East Semifinal: 2E Philly Survives 6E London, 179-144
BURLINGTON, VT -- 6 seed London came into the second semifinal of the WFTDA East Playoffs against 2 seed Philly with reason to believe they could land the upset, following a strong performance against Montreal on Friday and Philly having more trouble than expected with Boston in their previous game. Philly came out looking much stronger than they had about 24 hours ago -- but London stepped up their game as well, leading to one of the best games of the weekend.
London took Philly all the way into the last two minutes but, like many before them, couldn't find a consistent defensive answer for V Diva (who had her second 100 point game of the weekend) or a consistent way through rough Philly packs of Shenita Stretcher, Olivia Face, Gloria Grindem and Heavy Flo. Philly took a thrilling 179-144 win to advance to the East Playoffs final for the fourth year in a row -- where they'll face Gotham for the fourth year in a row.
The fast, hard-hitting pace of the early game favored Philly. Philly stuck to a mostly two jammer rotation of Teflon Donna and V Diva for the first half with occasional support from Antidote and Mo Pain, and with the exception of a 12-0 power jam to Kamikaze Kitten, the high seed dominated the first five jams to go up 32-12 early.
Jam 6 saw London's first lead jammer call to Juicy Lucy, who had a tough battle against Shenita Stretcher, Damage Dahl and Castro to finally pull a natural 5-0. But London couldn't contain the strength of V Diva, who consistently blasted her way through on the pink Londoners for 19-0, putting London in a tough 51-17 hole about 11 minutes into the action.
The middle of the half was the story of London slowly losing ground on the scoreboard and looking to be in increasing danger of getting blown out. Unable to get traction, London called their first timeout with exactly 10 minutes in the half and looking at a 73-27 deficit.
London managed to get something going in the aftermath of that break. Raw Heidi, Grievous Bodily Charm and Shaolynn Scarlett finally got London a solid win by tying up Teflon Donna on a 8-0 to Rogue Runner, but London was still looking up from a 85-37 hole with about 5 minutes to play in the half. Olivia Face and Heavy Flo did the same to Kamikaze Kitten on the followup on an excellent penalty kill after Philly lead jammer Antidote was boxed, holding Kitten to no margin at 5-5.
The next jam was a huge crowd pleaser as V Diva and Flamin Aggro got out of pack neck and neck and hit each other almost all the way around the track; right before they were about to enter the pack, V Diva found herself boxed on a 4th minor. Aggro put up London's biggest jam of the game so far with 19-0, and London was getting some momentum with the score 94-61 going into the last jam of the half.
London lead jammer Rogue Runner committed a split-second track cut trying to keep her footing on her opening pass. Although that jam ended up going 15-5 to V Diva, it also featured some phenomenal slow defense from Stefanie Mainey, The Dalai Harmer and Olivia Coupe, who finally captured Diva on her third scoring pass and knocked her out of bounds over and over again while the Philly passive offense watched and waited. The battering finally forced Diva to the box late in the jam, and the half ended at 109-66.
The Philly margin hadn't really changed much in the last ten minutes of the first half -- moving from 46 to 43 points -- but London had been looking like a much more confident team in the closing run by demonstrating they could play the 2 seed evenly.
The second half started with the Philly box completely full -- including V Diva -- and Kamikaze Kitten quickly cut 19 big points off the margin to get London to within 24 at 109-85. Philly picked up lead on the next two, and the second found both jammers boxed. After it was over, Philly's lead was 21 at 116-95 but V Diva had a power jam opportunity.
Once again, though, London's slow defense, led by Stefanie Mainey, forced Diva to the penalty box. Flamin' Aggro crushed her way through a more permeable Philly penalty kill, and Philly's lead continued to dwindle -- London trailed by just 13, 121-108, with 22:07 in the half and V Diva watching from the penalty box to start the next jam.
Kamikaze Kitten picked up a quick lead and London worked a very careful positional game to keep V Diva from scoring out of the box; it was 121-116 Philly after Kitten called a 8-0 just in the nick of time.
On the verge of giving up the advantage, Philly finally strung together some good jams, winning 3 out of the next 4 to get the lead back to double digits at 140-118 with 16 minutes to play; the game was only getting more intense with brutal hits from Stefanie Mainey answered in kind by Heavy Flo.
The London defense continued to demonstrate masterful work on the boundary lines, with Grievous Bodily Charm and Mainey particularly effective at directing London pack traffic to draw Philly jammers as far back as legally possible after knocking them out of bounds, but London's jammers found themselves with trouble against increasingly tight clumps of Philly blockers. Philly stayed barely a step in front over the next five minutes to a new score of 148-125 going into the final ten minutes of the bout.
Almost as if to underscore how evenly matched the bout was, the next four jams all went 4-0 -- but Philly took three of those to make their lead 160-129 with 6:25 to play. Down by 31, London called their second timeout.
But it was still V Diva that proved unsolvable for the underdogs. She picked up yet another 4-0 marked by an airborne dodge of Olivia Coupe, and on the followup a lead jam call for London went for naught in a 2-2. It was 166-131 with 4 minutes to play.
London's last chance came on a much needed power jam opportunity for Juicy Lucy when V Diva low blocked her way to the box. Lucy was able to pick up 13 key points, but Gloria Grindem, Olivia Face and Heavy Flo stepped up to the challenge with some strong penalty killing that eventually sent Lucy to the box at an extremely unfortunate time for London.
London was within striking distance at 166-144, but there was only 1:44 left on the clock and Lucy was stuck in the box. London could not afford to give up lead jammer status to Tef, but with plenty of time to carefully work unopposed, she was able to claim it, all but sealing the game for Philly. She'd pick up some insurance points in the course of running out the remaining time, and Philly hung on for an extremely closely contested 179-144 victory.
The win sets up the fourth straight Gotham / Philly East final -- and Philly's fifth straight trip to the WFTDA championship tournament. London will face Charm City -- who have appeared in every East 3rd place game since 2009 -- for the East's remaining playoff invite.