July 26, 2019
By Grant Lindsley
Final Four, Part 1 – Empire’s full team effort stamps a ticket to San Jose
The Empire’s performance notably departed from a consistently aggressive deep game, a staple all season. However, they responded with one of their best all-around team performances of the season.
Ben Jagt did not disappoint – his late-game, otherworldly layout grab above and beyond two defenders showcased why he’s considered a leading AUDL MVP candidate this year. Yet it was Conor Kline who quietly led the team in goals with seven. Ben Katz completed 38 passes, and Jack “ESPN Documentary” Williams was a perfect 30-for-30.
Beau Kittredge earned the first block to set up the Empire’s opening break. Jeff Babbitt won the game MVP for his stellar all-around performance, but he and the rest of the team decided to reroute the award to Jibran Mieser, whose three layout blocks (especially this one in the fourth) and energy helped give the Empire the edge (his post-goal celebrations inspired the most fervent clanging of the hundreds of green cowbells given to Empire fans, who spilled out of the stands onto the sideline in one of the best-attended Empire games to date).
Toronto, to their credit, did not look as tired as one might expect a team to look after playing the previous day in near 100-degree humidity in a tightly contested game against the DC Breeze. The Rush effectively baited deep throws to their big defenders and played aggressive handler defense to make hucks difficult from power positions.
But Empire coaches Bryan Jones and David Blau had prepared a game plan, hosted a film study session, and set the team up for success against Toronto. Empire’s showcase of defensive intensity and offensive versatility was a good sign for a team that continues to gel heading into the final four.
The San Diego Growlers have already qualified with their win over the LA Aviators last weekend (check out this unbelievable catch by LA’s Sean McDougall after getting his throw blocked on the mark). And what happens this weekend will determine the two remaining spots.
Empire will play the winner of next Saturday’s Midwest Division title between the Indianapolis Alleycats and Pittsburgh Thunderbirds, and on the other side of the bracket, the Growlers await the winner of an anticipated South Division finale between the Raleigh Flyers and Dallas Roughnecks.
Regardless of the opponent, the Empire will be ready. Part 2 will take a closer look at the playoff picture once the final four bracket is set. Stay tuned.