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U.S. Open: 32 and Two to Go
Oct 20, 2011, 11:23 PM

CHESAPEAKE, Va. -- Thursday at the U.S. Open 9-Ball Championship is the day that separates the contenders with the pretending hopefuls. And this time around, the eliminations were plentiful, leaving just 32 players in pursuit of the most prestigious title awarded on American soil.

Of the eight remaining players on the unbeaten side of the 251-player bracket, just two have previously conquered the Chesapeake field and those two will square off on Friday afternoon. Johnny Archer, relatively unchallenged through his first five matches, will face reigning champion Darren Appleton.

In the other winners-side sets, World 9-Ball champ Yukio Akagariyama matches up with Shawn Putnam, who edged a hard-charging Earl Strickland, 11-8; reigning World 10-Ball king Huidji See will face Alex Pagulayan; and Japan's Kenichi Uchigaki will have to handle a hot-shooting Larry Nevel.

While the winners side is packed full of usual suspects, a few dark horses are lurking on the one-loss side. Twenty-four players are still in the hunt, though they will have to string a number of victories together to challenge for the 36th U.S. Open title.

Always a crowd favorite, Earl Strickland complete with his 70-inch, 29-ounce cue will face the winner of the Oscar Dominguez-Jayson Shaw match. And the Pearl isn't the only elder statesman still alive. Nick Varner, winner of back-to-back titles 20 years ago, will face Charlie Williams on the one-loss side.

As far as Cinderella's slipper goes, longtime instructor Stan Shuffett looks to be in line for the glass slipper. Among the most highly respected teachers of the game, Shuffett sprinted through the unbeaten side of the bracket before falling to Alex Pagulayan, 11-4. He responded with a resounding 11-1 victory over Donny Mills, which sets the stage for a set with England's Daryl Peach on Friday.

The U.S. Open will continue through Saturday night. For updated brackets, visit www.azbilliards.com. BD will be on-site when the champion is crowned on Saturday night, so be sure to check back.