Nothing Like a Nail Biter

Texecutioners evade a Mile High mauling

"Don't I know you?" A roller derby fan checks out celebrity whistle blower and Alamo Drafthouse CEO Tim League at the Texas Rollergirls' July 16 bout versus Denver's Mile High Club (Photo by Richard Whittaker)

If the Texas Rollergirls know one thing about Roller Derby, it's that the bout ain't over until that last whistle blows. Case in point: Saturday's travel team bout between the home town Texecutioners and the Denver Rollerdolls' all-stars, the Mile High Club.

With less than two months to go before the Women's Flat Track Derby Association South-Central regionals in Kansas City on October 30, this was a major match-up. Texas, currently ranked two in the South, are no slackers: But the Mile High Club came into the bout ranked third in the insanely competitive West.

The night was full of good omens for the home team. With a paying gate of 1,973 and a hot crowd at the Austin Convention Center, the Texecutioners broke one age-old jinx: That travel team bouts come second in the hearts of local fans. On top of that, there's the little fact that the Texies have always been the come-back queens. For years, it seemed like they never saw a first period that they did not like to lose. That was a good sign, because they entered the second period trailing 39-71.

The pain started in the first jam. With Bloody Mary in the box, Denver powerhouse Heather Jushka screamed through for an unanswered 15: Even with her own little penalty detour, Jushka came straight back out in the second jam for another five. Olivia Shootin' John redressed the balance with an eight pointer, and then Vicious Van Go Go bit further into the Denver lead with an extra two.

Denver were not particularly grinding out the points – both of their big leaps came courtesy of power jams, with Julie "Angela Death" Adams adding 19 in one fell swoop. But they definitely got lucky with jam nine, when Vicious (who was herself skating unopposed) made the decision to call the jam early and reset the pack. It was a bold move: But every time you roll the dice, well, that risk of snake eyes is always there. This time fortune did not favor the bold, with jam 10 ending with Vicious stuck in the pack and headed for the penalty box.

Put it all together, and the Texies went into half time trailing 39-71. But this is Texas, and second periods are where they have always flourished.

Anyone looking for a change in strategy or jammer rotation was sorely mistaken. The Bloody/OJ/Vicious pattern stayed in place, and it looked for a while like it was backfiring. as that half time score swiftly degenerated into a 47-123 rout. As one die-hard and long-time Texies fan put it, "I can handle losing by ten, but this …"

Aaaaaand cue the come back. Bloody started the offensive with a 14 point masterclass in the 20 foot rule. That was a tactic she deployed throughout the closing quarter, either to get through the pack or to score points. The Texas pack started closing the door on Denver, while their three core jammers started cutting into their lead. When OJ came home with 27 points off a quintuple grand slam, it was vintage Texas all over again.

But 99-123 against a team of Denver's caliber – even with a home field advantage, even with a roaring and near-capacity crowd that was sticking around through the final whistle – is a tough hill to climb with less than 15 minutes on the clock. Tough? Yes. Impossible? No, not with the Texas blockers hunting jammers and holding Denver down to a 12 point gain with one jam remaining. So with the period clock ticking out and a 108-135 scoreline, Texas doubled-down on OJ for the final jam.

What they needed was a miracle: What they got was greatness, as she overcame the Denver wall of death for a solid nine points to close out the bout 117-135 for Denver.

It was a loss, yes, but it proved how dangerous Texas can be in a corner. The stats speak for themselves: In the last 12 jams, the pack locked Denver down to that pretty paltry 12 point gain, while the Texas jammers rocked through with 70. Anyone care to say that's not a top-tier team?

With the Hotrod Honeys in Australia for the next week, there will doubtless be some pre-emptive Friday night quarterbacking before the Texies' July 30 trip to Houston to take on Montreal's New Skids on the Block. What roster will Texas produce, knowing that this will be the last chance to send a message and get some interleague track time before Kansas? How much have they learned from facing off (as they have been all year, with regular Pacific coast trips) against another from that list of the best in the west? And what will it take to beat Denver if it comes to a rematch at nationals in November?

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WFTDA, Texecutioners, Women's Flat Track Derby Association, Denver Rollerdolls, Mile High Club

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