Tuesday, April 26, 2011

USCA Western Region Championships

It has been a banner year for Mission Hills Croquet Club. During the 2010-2011 season Mission Hills hosted a well attended Golf Croquet Nationals, had several members score USCA awards (district president of the year, volunteer of the year, and two players of the year in their respective flights) and took the honor of USCA Club of the Year. As club ladders wound down and snow birds migrated North to more familiar territory the Western Regionals became the ultimate contest for many players in the desert. Twenty-two players, many of whom are Mission Hills members, took part in the regionals with a few visitors from other areas of California, Oregon and Idaho. The groups were divided into two familiar groups for singles and the field of seven doubles teams were left in an all-play block until the playoffs.

Block play had several undefeated players, but the cross-block games took care of that. Three of the four singles blocks had an undefeated player; Ben Rothman in Championship flight and Sheri Foroughi and Mary Rodeberg in First Flight. Since these were also the top seeds in their respective groups, they faced off against each other in the crossover games. Mary and Sheri had an all out battle with Sheri holding her edge for a 20-15 victory and the number one playoff spot. Ben and Jim Butts traded breaks and Jim put down the winning break to let Ben back in for a 26-22 nail-biter.

Traveling players had a tough time warming up to the lawn speed and faltered early. Steve Scalpone underperformed in the block allowing Jim Turner and Aviv Katz to score big upsets while Len Lyon, a long time desert player, showed his touch and deadness control with giant wins over the two Jims, Butts and Turner to be exact. In some games, the wind became a major factor. Players had to wait for still winds or suffer the swaying sensation of the mallet mid-swing. But the wind did allow for a convenient scapegoat for missed shots and “lucky” hit ins.

When all the scores were in the books, players congregated at Hope Harmon's court-side condo for a Toast and Tally. Mission Hills Croquet Club was very generous in providing lunches throughout the tournament and a wonderful cocktail party where players donated to the Y.A.C.H.T. (Young American Croquet Homage Tour) Fund. The Y.A.C.H.T. has been gaining momentum during the Winter months and will be working towards its goals of promotion, education, and support throughout the Summer and Fall this year (for more information email CroquetPro@gmail.com). Ben and Sheri took the top seeds with perfect records and while most blocks went to seed Karen Comeau and Toni Kemp surprised their block and jumped up a few spots for the playoffs. Doubles was dominated two teams: Bob Van Tassell and Steve Scalpone and the only team to beat them, Ben Rothman and Bob Morford (of Morford Mallets). Peter Bach and Jim Turner took the third seed but the next three teams ended up in a tie for the fourth and final spot in the championship playoffs. With head-to-head as the first tie-breaker, Mike Orgill and Nick Gray moved on while Jim Butts and Aviv Katz along with Ron Hendry and Marty Foroughi dropped into the first flight doubles playoff with Mary Rodeberg and Rich Schiller.

Steve Scalpone and Bob Van Tassell celebrate a doubles victory.

In the single elimination playoffs, early upsets were in vogue. The undefeated Sheri Foroughi fell to a warmed up Dick Engebretson (18-13) after Dick beat Bob Morford (16-4) in the play-in game. Dick soon ran out of gas against his croquet rival Marvin Salles who returned to form in the playoffs with convincing wins over Toni Kemp (20-12) and Dick (16-4). Karen Comeau survived a scare against Nick Gray (14-13) while Judy eeked out a win over Jean Engebretson (15-14) only to lose to Mary Rodeberg by the same score. Mary's hard work in understanding the end game paid off as she moved past Karen (13-10) and into the finals with Marvin.

The biggest upset in championship flight proved the value of a play in game and the detriment of a top seed. Jim Butts waited for his opponent as Peter Bach battled with Len Lyon (23-11 for Bach). Jim was unable to get in the groove against his confident opponent and watched as Peter demonstrated his newfound championship-level play in a long-awaited victory (22-14). While Rich Schiller hoped the same fate lay in store for him after defeating Aviv Katz (22-7) in the play-in round, he was not as lucky. Ben Rothman used his quarter-final game as an experiment and laid a trap giving himelf a standard triple peel for a 26-10 victory. Ben remained in form but decided against tripling in the semi-final with Steve Scalpone who will not be putting his name on the John Taylor trophy this year (26-4). Bob Van Tassell found his game after a brief hiatus this winter and beat Jim Turner (24-14) as well as the giant-killer Peter Bach (23-18). Could “Sandy” Bob repeat his perfect game and defeat Rothman in the finals?

In a word, no. The championship final was a rather boring game in which Rothman failed an aggressive attack, giving Van Tassell a break. Bob made one error (a missed return roquet after hoop five) and Rothman turned it into two breaks to complete the snooze-fest. The good news was, this freed up spectators to watch the truly exciting finishes in the first flight finals and the championship third place game.

Ben and "Sandy" Bob continue their friendly rivalry in the desert.

In doubles, the two dominant teams remained so as they cruised to the finals. Ben and Bob managed a nice attack, but one stuffed hoop was all it took for Bob Van Tassell and Steve Scalpone to run their breaks and seal the deal. In the “first flight” doubles final, Marty Foroughi and Aviv Katz battled the out game for over an hour as Jim and Ron made risk-free hoops. After the in-balls got around to rover and penult, the out-balls joined the game. There was some anxious two-balling until finally Marty ran a nice break to take a comfortable lead and seal the victory (20-16).

Aviv Katz and Jim Butts after losing to Ron Hendry and Marty Foroughi

The two most exciting games of the day were saved for last. The first flight final pitted wily veteran Mary Rodeberg against the sharp shooting cowboy, Marvin Salles. Mary had the lead, but could never feel secure as Marvin is an avid break runner. With a small lead in the final minutes, Mary had a chance to take Marvin out of the jaws of his hoop (see below) and keep him double partner dead. Mary had to assume a fair amount of deadness for this opportunity and when the critical shot came, she missed the ball in the jaws! With the necessary balls on the court, Marvin ran a game-tying break, but when he realized that he was near the go ahead hoop, his shots began to falter. With a bad pioneer and a bad approach, Marvin took a desperation angled shot and bounced back from the hoop, leaving a tied ball game. At this point, it was anyone's game. Mary forgot to use her clearing, which could have sealed the victory, but from corner three, she shot her rover ball at the peg and hit! This put Mary up by one point leaving Marvin the hoop shot from nearly the same spot as before. With the game on the line, Marvin proved that the angle was just too much to contend with and Mary won the first flight (17-16).

Mary's missed shot (black) at Red to allow Marvin a chance for the title.

In the rough and tumble battle for third place Steve Scalpone fell way behind the up and comer Peter Bach. Peter had a finishing break, but missed a shot after one-back. With very little time left Steve got around to peg while his back ball was still for hoop three. With the game nearly in hand, Peter used up the remaining clock and pegged out his rover ball. Behind by six points in last turns Steve hit his partner and rolled both balls down to hoop three leaving a nice rush and a desperation turn. Spectators nearly turned away as Scalpone managed to get rushes and make a few tough roll-ups and as the crowd buzzed with recognition, Steve made a bad rush to one-back. Still behind by two, Steve dribbled the take-off from the middle of the court just past one-back. After a sweaty six yard roquet, Steve faced another long take-off to two-back and came up about ten feet short. With the crowd enraptured and Peter staring daggers, Steve hit both stanchions and wiggled through for the tie! The second rotation saw a heroic shot just missed by Mr. Bach and Scalpone sent his rover ball to the peg for one of the most clutch finishes of 2011, and it was for third place (21-20).

2011 Trophy Recipients (Less Marvin Salles)

Championship Singles:
1. Ben Rothman
2. Bob Van Tassell
3. Steve Scalpone
4. Peter Bach
5. Jim Butts
5. Jim Turner
5. Ron Hendry
5. Rich Schiller
9. Aviv Katz
9. Len Lyon

Steve Scalpone presents the John Taylor Award to the Tournament Champion

First Flight Singles:
1. Mary Rodeberg
2. Marvin Salles
3. Karen Comeau
3. Dick Engebretson
5. Sheri Foroughi
5. Toni Kemp
5. Nick Gray
5. Judy Dahlstrom
9. Jean Engebretson
9. Bob Morford

Championship Doubles:
1. Bob Van Tassell + Steve Scalpone
2. Ben Rothman + Bob Morford
3. Peter Bach + Jim Turner
3. Mike Orgill + Nick Gray

"First Flight" Doubles:
1. Ron Hendry + Marty Foroughi
2. Jim Butts + Aviv Katz
3. Rich Schiller + Mary Rodeberg

No comments: