(CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, OH) Heading into the weekend, the Denver Ground Control knew that they were going to have to collectively skate at elevated levels if they desired their first-ever post-season title on a premier stage.
As the second seed of the ten-team Western Hemisphere Cup held by the Men’s Roller Derby Association (MRDA) at the Cleveland Heights Community Center, the flat-track faction knew that the challenge was going to be anything but easy.
This included a projected showdown with the primary travel squad of St. Louis-based GateKeepers Roller Derby, the five-time MRDA international champs and the bracketed tourney’s top seed.
For Denver, the mission was accomplished after the final whistle blew.
Propelled by a two-to-one scoring advantage at intermission, the Ground Control churned a 151-130 victory over the GateKeepers Sunday night to claim the Western Hemisphere Cup.
With their three-game bracketed sweep, Denver finished the season 5-1 in MRDA-sanctioned play as well as bragging rights within the organization.
Heading into the gold medal game, St. Louis seemed to be well on their way to writing another winning chapter in their history book as the MRDA’s most-decorated league.
St. Louis easily quad-rolled a 278-49 victory over eighth-seeded Chicago Bruise Brothers in Saturday’s quarterfinal round and then churned an equally-impressive 291-43 triumph over fourth-seeded Carolina Wrecking Balls at Sunday morning’s semifinals.
And within their current five-game winning streak prior to the gold medal game, the GateKeepers had topped Denver by 55 points in June. On paper, conditions seemed favorable for a potential repeat performance.
However, the Ground Control were posting their own eye-opening numbers as the weekend progressed with Saturday’s 228-118 quarterfinal win over tenth-seeded Lane County Concussion and Sunday’s 243-128 semifinal duke over sixth-seeded San Diego Aftershocks.
If anything, Denver was motivated by avenging their setback to St. Louis a few months prior. If they were going to get the overall split against the five-time champs this season, it would be done with a trophy at stake.
St. Louis set the tone early with jammer Loki Doki’s dozen points claimed in the second rotation that made the score 12-2.
Denver countered with a 17-4 rally over the next seven jams and flipped the scoreboard to their favor, 19-16, following Sweet Feet’s seven-point strike with 17:30 left in the half.
GateKeepers jammer Shred Astaire claimed a four-point pass in Jam 10, resulting in a 20-19 lead change that favored St. Louis.
Then after a scoreless jam, the Ground Control posted 19 unanswered points, thanks to solid blocking from The Big O, Big Sexy, Thrasher, Plummer, Smash, Chad I. Knight and a host of others.
It started with jammer Ragin Cajun’s seven-pointer scored at the 13-minute mark that resulted in a 26-20 lead change. Feet added eight points in Jam 13 and Cajun contributed four with 9:05 left in the half that pushed Denver’s advantage to 38-20.
But as impressive as that stretch was, the Ground Control delivered St. Louis a crushing solo blow on the next jam that was launched with a Denver power start.
Mr. Testosterone claimed lead jammer status and quickly scored a four-point pass as the St. Louis jammer penalty concluded. Then a few moments later, Denver notched another power jam and built a sizable lead with successive four-point strikes.
When the dust had settled, Testosterone and company collected an 18-2 jam that widened Denver’s lead to 56-22 with seven minutes left in the period.
Undaunted, St. Louis chipped away at the deficit over the next three jams anchored by stellar blocking from Spin Diesel, Monster Jam, Olson, Hulk, Evee, Yoshi, Adam Midwest, Beastie, Tony Controll and Jar Jar BWinks.
A 15-1 GateKeepers run ensued. Jammy Pacquiao’s four-pointer collected during Jam 16 was followed by Astaire’s 3-1 rotation that made the score 57-29. Doki’s eight-point power jam claimed with 2:38 remaining in the half narrowed Denver’s lead to 57-37.
The Ground Control made noise again in the period’s penultimate jam as Cajun raged for a 19-3 strike that widened the score to 76-40.
Denver finished their productive half with Reno’s three-pointer and sported a 79-40 lead at intermission.
With a daunting task ahead against an opponent that was playing their best derby to date, St. Louis knew they had to start fast out of the gates in the second period if they wanted to shore the score and inevitably keep their current eight-game MRDA-sanctioned win streak intact.
And it started off promising as the GateKeepers posted ten unanswered points in the first four jams. Following Pacquiao’s four-pointer claimed at the 24:30 mark, St. Louis had collectively narrowed the score to 79-54.
However as soon as the short sprint ended, Denver started stretching to the differential back to 30 points. Midway through the second period, the Ground Control possessed a 101-71 lead.
Cajun cooked eight in Jam 12, which pushed the score in the title tussle to 109-71 with 13:30 remaining.
To their credit, St. Louis refused to wave the white flag and made a respectable charge in the final rotations. Pacquiao notched a 14-3 jam with 5:15 left that whittled Denver’s lead to 121-96.
Propelled by their huge halftime lead, the Ground Control managed to keep the GateKeepers distant from late-game heroics by matching points down the stretch. Trailing 140-116 on the game’s final jam and sporting a power start, St. Louis concluded with a 14-11 output that kept a come-from-behind victory out of reach.
Despite being outscored 90-72 in the second period, Denver skated to a 151-130 well-earned win and claimed the MRDA Western Hemisphere Cup.
Although the franchise had made appearances at the last two MRDA International Championships, this clearly marked the most-significant triumph for the Ground Control since their 2014 founding.
Unofficially, Cajun topped Denver scoring with 72 points, followed by Feet’s 49.
Doki collected 39 points in the finale for the GateKeepers, who finished the season 5-1. Despite the weekend setback, St. Louis will no doubt look to maintain strides in 2024 due to the plethora of talent.
Hosted by Cleveland Guardians Roller Derby, the two-day Western Hemisphere Cup was the first MRDA-sanctioned post-season tournament presented since 2019.
In the third-place game held prior to the finale, the San Diego Aftershocks, who entered the tourney as the sixth seed, finished the season on a high note with their 279-123 bronze medal victory over the Carolina Wrecking Balls.
Recap constructed via online coverage provided by Pittsburgh Undead Roller Derby. Tourney results provided by Cleveland Guardians Roller Derby.
MRDA WESTERN HEMISPHERE CUP RESULTS
CHICAGO BRUISE BROTHERS 154 PHILADELPHIA HOOLIGANS 44
LANE COUNTY CONCUSSION 201 PITTSBURGH UNDEAD 79
ST. LOUIS GATEKEEPERS 278 CHICAGO BRUISE BROTHERS 49
CAROLINA WRECKING BALLS 167 RACE CITY REBELS 134
DENVER GROUND CONTROL 228 LANE COUNTY CONCUSSIOIN 118
SAN DIEGO AFTERSHOCKS 169 DISORDER ROLLER DERBY 130
DISORDER ROLLER DERBY 162 PHILADELPHIA HOOLIGANS 92
RACE CITY REBELS 191 PITTSBURGH UNDEAD 115
ST. LOUIS GATEKEEPERS 291 CAROLINA WRECKING BALLS 43
DENVER GROUND CONTROL 243 SAN DIEGO AFTERSHOCKS 128
THIRD PLACE GAME
SAN DIEGO AFTERSHOCKS 279 CAROLINA WRECKING BALLS 123
DENVER GROUND CONTROL 151 ST. LOUIS GATEKEEPERS 130
By trade, he is a six-time, regional Emmy Award-winning news videographer/editor for KTVI/KPLR-TV. By hobby, he is a writer for Arch City Media, dating back to February 2014. Emphasis is on featuring and promoting local women's sports, but will cover anything that is not reported by traditional media outlets. Also a contributor to local concert reviews.