By: Eliza Pugh
The top four women’s teams in the tournament were put to the test earlier today in the primetime semifinal games. Under the lights in a crowded stadium, each game proved to be a true test of mental and physical endurance. The championship final between Boston Brute Squad and Denver Molly Brown will be streamed live at 3:30 p.m. EST on Sunday, Oct. 21, on ESPN3.
Semifinal 1: Brute Squad v. Molly Brown
Brute Squad exploded out of the starting blocks in their semifinal game against Molly Brown, with defensive cutter Cassie Wong getting a massive layout D for the turn they needed to generate their first break point of the game. Two more D-line conversions gave Brute Squad four points to Molly Brown’s zero. After trading the next few points, Brute Squad took half 8-4.
Would Molly Brown be able to recover their deficit, or would Brute Squad run away with the game? Brute Squad scored immediately out of half. The next few points included multiple turns on seemingly desperate long shots to no one. Unable to connect on deep throws, Brute Squad worked the disc up the force side to score the next point. Brute Squad’s Angela Zhu and Molly Brown’s Claire Chastain battled it out in one-on-one matchups for nearly every handler reset.
Brute Squad was leading 10-5 when, suddenly, Molly Brown’s Manuela Cardenas and Jesse Shofner seemed to let loose. Molly Brown received the pull, and a few throws later, Dena Slattery threw a huck for the score to a streaking Jesse Shofner. The crowd began to rumble. On the next point, Stacy Gaskill got a block and Manuela Cardenas picked up the disc. Cardenas threw an assist to Gaskill for the bookends goal, and the crowd got a little louder. Molly Brown scored another break. Then Cardenas took the wheel again and tossed two assists in a row to Shofner, the second one forcing Shofner to toe the sideline and land flat on her stomach. Now tied at 10-10, the crowd was raucous.
But Brute Squad is not the top-ranked team in the country for no reason. They tightened up their offense, and continuing to employ vertical stack offense, they used up-line handler movement to generate yards with shorter throws. Their handlers steadily worked the disc up the force side to put a couple more on the board. Liên Hoffman threw to a bidding Amber Sinicrope, which put Brute in the lead, 13-11. Their defensive line converted the next two points, and Brute Squad won 15-11.
“We knew Molly Brown would punch back,” said captain Kami Groom afterwards. “It was a matter of being ready for that, trusting our system and trusting each other.”
Semifinal 2: Riot v. Fury
Not long after Brute Squad clinched their ticket, with the air a little colder and the sky a little darker, Riot pulled to Fury to kick off the second semifinal match of the evening. For much of the game, Fury ran a standard horizontal stack offense, while Riot tended to run a vertical stack. In the beginning, both teams scored their offensive points relatively easily. An unusual mis-throw by Fury’s Alex Snyder gave Riot a chance to break, which they did when Kelly Johnson found Claire Trop in the end zone. A few points later, Kelly Johnson laid out for a block and then caught a score for bookends to give Riot their second break. Johnson assists for a third Riot break before they took half 8-5.
Riot’s pressure on defense was forcing Fury to throw to their bailout options, which was causing Fury some trouble. However, aside from Riot’s three breaks, Fury was playing well, utilizing smart defender switches to slow Riot’s longer passes. Fury’s Kirstin Johnson caught an exciting Callahan, picking off a swing pass and giving her team some extra life. But they would need to answer to Riot’s Jac Verzuh, who had made a few key catches, as well as Kelly Johnson, who seemed to be everywhere on the field.
In the second half, Fury seemed to come alive, with Carolyn Finney leading the charge. After a long, multiple-turn point right out of halftime, Finney found Lakshmi Narayan in the end zone. For the rest of the half, Finney dictated most of the disc movement as Fury marched down the field to claim the next four points. She was consistently open as the reset, and could throw everywhere on the field. With Narayan playing tight defense on Verzuh, Fury took the lead 10-8.
A few more points traded hands. Then, down by one, Riot’s Claire Trop made a full-extension midfield layout bid to get the disc back in Riot’s hand, and a few passes later, a quick score tied the game at 13 apiece and brought the game to double-game point. With a star-studded line on the field, including a ridiculous five World Games veterans, Fury’s offense marched down the field, and Alex Snyder punched it in with a toss to Sarah Griffith for the win.
“I haven’t seen Fury dig themselves out of many holes before, so that’s pretty insane,” said Fury’s Beth Kaylor after the game, effectively summarizing the excitement on the field.
Pro Flight Play-In Games
Fighting for fifth place and bragging rights, Scandal started off their game on serve with the 6ixers, but the 6ixers got their first break with a score to a streaking Jenna McLeod. Lauren Kimura and Sarah Bobak also came down with passes when they looked completely covered. The 6ixers got sloppy at the end, and Scandal’s D line scored three in a row to take the game 15-13. Both teams will be in the Pro Flight going into the 2019 season.
There were two Pro Flight play-in games today, with the winners of each game tying for 7th and earning Pro Flight status heading into next year. In the first of the two, Nightlock scored five times in row to kick off their game against the hometown team, Wildfire (seeded 16th in the tournament). Nightlock looked ecstatic as they rushed the field after every score, finally finding their stride this weekend.
In the other game, Ozone and Schwa played evenly, calmly trading points until half. The intensity and wind picked up in the second half as each team fought for the break that would change the tide in their favor. Ozone wasn’t able to hang on, however, and on offense with the game tied at 14 on double-game point, Schwa’s Kimber Coles caught a long ball for the winner.
Nemesis claimed 11th place with a narrow win over Pop, while Rival took 13th with a win over Phoenix. Traffic won the 15th-place game over Heist, who never seemed to recover from their one-point pre-quarters loss to Scandal.