Riptide Inflict First Loss on FlameThrowers
By Paul Wang
Photos by Jeff Bell
The San Francisco FlameThrowers traveled to Swangard Stadium on June 4th for their fifth road game of the AUDL season and their third game of the year against the Vancouver Riptide. The teams were welcomed by a a noisy crowd of 450 in the stands enjoying a beautiful summer evening, and the fans went home happy after the Riptide were able to end San Francisco’s season-long unbeaten streak by winning a thrilling game by the close score of 29-27.
The Riptide had a strong first quarter, finishing the first 12 minutes ahead by a score of 6-5. Setting the stage for a game filled with outstanding individual plays, even though Morgan Hibbert was hand blocked in the very first point, he made up for it with two huge skies on the following defensive point. Despite Hibbert’s menacing presence, the FlameThrowers showed they weren’t afraid to look deep, especially not when Greg Cohen was putting it up for Simon Higgins.
Vancouver started their second quarter with an unfortunate offside call, allowing San Francisco to get an easy score for the tie. After looking shaky for the first two points, the Riptide finally started hitting their deep shots, utilizing their big men Gagan Chatha and Hibbert. In the absence of the injured William Vu and Kevin Underhill, Tim Tsang took charge of the hucks. Taking advantage of unforced drops and stall count turnovers by the FlameThrowers, the Riptide pulled ahead and finished the first half with a 16-12 lead.
“We’ve been working hard all season on our offensive spacing and it is showing improvement.” Head Coach Tasia Balding said, “Additionally, we had some guys come up big and make plays when we needed them. This boosted everyone’s confidence and got us going early.”
As it has been all season, the third quarter was tough for the Riptide. The FlameThrowers, led by Higgins, Cohen, Eli Kerns, and Federico Chialvo, their fantastic four, managed to force errors leading to four breaks and cutting the Riptide lead to one point, at 18-17. But after calling a timeout, the Riptide started slicing through the FlameThrowers’ zone, allowing them to start looking deep again. The teams traded points until the clock ran out with the score 22-20 for the Riptide.
The FlameThrowers picked up their pace in the fourth quarter, scoring O-points and breaks faster than the Riptide could respond. After a mystifying foul call at 25-25, San Francisco took advantage of the confusion to move into the lead for the first time in the game, but a few points later, the Riptide caught some luck. A quick adjustment on a tipped disc byBrayden Gee allowed him to score and keep the possibility of victory alive, a possibility the Riptide nailed down by scoring two breaks in a row to end the FlameThrowers’ season-long undefeated streak.
Notably, the Riptide managed to win without a number of their best handlers, including Vu, Underhill, and Anatoly Vasilyez.
“Earlier in the season Vu, Underhill and Vasilyez were three of our top performing handlers who took on a heavy portion of the workload,” said Hibbert. “All three were vital in our early season victories. But we have been without Underhill and Vasilyez for a few weeks now, and the one positive about missing such talents is that it presents an opportunity for some of our younger players. We have a lot of them, and this big game experience is invaluable to their development. We always knew we had a lot of talent with these youngsters, but to see them develop at such a quick rate has been really awesome to watch.”
“The younger guys felt the pressure cooker last week when we played two road games in the Bay Area, and it looked like that experience really paid off in this game. They played with the composure of seasoned veterans.”
At the end of the game, Riptide cutter Darren Wu received the most exciting player award for his sensational full horizontal layout D in the second quarter. The FlameThrowers’ Simon Higgins, whose numbers speak for themselves, won his tram’s most exciting player award with eight goals and five assists.
“This was the first time I have played against Higgins, I have heard a lot about him in the past and everything they say is true,” said Hibbert. “He is a class act and a damn good player. He was a real challenge for me at times with his speed and size. He burned me deep on one particular play, so much so that I need to go to the track today to try and get faster so that next time I can keep up with him.”
With only six games and just over a month remaining in the regular season for the Riptide, and the Los Angeles Aviators, who the Riptide have yet to play this year, lurking only half a game behind in the race for the final playoff spot, the team is becoming ever more focused on its goal of securing that playoff spot.
“We will continue working hard on fundamentals, as we have all season.” said Balding. “We have played San Diego only once so far, at home, and they are a team that has a lot of heart and athleticism, so we expect a good challenge when we meet them again. I’m also looking forward to playing against Los Angeles three times. It’s pretty late in the season to meet them for the first time. Both teams have had the chance to build momentum so I am sure it will be a competitive match-up. But of course our focus remains on next week’s game against Seattle.”
Seattle, who beat San Francisco on Sunday after the Riptide softened them up with this Saturday night win, are as a result only half a game behind the FlameThrowers in the race for first place. The means we can expect the Cascades to be going all out for the win on Saturday night when they travel north to Swangard to meet the Riptide.
You can buy tickets for Saturday’s game and for the rest of the Riptide’s upcoming home games at Swangard Stadium here.