Heat index: 95 degrees. Breeze: light. Sun: unfiltered and scorching. The grounds: large and fast. The sides: due to no-shows and injuries, just 15-a-side. The subs: one, for Baton Rouge.
Not the best conditions for a full-length footy match, but this past Saturday in Baton Rouge, the Tigers and the Houston Lonestars duked it out in the second of their four-match series this season. Umpire Chris Liddy delayed the start of the match for a few minutes to wait for more players to appear. When none did, the Tigers dealt Houston promising recruit Kenny Delucca along with Jonathon Morrill and recent LSU grad Finky Finkelstein to even the sides.
Despite a pre-match demand to tear the game from Houston and pile it on early, it was the Lonestars that grabbed the match by the balls in the opening minutes and put up two quick goals before the Tigers could snap their lackadaisical funk. Houston’s redwood-like ruckman controlled the taps and the Lonestar rovers, led by coach Dan Holwerda, led the charge deep into Tiger territory.
A quick position change saw Baton Rouge coach Tyler Smith swap with club president Roberto Montanaro. With Smith’s mobility now in the half-back lines, and Montanaro’s hard physicality putting a charge in the half-forward line, the Tigers started to get a grip on the match.
Perennial match-winner Mickey Kleinhenz settled the midfielders, a fast and skilled unit featuring Daz Dunhke and Nate Lane roving along with captain Flea Braud and Aaron “I love Lost” LaRose on the wings, and the Scales of Victory quickly tipped back in Baton Rouge’s favor and stayed there.
A collision on the half-forward line between Montanaro, Lindy Dentinger, and Houston’s tough-nut half-back Matt Stevens saw the Lonestar stalwart leave the field with a skull-revealing gash. Although he would return later, bandaged-up and game for more action, Houston lost two other players to injury almost simultaneously and their fast start disappeared under the Tigers’ onslaught.
Led by center halfback Irish James Morris, the Tigers backlines featuring Dozer Cantrelle, Pele Bruckner, Smith, and a recuperating James Kavanaugh repelled nearly all of Houston’s forays toward goal. After drawing first and second blood, the Lonestars would be stuck at two goals for the remainder of the match–a long 75 minutes.
But the key to match for the Tigers was their midfield play, particularly along the wings. Sensing favorable match-ups, LaRose and Braud demanded the ball and began a relentless assault on Houston’s defense from both sides.
In typical Tiger fashion, the midfield chipped in a few goals with Duhnke, LaRose, and Kleinhenz (two goals) peppering the big posts.
The best revelation of the match was the play of Baton Rouge’s forwards. Half-forward Joe Roy and full-forward Jeff Horn rewarded the coach’s faith in their offensive abilities by booting identical 4.2’s on the day. Roy, fresh from a stint in the desert (the half-back line), lined up his booming kick from 40 meters and earned some long-distance majors. Horn, working mainly in the goal square, showed strong hands and some smooth maneuvers to pick up his haul.
With Montanaro and Dentinger showing their typical hardness at the ball, Peepers Phillips selflessly dragging his defender out of play to free space for his fellow hot forwards, and Mason Adams providing drive across the ground, the Tigers comprehensively outplayed their counterparts.
As the day wore on, with the match in-hand, the Tigers softened a bit and the hard-working Houston quartet of Holwerda, Justin Vaughn, Sean Whitehouse, and Whitney Altenhoff began to get traction in the match. Luckily the shrill shriek of the final whistle pierced the smothering air and the Tigers were able to sing the club song after putting up 16 unanswered goals.
This is the first match since 2006 that the Tigers have scored 100+.
Mickey Kleinhenz’s BOG performance puts him atop the usfootynews.com MVP list.
Jeff Horn’s season tally of 6 goals puts him equal-third on the usfootynews.com Goalkickers list.
Baton Rouge – 16.13 (109)
Houston – 2.3 (15)
3 – Kleinhenz
2 – Braud, LaRose
1 – Horn, Roy, Morris
Horn 4, Roy 4, Kleinhenz 2, Cantrelle 2, Duhnke, Kavanaugh, Detinger, LaRose