Thunderbirds Dominate the Weekend, 31-13 At Home vs Detroit, 31-26 Away at Indy
By: Michael Guido (Day 1)
By: Andrew Gardner (Day 2)
After a brutal loss to Midwest rivals Indianapolis AlleyCats on Sunday, June 26th, the Thunderbirds needed to go 3-0 over their final three games to secure the number two seed in the Midwest without outside help. With a home game against a resurrected Detroit team, whom after going winless the prior two years already notched four wins on the 2016 campaign, and an away game against the AlleyCats, whom the Thunderbirds were 0-2 against on the season, it was an undeniable uphill battle.
Day 1 – Friday, July 1st
The Thunderbirds returned to Founders Field on Friday night hoping to rebound from that aforementioned crushing loss the previous Sunday. The Mechanix, who had vastly improved in 2016 winning four games, looked to spoil the Thunderbirds’ chances of making the playoffs.
For a change, it was the visiting team that opened the scoring, as a quick Richard Stacklin pass to Wesley Chan gave the Mechanix a 1-0 lead just 26 seconds into the game. Yet, just 11 seconds later, Pat Earles, who would go on to have an incredible game performance, flung a beauty to Max Sheppard to open the Thunderbirds scoring, tying it at 1. Twelve seconds later, the Mechanix would retake the lead, but that would be the last time they would attain it, as the Thunderbirds rolled along, scoring three goals in three minutes, all the results of three breaks, which gave the Thunderbirds a buffer they never wavered on.
The Thunderbirds lost on Sunday to Indianapolis due to their lackluster defense, which allowed the AlleyCats offense to find large openings that resulted in goals. The Thunderbirds marks were glaringly loose, allowing the AlleyCat offense too much space to throw the deep pass which consequently opened up the downfield offensive flow. But this night, the Thunderbirds D was tight, forcing a D it seemed on every other Detroit possession, and both D-lines turned those turnovers into points.
The player of the game could be shared among a few players, including University of Pittsburgh star Sam VanDusen, who recorded six assists, captain Ethan “Birdman” Beardsley, who had five goals, and/or Jon “Diesel” DeAmicis, who had four D’s. Eddie Peters in the plus-minus statistic (goals + assists) – (throwaways + drops) recorded a rating of plus eight.
The Thunderbirds also saw a rejuvenated offense, as they managed to put up 31, tying the most they’ve put up all season, matching their May 7th game against the Cincinnati Revolution.
The Thunderbirds simply outmatched the Mechanix, but an even greater challenge of traveling to Indianapolis the following day to face their newest rivals, the AlleyCats, presented a must win to stay in the playoff race.
Day 2 – Saturday, July 2nd
“This win feels great right now, but it means nothing if we don’t go and pick one up tomorrow. It means nothing! So let’s enjoy this. Let’s feel where we are right now, what energy brings to the table, and let’s make sure we [expletive] double that tomorrow!”
That was #41 Pat Hammonds, speaking to the team after the 31-13 victory over the Detroit Mechanix on Friday night after the game. Clearly, this message resonated with the Birds, as Sunday’s 31-26 victory over the Indianapolis AlleyCats in Indianapolis was their first victory against the squad in three attempts.
“You’ve got to excuse the intensity there from Pat Hammonds”, said Matt Weiss, play-by-play announcer during Thunderbirds’ live-streams when referring to the expletive Hammonds dropped at the end of the game, “…but he let the team know that the energy they brought tonight is the energy they need to bring for the rest of the season.” Message well received.
After a full-length AUDL game, the Thunderbirds were back at it, boarding a charter bus en route to Indianapolis the very next day at 11:00am, knowing that a loss would virtually eliminate them from play-off contention.
At 7:30pm, the AlleyCats pulled to the Thunderbirds’ O-line, consisting of Beardsley, Earles, Sheppard, Slevin, Vatz, Fedorenko and Brenenborg. In what would be 1 of 11 assists on the night, Pat Earles would find Mark Fedorenko with a lefty forehand in the back corner of the end-zone to take the early 1-0 lead.
The Thunderbirds first D-line would then tack on a break when Dillon Tranquillo would record the poach block on AlleyCat star Keenan Plew. #5 Austin Engel would pick up the disc, flick it up to #13 Mike Ogren who promptly fired a 45 yard forehand to #12 Mitch Cihon in stride in the end-zone, pushing the early lead to 2-0.
At 8:31 in 1st quarter, the Thunderbirds would add the second break of the game. After a cross-field hammer went awry, Sam VanDusen throw a floaty hammer to #18 Carl Morgenstern in the end-zone who plucked it out of the air from the AlleyCat defender.
What was the most impressive play of the game, if not the entire season across the entire League, happened with 3:40 left in the 1st quarter. DeAmicis’ huck was blocked by AlleyCat Nick Hortemiller in the endzone. On the AlleyCat possession, #32 Steve Mogielski went full extension and made an in-cut layout block, which sent the disc forward right into the body of Jonathan Mast for the Callahan! The biggest controversy on the play; how to score it. Does it count as an assist to Callahan? An assist and goal? Or just a Callahan? Regardless, the play was easily one of the best plays in the history of the AUDL.
After one quarter, the Thunderbirds did something they weren’t accustomed to, a torrid start, dashing out to an 11-8 lead. Every jump disc seemed to end up in the hands of a Thunderbird, last-second goals were being converted, and yet, in the blink of an eye, the Thunderbirds were somehow down 19-17 early in the 3rd quarter.
With 6:06 left in the 3rd quarter, tied at 20’s, the Thunderbirds had enough, rallying off the first of three straight breaks to take a 23-20 lead. It was a lead they would not relinquish.
Pat Earles entered the 4th quarter was 10 assists, 4 shy of tying the AUDL single game assist record set by Thunderbird player Tyler DeGirolamo just a year ago in Minnesota against the WindChill. Stats were clearly the last thing on Earles’ mind however as the Thunderbirds orchestrated possibly their best O-point of the season, completing a staggering 43 passes that saw the disc touch the hands all 7 Thunderbirds players on the line. The point started with 7:04 left on the clock. It ended with a David Vatz goal with 4:14.
More importantly, the game ended with a victory for a Thunderbirds, which puts them on the inside track for the #2 seed in the playoffs once again.
The Thunderbirds will take on the Minnesota WindChill at home on July 9th at Founder’s Field at 7pm in a must-win game to secure a home play-off game. The game will be Season Ticket holder appreciation night, featuring 20% off all merchandise during the game.