While Rose City’s Wheels of Justice entered the track with their classic superhero intro, even a dancing skate-out response to ‘Turn Down for What’ from Gotham couldn’t break the tension in the arena. Recently moving up to #2 in WFTDA, Rose City’s game play had been impressing audiences and opponents, and they proved that further by unexpectedly eliminating Bay Area by 71 points the previous day. Gotham Girls Roller Derby, while showing some signs of strain throughout the tournaments, held onto their longstanding winning record in sanctioned play. This was always going to be an epic game, and it fulfilled that promise.
Dense play and a scrum-like start introduced the audience to the game, as Loren Mutch (for Rose City) fought through the pack getting trapped in the back. Gotham’s Bonnie Thunders had been held back from a lead claim for close to 45 seconds into the jam before blowing back into the pack to put 3-0 on the board.
This first jam wound up being an iconic example of the match-up that would display the shifting jammer talent for derby, as the game stats quickly revealed that the tournament MVP win for Loren Mutch was well-earned. She took 73 game points for her team, just two points behind the game’s highest scorer, the ever-impressively indomitable Bonnie Thunders. Mutch also notably accomplished this feat in just 15 jams on the track, and grabbed an impressive 73% lead jammer status.
The next jam saw Scald Eagle take the line, and she breezed through for lead to significantly vocal crowd approval, and took enough points to switch the game lead, 9-3. Either by Rose City’s recent hard-won victories, or because they showed a promising chance of bringing down the undefeated Gotham, the roaring crowd was clearly backing Rose. So it was no surprise that they exploded again for Licker*n*Split when she grabbed the next lead and one more point.
Then Gotham took back lead and points, when Vicious Van GoGo added in fifteen, pushing her team ahead on the scoreboard. They held onto that momentum for two more jams, continuing to inch up their score. Gotham seemed to be playing a safer game by settling for incremental point additions, instead of the usual double digit grabs, calling jams as soon as the opposing jammer flew up the back of the pack.
When the next two jams inched up points for Rose City, the gap in the score narrowed to a three-point game after Bonnie was denied further points by a hefty Justice defensive line, and Eagle leapt in four last second points. The first jammer penalty of the game went to Suzy Hotrod, eliminating her lead, and leaving Licker on a power jam. That crept the game up 10-9, still in Gotham’s favor, to a slim 4-point difference.
Interestingly, with all this mention of lead claims, Rose City actually held lead jammer statuses in their favor. Overall they had a 54.8% lead jammer claim over Gotham’s 42.9%, with Gotham tipping the balance further towards themselves in the second period (to 45%, from 40.9% in the first), despite the score ultimately not reflecting this. In fact, in recent history, even given the narrow game that Texas gave them in last year’s Championships, this game has been the first to feature a team that had a higher lead jammer percentage against Gotham.
At the 12 minute mark, Mutch leapt through the pack, swiveling hips past the Gotham defensive line, received all four points, and took the game to a well-received tie at 31 apiece. Gotham came back with five further, and although Mutch took back points again, Gotham was just barely ahead with 36-35 as the game ended the first quarter.
The pack repeatedly split into separate walls throughout the game, with Rose usually holding the front and Gotham the rear. Jammers struggled against these defensive holds on both sides, and as Bonnie was about to slide past the white wall during one jam, she bounced off Jennings and was recycled to the outside. All was not lost for Gotham however, as a forearm penalty was called on Licker by the end of the jam. Bonnie gave some polite spontaneous applause after she and the rest of the auditorium realized that neither jammer had managed to make it through their initial pass.
With ten minutes remaining in the first period, the score sat at 49-39 to Gotham, and when Suzy Hotrod exited the pack, she immediately left the track on a penalty. That handed Licker the chance to take lead, as well as a power jam advantage on her track re-entry. As Hotrod was held to the last inch, Licker took the chance to add in two scoring rounds, taking it to a two-point game, at 49-47.
Not long after, Mutch took lead jammer status against Hotrod with an easy inside leap, and she solidified the game lead with five points. This ended the half with Rose City on top, 64-58. Nearly half the games at Champs saw the team down at the half going on to win the game, and this was another example of that competitive play.
The second game half saw a renewed Gotham bring everything they had to the track, with some clear lessons learned. To a narrow degree, one might be able to claim that the transformed game play that has gone with Rose City’s recent rankings climb, came as something of a surprise to Gotham. They were forced to take the first half as a quick study, as opposed to Rose taking on the much more visible history of Gotham’s game play. And study they did, with some result as they improved both their lead jammer claim percentage and their point additions in the second period.
Bonnie Thunders certainly entered the half with all guns blazing to take an epic 29 point jam – the largest jam of the game by a wide 11-point margin. When Fisti Cuffs forced a long run-back on a recycle for Mutch, it became clear that those points would be unanswered. With repeat hit-outs on her, it was evident that Gotham had learned that she was their strongest point scorer as they resumed lead, 87-64 after only the first jam back. The next jam saw Scald Eagle taking the inside line and an apex hop, calling the jam mere split seconds before Hotrod hit the back of the pack, but four points only narrowed the gap to 87-68.
It was after a 14-point jam from Bonnie, that Rose City took a team time-out as the score hovered at 101-68. They reset their game and proceeded on a 25-5 run, holding Gotham to single-passes or no points.
By just ahead of the final game quarter, Scald Eagle was fighting through the pack on a power jam, while GoGo sat in the box from what has become loosely known as ‘the crawling incident’. Essentially, Gotham’s jammer was felled just prior to making it past the final Rose City blocker, and she continued her forward momentum while downed, pushing Rivas out of position, and improving her own: she was called on a low block. Almost immediately, Mike Wade, bench coach for Rose, made it clear he wanted the next jam start on a power jam, frantically gesturing to call the jam for many long furious seconds before he finally got his message through to Scald.
That precious power jam start gave Mutch a lead claim, and a crucial 10 points for Rose City, narrowing Gotham’s lead to 106-96.
As the game continued, and seconds ticked off relentlessly, a series of lead claims for Rose City added up gently as Scald Eagle lead Rose into a three-point game by 7:12, at 123-120. From then on, jam after jam added to the tension as first Mutch added 3 points to bring the game to a tie at 123. Then each team took turn in the lead, first Gotham with four points by Hotrod, and then Mutch got eight for Rose. With 3:50 remaining, and a star pass forced on Bonnie to Sexy Slaydie, the Wheels of Justice were up 131-127, and Gotham took a rare time-out.
The penultimate jam saw Hotrod line up against Eagle in the star, Eagle took lead after a swirl and hop around Swagger, while Hotrod was contained on her initial pass. She removed the star as Eagle began picking up points, but it only became a star stash as Eagle also picked up her second penalty of the game, and headed to the box. The resulting lead loss gave Hotrod the chance to add in five points on that jam, and a power start for the next. While Rose City greeted that news with a team time-out, Gotham fielded Bonnie Thunders, and she blew through the pack to take lead before Eagle could make it out of the box and back into the pack.
At this point it seemed clear that Gotham had doubled down on defense, landing heavy hit after hit on a visibly battered Scald Eagle, while Bonnie continued flying back round and through on her passes. By the time the game clock hit the final 15 seconds of game play, Gotham held the game, and Bonnie held Eagle, burning time to take it, 147-144. This gave Gotham an unprecedented fourth consecutive Championship win.
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