By Austin Wallace and Cameron VomBaur
The Austin Outlaws took home their first MLQ Championship, defeating the Indianapolis Intensity in the finals (read more here), but how did each team advance to the championship match?
Boston Night Riders vs. Austin Outlaws
By Austin Wallace
In Game One, both teams utilized aggressive beating and crisp ball movement to create penetration and chances, resulting in an early 20-20 tie. The beating was incredible, with one excellent sequence negated by a chaser penalty: with Austin up 40-20, Lulu Xu was able to dodge an Austin beater’s bludger, then in the wrestle for a second bludger, beat the Austin beater from the ground; that gave room for Tyler Trudeau to drive, before being taken out by a hard long-range facebeat from Austin’s Bailee Fields. An Austin chaser immediately recovered and looked to have a lane for a fast break before being immediately beat from long range by Max Havlin.
The early game MVP was undoubtedly Augustine Monroe as he was key on multiple possessions, while scoring or assisting on a majority of Austin’s first five goals.
For Boston, it was a more even mix of star players, featuring Teddy Costa, Julia Baer, and Harry Greenhouse supported by a deep and talented beater set.
Star Boston beater Max Havlin was, as usual, hyper–aggressive and, also as usual, it did not always work out. On one occasion, after winning a battle at his hoops with an Austin beater, Havlin left the bludger he won at the hoops and raced down past the halfway mark to gather the third bludger, attempting to use it to apply pressure to the Outlaws in their half. Austin was able to maintain possession of the quaffle, and Havlin was able to get back and regain the bludger left at the hoops. The next play, Havlin traded with the Austin beater and again tried to sprint down the field for the third bludger; however this time he was beat out and the sequence ended with Austin in possession of two bludgers, which the Night Riders traded for a goal from the Outlaws’ Martin Bermudez.
At the expiration of the seeker floor, Austin led 100-30. Foreshadowing a strategy Austin’s next opponent would employ in the finals, Boston started a seeker who does not usually seek, Emily Hickmott, while running five male players. Hickmott was physical and did an excellent job of defending against Austin’s seeker, Craig Garrison, before they both subbed out. Austin then sent out a seeker who also does not usually seek, along with five male quaffle players.
Costa, Boston’s leading scorer with 22 goals in nine regular season games, was effective early on, but missed a couple of key shots later in the game, took a card, and was generally stymied by Austin’s suffocating defense. Outside shooting from players like Costa and Greenhouse vs. the ruthless efficiency of Austin’s drives and dunks were the difference between a 150-90* win and a much closer game.
Game Two saw Boston roar back with aggressive beating and rebounds from Costa and Jayke Archibald, who had a relatively quiet Game One. Costa played a complete game, creating offense and making stops on defense while seeing heavy minutes. Archibald had a pinpoint assist and a mid-range goal to help push the Night Riders up to their first lead of the series, and subbed out to a 40-20 Boston lead. Trudeau got uncharacteristically stuffed attempting his typical thunderous dunks multiple times, but was able to help Boston maintain that 20–point lead. While he is a lesser-known name on a deeply talented roster, Ian Scura continued to be a viable threat after scoring 13 goals this season, with two key goals in Game Two. Both times, the Night Rider’s bench sang the Darth Vader theme in honor or Scura’s likeness to a young Anakin Skywalker. Conversely, Stew Driflot was one big-name player who probably wished he had a better series. Twice he received the ball a foot from the hoops with no bludger threatening, and was unable to convert on either opportunity; then he put in a poor effort in the next play, unable to get a second body on a wrapped Monroe; finally, Driflot slowly walked behind the hoops to attempt an ineffectual one-hand block as Austin closed the gap to just 10 points, 60-50.
Despite being down 30 points at times, the Outlaws never looked rattled. They continued to be very comfortable using their single reset, and worked the ball around the field before either driving or setting up a player to receive the pass close to the goal.
Austin used its timeout and methodical style to battle back to an even game before the end of the seeker floor.
Snitch–on–pitch started with ferocity, as Boston aggressively went after the snitch with both beaters, while Austin was more effective in the quaffle game. Multiple seekers for both teams got real opportunities at a catch, with Greenhouse catching after play was stopped and getting multiple clean looks. Driflot was on while Austin had bludger control, and did not get much time with the snitch. Boston’s third seeker, Archibald, was able to catch quickly while Gabe Garcez was preoccupied; however, Garcez was ruled to be down before the tail was completely removed.
Boston’s intense focus on the snitch might have been the team’s downfall, though it may have won the game against any other snitch in the world. Garcez was able to withstand Boston’s seeking onslaught while Austin slowly started to pull away. Austin’s seekers did find some chances to pull and received occasional help from their beaters, but their seekers were often focussed on positioning themselves to limit their opponent’s’ opportunities with the snitch.
Austin went out of range for good by 30 minutes, though the lead remained between 40 and 50 points until the game ended at 40 minutes with Austin winning 180-140.
Indianapolis Intensity vs. Los Angeles Guardians
By Cameron VomBaur
After a Day One that saw the Los Angeles Guardians comfortably sweep the Washington Admirals and the Indianapolis Intensity emerge from a heated three-game series with the League City Legends (the quarterfinals’ only non-sweep), the two divisional champions met in the semifinals at the MLQ Championship. Both were seen as lucky to not face Austin or Boston until the finals, but still faced a steep challenge in each other. Each team has employed a high-tempo style in many of its victories before and during championship weekend: Indianapolis with the fast break offense perfected at Ball State by Tyler Walker and Blake Fitzgerald, and Los Angeles with relentless beater pressure from the likes of Chris Seto and Peter Lee. The result was a long-awaited championship berth for Indianapolis, heartbreak again for Los Angeles, and two well-paced and thrilling games.
The first semifinal match was very tight, with neither team attaining a lead over 20 points. Andrew Axtell dominated Intensity possessions and the Guardians’ quaffle players had no answer for his drives. Comparatively, the Guardians’ attack was more pass-based, and excellent coordination with their beaters led to several shots on open hoops. Despite the bevy of talent among the Guardians’ beater corps, there were perhaps only five seconds during which West MVP Justin Fernandez had a legitimate opportunity to catch the snitch. Walker and Indianapolis allowed Jason Bowling long stretches of time to wear the snitch down, culminating in a catch to win 100*-80.
In the rematch, the Guardians seemed to improve on their previous performance, especially defensively. Allowing only five goals, all on unassisted drives, Guardian chasers played very effective chaser defense, suffocating passing options and ensuring that the only goals Indianapolis could score would require heavy offensive beating and arduous drives. Offensively, while the Guardians still utilized a good deal of passing around the perimeter, keeper Duran Allison took on a leading role, scoring four of the Guardian’s seven goals and chipping in an assist in a surge that saw Indianapolis face a four-goal deficit for several minutes. Despite his impressive efforts, Indianapolis was able to force a series of opportunistic and clutch turnovers to prevent the game getting further out of hand. The sweep was completed with a whirlwind sequence. At roughly 20:50, Seto and Max Portillo held bludger control for the Guardians against Intensity’s Walker and Erin Moreno. Seto missed a beat on Walker, but then immediately caught a Walker beat, regaining control. As Walker recovered Seto’s miss, Fernandez was allowed a few seconds’ time with the snitch, as Bowling lurked nearby. While Walker returned and beat Fernandez, Seto dashed away from the seeker game in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent Matthew Fiebig from bringing the game to a 20-point gap, which he did at roughly 21:06. After this, Lee substituted in for Seto, leaving Portillo as the only Guardians beater on the snitch for an extended time. However, when Walker beat Fernandez, Portillo turned his back to an easy beat on Bowling and instead chose to attempt beat Walker immediately afterward at 21:08, giving Bowling a window of opportunity, which he seized in a mere two or three seconds at 21:11. Lee watched helplessly, sprinting in from across the pitch, as the Intensity secured its first-ever place in the MLQ championship after winning three consecutive MLQ North titles. Portillo had an excellent series, and has made a name for himself this season, but that decision may haunt him for some time.