After a devastating loss to Del Val, which is doing a great impersonation of a buzz saw as they cut through the entire division en route to a 7-0 record, SLA needed a big win like this to bounce back into playoff contention. Also, it seems that the Flyers needed the Rockets to win again as well. After the 10-3 drubbing they took last night while trying to clinch the series, the Flyers look like they need a little help from their friends. It's kind of eerie how these two teams are intricately linked. Stretching back to the 2010 playoff run, which found the Flyers down 0-3 to the hated Boston Bruins, anytime the Rockets win a game so do the Flyers. After dropping their first 8 contests in embarrassing fashion, never getting closer than a six-run loss, SLA Coach Herman had enough of losing. His pre-game speech against Comm Tech, which beat them 13-5 in their first game of the season, was curt and to the point. "Look, I am so tired of losing and I know you are too. I got tickets for the Flyers tonight and I'll be damned if getting mercy ruled again by a team we can beat is going to make me miss the start of the greatest comeback sports has ever seen. Let's just do the things we work on in practice and beat these guys. We are better than this. Start playing for one another and it will start to click". And click did it ever. With several starters missing the game, SLA stomped all over Comm Tech 25-10 for their first win in team history. Later that night the Flyers won in overtime 4-3 and started what has become exactly what Coach Herman predicted.
The rest of that series against the Bruins found the Flyers battling back from deficits and shutting down the high-octane Bruins to even the series at 3-3. Funny thing was that the then 1-8 Rockets has also won two more games of their own, and each game happened on the same day the Flyers were slated to do battle. So it came down to the final game of the season for the Rockets, while the Flyers and Bruins set to duke it out in Boston for Game 7 on the same day. Just like the Flyers, the Rockets fell behind 3-0 to University City, but then all hell broke loose when several players threatened and actually tripped a Rocket on the base paths. Coach Herman called a timeout, and much like the magical time out called by Flyers coach Peter Laviolette at the end of the first period that led to a critical goal, the Rockets responded with cooler heads and hotter bats. SLA went on to score 13 unanswered runs to crush University City 13-3, all the while the SLA bench chant of "Let's Go Flyers" grew louder as each run crossed the plate. The Flyers completed the most epic and improbable comeback in sports history later that night with a 4-3 win over Boston to advance to the Eastern Conference Championship and eventually the Stanley Cup Finals.
But the connection continued in the 2011 season as well. Whenever the Rockets won so did the Flyers, and while both made the playoffs, the Rockets for the first time in school history and the Flyers with high expectations to return to the Finals, both were bounced early on. This brings us to 2012 and the "one for the ages" Keystone State matchup of Flyers-Penguins. Save for the now most infamous modern hockey game this past Sunday at Wells Fargo Center, which the Flyers won 8-4, the link between the Rockets and Flyers is very much intact. Last week the Rockets beat their nemesis and playoff rival Randolph 14-4, and the Flyers came back to win Game 1 4-3 in overtime. The Rockets had that 400ft Walk-Off 10-8 win over University City on Friday when Raekwon Smith crushed a major league home run in the bottom of the 7th, which was followed by the Flyers trouncing the Pens 8-5 to take a 2-0 series lead. The 189 penalty minute game on Sunday happened with SLA idle, but then the wheels came off both teams. Short an impressive comeback to stave off the Mercy Rule for a few innings when they were down 13-1 in the 4th, the Rockets couldn't claw back to truly make it a game against the Del Val juggernaut, and the Flyers also got thumped by Pittsburgh 10-3. So while today's matchup between the Rockets and Strawberry Mansion was what their Coach considered the beginning of a playoff mentality to ensure the playoff were still a reality, SLA players and Coach all felt that the game had much greater implications.
SLA got it started early with Ethan Reese's lead off triple. Stephen White walked and Jeff Schwartz brought them both home with a rip shot to Mansion's Short Stop who took too long to throw to first. Ethan was running on contact, and Stephen went for home once the throw was off line to first. By the time the top of the SLA order was up again, Ethan Reese had already struck out 7 including the side in the 3rd. Reese got another single to lead off the third. He would finish the day 4-4 with the triple, 2 runs scored, 2 RBIs and 5 stolen bases. Stephen hustled hard down the line and reached on an error when Mansion's first basemen couldn't handle the throw. Reese scored and two quick steals later Stephen was on third for a heartbeat before Jeff Schwartz brought him in to make it 4-0.
In the 4th TJ Nicolella, who was hit by a pitch, would scored to make it 5-0 on Reese's third hit of the game, and SLA broke it open in the 5th with four more runs. Ian McClendon got it started by working a lead-off walk and then stole second. Abe Musselman ripped a shot at the short stop who bobbled the ball and Ian scored when the throw to first was off-line. Abe stole second a moment later, but it didn't matter because Raekwon Smith smacked another monster shot, this time to right center for a triple and the RBI. It seemed as if Rae was going to be stranded at third after Vernon Holt struck out back-to-back Flyers I mean Rockets, but Jhonas Dunakin came through batting in the 9th slot with a hot-shot double down the line just past a diving third basemen to make it 8-0. Ethan Reese brought him home with his team-leading 4th hit of the game to stay perfect at the plate and quickly stole 2nd and 3rd. Coach Herman whispered in his ear, "you are the winning run, so get a move on the second there is contact", as he made it to third. Stephen White, who went 2-4 with 2 runs scored, an RBI and 3 stolen bases on the day ripped a shot to left, but it was right at their fielder. lose to walking off with the mercy rule victory then and there, SLA had to settle for a 9-0 lead going into the 6th.
But this added some drama and some extra Ks for Reese as he struck out Mansion's deadly hitter Bynum for the third time in the game. Their other huge threat, starting pitcher Vernon Holt, worked a walk and then stole second and third. Trying to do it all on his own, Holt got greedy and tried to steal home, but Reese fired in time for Schwartz to apply a hard tag to Holt's face as he slid in to preserve the shutout. Rees struck out their cleanup hitter Croxtin for the second time on the day, and SLA moved to the bottom of the sixth looking for just one run to wrap it up.
Jeff Schwartz got the party started with a roaring double down the third base line, and then stole 3rd on the next pitch. 90 feet away from victory, no outs. Holt walked McClendon who worked the count and quickly moved to second on catcher's indifference. That brought up Abe Musselman, who had a double and a triple in the game against Del Val, and continued the hot bat with a single to win the game and finish 3-4 with 2 RBIs and 1 run scored. Shortly after the teams lined up to shake hands Allen Harmon walked over to their coach and engaged him in conversation to distract him long enough to ensure he got the full brunt of the water bucket, a ritual that has carried over since that first win back in 2010. Soaking wet, Coach Herman passed out game balls and "pickles for triples" as he shouted "second place boys, we're in second place!"
So after the 10-0 methodical dismantling of Strawberry Mansion, Flyers fans should feel a bit more at ease going into tomorrow's Game 5 in Pittsburgh. After all, as the Rocket goes so go the Flyers. Perhaps the Rockets should start wearing Orange to clarify their affiliation, and perhaps Ed Snider can pay for the uniforms. Season tickets also seem to be in order. Just sayin'!