifinals, 65-year-old Jerry Watts of Shelbyville, KY, lamented his loss to 60-year-old Greg Sullivan, saying that Sullivan beat Watts at his own game in the 3-0 verdict.
The one-loss side was heating up as Duke Laha of Elizabethtown, KY, rallied from a 2-0 deficit to eliminate the dangerous Mike Brown, also from Middletown, OH. At the same time, Louisville’s enigmatic superstar Billy Peay was making a rare local appearance and stopped local young gun Johnny Rhingo at 3-1. Watts’ first trip to the left side matched him with last year’s runner-up, Laha. Laha prevailed by a 3-1 count in a tightly contested match that may have been won by a tough three-ball run-out when down 4-2 in the first rack.
Meanwhile, Roberts and Peay staged an excellent match that went to 2-2 in sets and 3-3 in balls before Roberts advanced. This brought about a rematch of last year’s final, but this time it was third place at stake. Another intense battle between Laha and Roberts went to the fifth set before Roberts emerged by making two three-rail banks, one to the corner and the winner to the side.
The winners’ final was a classic boxer versus puncher scenario. Sullivan was punched out primarily by Back’s break-velocity straight-backs by a count of 3-1. That left Sullivan and Roberts to fight it out to be in the true double-elimination finals. Roberts led 4-2 in two racks, but the wily Sullivan advanced by a 3-0 count.
The finals were set with Sullivan, who won a world 8-ball championship the year his opponent in this year’s event was born. This time Sullivan took it to the hill at 2-2 and 2-2 in the fifth game before Back uncorked three more blink-and-you-miss-‘em straight-backs for the win. Not only did Back win the $1,200 first place and a free entry into the 9-ball banks at the 2009 Derby City Classic, he looked like he was having fun doing it.