A 20-YEAR-OLD from Fordingbridge has ended his first season of competitive snooker with a winner’s trophy.
David Rice (Ipictured), who decided to take the game more seriously just ten months ago, defeated Connor Benzey 2-0 in the final of the eighth and last leg of the Cuestars South of England Under-21 Bronze Tour.
Rice took the first frame at Salisbury Snooker Club on a re-spotted black and clawed back a sizeable deficit to leave his 13-year-old opponent from Eastleigh needing snookers on the pink.
“I played well during the whole day,” he said. “Connor hammered me in the first (group stage) game but I got my revenge in the end.
“It was a nice day. Hopefully, there will be more to come next year. If I keep playing like that, there should be.
“Connor played well but in the last frame I don’t know what happened. He let slip like a 30-point lead. Somehow, I came back and won.”
Rice reached the semi-finals on his Cuestars debut last December and later that month finished second amongst the Bronze players and third overall in the Cuestars Skills Challenge in Salisbury.
In January, he lost to Steven Hughes in the final in Woking and in February won the Plate in Swindon.
Rice, who climbed to fifth place in the rankings, said: “Today I was really aiming to win it. When I played Steven in the final, I had nothing left in the tank. But I prepared better for today.”
Meanwhile, there were a few unexpected twists and turns as both rankings title rivals, who had never before failed to qualify for the knockout, made group-stage exits.
Aidan Murphy, from Bristol, lost his first round-robin match to Rice and was beaten on the final black by Albert Warren in his last match.
Hughes, who took a seven-point lead into the final event, lost two matches and missed out on a quarter-final place after losing out in a three-way play-off for second spot.
That means Chandler’s Ford Snooker Club-based Hughes is crowned rankings champion. The 13-year-old made his Cuestars debut in Fareham in April, 2014, reaching the quarter-finals. He repeated the feat in Salisbury the following month.
This season, the determined teenage reached six finals, winning two.
The top-16 ranked players will be invited to Finals Day on May 17 at Jesters Snooker Hall, Swindon, for the championship play-off. Special guest Joe Perry will present the trophies and play exhibition frames against all the winners.
David Rice: 28, 23.
Bowen Zhu: 28, 21.
Ben Crump: 26, 21.
Connor Benzey: 24.
Aidan Murphy: 24.
Charlie Pringle: 21.
Oliver Sykes: 20.
ROUND-ROBIN GROUP A: 1st, Connor Benzey (Chandler’s Ford SC); 2nd, David Rice (Salisbury SC); 3rd, Aidan Murphy (Bristol Conservative Club); 4th, Adam Cowdroy (Greenbaize, Bournemouth); 5th, Albert Warren (Salisbury SC); 6th, Callum Parsons (Nailsea Social Club).
ROUND-ROBIN GROUP B: 1st, Charlie Pringle (Chandler’s Ford SC); 2nd, Chloe White (Copnor SC, Portsmouth); 3rd, Luke McCormick (Mayfair, Gosport); 4th, Harvey Banger (Chandler’s Ford SC); 5th, Callum Georgiou (Nailsea Social Club); 6th, Lewis Wilson (Copnor SC, Portsmouth).
ROUND-ROBIN GROUP C: 1st, David O’Callaghan (Greenbaize, Bournemouth); 2nd, Oliver Sykes (Chandler’s Ford SC); 3rd, Keegan Reed (Salisbury SC); 4th, Callum White (Copnor SC, Portsmouth); 5th, Quaid Bennett (Nailsea Social Club); 6th, James Woodley (Nailsea Social Club).
ROUND-ROBIN GROUP D: 1st, Ben Crump (Stoke SC, Gosport); 2nd, Bowen Zhu (Chandler’s Ford SC); 3rd, Steven Hughes (Chandler’s Ford SC); 4th, Ryan Hughes (Chandler’s Ford SC); 5th, Harry Wilson (Copnor SC, Portsmouth); 6th, Connor Shaw (Greenbaize, Bournemouth).
QUARTER-FINALS (12 points): Benzey 2 Zhu 1, Pringle 2 Sykes 0, O’Callaghan 2 Chloe White 0, Rice 2 Crump 1.
SEMI-FINALS (15 points): Benzey 2 Pringle 0, Rice 2 O’Callaghan 0.
FINAL (25/18 points): Rice 2 Benzey 0.
Report and picture by Tim Dunkley