Relax and Take the D subdue the competition -- and other observations on the 2017 Founders Cup World Kickball Championship

Thursday, October 12, 2017 - 12:40

Relax and Take the D subdue the competition -- and other observations on the 2017 Founders Cup World Kickball Championship

The 20th annual Founders Cup, and the 10th of the Las Vegas era, proved perhaps the most unpredictable tournament in memory -- while at the same time featured easily the most dominant performance by a champion team in their elimination bracket.

Relax and Take the D came into the day a #8 seed, bolstered by a strong qualifying performance in the TX Central Regional this April, but outshined on paper by a large top tier of teams with experience reaching FC Semifinals, including 4 teams who in some form won it all. Free agents spanning from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine joined a core group of Texans, mainly comprised from two veteran dynasties: Relax and Let It Happen, Austin stalwarts who reached the FC Elite 8 in 4 consecutive years (FC2011-FC2014), and The Big D, Dallas all-stars who began to eclipse Relax at FC2015 & FC2016, peaking with a #9 finish, but had yet to reach the Quarterfinals. The merger proved a highly successful chemistry experiment, as Relax and Take the D proved greater than the sum of its parts -- and every other team’s parts as well.

In the tightest Sweet 16 round in FC history, with 7 of 8 games decided by 2 runs or fewer, RelaxD put up 6 first-inning runs on SoCal’s #12 Los Brew Crew -- a notoriously tough out -- en route to a 9-2 victory. They followed that up with a jaw-dropping 6-0 quarterfinal shutout of FC2013 champs and top-seed Flying V (Atlanta), which earned Texas its first Semifinal Cup appearance.

Awaiting them in the Semis was a familiar foe, #3 Sofa King Good, L.A. legends and FC2015 champs -- familiar both for having faced them in Pool Play (a 1-0 squeaker decided by a 1st inning RelaxD run), and for Sofa having eliminated Relax in two of their past FC meetings. The decisive kick of the game -- and perhaps the whole day -- came off the foot of Tara Gavlak, playing in her 5th Founders Cup, who launched a 2-RKI triple in the 2nd inning, before coming home on a sac fly, accounting for all 3 of RelaxD’s runs.

After holding off a bases-loaded rally with a double play in the 3rd, the 4th got choppy -- in what might have been their only defensive miscue of the day, a throw to an unoccupied base let Sofa close the gap to 3-2. No stranger to 5th inning comebacks, Sofa took insurance off the table with a double play of their own, and got the tying run all the way to 3rd before RelaxD could secure the last out and a ticket to the Finals.

Awaiting them there, #2 5YP (Hampton Roads) -- champs of the always-tough VA MidAtlantic Regional, and another newly-reloaded bi-coastal roster (though largely featuring Virginians from 3-time FC Finalists The Situation and FC2008 Champs Frosty Balls). Their sparkling defense had been on display with 5 shutout games out of their 7 played, including against Sweet 16 opponent #15 The Toronto Blow Truckers of Simi and local Vegas favorites #7 Fainting Goats in the Elite 8. In the Semis, 5YP held off formidable Marylanders (and FC2014 Champs) #5 Shockwave, 3-1.

But 5YP had no answer for Relax and Take the D, who put up 2 runs in the first and only tacked on from there, clinching the Cup for Texas with a commanding score of 7-0. In 10 years of FC’s Vegas era, no Championship game had previously been decided by a margin of more than 4 runs, nor had any Champion scored more than 6 runs, nor had one shut out their co-Finalist since 2008. In the most wide-open field in tournament history, Relax and Take the D simply caught fire and proved undeniably, stunningly dominant.

 

Pool Madness XL

For the first time, the FC2017 tournament utilized a Pools-of-5 structure with 4 pool games per team -- and not one of them resolved according to seed. The surprises started early, when only 2 of the 5 top-seeded teams notched wins in the early round, and continued through all 5 hours.

In Pool A, #20 TBDAF (runners-up to RelaxD at the TX Regional) justified their sleeper-pick status early with 6-6 tie against #1 Flying V in their first game of the day. Flying V stepped it up to still win the pool, and #10 BROLA (NOLA) held serve for runner-up status with a 1-0 win over TBDAF, but TBDAF’s 4-0 defeat of #11 Gordon Bombays sent the L.A. tournament mainstays home early.

#2 5YP won Pool B as expected, but not unscathed, allowing a 4-4 tie to #12 Los Brew Crew. Austin’s T.T.T. (#22), playing in their 6th Founders Cup, opened the day with an 8-1 romp over ABQ’s CareBears (#9). But when Sunnyvale’s Sonics (#19) beat T.T.T., it assured their mutual elimination and allowed CareBears to advance from the 3rd place slot.

Opening their day, #3 Sofa King Good settled for a scoreless tie against VA Regional semifinalist #18 Runnin’ Rebels (MD). The Rebels then went on a tear and won the rest of their pool games, against Phoenix vets #13 Dry Heat, #23 BLVCK SQUAD of Venice, CA, and even RelaxD (helping to conceal their team-of-destiny status until after lunch). Rebels became the only team to win their pool from the 4th seed of 5, while RelaxD’s 11am win against Sofa won them the RU slot, and Sofa limped into eliminations in 3rd place.

Over in Pool D, CT Northeast Regional champs #3 Pitch Intense (Boston) were upset 4-3 by #17 U-NITED, who qualified as a semifinalist from LA’s vaunted CA Studio League. #14 HAZARD (Orlando) did one better, beating not only PI and U-NITED but #7 Fainting Goats. HAZARD advanced as only one of two teams in the field to complete pool play with a 4-0 record, followed by Goats and U-NITED. Pitch Intense also managed to advance as the lone 4th place Wild Card, on the strength of their 11RS/10RA differential (the only positive ratio among the 4th place finishers, and just edging out Dry Heat at 7RS/10RA).

Pool E came the closest to going chalk, upset only by the marquee matchup between #5 Shockwave (MD) and #6 Dibs!, a new incarnation of Denver’s FC2016 Runner-up Dice. Dibs! 1st inning run held up until Shockwave tied it in the 5th, and Dibs! closed it out with a dramatic walk-off to win the pool with a sterling 4-0 record. In the other coin-flip seed match, #15 The Toronto Blow Truckers of Simi (yes, another merger -- from SoCal, not Canada) took on #16 Ciao Chow, featuring many of the Bay Area vets from NorCal Nightmare. The Truckers scored 2 early, Chow chipped away until taking a 3-2 lead in the 3rd, and Simi rallied in the 4th to secure a 5-3 win and the right to advance as a 3rd place team.

 

Other noteworthy items and stats

Of the teams who limped out of Pool Play in 3rd place, two really made the most of the opportunity:

One, CareBears, stunned the undefeated Dibs! with a 3-2 win in the Sweet 16. (For many players in the mix, and their respective hometowns, this represented payback for FC2016’s Semifinals, when Denver’s Dice. got the better of ABQ’s The Andy Dufresnes.)

The other, Sofa King Good, drew the surging 4-and-0 #14 HAZARD, and righted their ship with a 4th inning rally to beat the Floridians 3-2.

And so, the only two teams with perfect pool play records were immediately eliminated by teams who came in 3rd. Then, as fate and the bracket would have it, Sofa and CareBears would face each other in the Quarterfinals, where Sofa prevailed 4-0. 

Fate and the quarterfinal bracket would also see fit to bring about the first known Founders Cup regional rivalry game for Prince George County, Maryland, in which #5 Shockwave quelled the momentum of #18 Runnin’ Rebels, 3-0. 

Of the 4 semifinalists, only one (5YP) was a pool winner. RelaxD and Shockwave were RU’s, and Sofa was 3rd place. 

Unusually, there were no extra inning games in the elimination phase, despite 6 of them being decided by 1 run, and 3 ties having occurred in pool play.

With fewer blowouts than ever, the top end of of the stats curve continues to level. Last year, we noted that the number of teams finishing the day with an average of at least 5 runs scored per game had plummeted from 18 in FC2015 to 3 in FC2016. This year, it was down to only a single team (Relax and Take the D, as it happens), with 5.00 RS/G even, followed by HAZARD with 4.60 RS/G and 5YP with 3.88 RS/G. 

On the defensive side, BROLA led the pack with 0.80 runs allowed per game, followed by Sofa King Good with 0.86 RA/G and Dibs! With 1.00 RA/G.

The continued march towards regional parity and the jump to pools-of-5 resulted in another  unsurprising increase in the overall upset rate, 29.23% (70.76% predictive accuracy).

Finally, a quick ovation for the top 5 teams whose final tournament position most outperformed their seed:

 

Final Rank

differential

 

5

+13

Runnin' Rebels

Prince George Co. (#18)

12

+8

TBDAF

Austin (#20)

1

+7

Relax and Take The D

Dallas (#8)

10

+4

HAZARD

Orlando (#14)

14

+3

U-NITED

Los Angeles (#17)

For complete FC2017 results and past FC coverage, see these links:

Pool play results
Elimination brackets
Elite 8 Bracket
The whole tournament, tweet-by-tweet
FC2016 Observations
FC2015 Observations
FC2014 Observations
FC2013 Observations
FC2012 Observations
Tournament History

-- OW!

Orion Walker (@theorionwalker) is the WAKA Founders Cup World Kickball Championship Scorekeeper, Bracketologist, Twitter-caster, and self-styled "Tim Kurkjian of Kickball."

 

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