By: Matt Goisman
San Diego, Calif. (Oct. 25, 2019) – Rhino Slam! was less than half a field away from turning its No. 16 seed into an upset win over the defending national champions and a berth in the USA Ultimate National Championships semifinals.
One dropped pass and three throws the other way later, and Pride of New York’s players were the ones streaming onto the field and hugging each other in celebration.
Grant Lindsley completed a long forehand huck to Jeff Babbitt, and PoNY overcame a four-point halftime deficit to beat Rhino Slam! 15-14 in the quarterfinals Friday at Surf Cup Sports Park.
“The second we got our first break, in my mind I said, ‘We got this,’” Babbitt said. “We’re a team where we absolutely rally off one big play.”
No. 2 PoNY will face No. 5 Machine, a 15-13 quarterfinal winner over No. 6 Revolver, in the semifinals, Saturday at 5:30 p.m. at Mira Mesa High School. No. 1 Sockeye, who beat Sub Zero 15-9, will play at 8 p.m. against No. 4 Ring of Fire, who beat No. 3 Truck Stop 15-12.
Friday’s action proved the value in winning one’s pool, as all four teams that received an automatic bye into the quarterfinals beat opponents who’d already played in the morning’s pre-quarterfinal round.
Rhino Slam! had an 8-4 lead at halftime, thanks in part to two of Raphy Hayes’ three goals. But PoNY scored to start the second half, then earned their first of four second-half breaks when Babbitt knocked down a pass in the end zone, and Sam Little hit Jimmy Mickle (two goals, three assists) on a backhand in the end zone.
Another turn later in the half led to a Babbitt diving catch in the end zone to get within one at 10-9. Babbitt (four goals) tied the game at 11-11 on a pass from Ben Katz to cap a possession in which PoNY forced two turnovers.
“In the first half, defensively we were trying to play a little more like we play against our own offense in practice, which is like a very smart poach,” Babbitt said. “Rhino Slam! was doing a good job of finding the spaces within that poach. We started to lock into just hard person-to-person defense, and that really started to pay off.”
A pair of picks by Mike Drost led to PoNY taking the lead 12-11, their first of the game. Leandro Marx (five goals, three assists) eventually tied the game at 13-13 off a pass from Duncan Mcnally, then Rhino Slam! finally came up with a defensive stop when Daniel Lee got in front of a pass.
David Sealand saved the possession with a diving save at the goal line, immediately calling time out and taking an injury sub. Trevor Smith came in and caught the go-ahead score from Vinh Bui, diving for the disc with Mickle right next to him for the 14-13 lead.
PoNY answered with a quick forehand strike from Lindsley to Ben Jagt, setting up double-game point. Starting on offense, Rhino Slam! moved the disc past midfield, but Marx juggled and ultimately dropped a backhand up the far sideline.
PoNY completed two passes before Lindsley launched his forehand to Babbitt, who’d escaped his mark and was open in the end zone.
Babbitt easily tracked it down to bring in the goal as his teammates poured onto the field.
“Obviously it feels great,” Drost said. “We can celebrate for a little bit, then start heading back and getting ready for tomorrow.”
PoNY has now won two straight games on double-game point at Nationals. Both PoNY and Sockeye will enter the semifinals tested but unbeaten, as the top overall seed from Seattle beat Sub Zero 15-9 in the quarterfinals.
“We’re a really resilient and gritty team,” said Sockeye’s Trent Dillon, who scored twice and added a D in the quarterfinals. “It’s not going to work on the first point – in fact many times this weekend it hasn’t – but we’re going to keep pounding, and we’re going to keep being fearless.”
Sub Zero, who beat GOAT 15-12 in the pre-quarters, took an early 2-1 lead in the quarters, but a series of breaks from Sockeye’s defense quickly swung momentum back the other way. Christian Foster covered 20 yards in a matter of seconds out of the deep deep position in an early Sockeye zone, breaking up a pass that led to Nathan Kwon scoring for a 3-2 lead.
Sockeye led 8-6 at halftime, then began the second half with back-to-back breaks. Matty Russell’s diving deflection set up Ben Snell’s scoring strike to Foster, and on the next possession, Snell broke up a throw to the end zone and later completed a long huck to Mitch Kulczak, who found John Randolph for the 10-6 lead.
“We really tried to take a mentality of building pressure over the course of the game,” Snell said. “Second half, we definitely started to grind them down a little bit.”
Machine won after a similarly quick start, helped out by a defense that created three breaks in the first half. Jesse White stalled out his mark to set up a forehand score from Johnny Bansfield to Kurt Gibson, and Jeff Weis later came up with both the D and the goal for a 7-4 lead.
Alex Evangelides continued his strong run at Nationals with three more goals for Machine, who led 11-7 in the second half before Revolver ran off three points in a row. Cassidy Rasmussen’s pass to Adam Rees got Revolver within one at 14-13, but Joe White hit Yiding Hou to win it, knocking out the five-time champions.
“We like to get one break really early,” Jesse White said. “Breaks after the first point and then out of the half are really important to us. It’s important to our momentum to come down and start off with good defensive pressure.”
Both Machine and Ring of Fire are teams that lost their first matches in pool play on Thursday morning but have since run off three consecutive strong wins. Henry Fisher led the way for Ring of Fire with four goals in the quarterfinals, including the first in a critical three-point run that put the Raleigh, N.C., team ahead 10-5.
Truck Stop couldn’t get closer than 14-12 after that, when a Nicky Spiva pass to Gus Norrbom made it a two-point game late. But Ring of Fire’s offensive line got it done on the next possession, as Matt Gouchoe-Hanas found Sol Yanuck for the winner.
In the pre-quarters, Sub Zero beat GOAT 15-12, Truck Stop beat Temper 15-13, Revolver beat the Condors 15-13 and Rhino Slam! surprised DiG 15-12. Truck Stop’s win served as a rubber match in a season series, as Temper beat Truck Stop at the Pro Championships but lost to them at regionals.
“These guys know us,” Spiva said. “We’ve been playing these guys for a lot of years. They have a pretty consistent team year to year, so we know what they like to do, we know who their guys are.”
Truck Stop and Revolver won their fifth-place semifinal showdowns and will face off Saturday at 9 a.m. Rhino Slam! and Sub Zero, who lost in the fifth-place semis, also still have something to play for, as they’ll play Doublewide and Furious George, respectively, for two seventh-place finishes that will qualify the winners for the Triple Crown Tour’s 2020 Pro Flight and earn automatic berths to next year’s Pro Championships and bid priority for the U.S. Open Club Championships.
The seventh-place games are also set for Saturday at 9 a.m. at Surf Cup Sports Park.
Tune in to both men’s semifinals, live from Mira Mesa High School, on ESPN3 and the ESPN app tomorrow evening beginning at 5:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. PT.