‘I think someone’s just won the lottery’: Quincy billiards team brings home 8-ball world championship from Las Vegas

The Bar Box Bandits, an eight-person pool team from Quincy, celebrates after winning the gold division 8-ball team championship at the BCA Pool League World Championships in Las Vegas. Submitted photo

QUINCY — The reaction to Mike Baker’s two-rail shot that kicked the eight ball into the side pocket to win a world 8-ball team championship resonated loudly.

“When Mike made that eight ball and everybody erupted, the entire exposition hall heard us,” said John Ellis, a member of Quincy’s Bar Box Bandits, who won the 116-team gold division in the BCA Pool League World Championships in Las Vegas on April 2.

Those watching a livestream of the Alfa Las Vegas Women’s Open 10-ball singles championship heard it, too.

“I think someone’s just won the lottery,” said Mark White, who was the analyst calling the title match between professionals Kelly Fisher and Brittany Bryant and heard the commotion in the background.

Well, it felt that way.

“It’s rare for this to happen,” said Sam Dyer, owner of Rack Daddy’s sports bar and billiard hall in Quincy and a member of the Bar Box Bandits. “It doesn’t happen around here at all. I don’t know anybody in this area who has won an event this big.”

Thus, the resonating reaction.

“Overwhelming for everybody,” Dyer said.

It usually is when it’s unexpected.

“It means a lot for an area this small with a small amount of pool players,” said Dyer, who celebrated his birthday the same day as the championship match. “You’re competing against anybody in the country, anybody in the world actually. It’s pretty neat to be competing against them.”

Dyer, Ellis, Baker and five others — Bruce Baker, Jim Rost, Jeff Lippincott, Kelsey Bockenfeld and Ross Borenson — teamed up to take part in the broad spectrum event at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino. Over an 11-day span, more than 6,000 pool players participated in events with 30 divisions.

“As long as you play in a BCA pool league, it allows you to go there and compete for the world championships,” Dyer said. “They have individual events, teams, all kinds of events going on that week.”

Surviving an event lasting more than a week takes some mental and physical toughness.

“It was long,” Dyer said with a laugh. “If you know Vegas, it’s a tiresome thing being in Vegas.”

And when you’re in Vegas and on a winning streak, you don’t walk away.

That’s what happened to this group.

Last September, the Quincy contingent participated in the world championships for the first time, lost its first two matches and was sent home.

“It was a little bit of a learning experience,” Ellis said. “This year, we had a better understanding of what we were facing out there.”

They had the right mindset, too.

“We had to play together as a team,” Dyer said. “We couldn’t let anyone feel bad about losses in our games or balls missed. We had to keep a good, positive attitude. From day one, we were going to win that tournament. That was our mindset. We stuck to that mindset.”

The manner in which they won their opening match made it clear that mindset works. Against Bad Choices in a race to 13 — five players from each team go head-to-head in what can be as many as 25 games with the first to win 13 games winning the match — the Bar Box Bandits bolted to a 5-1 lead and then lost nine games in a row.

They regrouped and won eight of the last nine to advance.

“At that point, we were kind of on our way,” Ellis said.

They won two more matches the first day, beating Foot Clan 13-1 and Crown Billiards 13-11. The following day, the Bandits beat LPB 13-8 and 4u8hrs 13-8 to win their preliminary bracket and advance to the double-elimination finals.

On April Fool’s Day, they won two matches — 13-12 over 24 Karat and 13-5 over Ball Breakers — to earn a spot in the finals. One victory and the championship was theirs, while their opponent would have to win twice to upend them.

The Bar Box Bandits finished off their dream run with a 13-11 victory over Cape Fear.

That’s when the eruption happened.

“I’m sure you could hear my voice throughout the whole hall,” Ellis said.

It was the culmination of an incredible week of play and a lifetime of chasing pool titles for many of these players.

“Everybody played extraordinarily well,” Dyer said. “Everybody played their average or better. Everybody played at least as good as they were supposed to or better.”

The most poignant moment came when Baker and his father, Bruce, celebrated the title together.

“They’re very good pool players and they’ve been playing for many years and they’re very close,” Dyer said. “They’ve never been able to do something like this. To see the joy on their faces was great for us all.”

There could be more titles to come for some members of this group as they plan to compete in the American Cue Sports Illinois State Association tournament beginning Wednesday at the Oakley-Lindsay Center. For all of them, more games await.

“We’re going back to pool league,” Dyer said.

But they are doing so knowing they accomplished something remarkable and memorable.

“It was a bucket list item a bunch of us got to check off,” Ellis said.

That’s worth letting everyone within earshot know about it.

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