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Atlantic Sectionals Report - Denver Style

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Atlantic Sectionals Report
By Matt Gypin, Denver Harlequins
            When I first heard that the 2013 Atlantic Sectionals would be held in Anderson, S.C., my first thought was, where the hell is Anderson, S.C.? While the town was not easy to get to from Denver – no direct flights meant a 10-hour travel day – they did welcome us with open arms. We even had a police escort getting out of the airport, like we were an SEC football team. Talk about Southern hospitality!
            The truth is, we didn’t really care too much where we had to play; we just wanted to win enough games to qualify for Nationals. And we knew the very first game on our schedule, against the hometown Carolina Crash, could potentially be the game that would decide our fate. We also came in with a chip on our shoulders because we were seeded sixth, which we felt slighted by, so, needless to say, we were ready to play.
            So was the Crash. Led by Ron Frederick and Dave Jenkins, Carolina kept it close the whole contest, much to the delight of the crowd. It’s always a little intimidating (and infuriating) when the crowd cheers for your mistakes. I think their fans helped give them some momentum at times, but we knew from the start that we were going to win this game, and we did, 53-47.
            Our excitement didn’t last long, however, because we knew we faced an uphill battle in our next game against the Tampa Generals. We had already been blown out by Tampa, 63-44, a month earlier at our own tournament, and none of us were exactly looking forward to chasing Leevi Ylonen around again. We knew if we lost this game, it wouldn’t matter too much, but instead of playing loose with nothing to lose, we played like we expected to lose, which we did, 57-32. Still, we left the gym on Friday feeling like we had taken care of business.
            We showed up on Saturday excited about our prospects of going to Nationals, and we knew that the NRH Capitol Punishers from Washington, D.C., were an up and coming team, but again we were confident and fully expected to win. On defense, I seemed to be chasing around Paul Hopkins (whom I later befriended on our flight home) on every play and he sure made me work. The Punishers’ low-pointer, Robby Beckman, also seemed to always be in the right place at the right time, and was definitely a nuisance. However, they just didn’t have the overall team speed to hang with us and we pulled away, 54-37.
            Our next game would be the biggest game for us, and probably the best overall game of the entire weekend. We were facing the Shepherd Smash from Atlanta, who beat us, 53-37, in January down in Tampa. This time, we had Adam Scaturro back in our lineup and knew we had a shot to knock them off, but we knew it would be tough. And it was.
            We fell behind early by a few goals, and used up all of our timeouts by the middle of the second quarter. But we hung in there and kept fighting on every play. Somebody said afterward that when Shepherd scored a goal, it looked easy, while whenever we scored, it looked like work. And that’s how it felt, but before we knew it, it was halftime and we were only down one, 29-28. Our player/coach, Jason Regier, said before the game and repeated at halftime that he believed we could beat these guys if we just played hard, smart, and took care of the ball. That’s exactly what we did, and in the third quarter, Shepherd’s frustration showed.
            As Regier stretched his arms up in the air to receive a pass just across half court, Shepherd’s Robert Deller smashed full speed into Regier’s back wheel, spinning him and slamming him to the ground. Our bench was incredulous, yelling that it was a dirty hit and calling Deller a few choice names. I don’t know the game well enough to know if it was a dirty hit or not, but I do know Deller got a 3-minute penalty for it, which I had never seen before. I was just concerned about my teammate, because Regier hit his head pretty hard when he fell.
            I don’t think Deller meant to hurt Regier by any means, but that play definitely fired up our team. Regier shook off the hit, and we took advantage of the penalty, scoring three times. We seized control after that and didn’t let go. A few minutes later, Scaturro got spun to the ground after scoring a goal; another penalty, another goal for us. All of a sudden we found ourselves in the lead by 5 or 6 goals in the fourth quarter. The final few minutes were frantic, as we were out of gas, desperately trying to hold our lead, and they were flying around trying to get it back.
We had just enough in the tank to pull it out, 58-53, assuring ourselves of a spot in Nationals, and earning some respect and another shot at Tampa in the championship game. I played the entire game, and I have never been so exhausted after a game, but it felt great to be a part of such a big win. Our whole team was pumped up and excited. My favorite play of the game was when someone stripped the ball from me in the backcourt, and as it was bouncing on the court with the 12-second clock ticking down, no timeouts, I reached out with my left hand and bumped it as far as I could into the frontcourt, where somehow Garrett Osborne chased it down in the corner and scored. I turned a turnover into a goal, and it was gritty plays like that, by all of us, that won us the game.
We were excited to have a rematch with Tampa in the championship game, and we wanted to prove our win over Shepherd wasn’t a fluke, that we were a team to be reckoned with. We came out aggressive and played as hard as we could, and we were able to keep the score closer than our previous matchups. Regier and I started locking down Ylonen on defense, but his teammates stepped up and didn’t make the mistakes we hoped they might. We played Tampa tougher than we had all season, but it wasn’t enough and we lost, 59-46.
It was my first postseason experience, and it was exciting to say the least. I heard a rumor floating around that there was speculation Shepherd threw the game so they wouldn’t have to go to DI. I want to put that rumor to rest right now, because that’s ridiculous; those guys wanted to win as badly as we did, and they played hard until the very end. I guess it’s shocking to some that we beat them, but to suggest they lost on purpose is a slap in our faces. There’s nothing wrong with giving credit where it is due, people.
Anyway, it was a fun tournament to be a part of, and despite some transportation issues and being so hard to get to, Anderson was a great host. I would like to thank everyone involved for putting it on, especially the cute Clemson coeds who volunteered. I would also like to extend an extra special thank you to Shannon Marks of United Airlines, who personally escorted us through the Greenville airport and took the time on her day off to make sure all of our rugby chairs and equipment were safely and successfully shipped home via FedEx. All of us, and our chairs, made it back to Denver in one piece. Next stop, Louisville!
April 1, 2013 — 2:28am