I am reminded of a quote that a very good friend once gave me. “This isn’t the edge of the Earth” he said, “but you can see it from here”. That is how I feel about the Sluggers this morning. They didn’t really back into the playoffs as much as they kind of fell in. At the start of the evening everyone was well aware that all Seattle had to do was avoid losing by 3-1 and they were almost certainly going to make the playoffs. Well, they avoided 3 – 1. Barely. The final score Arizona 2 ½ - Seattle 1 ½ got the Sluggers into the playoffs and avoided the fate of missing out in the last round that befell them last year. Yeah, you definitely can see it from here.
To start out I think we simply must send out a big commendation to the Arizona team. The task they faced last night wasn’t impossible, but the degree of difficulty had Olympic gymnastic judges shaking their heads. The Scorpions came out and didn’t think twice about it, putting their best effort into it. I want to say that this is the kind of competition that makes the USCL fun. So, thank you for the great match and good luck next year to Arizona.
Next, we come to the hero of the day. Slava Mikhailuk was the only Seattle player to win last night and that is what got Seattle into the playoffs. Of course, he has been the real heart of the Sluggers in the second half of the season, winning in each of the final 4 regular season matches. Considering that Seattle finished ahead of Arizona by ½ of a game point, basiclly one fewer draw, that score of 4/4 looks huge. Of course their isn’t any place for such things in the USCL MVP race, but it seems to me that this stat alone makes Slava the MVP of the Sluggers. Last night Slava faced Mark Ginsburg for the second time. In a line that is alleged to offer White no advantage Slava directed play to a prolonged endgame. This worked out as it became more evident that a draw wouldn’t do for team considerations. I am certainly not the player to question whether IM Ginsburg felt compelled to advance the Q-side pawns or overestimated his chances with a bishop versus knight, but either way it worked to give Mikhailuk chances. My feeling is that there was a chance in the rook and pawn ending , maybe 52 …Rb1+ to try and help the Black K get over, yet it never materialized. Certainly IM Ginsburg will provide in depth analysis on his blog. The end result was a fairly direct rook versus one pawn end that the Seattle player won.
Serper on board one gave up a pawn in the late opening to acquire the 2 B’s. Both players played steadily enough to end up with a split point. Rohonyan achieved quite a reasonable position. Then when sitting tight with 30… Kg7 and the idea of 31.Rb4 Rcc7 32. Rb6 Re6 would likely have kept things in place she blundered with 30… Rc3 31.Rb4 Rd7 32.Rxe4. Adamson showed fine technique in picking up the point for Arizona. On board 4 Michael Lee had White against Warren Harper. Lee was confronted with the line 1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.g3 f5 that had led to his loss in the Chicago match. This had to be something he might have expected as it would have been a standard bit of prep for any opponent. The line that Michael followed was rather timid and directionless, which suggests to me that he was caught unprepared for a repeat of the line. The game turned into a model of play for Black in the opening and Lee never seemed to get out of the water, losing an ending a bit later.
The Sluggers were successful in avoiding the abyss again. Playoffs begin and Seattle gets the Miami Sharks, winners of the Western Division. I will be posting some thoughts on that a bit later.