Riptide Lose Heartbreaker to Aviators
By Scott Lewis
Photos by Jeff Bell
The Vancouver Riptude had a stranglehold on the final West Division playoff spot in their grasp late in Saturday night’s AUDL game against the LA Aviators, but they let it slip away. Or perhaps more accurately, they threw it away.
Handicapped by having half the team and almost all of their veterans away in London representing Canada at the World Championships, they lacked the concentration and calm needed to see out the vital win that was theirs for the taking. As a result, their playoff hopes are in jeopardy with only two weeks left in the season.
Although the start was slightly delayed by border issues for the Aviators, the game was played in perfect conditions in front of an attentive and enthusiastic crowd. Reflecting those conditions, the first eight points featured lots of hucking and only two turnovers, both by the Riptide, capped by Mark Elbogen’s giving Los Angeles a 5-3 lead with a sweet cross-field hammer to Brian Nguyen for the third of his game-high eight goals.
After giving up another break, the Riptide took back the initiative, inspired by an athletic D by Kevin Greer, and took their first lead early in the second quarter when Brett Anderson got another D and Oliver Telfer found Gagan Chatha to put the Riptide in front 8-7. The teams both played sound Ultimate through the rest of the first half, the Aviators content to pass it among their handlers even if it meant temporarily giving up yardage, the Riptide more speculative in their approach, and the game entered the break tied 13-13.
The third quarter was low-scoring, with the Aviators maintaining their steady pace and the Riptide alternating errors and brilliance with their more high-risk approach, and ended with the teams tied at 17-17.
The Riptide maintained serve to take the lead 19-18, and when Darren Wu got one of his patented layout Ds to give the Riptide possession, things were all set up for them to take a two-goal lead with only a few minutes left in the game, but their offense was starting to get frenetic and inefficient. They gave up the disc on a stall count violation near the Aviator end zone and when they got it back on a great defensive sky by Ben Burelle in their own end zone, they almost immediately returned it to the Aviators’ custody with an ill-advised throw, leading to Eric Lissner earning his game-high sixth assist by passing the disc to Elbogen to tie the score 19-19.
With only a few minutes left to play, after the Riptide received the pull William Vu quickly threw it away with an low percentage huck, but after the Riptide got the disc back on an L.A. throwaway, he redeemed himself with a sweet scoober assist on a goal by Ari Nitikman to put the Riptide up by one. The Aviators scored the next point to tie things up, but things looked good for the Riptide when after receiving the next pull they smoothly worked it up the field, but another risky throw allowed the Aviators to get the D in the own zone. They soon called a timeout and then played some extremely high-percentage offense to take the lead 21-20 with just under two minutes left.
After receiving the next pull the Riptide again moved the disc smartly up the field but then got frenetic again and allowed the Aviators to get another D in their own end zone. L.A. again called a timeout, and were able to pass the disc around until the clock ran out to cinch their 21-20 win and take their own stranglehold of the third and final playoff spot.
What made the difference in the fourth quarter? One huge factor was certainly the absence of the veteran players who know how to stay calm when things get tense, who know when to holster the high-risk throws and go with the high-percentage alternative.
“Having some of the veterans who were in London would have made a difference,” said Brayden Gee, who played well in this game. “A cool presence to calm us down from frantic play is sometimes the difference between a win and a loss.”
But that wasn’t the only issue for the Riptide.
“There were players on the field in the fourth quarter that clearly were not fit enough,” said Head Coach Tasia Balding, “but due to our short roster, we had no option but to put them out there. Overall, the fourth quarter was about offensive execution errors, which ultimately cost us the game.”
The loss cost the Riptide, now 6-6, any chance of catching San Francisco (10-3) and, likely, Seattle (8-6). The Aviators are at 7-5 after defeating Seattle on Sunday, and with an easier schedule to finish out the season’s final two weeks, are in the driver’s seat to take third place. With a little help from Vancouver, who play their last game in Seattle, Los Angeles could even finish second. Bottom line — the Riptide need to win both their remaining games while hoping L.A. loses their final game against the woeful San Diego Growlers.
But first things first; a win for Vancouver next week in Los Angeles is now a must. It is uncertain exactly how many of the London contingent will make it back in time to play in that game — friends and family, please tell them their team needs them! – but Brayden Gee has found an optimistic side to concentrate on.
“We have shown the league that even though half our roster was in London, we could still play high-calibre Ultimate against teams with their full roster available. Now that we are getting our Team Canada guys back, the Riptide will be stronger than ever.”
Gagan Chatha was the Riptide’s leading scorer in Saturday’s game with four goals and two assists, while Vu and Trevor Knechtel each had four assists. Darren Wu led the team with four Ds while Vu chipped in with three.