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U.S. Open down to final four: Van Boening, Mekari, Souquet and Alcano
Oct 20, 2007, 4:58 AM

CHESAPEAKE, Va. – Red-hot American Shane Van Boening will meet the surprising Tomoko Mekari in the hot-seat match of the U.S. Open 9-Ball Championship on Saturday afternoon, with Ralf Souquet and Ronnie Alcano hoping to emerge from the losers’ bracket to take the $50,000 top prize.

The final four finally emerged at 4:30 a.m. Saturday as Alcano beat Louie Ulrich, 11-3, to stay alive, and Souquet beat Ramil Gallego, 11-9, to earn another shot at the title.

Van Boening, 24, dominated his winners’ bracket semifinal against reigning world 9-ball champion Ronnie Alcano, showing no fear in attempting sporty combinations and precise banks. The lanky shooter from Sioux Falls, S.D., took a 8-3 lead on the strength of his smooth stroke and a crafty cut break that reliably sank balls on the otherwise stingy Diamond 9-footer.

The reserved and measured Van Boening showed no sign of the sudden case of nerves that made his 11-8 victory over Corey Deuel in the previous round unnecessarily close. After a cooled-off Alcano botched a 3 ball at 9-4, Van Boening mopped up the table and then broke and ran out to take the match, 11-4. The packed arena gave the young gun a standing ovation for a virtually flawless performance.

“I felt very confident in myself. Very calm, and that is what it’s all about,” Van Boening said.

The performance was in line with Van Boening’s rocket-like ascendancy this year to the top of the American talent pool. After finishing second to Dennis Orcollo at the EnjoyPool.com 9-Ball Championships in May, he won the World 10-Ball Championships later in the month – his first major title.

A U.S. Open title would virtually guarantee Van Boening a spot on America’s Mosconi Cup team in December – and make him a prime candidate for Player of the Year. Although cool in his match against Alcano, Van Boening couldn’t hide his glee afterwards.

“I’m just trying my best; I can’t wait until tomorrow,” he said.

Former world 9-ball champ Ralf Souquet had a tougher time with Mekari, a 38-year-old straight-pool specialist from Tokyo, Japan. After sprinting to a 3-0 lead, Souquet couldn’t keep any distance between him and his similarly deliberate opponent, who eventually knotted their back-and-forth match at 7-7.

At 8-8, Souquet broke dry, ceding control of the table to Mekari for the rest of the match. The current Japanese straight-pool champion and 10th ranked 9-baller showed superlative touch, weaving in and out of clusters and splitting the pockets on the longest of cut shots.

“That was a good game for me,” Mekari said through a translator. “I played the way I was supposed to play.”

Immediately after the match, Mekari fielded cell phone text messages from a half dozen Japanese pro players sending congratulations. His performance so far has surpassed his previous high finish at the U.S. Open, which he guesstimated in the top 32.

“The only thing I’m upset about is that I can’t have a beer right now,” said Mekari, who makes a practice of not drinking during tournaments.