Ironside gets back to semis, but for yet another year, they come away with no title.
October 4, 2015 by Patrick Stegemoeller in Analysis with 2 comments
That’s more than the entirety of the Obama presidency. That’s longer than it took for Christopher Nolan to make a great Batman movie, a good sci-fi action movie, an incoherent space epic, and a soul-crushingly bad Batman movie. That’s also how long Ironside has consecutively made the semifinals at Nationals without winning a title.
The streak will continue for another year, as Ironside once again fell agonizingly short of procuring their team’s first title after a 13-10 loss at the hands of Seattle Sockeye.
Friday in quarterfinals against Doublewide, Ironside threw a perfect game. Their offense was in complete control and their defense was hitting on everything. They were completely and totally in the flow of the game, and by the end of the first half it seemed beyond a shadow of a doubt that they would emerge victorious.
Saturday in the semifinals, that just wasn’t the case. Sometimes games can turn on single point, or a single play. But in Ironside’s loss yesterday, the outcome seemed less a result of specific moments that happened on the field and more the product of a team’s existential disintegration.
Simply put, Ironside just didn’t have it. Drops, throwaways, anything and everything that indicates a team just isn’t in the zone was happening as Ironside found themselves facing another long offseason of desperately wishing for the chance to go back and make things turn out differently.
“There’s always next year” is a refrain familiar to those who have experience trying to cheer up athletes whose season just ended. That’s all well and good, but what happens when next year seems to inevitably bring the same results? What happens when it feels like you are trapped in some Kafkaesque nightmare where no matter what you do, nothing seems to change?
“It’s frustrating,” said Boston’s stalwart veteran handler Josh Markette. “It’s always hard to put it into words how you’re feeling after a loss like this. I always want to play in semis at least. So you’re happy to get there. But when you recognize that the talent is there on your team and you realize that you have the ability and if you put the pieces together that you can go further… it’s just frustrating.”
It is the curse of consistency. Every year Ironside is just good enough to get their hearts broken. Lesser programs have down years, where their expectations are tempered and an elimination early in the tournament results in a mild sting but not the kind of bone deep despair that accompanies a loss in the semis or finals. Ironside’s reward for being one of the best four teams over the majority of the past decade has been an entirely disproportionate share of heartbreak.
Tournament play is nasty, brutish, and short. Only one team gets to end the season with no regrets, and the teams that come the closest to finishing their story atop the pedestal usually have the most they wish they could change. There is an inherent cruelness to the fact that the better you do, the more you suffer when your season ends, as every year at Nationals bad things happen to good teams.
But there is always next year, regardless of what history might tell you. For Ironside, each new season brings opportunity, regardless of whether it will ultimately end up producing the one result the team cares about most.
“We’re always a new team,” said Alex Cooper, a four year Ironside veteran. “No one was on the original team except for Danny [Clark], and every year we get a chance to be a new team.” This season, despite huge roster turnover, Ironside’s motley crew were able to claw their way right back into the title conversation. Even with this painful defeat at the forefront of their minds, the players were ready to look to the horizon.
“This is us moving towards our potential as a team,” said Clark, the lone holdover from Ironside’s maiden voyage in 2008. “I feel like we showed everyone…we might not have brought it all home this season but we are a good team and nobody should have looked past us at any point.”
For Markette, coming so close to a title again is devastating, but it gives him reason to hope.
“In the huddle after the game we raised our hands – who here was this their first trip to Nationals? – and half the team raised their hands,” he said in praise of the young talent on the team that has moved up to take the place of their high profile departures. “It’s always going to be competitive in Boston. There is that history there and now I know. Now I know it doesn’t matter who comes in and who leaves. It’s always going to be a great year for Ironside.”
After eight long years of “good but not good enough”, Ironside will be back at it in 2016 looking to finally win that title despite all of the pain and suffering they have accumulated along the way. It might seem a little bit crazy to keep pursuing a goal that for almost a decade has alluded them and always ends in heartbreak. But that little bit of crazy will make a whole lot of sense when they finally find themselves in the winner’s circle where they knew they belonged all along.