By: Tony Leonardo
RING v. REVOLVER
This game started off clean but then slowly and surely digressed into sloppy, huck-heavy play. Tipped disc, bobbles, fingertips, forehand and backhand bombs that were just out of reach or D’d up just enough. Nothing came easy for either team as the turnovers mounted, 10, 20, 30. And it ended, fittingly, on a four-foot pass in Ring of Fire’s own end zone that hung up in the air to be snagged by Revolver’s Jordan Marcy for the game-ending callahan, 13-10 San Francisco.
The stadium wind was, well, windy, but this game shouldn’t have been that crazy. These players across the line can make the throws – it was more a combination of the intense, gritty defense from both sides and the fact that Ring of Fire’s big-play style ruled the day while Revolver’s possession offense just couldn’t manage to get many clean sets on Ring of Fire’s D. Then when a turn happened – forget it – it was bombs away and discs to the ground.
In the huddle after the game, Nathan White told his team, “We didn’t succeed in playing a clean game, but we did succeed in the fight with grit and intensity.”
But really, they just withstood the blows more. They out-gritted a gutty Ring of Fire squad.
“In terms of setting the tone of the game, Ring won. They are exceedingly good at that,” White told me. “But it’s the only style they play. We want them to huck it every time, so we stay behind the play, and we just wanted them to work hard.”
“Ring came out and played a game we expected to play, but both teams wanted to contend for it,” spoke three-year Revolver co-captain Lucas Dallman. “We call it body blows; we have a boxer’s mentality, just keep grinding and eventually you can get a knockout.”
“We play one point at a time. And what I mean is we absolutely leave the last point behind,” continued Dallman. “We have 27 guys full-on concentrating on Ring of Fire. Sharks. Attack mentality at all times. Don’t protect anything, play with fire.”
“It was frustrating,” conceded Ring of Fire’s Jack Williams. “I had four discs on my fingertips. None more important than the one in the end zone for 10s. I had four fingers and couldn’t hang on. It was demoralizing.”
“We knew their strategy was to contest every throw, and for us, it was for the hucks to keep going up,” said Williams. “We knew it, we were ready.”
But every time defenders for Revolver were there to make the plays harder. Nick Stuart got a couple Ds early on hucks, and that might have gotten in players’ heads. Maybe not. At the very least, they converted a break from one of Stuart’s Ds.
I asked Revolver coach Mike Payne on the sideline if Revolver planned to use Stuart to bait the long ball. “Absolutely,” said Payne. “He’s a great bait. Sometimes he actually crouches down, and the offense doesn’t see him. And then he has great closing speed. He’s fantastic.”
This game started off in Ring of Fire’s favor. They got the game’s first break upwind, to start in fact, and converted another before Stuart got one back. In the first half, both teams were running hard, but it just seemed like Revolver was winning the grind more. Nothing was easy. After going down early, Revolver took half, 8-7.
And then an easy drop on a centering pass gave Ring of Fire the disc to score from five yards up upwind, and Sol Yanuck and Matt Gouche-Hanas ran the homey and scored. 8-8, Ring pulling downwind.
And…they had three chances and turned the disc over three times. Jon Nethercutt was placed on the D line and pulled, and they got a turn. Dallmann stalled out Nethercutt, David Richardson bottled up Beau Kittredge, which led to a turn. Dallmann got a piece of a Nethercutt huck, and eventually Revolver scored. It was part of what became a disjointed second half, rife with bizarre throws and unwise mistakes from both sides: drops and just a lot of scrambling nonsense. It just seemed that Ring was happy to live or die with Nethercutt on the D line.
Bob Liu pumped a hammer to the upwind end zone to tie it at 9s. And the clock read 6:27 left in the game. It was becoming one of those games.
Then finally Ashlin Joye gets loose, two earlier huck turns behind him, and laced a big desperation upwind flick to Grant Lindsley who read it perfectly over Gouchoe-Hanas for a massive goal.
D-line captain Nathan White orchestrated a play call set that netted Revolver a break on the next play, again after a string of turnovers from Ring of Fire. 10-9. Schlachet got one. 11-9, Kerns to Byron Liu, and the game is finally slipping away from Ring. They burned their last timeout. It didn’t work. 12-9, Revolver breaks.
On the next point, Ring of Fire finally ran an up-tempo, up-wind offense and scored, pretty. They got the turn on the next point, but then – the callahan ended it.
Greg Cohen told the team in the post-game huddle, “It was body blows. That D line that was out there for 12-13 minutes, whoo! That was it!”
George Stubbs told the team, “I am so proud of everyone.”
“Their D is tough,” credited Ring of Fire head coach Mike DeNardis. “I think we did vary our O a lot. We weren’t one-dimensional. We just couldn’t get continuation. Chalk it up to experience, us tightening when the pressure was on us.”
“I trust our O to score, and I want our D to give them breaks. The O was doing wonky things on D,” said DeNardis. “We didn’t play our best game. Another yea…but I’m not satisfied with semis. I’m not happy. We want to win.”
TRUCK STOP v. DOUBLEWIDE
From the start, this match was much cleaner than the tense, electric, star-studded semifinal on the stadium pitch. Instead, two young and fearless teams played mostly person defense and ran endlessly on a neighboring field made just as exciting by the excellence of play. But what started off as a very tight match with few turns inexplicably, inexorably, marched to an unpredictable outcome: Doublewide blew this game open with a staggering eight-goal run and won, 13-8.
Everything started off normal, so to speak. “We want to use the crosswind,” related Truck Stop coach Darryl Stanley before the game. “And we know the height they have and the big throws – we want to take away clean looks.”
“They’ve been hitting big hucks, and we’re going to try to disrupt that,” Doublewide coach Steven Darroh.
The first break went to D.C. Truck Stop on a Jonathan Neeley to David Cranston upwind flick. Nicky Spiva was put on the D line the following point to guard Brandon “Muffin” Malecek. It worked, and Doublewide had to use one of their lesser bombers, the ultra-bouncy baller Abe Coffin who ripped a backhand to six-footer Kai Marshall for a hold.
Doublewide came down in zone, but Tyler Monroe, Spiva, Cody Johnston, Rowan McDonnell and Nate Prior were able to work a lot of throws before finding the openings, and Truck Stop held.
A big turn of events came at 3-2 with Truck Stop in the lead after converting that upwind hold. Doublewide turned the disc, and Truck worked it around a lot. Doublewide played great defense, but Truck was patient, and they worked it to the goal line. There was an open cutter; one of Truck’s young guns saw it. The shoulder is open, so he went upper right high release and…Malecek just swatted that stuff away. Doublewide marched down and scored.
And that begins the Muffin show.
“I spend all year yelling at him about playing D in practice,” related Coach Darroh after the game. “But this is why he’s on the team. No one can throw it upwind like Muffin.”
“Those pump fakes he has, everyone shifts on the defense when he does that, and it opens up the entire field,” Dalton Smith said.
And that’s just what happened next. Truck Stop scored, then Muffin lasered one and got the hockey assist. Doublewide coach Jose Cespedes called a timeout. “We want to get a break right now, and we need to focus in.” But they don’t. Astro to Spiva to Rowan in a tight corner to hold, 5-4 D.C.
The next point is a hell point. These points happen, we all know this. Any point with multiple turns longer than five minutes – it’s part of the game. Multiple timeouts. The minutes tick up. Three, four turns a side, never seeming to end, and then it ends – Truck Stop breaks going downwind with the rookie class: Austin Bartenstein to Marcus Thaw, 6-4.
Chuck Cantone gets a D.C. block on the next point. But Doublewide grinds and grinds, and you can see this team’s depth start to show. Abe Coffin and Jay Froude are known forces. They will get theirs. Matt Bennett is a human dynamo – the Kurt Russell equivalent to Coffin’s Arnold Schwarzenegger – two absolutely compelling, riveting, dynamic handlers with the disc. Then they got this kid Kaplan Maurer, plus Chase Cunningham, Dalton Smith, Ethan Pollack, Dan Emmons and Carter Hollo. Hey, well turns out when you take the 10 best players from two different teams and grab three more from another team, well, you’ve got talent. Anyway they held after really tight Truck defense.
A dip in energy from Truck Stop, they turned it over short and Doublewide got the break back. Then they get the break downwind. Hey, it’s on serve now, 7-6 Doublewide.
Muffin bombed one on the flick side, Muffin bombed one backhand, Truck Stop dropped a disc, then another, Kaplan Maurer crushed a beautiful throw from Jackson Cochran that looked like it’s going to be a goal, then a centering pass went awry for Truck – easy score for Texas, Truck drop, horn sounded for soft cap, Muffin threw one, um, it’s 11-6, 12-6. Breaks come in eights, as they say!
So anyway that was about it. Johnny Walden skyed like a god for a Truck Stop break after they stemmed the bleeding, Johnson got a sweet block on Chase Cunningham in the back of the end zone, Froude rips it back out of the sky over Johnson back down the other way…Doublewide punched it in, and Doublewide is heading back to a unique rematch of both pool play and 2012 Sarasota Nationals versus San Francisco Revolver. They lost in pool play, won in 2012, what’s in store tomorrow?
“Let’s do it again! One team! Doublewide. One team! Doublewide. Get your head in the game, whooo!” is the cheer. “We win the finals, and guess what? We’re going to Disneyland!”
“Really excited to go the finals,” Chase Cunningham told me after the game. “We haven’t had a problem connecting together this season. We might be a new team, but we’ve all been playing with each other in some way for eight, nine years.”
“From the beginning of this tournament [opening game pool play loss to Revolver] to now, we’ve improved 10-fold, and we kind of knew we could do that,” Dalton Smith told me after the game.
“I’ve been saying it for years that we could build this team. I knew it two months after Nationals last year. Roped in Jay and Abe who were playing in Dallas and the crew on HIP, and this was our goal we talked about – to win Nationals,” spoke Smith. “And we’re clicking at the right time.”
“Our turns just kept getting bigger and bigger, and that man [pointing to Malacek as he walked across the field wearing a tank top] made us pay,” credited Truck Stop coach Stanley. “We couldn’t contain him with our marks.”
“We got in a groove, and it wasn’t a good groove, and we couldn’t get out of it,” cited Stanley.
“Every time we went to the line, we were expecting to score,” recalled Truck’s Rowan McDonnell. “We have all the confidence in the world. We were just not able to do it.”
“I hate to say it, but for a game and a half, they were borderline immaculate,” Darroh told me, referring to D.C. And maybe they just finally came down a bit, regressed to the mean. “We decided to try backhand. We took away their inside one to the center. Everything started to click.”
Will history repeat itself? Doublewide and Revolver will dial it up again in sunny Sarasota.