Night Owls 125, Nimble Jacks 106
Recent sports history has shown us that on many occassions, what a team has done lately can matter more than the overall body of work. The 2011 St. Louis Cardinals finished the regular season 23-8 to sneak into the wild card on the final day of the season before going on to win the World Series. The 2011 New York Giants won three of their final four games to barely qualify for the playoffs at 9-7, eventually going on to hoist the Lombardi trophy. The 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers were victorious in their final four regular season games to earn the 6th and final seed in the playoffs, prior to adding another Super Bowl title to that franchise’s storied legacy. Well, now you can add the 2013 Night Owls to the list. After struggling to integrate a multitude of fresh faces during a 2-5 start to the season, the Owls entered the playoffs the hottest team in the league having won their final three regular season matches. That momentum carried over into the playoffs as the Owls dispatched the Throwbacks and Evergreens before toppling the Nimble Jacks dynasty in the final to secure their first Kronum League championship.
The Night Owls entered the game with a pretty simple defensive strategy: load up one side of the field to stop Jacks captain Scott Kennedy (14 points, 7 assists) from finding his trio of leading scorers in Jared O’Donnell (21 points), Ryan Coyne (8 points), and Dan Geiger (8 points, 4 blocks). Easier said than done for most teams, but Frank McKnight, Corey Chubon, and a host of other Owls defenders harassed those players all game long, rarely yielding the uncontested looks at the net the Jacks thrive upon. The Jacks continued to sail into the storm throughout the game, keeping the ball in the hands of the guys they’ve always counted on over the years. However, the well had run dry on this occasion, as Kennedy, Coyne, and O’Donnell combined to shoot just 10-70 (14.3%) from the field, while Geiger was limited to 4-12 shooting himself. The Owls’ wedgebacks did an excellent job shutting down the Jacks’ vaunted goal zone attack, in addition to cleaning up what few open chances their field defenders let through, as Bob Zane (15/21 saves, 3 steals), Joe Tulskie (13/20 saves), and Matt Nuding (8/15 saves) all played huge roles in their victory.
On the other side of the ball, the Jacks were determined to shut down the cross zone where Owls captain Kyle McGrath and his teammates do so much of their damage. The Owls did well to recognize that fact and work the ball to open shooters on the outside rather than force shots through the middle. The Owls outscored the Jacks 78-30 in the flex zone on the game, a shocking statistic considering that’s normally where the Jacks make their living. Chris VonTanhausen (10 points, game-high 11 assists) and McGrath (23 points, 8 assists) took turns handling the distribution duties with great aplomb. The main beneficiary was Tyler Katz, who scored a game-high 32 points on outstanding 16-24 shooting. Tulskie (20 points) and Brett McGlensey (14 points) also wrecked havoc on the outside. Pete Weiss did his best to staunch the bleeding, saving 26 of 38 shots in net for the Jacks, but the Night Owls basically had their way on offense throughout the game.
The Owls jumped out to a 44-37 lead after one period before extending their advantage to 90-70 heading into the final frame. The Jacks tried to claw their way back into things as Nick Caton (13 points) and Jared O’Donnell converted penalty shots early in the period. Then, a steal in transition led to a four-pointer from O’Donnell to trim the deficit to 94-84. However, the Night Owls continued their measured attack from the flex zones before a cross shot by Jeff Gerace (12 points, 4 blocks) made it 114-90 with over seven minutes remaining. A minute later, Dustin Gebhard kicked a penalty shot through the rings for six points to make it 114-98 and the Jacks began trying for 8-point kronums on each of their possessions. Unfortunately for the Jacks, they were only able to hit one by Nick Caton with under a minute left when the game was already well in hand for the Night Owls.
For the Nimble Jacks, all good things must come to an end. Most teams would be happy to have won three of the past four titles and I know they’ll be back next season eager to get the bitter taste of defeat out of their mouths. On the other hand, the Kronum League has a new champion! The Night Owls underwent a risky transformation in the offseason, jettisoning some of their top scorers to re-shape their team as a quicker, more-well rounded club. Following some growing pains, the Owls began reaping the dividends of those moves as the season progressed, culminating in their outstanding defensive effort in the final. Hats off to the Night Owls on a well-deserved victory. We’ll see how they react next season as the team with the target on their backs.