World Billiard Team Upsets Team Philippines
The World Team came back from behind the final day of the Quezon City Invasion against the awesome Filipino home team in a thrilling 9-8 finale fit for the history books. The event took place at the Tri Noma Mall and was also titled “The Grand Villar Showdown” in honor of host sponsor Senator Manny Villar who has become a staunch supporter of billiards in the Philippines. Premier management groups Bugsy Promotions, Puyat Sports, and Negros Stables helped orgainze the event under the sanctioning of the BMPAP. The Quezon Invasion paid out $60,000 in prize money between the two teams for 1st and 2nd place. The first team to win nine matches would be crowned champions in this race to seven games per match with alternating breaks.
A jam packed crowd of 1500 spectators sat, stood, and wiggled their way to get a glimpse of the international superstars of the game. The star studded Filipino team consisted of Francisco Bustamante, Ronnie Alcano, Alex Pagulayan, Warren Kiamco, Lee Van Corteza, Roberto Gomez, Dennis Orcullo, and legendary Captain Efren Reyes. The diverse challengers included Captain Rodney Morris (USA), Charlie Williams (USA), Mika Immonen (FIN), Thorsten Hohmann (GER), Wu CHia Ching (TPE), Yang Ching SHun(TPE), Raj Hundal(IND),and Fu Jianbo(CHN). The three day event showed blood,sweat,and guts from both sides in a see saw battle of will and heart.
“It’s hard to look at their roster of players and not feel a little awed. I think this is the greatest pool team ever assembled in history.” commented Charlie Williams on the who’s who of packed pool studs that Team Philippines had to offer.
The first day of the event had The World Team leading in three unanswered wins with the 4-on-4 team of Hohmann, Morris, Wu, and Immonen winning 7-5. Then Yang battled Alcano for a 7-5 win. Next the dynamic duo of Hundal and Williams put down Bustamante and Kiamco 7-4. The final match looked good as Pagulayan raced to a 4-0 lead, but that quickly diminished as Fu made two 9-ball golden breaks. Ironically when the referee racked for Pagulayan, the 9-ball never moved. Fu once more for the third time made the 9-ball on the snap to tie the match at 6-6. Finally Philippines got on the board with Pagulayan scoring a 7-6 escaper against Fu after making a tricky 6-ball and coming 2 rails and clipping the 9-ball for perfect shape on the 7-ball for the out. The first day went to the World Team 3-1 with the foreign stars in good spirits. Maybe too good.
“I was thinking that we might actually have a chance at dominating the event like 9-1 or 9-2 the way the momentum was swinging. But then you have to stop and remind yourself this was no ordinary team you’re up against,” said Morris who captained the World Team.
The second day started with Immonen leading the way in a 7-5 win over Orcullo. Orcullo started off punishing Immonen after a few mistakes by the Finn, but Immonen bounced back from a 4-1 deficit and won the match. The next match was won by The Philippines and the see saw would begin. Morris was disgusted after his loss with teammate Hohmann after many errors and became more aggravated when teamamate Immonen shared additional criticisms. “Look man, I dogged it. Happens ,ok?” The two teammates quickly bonded back before the next match to root their teammates on, but the tension was definitely building as the scores were getting tighter. On the Filipino side, the normally subdued and quiet Filipino wizards were getting more and more excited visibly with cheering and laughter rising with every win.
“The first day the guys (Team Philippines) didn’t really get into it and wasn’t even sitting behind the players playing unlike the World Team. Today they came back and supported each other and now we all see the impact of them coming together as a team.” said Ish Capparas, Director of Puyat Sports.
Then Philippines came back again in the 4-on-4 and the pressure on the World Team was mounting. Wu then relieved some stress with a 7-1 pounding of Gomez including two 9-ball breaks off his powerful snap. With the score 5-3 in favor of Team World, Williams vs Van Corteza would decide if Team World would extend their lead to 3 matches going into the final day or if Philippines would close within one. Van Corteza cruised to a 5-0 lead without giving Williams any opportunities. Williams fought back to 6-4, but missed an easy 6-ball to make it 6-5 and have the break. Phillipines would gain a match back for the final day 5-4.
“Sorry guys. I dogged it.” said Williams to his teammates. “When you make mistakes in team events, it’s much worse cause you feel you let other people down that are counting on you.” explained Williams.
The final day had everything a Hollywood pool script would want. The day started off bad it seemed for Team World as Hohmann dropped the first three games and found himself a 4-1 loser to Kiamco. And then the wheels came off as Kiamco missed an easy 9-ball. Incredibly, Kiamco missed the 9ball again the next game, and then hung up the 8-ball the next. Hohmann earned a win on his own in between and then Kiamco created gasps in the throats of hundreds of pinoy watchers as he missed the 9-ball for the third time. Hohmann ended his misery with a break and run for the 7-4 win.
“The table is playing faster than I expected and I missed position on every shot in that match.” said the 2006 World Straight Pool Champion increduously. “But I’m happy I got the win for the team.” World Team 6 to Philippines Team 4.
Next the two captains would face off as Efren Reyes and Rodney Morris took to the table. “c’mon Rocket, US Open finals!” his teammates whispered loudly in his ear referring to Morris’s breakthrough win over Reyes at the US Open in the 90’s. Morris seemed to hear well as he zoomed to a 4-0 lead. Then Morris made an error and let Reyes back in for a win. Then what happened to Kiamco seemed to curse Morris as he made unforced error after unforced error and found himself a victim to the Magician’s seven unanswered games in a row for a 7-4 loss. Philippines 5 to World Team 6.
“When Rocket got to four games, I thought he was going to run over him. But Rocket has been sick all week and he’s trying to pump himslf and the team for the final day. I know he’s tired.” said Hundal.
Next Hundal took on his own personal idol, Bustamante. The match was exciting with back and forth leads by both with a culminating 6-6 finale. Hundal played a great safe on Bustamante, but then he came with an amazing escape kicking two rails and making the ball. Seemingly an easy out, Bustamante misread the speed and hooked himself. With time running out on the shot clok and only five seconds to spare, Bustamante kicked again , this time one rail and again making the ball to the screams of the thousand fans. He then ran over and kissed Hundal on the face before laughing and running away to make the final two shots for the win. The Filipinos had officially came back to tie at 6-6.
“We all need to pull Yang though this match. This is big,” said Immonen walking over to support the Taiwanese pool legend.
Gomez had fell to Taiwan’s Wu the day before, and today the buffed Pinoy known as Superman” showed why he was chosen for the team as he commanded the lead from start to end and defeated Yang 7-3. His teammates roared with the crowd with approval and the Philippines had now taken the lead for the first time in the event 7-6. The momentum had swinged three matches in a row in their favor, and the World Team was feeling it.
The next match was 4-on-4 with World Team’s heavy guns Immonen, Wu, Yang, and Hundal taking on Pagulayan, Bustamante, Gomez and Orcullo. The World Team played the best match of the event without making one error or missed shot throughout. Williams sat and watched expressionlessly and seemingly tired as he watched his teammates play a perfect set and still lose 7-6 as the Philippines team maintained their composure for a break and run at hill hill.
The Philippines were now on the hill 8-6 and seemingly the overall victory. The World Team sat quiet with four consecutive losses, and need to win three in a row against the now seemingly invincible titans of pool. Williams was scheduled next to take on the heavy burden of having to turn the tide and stop the momentum of the Philippines.
Williams prepares to unleash the Dragon
Orcullo Hunting for a break and run
Williams seemed to wake up with a steely look of determination and focus as he took on Orcullo. Orcullo would have the honor of making the winning 9-ball to end the event, with the cushion of two more chances just in case he didn’t. The first game looked good as Orcullo won the lag and played a great safe off the break. Williams kicked and played safe but Orcullo came with a great 2 rail kick. williams was left an opening and ran out and from there broke and ran and then took advantage of a scratch from Orcullo’s kickshot to lead 3-0. His teamates gave him fists of congratulations for each win , as had been customary the entire event. But Orcullo could not be counted out yet as he took advanctage of a Williams scratch to run out and then break and run and a missed shot by Williams made the score 3-3. Williams fought for a shot in a saftey battle to lead again at 4-3 and then broke and ran again for a 5-3 lead. Orcullo again broke and ran back and won the next to tie at 5-5. Williams took advantage of another safety battle to reach the hill and both players went into another dog fight safety battle with Williams on the hill 6-5. The safety battle went in favor of Orcullo as he made a bankshot to give himself a long shot on the five ball with the cueball near frozen off the backrail. If he makes it, the score would go 6-6 with his break. Orcullo missed and left Williams an open three balls.
Williams called to his teammates, “Do I have an extension?” They all shook their heads “no” for an answer in which Williams took his time anyway and very carefully shot each one for the victory as he pumped his arm and fist and high fived his team. World Team 7 to Philippines 8.
“Charlie looked at me before this match and said get the guys ready for the next match because I’m going to beat him. ” said Hundal. “And I believed him.”
Williams was up again back to back , this time with the help of his teammates in the 4-on-4 with Morris, Fu, and Hohmann. They faced Alcano, Reyes, Van Corteza, and Kiamco. The World Team found themselves in dire straits as Reyes led his team to a 5-2 lead that seemed insurmountable in the alternate break format, with both teams making the corner ball near 95% of the time. Williams faced a tricky 7-ball which he had to run into the 9-ball next andleft Morris a thin cut or bank option. “I’m banking it “said Morris confidently and then he smoothly sliced the razor thin 9-ball down the rail to make the score 5-3. Williams and his team laughed at his trick as Morris relieved some tension for the team. Next it was Hohmann’s turn to be the hero as Fu overran position and left him a backwards cut shot on the 9-ball with the cueball frozen to the side rail. Hohmann took his time and cut the 9-ball blindly into the pocket perfectly and avoided the side scratch. Score was now 5-4. The Phillipines team was still in command though as they broke and ran the next to reach the hill 6-4. World Team would need to run out and hope for another error from the Philippines to have a chance. Williams was once again called upon as Morris came short on position on the 6-ball and Williams was left a thin cut shot and also had to spin the cueball to reach up table for position. He hit it perfectly and left Fu straight in and the score stood at 6-5. Could the World Team come back? Reyes the next game was left an open out on his turn and picked himself to shoot a routine position shot off the siderail. The table was open and it looked over. Unbelieveably to both teams and thousands of Filipinos, Reyes scratched in the side pocket.
“Wow, you never, ever see him do that.” murmurred several members of the World Team.
The World Team carefull ran the rack to tie the score at 6-6, and now the fever of hope was running rampant among everyone. Steel faced Taiwanese Yang and Wu could be seen cheering, smiling, and laughing along with their western counterparts. The World Team made a ball on the break but was left with no shot on the one ball save for a push or a kickshot as the oneball was frozen to the 9-ball. “Charlie, you shoot. Kick the 9-ball in, hit it hard!” Williams lined up the kickshot for the sidepocket, and swung hard sending the 9-ball flying two rails but missing the pocket. Fortunaetly, the 1-ball was not left open, and the World Team laughed and sighed with relief. Fortune smiled on the World Team again when Fu missed a tough 3ball and left Kiamco safe. Kiamco kicked 2rails, hit the3ball but left Williams half a pocket. Morris looked and said “just shoot it in. You got plenty of pocket.” Williams looked at the shot and wide eyed ‘really?”. Williams trusted Morris and shot the 3-ball in, falling to his knees as the 3-ball bypssed the impeding 8-ball and fell in. The team proceeded to run out and take the event to the final match to the cheers of the entire World Team!
The final match was historic. The Philippines again took the early lead at 2-0, and then the World team came back to lead 3-2. Team Philippines this time brought Pagulayan, Bustamante, Kiamco, and Gomez. The World team 4-on-4 consisted of Morris, Wu, Hundal, and Williams once more. The World Team strategy was simple; position shots for Morris, tough shots for williams, finesse shots for Hundal, and any super tough, hard shots that no one wanted would goto Wu. The order could be maniplulated each game. The strategy worked like a charm. Wu was called upon time and time again for every major difficult shot, and Wu delivered each time. Soon the whole crowd and team laughed as hard shots came up and as Williams, Hundal and Morris would size the shot up, simultaneously they would all yell out, “Wu!” .
“Arghhhhh!” Pagulayan would scream at the top of his lungs with each victorious game.
At 6-5 favor of the World team, Philippines had broken dry and Wu jumped up and grabbed his cue while giggling. The order was tall this time though as the World Team faced a table length 1-ball with the cueball close over another ball. It was a jacked up shot that would require draw, power, and accuracy. “Wu!” was shouted out once again.
“I know it’s alot to ask for, but please just make one more tough shot!” admitted Williams later talking silently to himself.
Wu fired in the 1-ball at warp speed and split the pocket without touching a rail and left the team with an open table. Morris left Wu a tough 7-ball, a thin cut down the end rail while partially jacked up. Wu, again, fired in the 7-ball and the cueball bounced 2 rails for a long position on the 8-ball for Hundal. Hundal faced a tabkle length straigh in 8-ball with the cueball only two inches off the backend rail. He fired in the 8-ball and made it with a loud shout of “Yeah!” from him and his teamamtes. Williams faced a straight in 9-ball, but the cueball was only 1 inch off the side rail. He sized up both opitons of rolling the ball level cue or jacking up and firing it in.
“No extension Charlie” his teamates called out to remind him.
Williams reasserted himself on the shot and opted for the jacked up version. After a few stroked, he fired the 9-ball into the heart of the pocket and dropped to his knee with a yell and fist pump. His teammates all rushed in with Immonen leaping over the railing and hugs and yells were abundant. Team World had beaten the odds and came back against the World’s strongest pool country.
Both teams embraced and shook hands sincerely. It had been one hell of a battle over the three days.
“You guys played good. You deserve it.” said a sincere Bustamante. Alcano smiled warmly and shook hands with all the players.
“They have more experience playing team events, and that helped them. They were the better team at the end.” admitted Pagulayan.
“We scraped and clawed our way to the end. I felt like we were smashed against a high wall and hanging on with fingernails. I never played so hard in my life. But we fought and stayed positive as a team and never gave up. Everyone contributed, without exception. And Wu, well….he’s absolutely incredible. He came through for us time and time again with every tough shot. That kid is the real deal. ” said Williams. “This is one of the greatest events I have ever played in my life.”
“The atmosphere here is electrifying! This is how I wish all the events we play in was.” said Hundal.
A second installment of this event is already in the works for 2009. Sponsor and network interest was high after the massive media and audience attention.
“We will definitely do this event next year. We’re really happy with the success of the event.” said Bugsy Promotions Owner and BMPAP Co-Founder Perry Mariano.
“I’m really proud of our team. We played smart and never took anything for granted.” said Captain Morris.”Charlie was our anchor today on and off the table with his spirit. Wu was awesome, that kid is so talented. Raj, Mika and Thorsten all made critical shots. The Taiwanese and Chinese, they really bonded with us despite the language barrier. The Philippines Team, what can you say but that they are the best. But today we showed the world that we have heart, too.”
The Philippines vs The World aired live on Solar Sports.
All photos courtesy of Emille BiBoy Soriano