NXL Sunshine State Major 2023 Recap

When the draw was first released, I was very pleased. I knew that if we could get through that crucible of a prelims to start the season off, it would not only be a good event, but set the stage for the rest of the season for the squad. Getting tested early is always a good thing.
Here is how I looked at it. Heat was the #2 team in the world headed into this event and I wanted them first. They would be a great test early on for our unorthodox approach to the layout. We had Revo next. I also wanted to catch them early. Revo is one of those teams that usually the deeper you meet them, the better they are. Obviously Mark Johnson’s power moves in the off season with AC Diesel would make for a rather difficult test for our sophomore debut. And finally, my friends Shane Pestana and Mike Paxson coaching and rebuilding the Ironmen was going to be a “hum-dinger” for sure.

There were two ways to play this field successfully in my view. Knowing where your opponent is and where he wants to be is an important aspect of the game (duh). My approach to this particular layout was you either took ground early and aggressively, then permeated and let your opponent fight his way to you, forcing moves, or you sat back, let things develop a little, and then threw a well planned/timed counter punch. This concept of mine was initially met with some consternation from my guys. And that was understandable. We like data and knowing where people are for zone control, counter punching, and offense. But you couldn’t always know where an opponent was on this field. Sure, you had an IDEA…but you didn’t really know for sure until you did and even then, he may have switched positions seconds later. So, we had to make fear of the unknown our ally. And we did. We did this through intelligent assumption (we will say deductive reasoning) and focusing on our communication. With the right discipline and comms, the guys would discern the data.

Vs Houston Heat

We wanted to get a little aggressive the first point. We pushed dorito side. The penalty on Stuart Ridgel was absolute horse manure. I watched him from the pit because he and I discussed getting his gun up and moving from center up into the center aztec to make a read. When he went into the bunker he steps on a ball and it squirts paint up on the back of his left thigh. I know this because I watched it happen. I thought the ref was headed in to wipe him off…
Anytime you are in a 2 body deficit against Heat, it is grim. Time was important on this field (I had determined 70% “slow” and 30% “fast” at the previous weekend’s practice) so when we lost Britt almost 3 minutes after the penalty, I figured I’d give my guys a few seconds to dig a surprise kill out, especially when the two are Drew Bell and Aaron Pate. Heat did press but I decided to get 5 guys back out there and start fresh. 0-1.

Our guns on break and zone control gave us a 2 body advantage on the next point. Then we began our slow meticulous squeeze. My guys didn’t get in a hurry, understood their roles and what needed to happen when we drop the d side. On this field, just because a side was blown did not mean there were not threats. However, we also know that if you are in that position, you will want to spread if possible. We positioned appropriately and made Heat fight too many fronts. 1-1.

The next point ultimately decided the outcome of the match. Both teams traded bodies early from key positions creating a 4 on 4. Heat established a center presence early but Mike Brown’s discipline on his job was outstanding. Unfortunately, MB got caught (hey, it happens) creating a 3 on 3 scenario. And this is where I feel the deciding factor took place in the match. Sam Monville’s patience can only be described as extraordinary. It’s almost as if he was wearing a Canes jersey. He became a part of that bunker. And, as was apt to happen on this field, we lost a body in the scramble and didn’t piece his position together. The guys would tell me later where they thought he was. The clock continued to dwindle. At one point, I got pretty excited because Sam did come off his post and went inside for a moment. When Nic did decide to go, I thought to myself, he knows and is going to stick Sam! He did not.This point I feel would be completely different if Nic traded or we knew where Sam was to begin with. Lesson learned (and discussed at length)

We were now forced to press into the guns with 1 minute left. We actually made our spots but our snake side attack looked into the first ball once there. The coup de gras was another minor, this one legit. A good chess match but penalties killed us. Two penalties and a loss by two. Coincidence? Probably not. But that’s my story and I’m sticking with it. Britt Simpson would have pulled off a point stealing run if there would have been 2-3 more seconds on the clock in the final breakout. Heat wins 3-1.

Vs Baltimore Revo

We never played Revo in our rookie season last year. I always thought it would be an interesting match up of styles. We only had a chance to scout their match against AC Diesel, and even then it was while we were playing. Even with the limited data, we were able to extrapolate a rough conceptual idea. Then it was a matter of addressing that concept with our own approach. Like I said earlier, Revo is one of those teams that gets better as the event goes. Revo liked to get those guns up D side with a pocket shooter (I think they used Benny Carrol for this) so we thought on the first point, we should take advantage of that. Revo won some first engagement shots though and went up bodies early. They were quick to their secondaries too, much faster than in their first match (good adjustment). They made some good reads and upped the aggression. My guys quickly adjusted to slow things down and assess that first point but Revo found the hole. 0-1.

Next point we wanted to spread and see. We lost one on the break but we get one back due to an over eager Revo player. Coupled with the data we already had, this was really the point that gave me the insight we needed. They wanted to control the center. Zone control with over-watch gave us another kill. First engagement issues continued to plague us but we closed the point out. 1-1

The next point our play goes a little south as we lost two on the break but we evened it up almost immediately based off the hole Revo showed. Then Stuart Ridgel did some Stuart Ridgel stuff. This man is quickly becoming elite and if his dissection of that close out didn’t show it, I don’t know what else you have to do. 2-1

*Zen note – Just a personal opinion here and I am obviously biased but my thought is he should have got move of the prelims and the $500 cash. It is move of the prelims, not “scenario move” of the prelims. Nothing against Askren but if you don’t know to run your ass down the field with 10 seconds left to try and steal a point, your PB IQ is deficient. But if you can single handedly figure out how to do a 3 pack clean against Revo… that’s DOING something and shows a high in game processing speed.

I decided to get aggressive snake side and see Revo’s reaction. They reacted well but this allowed us to put an asset in position right behind our initial goal and create tension for the center, which is what Revo wants to control. But, best laid plans seldom survive first contact. We peeled one off but lost Nic. Stu played savior once again and traded. Even if he hadn’t, it’s a 2v2 and we were in position where we could burn the clock since we were up 1. However, it was not necessary as Stu did get his trade and we closed it out. 3-1

Still plenty of time on the clock. As the Hurricanes have proven several times this year, the clock is an integral part of the game. Knowing Revo wanted to get that extra gun up, we wanted to try pressing the issue again D side and it paid off. We got a kill on the break and established a heavy D presence off the rip. The beauty of this was, if/when my D side attacker makes it, now they HAD to contend with his presence and they could only do that from one of a few locations (based off their breakouts). If he wasn’t successful, I still felt confident we would kill off time. Couple that with Revo having to push, this would offer us opportunities to intercept them. The asset up front in conjunction with the spread created a win/win scenario. That successful D side run and the short snake presence allowed us to really stymie any aggression from Revo. Then the “Bash Brothers” pull one of their patented “make coach pee himself a little” moves… but it actually ended up working out. Revo doesn’t see Drew join Britt in his bunker. Britt’s gun was inside making Revo think, okay, there he is, and allows Drew to peel two off. 4-1

Revo called a timeout since they only had 3-4 minutes to score 3 points and/or reduce the point spread. There was a small misunderstanding on the box for the Canes. Yes, we had a conversation about it in the pit afterwards but as a coach, you certainly don’t want to let your team dwell on something like that. Especially since I felt I was accountable for not being more clear and concise in my explanation of what I wanted. Move on, next point. Revo did a good job and took advantage to get the point with just over 2 minutes left on the clock. 4-2.

In the final point of the match, we wanted to contest them with a center presence and take the corners in case it didn’t work out. We shot two on the break but they eliminated our center presence. At that point I knew it was in the bag because of positioning. My guys don’t have to engage but can control a zone. A Revo player tried to get creative D side, it didn’t pay off, leaving the two remaining Revo players with a heavy lift of pushing into 3 disciplined Hurricane guns. A trade happened snake side leaving it a 2 on 1, Hurricane’s favor. Pate re-positions to snake corner and Johnny’s your uncle. Canes win 4-2.

One and one for the day. Both our matches were afternoon (2 and 4pm). The next day though we were looking at an 11:20 am match followed by a 4 pm match. That is a LOT of downtime. So we got together for a team meeting, did our homework on Diesel and Ironmen, and then developed our logistics for the next day. We also knew we would have an opportunity to scout the Ironmen one more time. With our plans set, we went to sleep feeling rather confident.

VS AC Diesel

I felt like Mark had respect for us and would not be flippant about our match. We anticipated a slow grind. We wanted to set the pace and drag them into the deep end of the pool with our style of play. We had a good understanding of the field and we wanted to leverage that. But we also felt like they would adjust. It is always a crap shoot day 2 on what your first opponent on day two will present. First point, we got our guns up, got 5 out alive in an effort to assess and counter. As expected, when Diesel saw an opportunity they capitalized. We lost some gun fights but now we were smarter for it. For this particular field, you didn’t necessarily have to engage. We decided to spread and assess again. Small hiccup to begin with but it pays off. Tie ball game. 1-1

We knew there was a statistical probability they were going to spread the next point, it was just a matter of who we were going to pick on off the break. The paint shot straight and true and we found ourselves with a 4 on 2 advantage pretty quick. Knowing we had the higher probability of going up a point while burning clock, Diesel smartly conceded the point to get 5 fresh back out there. And why wouldn’t you? On paper, you had to think to yourself, “AC’s best 5 versus the Canes best 5, AC wins the majority of the time.” But people said that all last year to us. We would just smile and think, keep telling yourself that, it’s eventually going to bite you in the ass, develop lockjaw, and drag you to death. 2-1 Canes

Again, we determine Diesel wanted to stack that snake side. We decided to spread the field with a free wheeler. Their stack would determine where our free wheeler would become a force multiplier. Sure enough, Diesel conceded the d-side, content to hold and stacked the snake side. We contained d side essentially with one gun (a risk but based off 2 days of playing and watching the layout, it seemed worth it). Once the widest D side fell, it forced their home to plug the hole and turn a gun from snake side to contend. Thing is, we weren’t in a hurry. We had the advantage and we were going to make them work for it at this point. And our free wheeler never had to really commit to anything. My guys won some good gun fights too. 3-1

It was obvious now, even with the time left, they would now try to get out D side. Nico was out there so we were confident in the call. We put two guns on it and it paid off. Interesting fact, I am pretty sure we shot that player in the D side can 2-3 different times but the ref could never find the hit. The guys didn’t get rattled though, maintained composure and let that clock roll while nullifying any potential counter push. Spicka tried a desperation move up the center. No go. I was hoping Greg Pauley would let it go a little longer but he is too smart for that. 4-1.

Up by 3, there was still a lot of time on that clock. And with the roster we were facing, you couldn’t count them out. So we had to be smart. We were in X-ball and felt confident in the game plan. But again, that’s where things can get sideways sometimes. And this would be one of those times. We knew they would be aggressive off the break to an extent. We decided to shoot wide and set up to contain. We lost one of our containment shooters on the break though which allowed them to get two bodies to join their center push from the break. We made a valiant counter but not quite enough. 4-2

We had to ask ourselves an important question, would it be best to get 5 bodies out alive and concede ground or fight fire with fire? We chose fire. We make our goal for the point by getting wide and far d side which should slow any progress through center/snake. But we lost Pate on the break from a key spot for the game plan. This made Stu have to come off his assignment and get snake way to help Nic. Either way, once we were set, I felt we were really in position to dictate the point. The break down happened when our D side presence comes off his assignment (he was asked to check something and he trusts his teammate). Once that happened, it allowed two Diesel players to reposition. We actually bounced the one who shifted out to the dorito… it’s a different point I feel if that ball broke (woulda coulda shoulda). We picked up A-rod’s move to get wider on D side. But Britt had to get small at first and was forced to re-engage Mark Johnson in the center. Mark got a ball on him which opened the hole. They got lucky again when Nic bounces Mouse at the snake 50. How lucky? With Mouse’s second life, he peeled off Drew Bell creating a 2 on 1. Mark closed the point out with about 50 seconds left. 4-3

Now they had to come. What would a team’s best access points be down the field? If you aren’t practicing 60 second points, you’re doing it wrong. We knew what we would do in that situation so we prepared to repel it. We made positions 5 alive and once that happened, I knew we were solid with the win. We shot one on the break which helped as well. I preach discipline to the point of nausea. If they were able to get through a line who only had one job, I would be impressed. We hold on with 5 alive and they lost everyone. 4-3

What I didn’t tell my guys was how, inside, I was a little disappointed we had tossed that spread away from a seeding perspective. Would have been nice to have a plus 6 at the end of the day… that’s called “foreshadowing”.

VS Ironmen

My guys were focused during the downtime , staying hydrated, getting some food, keeping out of the sun, and watching some games. We had to beat the Ironmen. We had watched Heat send Diesel home earlier that afternoon. If the Ironmen beat us, they would take the heads up and go on to Sunday. We had data on them but they were kind of everywhere. There were holes in their game but they were random and difficult to pinpoint. We felt that we had better comms and discipline though and decided to leverage that. We tried a goal oriented play D side first point. Interestingly enough, they ran an almost identical play. The only difference being we took advantage first. They did appear to have had two of their players doing the same job though. What didn’t help was my friend on the Ironmen, Mike McGowan, slips a shot in on Britt and in an effort to fill the spot before the men can react Drew Bell quite literally pulls a Goldberg from WWE and speared Britt on his way into Britt’s former bunker! This caused Drew to get shot. So now our D side presence was blown. Ridgel pulled the “get the hell out of dodge” card but gets it declined at check out while Nic decided, hey, we got nothing to lose – full send! Point one to Ironmen. 0-1.

After a short discussion about a PB show from a few years ago called “The Short Bus”, I got my guys refocused on the task at hand. We understood where the domino fell and went back to basics. We would spread and make the appropriate reads/counter based off the Ironmen. Low and behold, we have the same idea again as both teams spread but the Ironmen struck first shooting our wide D side. However, Ironmen dropped a zone and we got back out wide to contest as well as get an asset in place to support. At the same time, we took just enough ground snake side to keep their D side wary. It seemed as if the Men forgot the shadows get long at this time of day (as a team we had discussed using this). Aaron Pate did use that to make a counter digging out a kill from the center. Then it appeared the Ironman in the snake side brick panicked a little and tried a desperation run through to dig out Pate. But over-watch by Drew Bell snuffed that idea out. Head on a swivel, Pate took up zone control and caught another Ironman over extending. We were now in a 4 on 3 body advantage and were in position to counter push which we did. A mistake by the last Ironmen player got them a major. This not only tied us up but put us on the power play next point with a two body advantage. 1-1.

I knew the moment they lost the first body Shane and Pax would concede the point giving us the 2-1 lead with 4-5 minutes left. So I told my guys to go out, make the primaries we have identified and make the point last. We actually shot their D side runner on the break (damn it!) but the concession didn’t come. Or so I thought as it did about 10 seconds later. I got that they were hoping we would get into a feeding frenzy and run down to our deaths or draw a penalty. When it became apparent we weren’t going anywhere, they conceded. 2-1.

With just over 5 minutes on the clock and Shane/Pax at the wheel, I found myself honestly a little stumped. I decided to take a little ground snake side and put my other guys in position to contain and counter easily. Sure enough, the Men took snake brick, the center wedge, and the d side wedge. I watched the Ironmen player wrap inside the snake brick and launch to our center/snake wedge. As he did this, I saw a hit come off his shoulder. I don’t know if it was one my guys or one of his own. But what I saw did, in fact happen, since a ref ran in and a flag went up. This left the Ironmen with one body up the center and two across the back line. My guys now understood we are up 5 bodies to 3 with a 1 point advantage. We don’t have to force the issue but allowed the Men to kill themselves as the clock dwindled down. The Center brick got crafty but his shadow gave him away. He made the mistake of popping the top and got eliminated. The remaining two Ironmen were still in the back. With the body advantage and the lead, Shane/Pax conceded the point leaving about 2 and half minutes in the match. 3-1.

With just over 2 minutes left, we knew if we could get wide, we should be able to seal the deal. We got out 5 alive and I looked at everyone in the pit and said, “Game”. We had a single snake side gun controlling the snake side entrance and an Ironmen ran into it. Their home decided to spread wide going behind the first D side can to the d side corner. He and his teammate in the inset D side can both get eliminated. This left snake side wedge and the snake side “block”. Wedge (Gomez maybe?) moved to snake side brick. So, not only are they down bodies but essentially linear. Turns out that snake side block was Al Fernandez and he moved to snake side wedge. No longer linear but still not optimum (what can you do though?). We shot Gomez and then Al. With the heads up play, Nic Ripple rushed in for the point to help with margin.

Vs Los Angeles Infamous

We went home and did our homework. We had set the goal to make Sunday for this event. Now that we were there, the next goal was to win our first match. We had made Sunday twice last season but lost our first match each time. We were determined not to let that happen again. The more I looked at Infamous’ tape, it was obvious they were highly aggressive on this layout, taking ground early and with speed. And why not when you have that type of speed. But after further study, it became apparent their approach essentially consisted of wanting to use the two center bricks to cross up defensively and let their other three “play around” in the back. Remember at the beginning of this, I said their were two ways to play the field? Yeah, they were most definitely the first approach. So we decided to take Lao Tzu’s approach to this match. “An army that cannot yield will be defeated. A tree that cannot bend will crack in the wind. The hard and stiff will be broken; the soft and supple will prevail.” We decided to concede that positioning since it appeared the way they played was to simply take away the head of the snake and the dorito 2-3 gap. Okay… we won’t go there. We will set traps since you are basically taking two of your guns out of the fight leaving us 5 guns to pick on the 3 behind them.

I know what you are thinking. Boring! Yes, you are absolutely right. But our goal was to win. If I see something we can exploit, a win is a win. Say what you want about that match but it was a controlled chess match. The guys executed perfectly. And we had the pieces on the board standing at the end of it.

We knew our basic set up was a good way to control the Infamous approach. So that’s what we did. Sure enough, Infamous came out hard straight to the snake 50 brick. They also positioned the center/d side wedge player would who want to go inside to the center 50 brick. The easiest to isolate was the wedge and he was the first to die. We then spread because, with that wedge eliminated, the snake side brick can’t stop the counter very well. The risk was worth it. We let them spread D side too though. Because we know that snake side brick wanted to control the 2-3 dorito gap, we snuck into the dorito side to keep their dorito player honest and ensure that Snake side brick STAYED that way allowing us access to him. Stuart made the read, saw the opportunity and got the elimination. If that hadn’t worked, the goal was set to get another gun out behind our first dorito and bully the crossed snake side gun (there was a bounce shot). Their dorito presence somewhat stifled that though. Stu then carefully set another trap with a tactical retreat. Regrettably, Infamous got crafty D side and dug one of our dorito side attackers out. Stu got clever too but just a little too much as Brusselback wrapped on his blocked out creeping. But in order to get that shot on Stu, he exposed himself and gets eliminated as well.

What took place next is textbook. We didn’t have to worry about margin. A win was a win at this point. So we took our time piecing things together with our snake corner staying in reserve if necessary. Infamous had both corners. We owned the snake, the snake corner, and Dorito 4. I’m pretty sure Pate became aggressive because he was out of paint. I’m pretty sure all 5 remaining players were as well as the shooting was quite sporatic. Comment of the event though was the question posed by Nic to Pate. “Pate, do you want me to get in the snake now?” In typical Pate fashion, he responded with, “Hell yes I do”. This is because Nic was no longer needed for reserve and we could now press the advantage. Mike Brown’s presence was a thorn so Infamous smartly tries to progress down the D side but Nic had begun crawling forward and had the infamous player’s side. Nic scalped him. This happened at almost 10 minutes in! This put it into a 3 on 1 and Travis was quick to towel. 1-0

We knew this is when Infamous would send Sam and Zack to the two center bricks. Were the rolls reversed, this would have been the play. It was time to implement and execute our preplanned response. I gave the audible from the pit to the box when I saw Sam and Zack line up (we had a call ready for this). They went right where we called it. Their two center players shot a lot of paint at gaps that no one was going to go through. And because we knew to control the wides behind them, they couldn’t really generate an attack. It also allowed our back center to play tall, pick shots and see the field. He shot their snake side tower followed by the dorito corner. Three Infamous players now had to push into 5 zoned guns and they got chopped up. We actually had the time to hit the buzzer but it wasn’t necessary. We wanted to be respectful.

Milestone and goal #2 reached.

Vs New York Xtreme

Similar to Infamous, Xtreme really played the layout aggressively and fast. Yyou had to respect it because it appeared they were doing it with significant success. They really worked in the off season and it showed. It was like a whole new team out there. But we had scouted them and felt we had the right game plan to beat them.

And our game plan looked solid the first point in. 1-0

That second point was a friggin bloodbath of a knife fight but Nic Ripple said not today satan. 2-0

Nothing is ever in the bag, especially with this layout, with that much time left, against a Sunday quarters pro team.

The third point we know they will go center brick with the route through the center. I put Drew bell off the right hand side of the home to shoot that lane. Xtreme shot our dorito corner runner but we definitely shot their center brick runner. Our entire pit saw it happen. Ref runs in and calls it rub… jeez. Okay. Fine. We tied the body count up by shooting Cantor. About 3 mnutes went by and we ended up losing our dorito side can when Corey Hall and Drew trade. But Xtreme has Cantor in our 40. He could have closed it out sooner as our center line was exposed (I was chewing gum vigorously hoping he wouldn’t think of or see the line). Around 4 minutes left, Cantor and Caro figured it out. Both Pate and Camp got peeled quickly followed by Nic. They hit the buzzer with 3:45 left. 2-1

NYX’s guns were solid on the next point as we lost two on the break. We took Pat Kraft out of the center too. But Xtreme capitalized on the kills by quickly and efficiently taking ground. My boys held tough and Drew Bell took 2 of them with him. We both decided to wait the clock out and let the overtime point decide it. 2-2.

I felt confident we were going to take this match. The play call was good, we were set up for success. Lot to dissect on what happened that overtime point… but not today. This is long enough as it is.

Congratulations to NYX making top 4! A tremendous amount of growth. Mad respect to that crew. And of course, congrats to Dynasty.

I have this theory that I was told sometime ago. It is called the ratio of thirds. It’s for when you are chasing a goal or doing anything difficult or hard:

A third of the time you’re going to feel absolutely great… on top of the world, all is going well, you are seeing what you want and need to see.
A third of the time you’re going to feel “okay”… not great, not bad, its not a bad spot or a good spot, you’re just kinda there.
And then, a third of the time you’re going to feel like crap. Nothing is going right, you’re frustrated, you aren’t seeing or feeling or hearing what you need.

It’s a cycle and it repeats… sometimes. But I would argue that, if you maintain this ratio, you’re actually doing pretty well.

You might think the Canes are feeling “okay” about this event or maybe even “crappy”. But you would be wrong. We feel great. We finished last season in 11th place and a 3rd tier team after working our way up from 5th tier. We made Sunday this first event and met another milestone by winning our wild card match on Sunday morning. Lots to be happy with. We know there is more work to do but we look forward to it. We are up for the challenge and can’t wait for the next test. See you in Texas.

Be water my friends.

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