I have certainly not recovered yet from my red-eye flight home from Arizona on Monday, but there is so much to cover from this past weekend that I just couldn't help but get writing. The 2019 ACL Bag Brawl was the third ACL National of the season and it brought together the most diverse group of cornhole players the world has ever seen. Yes, the 2019 ACL Cornhole Mania was the largest event we have ever had, but something about the Bag Brawl just seemed bigger. Perhaps, the bigger is more metaphorical than literal, but to me I just felt as if we grew so much as a sport in just one weekend. If one thing is certain, it's that I've never been more excited for cornhole on the West Coast.
This ACL National followed essentially the same format as the first two, meaning we kicked off the weekend with Women's Doubles. As expected, we had plenty of the best females in the country competing, but we also had plenty of new faces that set the tone for the weekend. ACL Pros Bethany Stilwell and April Chismark were a brand new Women's Doubles team (even though they are ACL Pro partners) and had a great run just coming up one game short of making the semifinals. Courtney Coy and ACL Pro Harlee Culpepper had never played a single game together but showed that experience isn't required when they made the finals and were only 3 points away from winning the title. Drea Flores and Bridgett Moore were the heavy crowd favorite of the tournament, competing in their home state of Arizona and taking advantage of their home field advantage by making it all the way to the four team playoff (ultimately falling in the semifinals). I mentioned it on the broadcast, but Flores was arguably the toughest competitor of the day during tournament play, it was just a few untimely misses in the semifinals that kept her from a date with television. In the end, the champs remained champs. Christine Papcke and Stacia Pugh continued their relentless assault on this division. Time and time again, they have faced adversity and elite level competition, but each time they just keep winning as they extend their Women's Doubles record to 15-1 on the season. Unbelievable.
Before I cover the rest of the headliner events, it would be a shame if I didn't highlight the unusual and refreshing energy that came from the social and competitive divisions at this ACL National in comparison to others. This weekend I learned that cornhole really does have two different generations. Most players from the West of Texas belong to this new second generation of cornhole and I absolutely love it. They are flashy, energetic smack-talkers that are so loyal to the players that come from their specific cornhole groups, not to mention they all match with beautifully designed jerseys. One of the biggest crowds of the weekend came from a social singles semifinal between Scott Hagen of New Mexico and Jared Sanchez of Arizona. The crowd supporters made the game feel like is was a superbowl and it had the entire venue wanting to see what was happening on stage. I had a chance to talk to some of the leaders out west like Ed Bueno and Ray Sandoval and you could just feel the pure passion that they had for the game and for their players. I can't wait until we can get back out to that part of the country and continue to build the momentum that was started from this event.
P.S. These new westerners taught me the new official coin toss of cornhole, the bag spin.
The second day of the Bag Brawl was all about doubles. I said in my preview article that I expected three new teams to make it to the four team playoff in Pro Doubles. I got all of the teams wrong, but I'm giving myself 50% credit for predicting new faces in general. We were one game away from having our first female competitor appear in the four team Pro Doubles playoff with Christine Papcke and Ken Schaef losing in their bracket finals to Cody Henderson and Adam Hissner, which would have been an amazing feat. I also got called out again, this time by Steve Wendling for he and Todd Bridgeman being labeled as the "forgotten Texans" as they proceeded to run through their bracket all the way to the finals...I won't lie, I like this fuel I'm starting to give out! By nighttime, we were left with just four in Pro Doubles: Henderson/Hissner, Brandon Corwin/Trey Burchfield, Scott Lane/Frank Modlin, and Jimmy McGuffin/Josh Lunsford. The most amazing thing to me was that all four of these teams fought through the winners bracket of their respective brackets, meaning all four teams who made the playoff were undefeated.
As I walked outside to the broadcast court, I passed Jimmy McGuffin warming up on the boards with what seemed to be a permanent grin that lasted through the night. He plainly told me "I'm going to prove you right". See, less than two months ago I released my Top 10 Airmailers in the country, with McGuffin sitting atop the list. What was so interesting to me is that I received so many messages when that list went public asking me "who is Jimmy McGuffin? And how could he possibly be better at airmailing than _____?". That's when it occurred to me that so many of the new players across the country never got to see the pre-2016 McGuffin, the guy who would sit at a board and throw 30 straight airmails.
Well, they learned who he was real quick.
It didn't matter than Brandon Corwin and Trey Burchfield had been unbelievable all day. It didn't matter that Burchfield and Corwin had just mastered a 14 point comeback against Matt Morton and Brad Powers who seemed unbeatable until then. Shoot, it didn't even matter that once McGuffin and Lunsford got to the final, they had to play the revitalized Scott Lane (more on Lane in a minute) with Frank Modlin who was throwing his bags like he designed them exactly for himself (ha ha). I said on the broadcast that McGuffin made me speechless, which was true, but Josh Lunsford was so underrated in that match. Not only did he limit the scoring of the hottest player in the tournament, Scott Lane, he frustrated him. Lunsford had multiple four baggers and shot >70% on his airmails. It is true that McGuffin put on arguably the greatest performance we have seen in the small 4-year history of the ACL, but the "dawg pound" isn't barking if Josh Lunsford doesn't have one of the best games of his career. I also have to give a quick shoutout to Jay Rubin and Chris Novy, for taking down advanced doubles. Fan and friend of the duo Donjuan Bermudez guaranteed me before the day started that Novy and Rubin would make the television broadcast in Pro Doubles, so I gave him 80% of the credit when the duo made the broadcast for the Advanced Doubles final after the first four matches of the broadcast progressed at an unprecedentedly fast pace and we needed an emergency filler match.
After the dust had settled and the celebrations for an incredible broadcast had ended, it was time for day 3, singles day. The Advanced Singles tournament in Arizona was by far my favorite singles event of the year thus far. It had upsets, intensity, redemption, everything. One of the best games of the year belonged to Matt Morton and Cody Henderson. Morton was on fire all day with his gamechanger bags but ultimately ran into the trash-talking and mindgame machine that is Cody Henderson. In a two game span, I think Cody Henderson (legally) stalled the game about 20 times and took 10 second pauses after every Morton miss. The fans were into it and cheered as loud as they could for a Henderson loss. In the end, Henderson advanced and Morton was left with a 2nd place finish in his bracket and a hotdog, courtesy of Henderson after a long discussion of mutual respect among the two. Noah Wooten had me sweating in my seat all day as he blew through the competition sliding, airmailing, and even blocking with his All Slide bags (no sticky side on the bag). I say sweating because we had a friendly wager that would have resulted in my cannonball-ing into the 4 ft. pool at the Harrah's Ak-Chin with a first place finish...I thank the lord he finished third.
The underdog performance of the day certainly had to belong to Eric Stowe. After having to frantically search through social media and his ACL Player Profile to find out who this guy was that beat ACL Singles Champion James Baldwin twice, I got to see him compete twice. His bag reminds me of ACL Pro Philip Haydon's. It doesn't spin much, but he throws lightning fast and is fearless when it comes to difficult shots, especially airmails. He made it all the way to the finals in his bracket, losing to the same player twice, Scott Lane. My pick to win the tournament almost made me the most brilliant man of the weekend. Josh Groce surprised everyone except the Texas natives with a second place finish. In the semifinals, he defeated Noah Wooten using a 28 bag in-the-hole streak that had everyone's jaw dropping lower and lower with each four bagger. Groce double dipped Dave Sutton in the final of his bracket and just seemed like he could not possibly lose twice that day.
That was until he met Scott Lane.
Scott Freakin' Lane, man. What a weekend. 1st in Advanced Singles, 2nd in Pro AND Advanced Doubles, 1st in Crew Cup, 3rd in the Advanced Blind Draw. Is that the single best performance of a player in National history? It has to be, right? Lane was just relentless all weekend long and I've never seen someone execute at the level equal to their confidence. Lane was the perfect match for Cody Henderson, working around blocks, tuning out the smack talk, and airmailing at an incredibly high rate. Then, he completely changes his game against Josh Groce and simply just goes bag-for-bag the entire game to walk away with a title. Many forget that Lane came in 2nd place at the 2016 ACL Championships and was one of the best in the country. Since then? Lane has been nothing better than forgettable. But he refocused himself, he changed his throw, he changed his bag choice, and he earned back the nickname that people across the country feared. Back in 2017 I wrote about wondering if the real Scott Freakin' Lane would ever be back, and I think we know the answer now.
SFL is back.
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