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Old 06-15-2017, 03:27 AM
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TEAM NINJA WARRIOR 2 - PLAY-IN ROUND, SECOND HALF

Lab Rats (6-1): Arnold Hernandez, Michelle Warnky, Brian Wilczewski
Karsten’s Fast Kats (5-2): Kevin Klein, Joy Strickland, Karsten Williams
Norcal Ninjas (4-2): Brian Kretsch, Anna Shumaker, David Campbell
Towers of Power (6-1): Dan Polizzi, Selena Laniel, Brandon Mears

Chris Wilczewski with his shoulder injury has dropped out of the competition, meaning that Hernandez is in it to the bitter end. Not sure what the implications of this are going to be if they win the championship, but a little raging controversy never hurt any sport.

Fifth and ninth obstacles the same as last week.

= 1st match: Lab Rats vs. Karsten’s Fast Kats =
__L: Hernandez vs. Klein - Hey, did you know that Klein is a flagrunner for the Dallas Cowboys? That apparently is an incredibly vital fact for some reason. Hernandez is slow on the second swing of Sonic Swing and finds himself playing catch-up the rest of the way. He does manage to cut it close on Swinging Spikes, but Klein makes a very nice dismount from the pair right after the solo row (That’s it, it’s officially The Move now! ), and the rest is a formality. Klein/finish

And now he’s dancing after the first goddam heat of the day. After beating an alternate. Hoping this bites him in the butt; fearing it won’t.

__W: Warnky vs. Strickland - Warnky is slightly faster through Sonic Swing but gets snagged by both Ring of Fire gaps. Strickland only has to manage the second, and she takes the lead. Warnky is quicker off the Swing Jump net, and they’re side-by-side going into Floating Tiles. What happens next...man, I really could use a slow motion function on my DVR right now. All right; Warnky takes the first pair on the left, Strickland the right, Strickland hits the first solo a split second faster, they step on their respective third tiles...and Strickland loses her balance and falls! (Warnky may have stepped on her foot on the solo; I couldn’t tell for certain.) Warnky nearly goes down as well but saves herself on the cables, gradually regains her feet, and hops to victory. Warnky/distance
__A: Wilczewski vs. Williams - Ise points out that with Chris out, Brian will “now have to face the top competitors from every team”. Boy, talk about a haunting omen. Both men get off to a fast start, pulling off very smooth second-gap dismounts. Williams has a slight lead going into Swing Jump and is like quicksilver slipping under the net, and...that’ll do it. Wilczewski runs his heart out but just can’t keep up with his faster, more athletic foe, and Williams pulling off The Move is the icing on the cake. Williams/finish
KARSTEN’S FAST KATS WINS

= 2nd match: Norcal Ninjas vs. Towers of Power =
Leadoff/anchor swap by ToP. No reason given or needed.
__L: Kretsch vs. Mears - Kretsch’s woes continue as he needs a second go on Sonic Swing. Mears avoids both gaps in Ring of Fire, and that’s all she wrote for any hope of this being a contest. Mears/finish
__W: Shumaker vs. Laniel - Both hit the second gap; Shumaker is a lot faster out and surges to the lead. Laniel finally gets out but doesn’t get a good push on Swing Jump and takes plenty of water. She’s cautious through Floating Tiles and avoids all trouble. Now it’s an upper body test, which both women look to be even at; the gap remains the same...Laniel goes down! She looked fine for a while and then her hands just gave out! Shumaker makes it to safety and goes up the wall for the third time this competition. I gotta say it...she’s looking pretty good! Shumaker/distance
__A: Campbell vs. Polizzi - Battle of the undefeateds! (Polizzi is 5-0 all time going into this; Campbell is 2-0 this event, 2-2 all time.) Doesn’t quite live up to the billing, unfortunately, as Campbell handles Ring of Fire like a master while Polizzi gets stuck in the second gap. Campbell runs downhill, pulls of The Move, and brings the once-invincible leadoff man down to earth. Campbell/finish
NORCAL NINJAS WINS

= 3rd match: Towers of Power vs. Karsten’s Fast Kats =
__L: Polizzi vs. Klein - If anyone can do two tough ones back-to-back, it’s Polizzi, but can he spring back from his first taste of defeat? Klein gets a little wild on the second Sonic Swing rope but stays in control and takes a slim lead. Both are clean through Ring of Fire, but Klein lands flat on his back, and Polizzi passes. Polizzi is clean through Swing Jump while Klein makes a massive spray going to the net, and this one’s gradually slipping away from him. Polizzi bounds through the tiles and is first to Swinging Spikes. That should all but do it for...hold the phone, did Klein leap right for the solo row?? Yep, sure did! He comes up short, of course, and bellyflops into the water (now THAT was a Warrior Wipeout!), but credit the man for knowing when he needed to make a big gamble. Quite a few leadoff men, and more than a few anchors, could use that kind of situational awareness. Polizzi/distance
__W: Laniel vs. Strickland - Laniel is less tentative on Sonic Swing and takes the lead. Both women struggle a bit with the ring; Strickland has a better handle and takes the lead right back. Her legs take a really bad dip on the net, but Laniel has trouble getting through and can’t capitalize. Strickland takes a careful approach through the tiles, getting through without a mishap, and gets started right away on the spikes. We’ve never seen her on a pure upper-body obstacle before, so this is an education for her and us. Laniel makes it through the tiles and...

...stops and watches her opponent, waiting to see how she does. Hmm, let me try to unpack this. Apparently she’s convinced that she has no chance no matter what if Strickland makes it through; furthermore, if she gets hung up behind her on the solo row, there’s the risk that both will tire out and fall, giving Strickland the win on speed. By waiting, she gets to take a breather, and, if Strickland falls, take on the entire obstacle completely fresh and get an easy victory.

Interesting gambit. Let’s see if it works! Strickland is at the solo row. Every spike is a struggle now. Third spike on the solo, and her hands are slipping. Then the last...and she’s down! Now Laniel, knowing exactly what she needs to do, begins her crossing. Starts out pretty strong...on to the solo row...slowing...uh oh, that’s not a good expression. Both arms now completely extended, but she’s still in it. Four spikes to go. Thr...and she can’t take any more and falls. She had the right strategy but just couldn’t execute. Strickland/speed
__A: Mears vs. Williams - We’ve seen one undefeated go down; will the 4-0 Williams be next? Well, not today, as Mears is slow out of Swing Jump, and Williams wastes no time sprinting into the sunset. Williams/finish

Williams looks all but unstoppable, and his teammates are pulling their weight. The winner tonight will be either them or a team that somehow finds a way to overcome this mighty combination. I’m starting to feel a bit sorry for Superhero Squad right now.

Uh-oh...you gotta be flippin’ kidding me. Brian Kretsch has an injured shoulder and can’t continue. (Couldn’t see what caused it, either; he certainly wasn’t making any tremendous effort in his first heat.) Alternate Sean Bryan, the “Papal Ninja” (not looking forward to seeing his previews in the regular contest, believe you me), takes over. That’s THREE competitors who’ve had to withdraw due to injury in this event. In addition to legwork, could they start adding conditioning to the training regimen?

= 4th match: Norcal Ninjas vs. Lab Rats =
__L: Bryan vs. Hernandez - Hoo boy, definitely unfamiliar territory here! Bryan proves his superiority, pulling off a very smooth second-gap dismount, midhopping, and doing The Move for good measure. Not bad for a complete rookie who didn’t even have time to warm up! Bryan/finish
__W: Shumaker vs. Warnky - Both are undefeated going into this round, but Shumaker is going to need the run of her life to have any chance. Warnky shows her strength early with a successful second gap dismount, while Shumaker wastes precious seconds in the same spot. Warnky’s feet hit the water on Swing Jump, and as she begins Floating Tiles, Ise says “Watch for a misstep, watch for as slip.” Whoa, Ise pulling for the underdog? That’s...well, not much of a surprise at this point, honestly. Shumaker is way too tentative going into the tiles, so the only that can save her now is if Warnky blunders on the spikes or the wall. Warnky is on the spikes...uh, no, that machinelike control doesn’t spell blunder. Now the wall, and Baj almost pleads “Oh, her shoes are wet.” Not that it matters, as she conquers it like all the other times. How does that song go...and another one gone, and another one gone; another one bites the dust. Ahhh. Warnky/finish
__A: Campbell vs. Wilczewski - Campbell is faster out of the blocks and goes for a second gap dismount; it’s a little close, but he lands it, while Wilczewski finds both gaps and is suddenly a whole obstacle behind. Campbell isn’t setting a blistering pace, and Wilczewski is able to close the gap. Campbell is on the spikes, he’s made it to the solo row, and Wilczewski makes a big leap and powers his way across. Campbell is about to do the move, but Wilczewski has completely caught up...and...Campbell gives...a knowing glance back? A mocking glance? A quick check? Whatever, he abandons his dismount attempt and goes further down! He’s at the final spike before he dismounts, meaning that he’s going to accept Wilczewski’s challenge at the wall. You have to be pretty damn good to earn that kind of respect from a veteran like him! But no harm, no foul as Campbell still makes it up and hits the buzzer about two seconds ahead. Campbell/finish
NORCAL NINJAS WINS

All right, time to digest some of this...

In an event that had so many twists and turns and stumbles and miracle comebacks, this day was remarkably...conventional. Ordinary. As expected. According to Hoyle. Other than Warnky vs. Strickland, every heat went to Floating Spikes and the one that made it through Swing Jump first never relinquished the lead and won. Both teams that made it to the relay had a captain that won both his anchor heats. Most remarkably, this is the first time ever that there was neither a sweep nor an tiebreaker; the leadoff men and women split the first two heats leading to a best-of-one anchor leg all four times. That’s...a pretty incredible milestone, and honestly, it could be the last we see for a while (though I certainly hope not!).

Warnky, although she won’t be advancing, is 8-0, a mark not even Jessie Graff has been able to touch. I can’t point to any one thing; she’s just really, strong, really tough, and she doesn’t give her opponent any margin of error. If you want to beat her, you have to stay completely out of trouble, run hard for the entire course, and be faster than her. That’s a damn hard trifecta to pull off. If we ever get to see her take on the likes of Meagan Martin and Kirsti Pratt, sparks are going to fly. On the opposite end, Karsten Williams proved that his record is no fluke and, despite a near miss in the fifth prelim, he can take on anybody. If he makes it to the big dance, count on him being an opponent no anchor is looking forward to facing.

And guess what, because the matches took up so little time, we don’t need a 3WA despite the extra relay! Big plus!

= Final: Norcal Ninjas (Shumaker, Bryan, Campbell) vs. Karsten’s Fast Kats (Strickland, Williams, Klein) ==
“A little surprising” that Williams is doing the second leg, Ise? After seeing Josh Levin wipe the floor with him in the 5th prelim? You unbelievable moron.

Shumaker takes the early lead. Both women get snagged by the second gap; Shumaker recovers quickly and dismounts cleanly. Strickland fights her way out, and although a little wobbly...

** SPLOOOOSHH **

Uuuugggggghhhhhhhhh. Getting really tired of seeing this. Strickland has both feet briefly at the edge of the landing area, but her weight is too far back, and she half-cannonballs straight in. When will these ladies realize that in the relay, priority one is always, always, ALWAYS staying out of the water? You’re the weak link (and it’s hurting me that I have to keep saying this, it seriously is)! You’re not going to decide it! There’s no reason for you to take risks! Just stay dry and upright and make the tag! Play it safe! If it costs you a couple of seconds, that’s a helluva lot better than losing ten seconds! Yeesh.

Well, you know how the story goes from here. Shumaker casually works her way through Swing Jump and makes the tag, Williams can do nothing but stand there and fume, Bryan is nearly done with the solo row by the time Williams begins, and now Campbell is powering up the ladder and Klein fights and battles and struggles but...

** SPLOOOOSHH **

Geez, this again? The left side of the bar slips completely out of the fourth rung, it gets askew, and down Klein goes. Campbell, meanwhile, isn’t stopping; he completes the globes and goes all the way up the rope. Hey, 39-year-old! Fatigue was what took you out last time! I don’t think that’s a good idea!
NORCAL NINJAS WINS

A day that began with such promise for Karsten Williams ends in catastrophe; just as he figured out how to avoid torpedoing the team in the relay, his teammates do the job for him. It has to be killing them that they had the best record of all the play-in teams (9-4) and still walked away with jack squat. I expect a lot of soul-searching for them in the near future.

MVP picks: Warnky, Campbell. Damn, it has been a complete clusterfrag for the point men this season. For the second time the only one who looked really good was the alternate, and I don’t give credit for partial work.

************************************************************

=== Wild card match: Norcal Ninjas (Shumaker, Bryan, Campbell) vs. Superhero Squad (Goldstein, Darling-Hammond, Rahn) ===
Shumaker gets caught in the second gap but gets out quickly; Goldstein finds both gaps, and Shumaker has a big lead going...

<buncha uninteresting stuff happens>

...while Rahn has barely passed the 25’ mark.
NORCAL NINJAS WINS

Well, that was an anticlimactic end to the day. Whatever, they earned it fair and square, and now they’re going to sink or swim on their own merits. (I’m leaning toward the former, but like hell I’m going to make an actual prediction, of course.)