Three ACL Nationals down, and only one more to go. What a year it has been so far. We've had incredible performances, shocking upsets, inspiring comebacks, and so much more. If you look far enough over the metaphorical horizon, you can start to see the end of the season approaching. The ACL Championships will be here in an instant to crown cornhole royalty for the year. All of the hours of training and the miles of travel will culminate into the biggest event in cornhole history.
But before we embark on the journey to the ACL Championships, we have time for one final stop. One final moment for an ACL Pro team to qualify for a spot in the ACL Pro Invitational. One final chance for a player to qualify for their first ever WCO World Cup team. One final opportunity to qualify for the ACL Pro Division next season. One final dream of getting that first National win.
One Final Chase.
For my preview of the 2019 Final Chase, I wanted to focus heavily on what's at stake for this last National of the season. Since this National technically takes place after the end of the points season (June 30th), this National will literally be the last opportunity for players to polish off their 2018-2019 season. With the additional pressure associated with the last National of the season, I truly believe that those that finish well in Connecticut on the weekend of July 4th will put themselves in a position to be successful at the Championships in August. I've decided to breakdown everything that's at stake at the Final Chase and what I'm expecting from the field of players.
Spots in the 2019 ACL Pro Invitational
We have already secured three of the twelve spots available in the Pro Invitational, which will take place the last day of the Final Chase on July 6th. Derrick King/Jordan Camba, Daymon Dennis/Philip Haydon, and Josh Lunsford/Jimmy McGuffin are in. The winner of the Pro Doubles Division at the final chase will also get an invite and complete the top four seeds in the tournament. The remaining eight seeds are split between the four highest ranked teams in standings and Fan Vote winners. I think it is almost mathematically certain that Matthew Sorrells and Emory Parker will get an invitation based on their current ranking. That leaves essentially four open spots to play for, three based on cumulative season points, and one based on a win at the Final Chase.
One situation that is especially interesting to me are the low seeds in the Pro Division based on non-attendance of the Bag Brawl back in May. Specifically, the three teams of Isidro Herrera/Dave Sutton, Greg Geary/Lester Price, and Ryan Smith/James Washington will enter the Final Chase near the bottom of the seeding pool, meaning their first match-ups will be particularly intriguing. Geary/Price essentially need a 2nd place finish in their bracket or better to lock up a position in the pro invitational, which I almost expect from them considering they won their bracket at both the Cornhole Mania and the Kickoff Battle. From there, the next two favorites to take the seeding spots would be Henderson/Hissner and Burchfield Corwin, who sit at 2356 and 2352 points, respectively. After those teams, there's a 28 point drop to the next non-National winner in standings, a rather significant gap.
I explain all this to insinuate that the best and easiest way for a team to get into the Pro Invitational that has not already been mentioned is going to be by winning the Final Chase. Hoping for a collapse of some of the top teams above is never a sound strategy. I'm pumped to see the performances of the teams that are capable of winning, but just haven't had that breakthrough tournament yet. Leston Allen/Timothy Pitcher always seem to get close, but just haven't closed the deal. I wonder if Pitcher can finally put aside that mental block of the "play-in" game. Another team that has been extremely hot lately is Matthew Morton/Brad Powers. Morton individually has had epic battles with Matt Guy and Cody Henderson at the last two Nationals in singles, coming up 6 points or less short at both events of making the four-player playoff. Other teams like Grinderslev/Gregor, Weathers/Groce, and Dotson/Short have had strong performances by one player at Nationals, but need some secondary help from the partner to get over the hump and take home the victory. All three of those teams have the potential to win, but both players will have to be locked in.
Cornhole's First Ever Grand Slam
This season was the first to have four Nationals, mimicking other major individual sports like tennis and golf. Given the new similarity, the concept of a Cornhole Grand Slam comes into play. Christine Papcke and Stacia Pugh are currently sitting on back-to-back-to-back National wins in women's doubles. At times they have been dominant, and in other times they have squeaked by with close wins via clutch shooting. Regardless of how Pugh/Papcke have arrived at this point, their streak has been unbelievably impressive. With a win at the Final Chase in women's doubles, Pugh/Papcke can complete the first ever Cornhole Grand Slam, which cornhole enthusiasts will use for trivia for years to come.
Of course, in this sport nothing is ever guaranteed. In order to take down the Grand Slam, Pugh/Papcke will have to outlast the two teams that have given them the biggest headaches so far this season. Brittany Emge/Kerry Mittermiller remain the sole team to defeat Pugh/Papcke, but thanks to the double elimination format, the Grand Slam hopefuls were able to win the deciding game two to advance to the final at the Cornhole Mania. Courtney Coy/Harlee Culpepper were just three points away from winning at the Bag Brawl, but composure from Papcke allowed the duo to hold off the young guns...for now. Culpepper/Coy will be teaming up again at the Final Chase and, in my eyes, pose the biggest threat to taking down the favorites.
A Last Chance for a Breakout Performance
This season has had its fair share of breakout performances. Josh Groce, Noah Wooten, Dalton Mcklem, Leston Allen, Matthew Sorrells/Emory Parker, and Devon Harbaugh are just a few names that have been mentioned a few times this year specifically because of their quick emergence to the elite company of the cornhole world. Some of them had one big finish, others put together a collection of finishes in their first legitimate year of competing at the national level. The Final Chase offers just one more opportunity to reveal the next great competitor of the 2018-2019 season.
Like previous nationals, I first look at the home conference to see if there are any possible contenders. Top ranked player and ACL Pro Tim Grew certainly has to be a candidate. His performance with partner Charlie Prew at the Kickoff Battle led us to believe that this team would be in contention all year long, but recent finishes may indicate otherwise. Singles has been a roller coaster for Grew. After losing his first game at the Bag Brawl, he went on a four game win streak defeating three ACL Pros in the process (Eric Ryder, Blake Demale, Davis Streker), so you know the talent is there. Other names like Bob Sperry, Doug Cloud, and even Sandy Peacock in the women's division emerge as possible high finishers given the home field advantage.
Outside of the Northeast, I look for players that have shown sparks of greatness that just haven't been able to sustain it throughout an entire event. Derrick King has been hot recently and is someone that I look to finish well at the Final Chase. His two losses at the Bag Brawl were close games to Frank Modlin and Philip Haydon, but winning the Advanced Blind Draw with Matthew Sorrells and Pro Doubles back at the Kickoff Battle obviously shows King has the talent. Jay Rubin is coming off of an Advanced Doubles win with Chris Novy at the Bag Brawl. Rewatching his performance, I really believe he contributed to the majority of the win in the finals, heavily outscoring the best player on the weekend, Scott Lane. Finally, Eric Anderson is throwing lights out. He is entering the Final Chase with a Mid East Conference win defeating Adam Hissner, Jay Dotson, and Cody Henderson all in the same tournament. Literally the only thing that worries me about Anderson is his composure. If you remember, Anderson won the 2018 ACL Pro Invitational alongside partner and "coach" Frank Modlin, who was able to keep Anderson focused and calm. When Anderson is even-keeled, he is one of the best in the country. I look for him to finish the year strong, as long as the mental aspect of the game doesn't consume him.
Advanced Singles - ACL Pro Jay Rubin. I thought Rubin would eventually become an elite player, but didn't realize it would happen this quickly. My last bold pick worked out well, maybe this will too.
Women's Doubles - ACL Pros Christine Papcke and Stacia Pugh. Cornhole gets its first ever Grand Slam.
Advanced Doubles - ACL Pros Trey Burchfield and Brandon Corwin. These two are getting better and better each tournament. I think the nerves of the broadcast may have got the best of them at the Bag Brawl, but they are ready to get their first big win.
Pro Doubles - ACL Pros Daymon Dennis and Philip Haydon. Haydon is coming off of a conference win in the Mid-South which says a lot about his current play. I think Morton/Powers as well as Smith/Washington shock some people but in the end the experience of Haydon and Dennis comes through as they take home their second National win of the season.
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