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« Morning Coffee: 2011 Solomon Trophy Preview Edition | Main | European Team Championship Update »
Sunday
Jun262011

Hughes Wins 2011 Delaware Invitational

Championship Finalists / Click for full gallery / Photo by John WarlickHeld May 26-29 | Wilmington Country Club | Photo Gallery

By Ben Rothman

Another beautiful weekend in Wilmington, Delaware, greeted the twenty-four participants in this year's Delaware Invitational. Tom and Joan Hughes were kind enough to open up their home for the welcoming reception again this year and provide shelter from the heavy heat that weighed down the practice day. Barry Gibson, the tournament co-host, welcomed a few select players to compete at the DuPont Country Club to alleviate the double banking concerns of tournament Director, Ben Rothman. The heat held back during the actual competition but the players left it all on the court. Handicaps were lower than last year, players were better and there were several games that went to the peg compared to zero last year.

The field was split into three flights of singles and two flights of doubles with assigned partners. While Jim Hughes aimed to repeat his championship victory, he would have more than the usual Delaware players to contend with as former rookies-of-the-year Micah Beck and Justin Berbig made their Delaware debut in the Championship flight. Peter Woolley faced his own challenges repeating as several 4 handicaps ventured into the first flight and last year's second flight champion, Robert Lankford, threw his hat in the ring. This year's second flight featured some newcomers as well as Carla Rueck who seems to have won just about every trophy in Florida before migrating North for the summer circuit.

In the top flight, the late entry of David Lyon, heralded by Tom Hughes as “most likely, the strongest player in the tournament”,  made life tough for Rufus Bayard and John Warlick. David was uncatchable until the last round of block play when he lost by one point to Tom Hughes. Tom desperately needed that win to sneak out of the block at two and two along with Justin Berbig, leaving Rufus behind by a few net points. In the other block Barry Gibson was able to defeat Jim Hughes in a rematch of last year's final and rise to the top of the ladder with four wins while Jim took second and Micah Beck took the last spot in the playoffs.

Incredibly close competition in the first flight nearly came to the Rock-Paper-Scissors tie-breaker as an entire block finished with two wins and two losses. Net points would suffice for Kevin Betz and Peter Woolley while a frustrated Jodie Rugart and elated Whickey Knight were left to watch the playoffs from the sidelines. Jodie was able to salvage her tournament with a wonderful doubles performance as she and Barry Gibson claimed the top spot in the ladder at three and one with solid net points. Ken Northrop dominated the other block with four wins leaving room for Conrad Rugart to take the second playoff berth with three wins.

Third flight had a friendly round robin that was very instructive for newcomer Wink Del Duca and showed that while Gail Ruben was playing in her first Invitational, she was no slouch. When the knock-out ladder began, good friends and doubles partners Cody Aichele and Carla Rueck had to face off. Cody played above and beyond while Carla couldn't muster the mojo required for a comeback and exited the tournament without a trophy for the first time this season. Gail was able to handily defeat Wink in the semi-final and put together an astounding display of control in the final including a three-wicket break and cagey deadness management. Cody could not get clean and Gail went on to win the flight!

Sadly, a puppy problem resulted in a broken leg for the usual tournament dinner hostess, Linda Prickett, but Craig and Amy Smith (Tom's daughter) gallantly stepped in and made a feast for all. Guests were left with such satisfied taste buds that they were blissfully ignorant of the dueling piano show they were missing this year. Craig followed up his feast with a stunning performance in the doubles playoffs the morning after. With an aggressive partner in Micah Beck, Craig picked up any and all attacks and ran his breaks around to win 26-21 in the semi-finals against the solid team of David Lyon and Conrad Rugart. Craig limited Micah's role to point guard in the final as he played the deadness game and ran around to stifle Greg Shaffer and Kevin Betz to no end. With Craig succeeding in all he attempted, Micah set rushes, collected the occasional spent ball and enjoyed watching his partner and gracious host carry him to the doubles podium.

Timing is everything. That became crystal clear as the knock-out ladder did not bode well for the undefeated players. Both Barry Gibson and Ken Northrop ended up in the third place match after losing their first game in the semi-finals. Ken lost to last year's champion Peter Woolley 14-13 in a barn-burner while Barry lost to his constant adversary, Tom Hughes. Brothers Tom and Jim were of similar mind, for once, keeping the young'ns at bay in the knockout. Tom defeated Micah Beck 17-15 with solid attacks and Jim was able to keep Justin just dead enough to win 15-14. Jim's canny play could not keep pace with the mighty David Lyon who ended the chance of a repeat and earned a spot against Tom Hughes, the only player so far to beat him, in the final.

While they didn't shine in the block, the two and two boys were able to polish their game for the ladder. After Peter knocked out the undefeated Ken Northrop, Kevin Betz got revenge on Conrad Rugart who defeated Kevin 19-18 in the cross-block game. Kevin took no prisoners and ran clean breaks which did not leave Peter many options. The repeat was not to be and while he missed the doubles championship, Kevin did take home the top prize for singles in his flight. To his credit, Peter did manage to control the doubles final with the helpful shooting of Gail Ruben taking the title over Mary Tatnall and Lindsey Grigsby.

In the main event both David and Tom managed treacherous attacks near the violently rolling north boundary. The breaks were had but the difference was clear as Tom averaged six to eight hoops per break chance while David masterfully built break after break for a scant average of two or three hoops. The golf croquet aficionado was undone by the firm hoops at moderate distances allowing Tom easier attacks and great deadness advantages. After all his hard work managing and organizing the tournament, Tom was rewarded with a convincing victory as the only player to beat the well composed David Lyon.

Championship Singles:
1. Tom Hughes
2. David Lyon
3. Jim Hughes
3. Barry Gibson
5. Micah Beck
5. Justin Berbig
7. Rufus Bayard
7. John Warlick
7. Greg Shaffer
7. Craig Smith

First Flight Singles:
1. Kevin Betz
2. Peter Wooley
3. Ken Northrop
4. Conrad Rugart
5. Jodie Rugart
5. Whickey Knight
5. Mary Tatnall
5. Robert Lankford

Second Flight Singles:
1. Gail Ruben
2. Cody Aichele
3. Carla Rueck
4. Wink Del Duca

Championship Doubles:
1. Craig Smith + Micah Beck
2. Greg Shaffer + Kevin Betz
3. Barry Gibson + Jodie Rugart
3.David Lyon + Conrad Rugart
5. John Warlick + Justin Berbig
5. Rufus Bayard + Ken Northrop

First Flight Doubles:
1. Peter Woolley + Gail Ruben
2. Mary Tatnall + Lindsey Grigsby
3. Whickey Knight + Sidna Mitchell
3. Robert Lankford + Wink Del Duca
3. Carla Rueck + Cody Aichele

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