Relax takes the big one again, and other observations on the 2018 Founders Cup

Monday, October 8, 2018 - 19:20

Relax takes the big one again, and other observations on the 2018 Founders Cup

The Founders Cup World Kickball Championship celebrated its 21st birthday with something altogether new: late-inning comeback drama in a Championship match! Defending champions Relax (#1) found themselves in an early hole against RAD (#3), a national super-team that had been looking all day like the team to beat. RAD had put up 2 runs in the 2nd, Relax responded with 1 in the bottom of the inning, only to surrender another 2 in the 4th. In terms of Founders Cup finals, being down 4-1 would traditionally represent an insurmountable deficit -- no team in FC's history had rallied to win a Championship match after trailing by 3 runs, and no team had lost a Championship match after scoring 4 runs. But Relax buckled down and kept chipping away, scoring 1 more in bottom 4th, tying it up in the 5th, setting themselves up for a 6th inning in which a fly ball to center could find a hole and score the winning run in a thrilling walk-off Cup-clinching win. In doing so, Relax became the first team to repeat as FC Champs since OSC's last title in 2012.
 
This remarkable act of consistency comes amid a context of great change and transition in the Founders Cup field. Arguably, the narrative of Founders Cup's first 20 years was one of developing competition between the various regions that had discovered adult kickball -- a decade of DC dominance, followed by a decade of emerging challengers that saw the Cup visit Florida, Virginia, Georgia, Maryland, California, and finally Texas. With every continental American time zone having seen a team at least make the Finals, a kind of parity was reached... but this year manifested a new sea change, one that seemed to transcend regional rivalry and usher in the era of the national all-star team.
 
This year, for the first time, a majority of the FC field (2/3rds in fact) were teams qualifying via Regional Tournament rather than League play. 7 of the 8 teams to survive Pool Play came from Regionals, and all 4 Semifinalists boasted players from multiple regions within their roster. Such a shift has been percolating for years, owing to the advent of Regional Tournaments in 2013, the Kickball Open in 2016, and the inevitable tides of time... but it was Relax themselves to carry it over the threshold, as evidenced by their 2017 run. In their years as an Austin league team, they were a reliable fixture in FC quarterfinals (at least) -- but their path to ultimate victory came through an alliance not only with other Texan vets, but an array of free agents spanning both coasts.
 
This roster model was taken to extremes this year by #3 RAD, who managed to assemble players from at least 8 regions sprawled across the country, featuring FC experience from such teams as Flying VHAZARDMEATBALLSThe SituationLos Brew CrewDibsBROLA, and the Andy Dufresnes -- a truly national roster. They had enormous success out of the gate -- the only team to go 4-0 in Pool Play, and allowing only 1 run and scoring 15 in the process. In the Semis, RAD played the day's only extra-inning game, facing the Florida/Albuquerque alliance Menage a Trois (#5) in a rematch of this Summer's Southeast Regional final in Jacksonville. It looked good for Menage after they scored their "Kansas City" runner in the top of the 7th, but that turned around on a 2-run walk-off shot by Denver's Matt Graffam to send RAD to the Championship game.
 
Meanwhile, #1 Relax's Semifinal opponent was another multi-regional powerhouse: H8 (#4), champs of the Mid-Atlantic Regional, featuring veterans from familiar FC names such as OSCPanik AttackFlying VBROLA, and 5YP. The runners-up of Pool C, H8 shook off a first round loss to RAD (#3) to take out legendary LA crew Sofa King Good (#2) in a 1-0 Elite 8 nailbiter. (Sofa has all too often hit a bump in pool play only to rally and finish deep into the elimination rounds, including during their FC2015 championship run -- but this time, the "bump" being a 3-1 Pool loss to Menage, the Runner-Up track failed to work in their favor.)
 
Rounding out the Quarterfinal matchups: 
- #5 Menage a Trois eked out a 1-0 win over #7 AZ Pricks, the Runners-up of the Southwest Regional in Scottsdale, featuring members of veteran AZ teams such as Dry Heat
- #1 Relax eliminated #9 Fainting Goats, the lone team among the elite 8 to have qualified by League play (NV Silver). 
- #3 RAD put a stop to #6 WERD, a collection of mostly SoCal vets who won the ABQ Central Regional, and mercifully didn't call themselves "Los Barely BLVCK Toronto Trucker U-Crew." 
 
Other notable Pool Play results include: 
- The only two Tie games of the day each involved an eventual Pool Winner: #6 WERD went 5 innings with #1 Relax, neither team managing a run all game, while #5 Menage a Trois could only salvage a 5-5 stalemate against #11 Not Today, a core of Pensacola, FL players teamed with Montgomery, AL Founders Cup vets (Back in Black).
- FC2014 champs Shockwave (#8) had the misfortune of drawing Menage in their opening game, who bested them 5-4. Those 5 runs allowed (and another 3 from Sofa) helped put Shockwave on the bubble instead of in the Wild Card mix (clinched by #7 AZ Pricks and #9 , each with 7 total Pool runs allowed). 
- Pool A ended up according to chalk, but it took a strange route getting there -- the scoreless Relax/WERD tie was offset by a 8-0 upset of WERD by #12 TBDAF (a collective of mostly midwestern and southern players, qualifying out of NOLA's South Central Regional). TBDAF in fact scored the most total runs of any team in pool play, thanks to their 13-6 slugfest against Bay Area stalwarts Sonics (#13). 
- #10 Gordon Bombays, one of the most experienced crews of San Fernando Valley vets ever assembled, found themselves in the Pool C basement thanks to a 4-2 loss to Shattered dreams (#15), a band of Vegas locals and late add to the tournament field. 
- #14 Multiple Scoregasms returned to make the 8th FC appearance after a couple of years in the Kickball Open, but found Pool B to be very much "of Death."  
 
The era of the WAKA Kickball "League" may be passing into the rear view, with a proud 20-year legacy of rivalries and sagas of great dynasties... but however the great kickball teams of the future comprise themselves, however they qualify, and whoever steps up to tell their stories, the Founders Cup remains the ultimate achievement in the strange and wonderful sport we all hold so dear. 
 
-- OW!

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

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