Despite predictable qualifers emerging, there was no shortage of drama in Reston this weekend.
September 15, 2016 by Patrick Stegemoeller in Recap with 0 comments
Just because a story ends the way you think it was supposed to, that doesn’t mean there weren’t plenty of twists and turns along the way.
It would be easy to look at the results from Mid-Atlantic Men’s Regionals and think that everything went according to script. Truck Stop wins the region and Patrol locks down the second bid while the Select Flight teams rearranged themselves like so many chairs on the Titanic. But just because you know that the ship is going to hit the iceberg and sink, how it happens is what makes the movie worth watching.1
While the conclusion may not have had a twist ending, there was plenty of drama in the narrative to provide thrills all weekend. The main characters are moving on to Nationals, but how they got there could very well be important in how they will perform in Rockford.
Saturday Heat Sees Favorites Sluggish
The conditions in Reston, Virginia were certainly cinematic, as a sweltering Saturday in which temperatures approached 105 degrees pushed teams to their physical limits before a windy Sunday put skill at a premium.
For the tournament’s top seed, Washington DC Truck Stop, things were a little dicey on Saturday. They were given a scare by Pittsburgh Temper in the first round, needing to lock down on defense in order to pull away at the end for a 13-11 win that was just as close as the score indicates. Later in the day they were tested by their neighbors to the south Richmond Floodwall, who like Temper forced Truck to nab some high pressure breaks at the end of the game in order to prevail 13-11. It can’t have been on Truck Stop’s agenda going into the day to play so many hard points in the brutal heat, and they ended Saturday looking less imperious than prognostications would have had you believe.
In Pool B, the second overall seed Philadelphia Patrol also drew some scares on Saturday, most notably against Washington DC’s John Doe. Trailing 7-4 at half, Patrol was flustered by Doe’s exotic four handler offense and high energy defense throughout the game. Trailing 12-10 in a game to 13, Patrol flipped the switch and demonstrating the high ceiling that separates them from the also-rans in the region. The defense ratcheted up, the offense aggressively attacked marks and found space on the break side, and John Doe couldn’t cope with the smothering pressure. After two big breaks on the back of Gabe Colton, Patrol had pulled off the comeback and the 14-13 win, which put them back on track for a showdown with Truck Stop in the championship.
Truck Stop Retain Regional Crown
After both of the top seeds survived shaky Saturdays, they met on Sunday to battle for the regional crown as the wind began to pick up. Aside from bragging rights, the game had significant implications for seeding at Nationals, as a win would keep Truck Stop in line for a top three seed. With more on the line for Truck Stop and a tough game-to-go awaiting the loser, it could have been easy for Patrol to rest their starters and save their powder for the elimination round, especially considering Truck’s recent dominance in the matchup. But Philly gave a valiant effort, not content to be considered the region’s little brother.
You wouldn’t have been able to tell which team was favored to challenge for a national title at the start of the game, as Truck Stop came out flat and Patrol were the much more imposing side. DC’s offense struggled to find their rhythm in the wind and the team’s defense was chasing Patrol around more than dictating what the Philly offense could do. Neither team looked crisp as they adjusted to the weather conditions, but Patrol emerged from the opening volleys up a break, with a 5-4 lead about to receive the disc going upwind.
A hold here would put Patrol in the driver’s seat, and allow their defense to potentially tack on another downwind break to crack the game open. This would prove to be a turning point for a different reason, as Truck Stop switched into gear and began to look like the team we had seen all season. Veteran handler Johnathan Neely notched a block by running down a huck, and Truck was able to punch in the break after a tense high stall hammer from Delrico Johnson found Jacob Smith in the end zone. It would prove to be a pivotal point, as after getting the break back and leveling the score, Truck would tack on two more to take an 8-6 halftime lead.
Coming out in the second half, Truck still weren’t quite firing on all cylinders, and never managed to pull away due to some gutsy offense from Philly and execution errors by DC’s D-line. Nicky Spiva, who had been a big presence on D for Truck this year, was forced to watch from the sidelines due to a hand injury and his influence was sorely missed.
Patrol were able to crawl back to even, but could not retake the lead they had surrendered in the first half. With the score 13-12, game to 14, Truck finally got their first break of the second half to take the game and the regional crown.
Even with the regional title secured, the mood in the DC huddle after the game was not celebratory, but rather stoic. Entering Nationals as an out-and-out favorite is new for this program, and the close calls this weekend taught them that they will need to perform to their potential if they want to avoid being a trophy on another team’s mantel. Their performance at Regionals was good enough to get the job done in Reston, but the bar for “good enough” will be much higher in Rockford.
Memorable Medicine Men Run Comes Up Just Short
Patrol had to regroup from the defeat and get ready for the game-to-go against Baltimore Medicine Men, as now for the first time, it was their season on the line.
It was a different story for Medicine Men, who had been facing elimination all day and found themselves in the game-to-go after what was already a memorable Sunday run at Regionals. Facing three straight elimination games even before they played Patrol, Med Men had knocked off John Doe, Temper, and Garden State in succession in a brutal backdoor bracket. The latter two wins were somewhat extraordinary, as the boys from Baltimore mounted epic comebacks from 11-6 and 10-7 deficits respectively. Slow starts had put Med Men is deep holes and they had to expend a lot of energy to climb out of them.
Perhaps surprisingly, it was Patrol, and not Medicine Men showing signs of fatigue as the second place game kicked off. Perhaps riding high on adrenaline following the team’s come-from-behind wins, this time it was Baltimore’s turn to start on the front foot.
They jumped all over Patrol, buoyed by a largely pro-DMV crowd, and quickly ripped off three breaks to take a 4-1 lead. Everything was hitting for Med Men as Patrol, perhaps still mentally recovering from their loss to Truck Stop, looked like they were moving in slow motion. Often upsets happen because a team is hitting on all their deep shots, coming down with floaty jump balls, or finding pockets of space with improbable over the top throws. That wasn’t the case here. Med Men weren’t just winning one-on-one matchups, they were flat out better than Patrol in the first half, and the Philadelphia squad were fortunate to limp into halftime only trailing 8-6.
At this point, it seemed that Patrol were in dire straits, but just as they had done on Saturday against John Doe, they flipped a switch buried deep within them somewhere and elevated their game.
Med Men held out of half, but that would be the high point for Baltimore. The Patrol comeback was built from the ground up, as they ramped up the pressure on handler defense, forcing Med Men’s potent throwers away from the disc and causing the disc to stagnate. Break lanes that had been open in the first half were now covered by darting poaches and active marks. With Baltimore’s offense bogging down, the deep shots out of motion that had been working all game soon became high stall throws to covered matchups, and they were matchups that Patrol were winning.
Charlie McCutcheon had a great second half for Patrol, throwing his body around with the determination of a player who simply refused to accept defeat. He wouldn’t have to, as once the breaks started for Patrol, they came in bunches. In a blink, the game was tied at 9-9, with a sense of dread creeping over the Med Men sideline. Now, not only were break looks hard to come by, even open force side cuts were accompanied by the danger of a flying defender, and any throw that wasn’t perfect was promptly punished.
With hustle came fortune for Patrol, and after snaring several floating discs above piles and digging low throws out of the dirt, it became clear that Philly’s energy was emboldening their players and adding to the mounting anxiety of Medicine Men, as now it was their turn to stare down the barrel of a debilitating collapse.
As the defensive pressure from Patrol forced Med Men’s offense into high stall throws, the team overcorrected by not showing enough patience.
When things start to turn south for an offense, the urge to get the disc out of your hands and score as quickly as possible is awfully tempting, and in this moment Men Men succumbed. As the last gasps of their season started to sputter away, Baltimore resigned their offense to firing up hasty hucks early in the stall count, which Patrol’s defense was more than happy to gobble up.
With the score 14-11, Patrol would break to take the game after a valiant goalline stand from Med Men wasn’t enough to keep Philadelphia out of the endzone. After witnessing their season’s mortality in the first half, Patrol was ecstatic after the win, perhaps happier than they thought they would be about holding onto the second seed heading into the weekend.
It speaks to the level Med Men has risen to that a team like Patrol, who considers themselves a genuine threat at Nationals, felt so relieved about the win. That compliment had not taken root on the Med Men sideline at the time of the loss however as the Baltimore players, many of whom had toiled for years in the middle of the region without getting a glimpse at Nationals, were dejected after knowing they had come so close and had only a long offseason filled with “what could have beens” to show for it.
Truck, Patrol, and Med Men finished the weekend according to seed, but that sells the story short. The national title contender was truly challenged, the burgeoning program took another step in establishing themselves as a perennial contender, and the long suffering team’s storybook season came oh-so close to a happy ending.
Were the middle of the pack teams really so good that they could hang with Patrol and Truck Stop? Or perhaps were the two favorites not so elite after all? We’ll find out in Rockford, where finally, everyone’s story gets an ending.
Or not. Let this be your annual reminder that Titanic beat LA Confidential, Jackie Brown, and Boogie Nights for Best Picture. Sigh. ↩