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Rocky Takes 16th Title at Pete Pierce’s Party with the Pros

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Rocky Carson won his 16th top-tier pro stop by defeating US OPEN finalist, Alvaro Beltran, who had defeated Carson in the semifinals less than one week ago. The weekend in St. Louis was marked by a touching tribute to long-time racquetball supporter Pete Pierce, early withdrawals from a grueling schedule, and a forfeit forced by new IRT rules.

View the Pro Draw HERE.

Finals Recap

Alvaro Beltran came out strong in the first game, amassing a 7-3 lead when Rocky went on a run to win the first game 11-8. They went point for point the second game, with Rocky taking it 11-9. Alvaro hit the ball in frustration after the second game, earning him a technical which would start him out at 0-(-1). The momentum seemingly in his favor, it looked like Rocky would roll in 3 games, but Alvaro had other plans. The technical looked to fire Alvaro up, and he came out firing to a 7-2 lead, when Rocky called a timeout and came back to 7-6, at which time Alvaro pulled away to win the game 11-8. The fourth game started out like the first and the third, with Alvaro mounting an early lead. Rocky played catchup most of the game, but when he got ahead, he stayed ahead going on to win the fourth game 11-6 for his 16th IRT tour victory.

Pete Pierce’s Party with the Pro’s brought the best players in the world to the great city of St. Louis, home of the Arc, and connecting the East to the West. There were many exciting matches in the event, like Jose Rojas’ five-game win over Chris Crowther and Jansen Allen’s five-game attempt to upset Daniel De La Rosa. However  the match that warranted the most talk was the first quarterfinal, the Rocky Carson versus Ben Croft war.

Just as Ben had the momentum swing in his favor, tied at 8-8 in the fourth, he received his fourth technical foul, which disqualified him from the match. IRT President Jason Mannino explains, “While we appreciate and respect the intensity with which IRT players perform, at the end of the day, our product has to be attractive and respected by our partners, sponsors, event directors and fans. We’d been hearing rumblings of dissatisfaction at the end of last season, so we decided to broaden the authority of our referees to help improve our product. With the hopes of improving the fan experience, the IRT and its players instituted some new rules this off season, issuing fines for technical fouls, and ultimately disqualifying a player after his fourth technical in a match.” Mannino went on to say that along with the behavioral penalties, the IRT will also be paying close attention to the time players take between rallies to improve the pace of play. 

Along with instituting new rules, Mannino noted that the IRT also added two additional referees, Matthew Majxner and Tim Landeryou to assist Charlie Pratt, who can’t possibly referee every match. “Officiating pro racquetball has to be one of the most difficult jobs in sports, as the ball moves over 180 mph, these incredible athletes have to react quickly, and the referee has to keep eyes on it all. As in any profession, the IRT continually trains our referees as they continue to improve their professional skill outside the glass in the upper-echelon of our sport.”

So what happened after the quarterfinals? All of the players who lost in the quarterfinals worked all Saturday morning in St. Louis. Chris Crowther, T. Carson, and Jansen Allen assisted IRT head referee Charlie Pratt in a junior clinic, with more than 20 local players. Everyone had a blast. At the same time, Ben Croft (by his own request) drove 30+ minutes to visit Pete Pierce at his home. This tournament is held in honor of Pete, a long-time IRT sponsor and racquetball supporter who was diagnosed with cancer several months ago. As Pete returned home from the hospital on Thursday, Ben went by to pay his respect, chat racquetball, and deliver the gift of a tournament and IRT shirt, both signed by all of the players. Ben spent a couple of hours with Pete, and then came back to the club to mingle with the tournament participants and fans.

One of the most unique aspects of pro racquetball is the community the pros enjoy with amateurs players and fans. The breakneck pace of competition held in the tight confines of an 800-square foot court can inspire intense emotions along with incredible athleticism and heart. The IRT team, community of players, tournament directors, and volunteers continually work together as we all strive to provide an exceptional entertainment experience so everyone can enjoy the sport.

Semifinals

Alvaro Beltran makes his 2nd finals appearance in less than a week, this time against Rocky Carson who he defeated in the semifinals of the US OPEN. However, the match that warranted the most talk was the first quarterfinal, when Rocky Carson defeated Ben Croft in an unusual fashion.

Alvaro Beltran d Daniel De La Rosa 11-6, 11-9, 12-10

Rocky Carson v Jose Rojas 13-11, 11-7, 11-9

Quarterfinals 

Under IRT rules implemented this season, Ben Croft was disqualified from his quarterfinal match against Rocky Carson after his 4 technicals forced him to forfeit. After tight, 5-game battles, Jose Rojas and Daniel De La Roas came out the victors over Chris Crowther and Jansen Allen respectively. Jose faces Rocky in the first semifinal. Alvaro meets Daniel in the second.

Rocky Carson versus Ben Croft 11-7, 10-8, 11-13, 8-8

Jose Rojas d Chris Crowther 9-11, 7-11, 11-7, 11-6, 11-0

Daniel De La Rosa d Jansen Allen 11-8, 2-11, 11-4, 6-11, 11-8

Alvaro Beltran v Tony Carson 11-6, 11-9, 12-10

Round of 16:

The top seeds advanced to the quarterfinal round, including US OPEN finalist, Alvaro Beltran, after taking out IRT President, Jason Mannino in 3 games 11-6, 11-8, 11-7. “It was fun,” Mannino said after stepping back into singles competition for the first time since his retirement, reporting feeling “a few years older.” 

Alvaro Beltran d Jason Mannino 11-6, 11-8, 11-7

Tony Carson d Charlie Pratt 11-3, 11-0, 11-6

Jansen Allen d Travis Woodbury 11-1, 11-3, 11-3

Daniel De La Rosa d John Scott 11-3, 11-3, 11-1

Jose Rojas d Zach Archer 11-1, 11-8, 11-1

Chris Crowther d Tim Landeryou 5-11, 11-4, 11-1, 11-3

Ben Croft d Matthew Majxner 5-11, 11-3, 11-8, 11-7

Rocky Carson d Dylan Reid 11-5, 11-1, 11-6

Pete Pierce’s Party: Who’s out & (guess who) is IN

In a bid to remain healthy well after the demanding start to the IRT season, Kane Waselenchuk pulled out of Pete Pierce’s St. Louis Party with the Pros which starts this Thursday, citing the first sign of a possible injury suffered during last week’s UnitedHealthcare US OPEN Championships where he earned his 10th title.

“I’m following advice to take care of my minor injuries to avoid a potentially major one that could threaten the rest of the season. I hate to miss a pro stop, but will be licking my wounds after this grueling start to the season. I am not only disappointed about missing the opportunity to compete in St. Louis, but also to see local fans and supporters, like Pete Pierce who I would especially like to send well wishes to. Thanks also to Shari Coplen, who always puts on a great event.”

The tournament with a new name and new weekend ushers in the fourth stop on the IRT 2014-15 Tour. Coming hot on the heels of the United Healthcare US Open Championships in Minneapolis, Pete Pierce’s Party with the Pros in St. Louis October 16-19 will provide players the opportunity to either avenge losses or continue a winning record, all while still recovering from extensive exertion created by the addition of a pro doubles bracket. 

Although Marco Rojas is out due to an alternative commitment, at least two other top pros showed the effects of the brutal schedule last weekend, with Jansen Allen forfeiting his quarterfinal round pro doubles match with Tony Carson against Chris Crowther/Alejandro Landa at 4-4 when his legs cramped so tightly he had to be helped off the court. Later he explained that he hadn’t recovered from a two-hour match against Tony Carson before he had to go back out. Eating and drinking to replace electrolytes and stay hydrated didn’t help. Jose Rojas also suffered from his legs cramping during his 3-game US OPEN quarterfinal loss to Alejandro Landa. Afterwards, Rojas dropped to the hardwood before two men assisted him to the first aide station to begin recuperative stretching. Rojas returned to the court with doubles partner Daniel De La Rosa for the pro doubles quarterfinals, falling to eventual finalists Rocky Carson/Alvaro Beltran.

Other top pros aren’t talking, but you can be sure at least some are hurting. One surprising late entry to the draw is Jason Mannino, former #1 World Champion and President of the IRT, after other withdrawals drew him back onto the court. Although he joined the pro sponsored doubles for the US OPEN charity fundraiser, the last time he faced serious competition was at the Lewis Drug Pro/Am, where he and his partner, Kane Waselenchuk, won. This is the first time he’ll put his singles game into competition since he retired to take over Tour management. With wins and losses—probably even specific games of specific matches, and maybe even as narrow a focus as certain points—still fresh in everyone’s minds, the Pete Pierce Party with the Pros tournament will give all players a clean slate, but with a clear memory of the prior weekend.

The tournament was renamed to honor a long-time and passionate racquetball player and supporter in St. Louis. “Pete Pierce been a sponsor though his company (Quality Stainless Products) since the tournament began,” explains Shari Coplen, the tournament director. “He loves to both play and watch, and when he was diagnosed with a major illness earlier this year, we decided to rename the tournament to honor his commitment through the years.”

In addition, the tournament was postponed from its usual April timeframe to October in hopes that Pete would be able to attend. “He is still working on getting his strength back, but hopes to attend even if it’s in a wheelchair,” says Coplen.

The IRT was fully supportive of the switch. According to IRT President Jason Mannino, “Pete has been a great supporter of IRT throughout the years, and we are very excited to have this event in his honor. Along with everyone at the IRT, we are hoping for a full recovery. We thank him for his many years of support!”

The event will again be hosted at the historic Jewish Community Center in St. Louis. “The J,” as it is known, has been an integral part of the St. Louis community since 1880.  The tournament will take place in the Staenberg Family Complex, a beautiful complex that has state-of-the-art facilities, including six glass-backed racquetball courts.

St. Louis and The J also have a rich history in racquetball—“I believe this was the site of the first national racquetball tournament held in the US, as well as the home court of some of the great early players,” says Coplen.

Even more exciting is the strong and growing racquetball presence in the region. St. Louis has a large high school racquetball program—probably more than 500 kids, so Coplen is hoping that many of them will come watch and/or participate in the tournament. “We’ll also have a military division, since Scott Air Force Base is nearby,” she explains.

As tournament director, she’s always happy to encourage more amateurs to participate—not only to play and watch great racquetball, but to enjoy the many opportunities offered in St. Louis for family fun. “So many of the venues are free—the zoo, the science and art museums, Grant’s Farm—it makes for a great weekend getaway.”

The biggest draw for racquetball enthusiasts, of course, is the pro players. “Personally, I’m looking forward to seeing #4 Jose Rojas play. Rojas handed world #1 Kane Waselenchuk his only loss in 2013 in the semifinals of the Ghost of Georgetown Kansas City Pro-Am tournament, and then went on to beat #2 Rocky Carson in the final. “He [Rojas] shown flashes of brilliance and has been taking lessons from Cliff Swain, so I’m anxious to see how that will change Jose’s game.”

Although Kane’s dominance has been rock solid, with the 9-time #1 player out, other familiar names have increased chances at taking the title like a few players making it through to the next level more consistently. Waselenchuk’s doubles partner, Ben Croft, who came back from a Round of 16 upset in the Krowning Moment Pro Invitational and Bobcat Open to reach the semifinals of the 15th Annual Ghost of Georgetown KC Championships, fell to Rocky Carson in US OPEN Quarterfinals. Consistent finalist, Rocky Carson, along with US OPEN finalist, Alvaro Beltran, plus other hungry pros like Charlie Pratt, Jansen Allen, Daniel De La Rosa, and Jose Rojas consistently battle each other for the opportunity to compete for the title. 

What remains to be seen is who can take on all comers in the line of successive tournaments. With the extra incentive of Kane’s absence from the Party with the Pros tournament, everyone else continues to take home the championship trophy.