The Varsity Blue Rocket League team took fifth place in their state playoff last Saturday after cruising through the consolation bracket following a tough opening round loss to Rock Bridge Gold.
The team had to arrive at 9:00 on Saturday. Eight teams from across the state had driven in to compete in the first in-person state title. The SLUH team received their jerseys, and soon enough they were seated center stage in the Omnimax theater for the first game of the day.
The tournament followed a standard bracket setup, with No. 8 seed SLUH stuck in a matchup against top-seeded Rock Bridge Gold.
Just a minute in, Rock Bridge capitalized on the early nerves that SLUH was trying to fight off and put up the first goal of the series. But only a few seconds later, senior Cam Gegg (Viznari) was able to sneak around a Rock Bridge defender and put a ball up to sophomore Hunter Mueller (TJ74), who tied the game up at one. Shortly after, Gegg put up a goal of his own, giving SLUH a lead that would never be broken. Mueller scored two more times to seal the game and give SLUH a 1-0 lead in the series.
Game two looked to be headed in a similar direction as sophomore Zeke Esswein (MrPanda) gave SLUH the early lead, followed by a goal from Mueller to put SLUH solidly up by two. The SLUH defense looked to be holding solid until halfway through the game, when RBHS finally broke through. A quick kickoff goal tied the game up at two and RBHS carried that momentum through the rest of the game, putting up an impressive six goals to tie up the series.
Captain Hunter Mueller looked to fulfill his title in game three, putting up three goals, but SLUH continued struggling on defense and RBHS took the lead in the final minute to take a 2-1 lead in the series.
While Mueller found another goal in game four, SLUH found themselves down 3-1 in the final minute. Gegg pulled off an impressive double tap to put them one closer, but a fourth goal from RBHS put the nail in the coffin as they took the series.
While the team was a bit disheartened from this loss, it wouldn’t be the end of their day as they participated in a separate consolation bracket. Their first consolation match was against Francis Howell, who had fallen to defending national champs Hickman High School in the main bracket.
Game one started out slowly, as both teams decided to start off defensively and no one applied any real pressure. The first goal came over halfway through the game as Mueller took out the defender while Gegg put a shot on net. This ignited the offenses for both teams, with Francis Howell striking back with three goals of their own. With one minute remaining, Mueller had a stylish redirect, backflipping his car to put the ball into the net. Francis Howell looked to get back on the offensive, but Esswein found a huge clear that flew perfectly up to Mueller, who found a second goal to send the game to overtime. Neither team wanted to let up a goal, but after an intense three minutes of overtime, Gegg found an opportunity up the middle and cleanly wrapped up the game for SLUH.
Games two and three were much cleaner for SLUH, as they knocked out Francis Howell 2-0 and 4-2.
The team had to wait for another consolation match before they were up. After a heated matchup, it was decided that SLUH would be facing off against Blue Springs South for fifth place, a team that had beaten them earlier that week.
Like game one of the previous series, both teams started off defensively, trying to feel out each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Gegg was the first to light up the scoreboard off a backboard pass from Mueller. With 30 seconds to go, the SLUH defense couldn’t hold BSS out of the net as they picked up another two goals to take game one.
SLUH looked like a whole different team in game two, as all three members of the team scored at least one goal to win 4-2.
The third game of the series saw BSS gain a 2-0 lead to force SLUH to bring back their aggression. SLUH scored immediately off the kickoff to bring it back within one. But SLUH’s aggression came back to bite them as Blue Springs capitalized on a fast break to take the game to 3-1.
With less than a minute to go, there was a strange occurrence that sparked quite a bit of controversy. Somehow, a second controller became connected to the screen of one of the players from Blue Springs, causing his monitor to go split-screen and a fourth player to appear on the side of BSS. SLUH worked through the chaos and put in another goal, but it wasn’t enough to come back and BSS took the match and to push the series to 2-1.
Early in game four, it looked like SLUH had met their match as BSS took a 1-0 lead and were applying intense offensive pressure. Esswein finally put SLUH on the board halfway through the game on a mis-hit from BSS. SLUH’s next goal came as Mueller bumped a defender out of the way to open up the net for Gegg. After BSS found the equalizing goal, Mueller scored with only ten seconds on the clock, granting SLUH the win in game four.
Game five would be the last of the season for this team no matter what, so they pulled together all they could muster and scored two goals early on. They held their defense tight enough to close out the game 2-1, taking the series and fifth place in the tournament.
The tournament win capped off an impressive first season for the SLUH Rocket League Program, and they will look to improve next season with many returning players.
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