BY CHAD DARE
Alan Francis and Joan Elmore are two names that have been associated with the Danville Open for years.
On Sunday afternoon in the 25th Annual horseshoe tournament at the Douglas Park Horseshoe Complex, Francis and Elmore were once again claiming the first-place prizes.
Francis, who won 11 straight Danville Opens from 2001 to 2011, earned his 12th title with a 9-0 record in the Men’s Class A Class, while Elmore won her eighth title, also with a 9-0 record in the Women’s Class A Class.
A year ago, Francis of Defiance, Ohio, was unable to compete in the Danville Open because of a family obligation, but he came back this year with one of his best performances.
“We hated to miss the tournament last year, but we’re glad to be back,’’ he said. “Everything is what we have come to expect from this tournament. Everything is on time and it’s a very well-ran tournament.
“I pitched the last two days as well as I’ve pitched in three or four years. Everything was good. My form was good. I felt comfortable and confident.’’
And the numbers certainly show that Francis was at the top of his game this weekend.
Besides going 9-0 in pool play, the right-hander racked up a 91.15 ringer percentage in the two-day tourney.
“This was my sixth tournament of the year, so I should be at my best right now. And I feel like I am,’’ he said. “Ringer percentage is the big indicator; and this is going to be one of my highest tournaments ever.
“I never dropped below 80 percent. My first game of the tournament was my lowest and I just seemed to get better with each game.’’
While Francis had his title secured before the final match, he still faced a stiff test from Randy Grady, the defending Danville Open champion from Benton, Mo.
“We had a lot of four deads,’’ said Francis, referring to both players getting a pair of ringers in each round. “That is about as good as I’ve seen Randy pitch.’’
And it was just the type of game that Francis said he enjoys.
“Games like that are what every pitcher hopes to be a part of,’’ Francis said. “When you are challenged like that, it brings out the best in you.’’
And with the World Championships starting next week in St. George, Utah, this was good preparation for Francis.
“Danville has always been a good indicator of where I’m at heading in the World Championships,’’ Francis said. “I feel like I’m prepared and ready for it.’’
Francis wasn’t the only champion using the Danville Open, the largest open horseshoe tournament in the country, as a chance to get ready for the World Championships.
Elmore of Mt. Juliet, Tenn., won the Women’s Class A title with a 9-0 record, but she knows that she will need to improve on her ringer percentage (78.14) at the World Championships.
“First off, this tournament is very well run,’’ she said. “Leo (Bratland) and everyone associated with the Danville Horseshoe Club are so nice and they do a wonderful job.
“I was able to win, which is very nice, but I was a little under my average. I think it had to do with the heat.’’
After having nearly ideal pitching conditions on Saturday, the top performers had to deal with temperatures in the 90s and some good ol’ fashion Midwest humidity.
“The humidity is the big thing,’’ Elmore said. “My fingers were not releasing my shoes smoothly. They were sticking a little bit. You have to put a little more effort into your pitch and it takes it toll.’’
Elmore secured her title with wins over Marlene Ray of Covington, Tenn., and Sharon Chiddister of Goshen, Ind., in the final two rounds.
“This is the 25th anniversary and that makes it even more special to get this title,’’ she said.
Herschel Walters of Bourbon, Ind., earned the Class A Elders title with an 8-1 record.
Other titles awarded on Sunday, included the Class B title won by Oakwood’s Bob Block, who went 5-1 with a 60.00 ringer percentage.
In other divisions, John Blakeney of Oakwood finished fifth in Class E, Larry Burgess of Chrisman was third in Class I, Loren Douglass of Oakwood was second in Class O and Thomas Rodriguez was sixth in Class Q.