Space City Pinball League Season 6 Playoffs: A November to remember

So, a bit of a background on this one. I normally don’t make details like this part of these posts, but a lot happened between week 8 and the playoffs, some of it specific to me, some of it shared with a large part of the city. Specifically, the Houston Astros won the World Series on Wednesday. I was there for the watch party at Minute Maid Park; I got there early enough to not only be fourth or fifth in line for face painting (and before anyone judges, I was far from the only adult in line) but scored a front row seat (section 107, row 1, seat 6 and later seat 5; tickets were general admission). The euphoria from being a part of that, and things like making it onto who knows how much TV coverage (a nice side effect of being in the front row), took a good couple of days to die down.

The celebration parade for the World Series win was on Friday, which I was also in attendance at even though I wound up not really seeing much. The following Saturday was an Extra Life gaming marathon event, during which I got in quite a bit of Quake, some OpenArena, a little Heroes, and of course, quite a bit of Pinball Arcade on my tablet. Then Sunday morning, I did a volunteer assignment, helping with the takedown at Walk MS on the UH campus.

That brings us to the evening of Monday, 2017 November 6. I arrived well in advance of the announced 6:00 pm start time, getting in a couple of pretty good games on Star Trek (the majority of the score I posted a picture of is mine, though Phil had to make an adjustment and did the favor of starting Vengeance Multiball for me). I only played two warm-up games before deciding to just relax, take it all in, and savor the moment. I didn’t know then just how special it would be.

Phil went over the rules and the format at around 6:10 pm: Standings points scoring was 4-2-1-0 (as opposed to a normal league night’s 5-3-2-1, though both effectively have the same end results), all extra balls must be plunged due to the potential length of the event, and how the exact machines we played would be selected. The machines, in order, were Ghostbusters, Aerosmith, Metallica, Medieval Madness, Dialed In, Star Wars, AC/DC, Star Trek. The starting machine was drawn and we would play that one and the next two down the line from it (wrapping around from Star Trek to Ghostbusters if need be). These were referred to as, for example, the Ghostbusters bank for Ghostbusters, Aerosmith, and Metallica.

There were technical issues with Medieval Madness which delayed the start slightly. I let my anxiety to hop in and start winning games show through. This is arguably the biggest mistake I made on the night, which should tell you something.

For the quarterfinals, I was grouped with Chris Gonzales, Lisa Shore, and Brittany Torres (nee Rodgers, and still listed as the latter name on matchplay.events). We began on Dialed In. I chose to go first, as I would throughout the night when I had the chance. What would happen on my first ball of Dialed In would set the stage for the remainder of the evening; I somehow managed to rack up 234K+ points. I would finish up with a solid 265K+, with Chris making a valiant effort but winding up short with a 179K+ second-place score.

The next game was Star Wars. After putting up a 73.8M+ first ball, I led through the entire game, really busting it open on the third ball and signing off with a healthy 214.2M+, good for first place (and R2-D2 champion). I’ve clinched advancing to the semi-finals at this point (top two in the group advance), so I can relax a bit.

The set would conclude on AC/DC. I led the entire way during this game as well, putting up 13.8M+ through two balls and signing off with 15.1M+. Brittany made a valiant comeback attempt on the third ball, and was technically still in it until the end of the last ball, ultimately coming up short with 10.3M+. So it would be Lisa Shore advancing to the semifinals along with me, and we would be joined by Matt Quantz and Bryce Gilbert. Here’s where things start to go sideways a little.

Our first game was on Aerosmith. I had a really bad game, simply not making enough my shots to post a decent score. I would settle for a third with 5.51M+ behind Lisa’s 17.29M+ and Matt’s 6.98M+.

My troubles would only continue on Metallica. Normally I play this game well, but I never really had a realistic chance to win after Matt’s absolutely spectacular first ball, in which he scored 28.84M+ to my 3.51M+. I would ultimately sign off with 18.79M+ behind his 31.53M+ good for a second place, putting me in the precarious position of really needing a first place to advance.

The set would conclude on Medieval Madness. Ball 1 concludes and I barely have 907K to Lisa’s 4.0M+. Ball 2 concludes and I’m sitting at 3.2M+ to not only Lisa’s 4.4M+ but Matt’s 11.7M+ as well. Fortunately, I had a fairly massive Multiball Madness stacked up. I think maybe once or twice I came dangerously close to losing the ball, but ultimately I was able to make the multiball and then make enough super jackpot shots to leapfrog my way to a very respectable score of 28.08M+.

I felt relatively confident that my score would hold up, but you never can count out Matt Quantz; I’ve seen him put up some pretty damn good scores, usually when it’s least expected. I wasn’t counting my chickens until I saw the final scoreboard where Matt signs off with a 13.30M+ and the other two players scored less than half of that. This set up a grouping for the finals where Matt and I would be joined by Bruce Hilty and Charles Hoogner. We would draw the bank beginning with Metallica and continuing with Medieval Madness and Dialed In–two machines that I had just played (the latter of which I did very well on) and one on which I had put up an A division quality score on at the start of the quarterfinals.

Metallica came first. I put up what I felt was a relatively decent first ball, with a thin lead over Matt (4.21M+ to 4.04M+) going into ball 2. What happened during ball 2 is the kind of stuff legends are made of. I somehow managed to rack up quite a few points, a good chunk of them from scoring combos on the ramps if not an outright majority. I would finish ball 2 with a score of 22.9M+ to Matt’s 5.2M+, and if I remember right this was without even starting multiball! Now I don’t necessarily need to finish in first place here, but it would be a huge help. I sign off with 25.1M+ and wait for Charles, Bruce, and finally, Matt to finish. Again, Matt makes one hell of a comeback attempt here, ultimately signing off with a 17.5M+. So far, so good.

Medieval Madness would come next. I don’t have nearly as good of a game as I’d like, but I do carry a commanding lead into ball 3 and sign off with 12.60M+. This isn’t entirely out of reach of any of the finalists, Matt in particular (who at this point is the biggest threat given he has the second place finish). It’s a very tense moment as first Charles signs off with …, then Bruce signs off with 7.75M+, and finally, Matt plays a very good third ball, signing off with 9.39M+. That makes the standings scores going into the last game 8 for me, 4 for Matt, 2 for Bruce, and 0 for Charles.

An 8-4-2-0 score going into the third game of a three-game set is common, and it’s as follows: The player with the 4 (Matt) has to get first place (4 points) and the player with 8 (me) has to get last place (0 points) to force a tiebreaker. If the player with 8 (me) gets third place, that’s enough to for that player to clinch first for the round; there are only 4 points available to anyone else. If the player with 4 (Matt) finishes second or worse, that’s enough for the player with 8 to clinch first for the round, as all 4 points from finishing in first place are needed just to tie. Phil summed this up nicely: “Don’t come in last.” I prefer to think of it as “don’t let up now, play your best all the way through to the end.” Or, “play like you need first, even though you really don’t”.

I put up a decent score on Dialed In through two balls. However, during his first two balls (primarily ball 1), Matt blew it open and it’s a good thing I did not need first on Dialed In to win the tournament. The score going into ball 3 was: me, 70.8K+; Charles, 18.8K+; Bruce, 36.5K+; Matt, 341.5K+. So what I really want to do here was run my score up enough past Matt that he can’t catch up. I would need to double-check but I think that would have required setting a personal record high score. Failing that, I want to put up a score that, realistically, at least one of Charles or Bruce will not be able to catch.

I would sign off with 136.3K+. The most dramatic moment of the B division playoffs would be Charles Hoogner’s last ball. If he catches up to my score, it would then fall on Bruce to do the same and force a playoff between Matt and me for first place. Charles begins to play, and I watch anxiously for a few moments.

And then Charles would drain way too soon. I knew it was too soon, but the way things have gone in the past, I felt it best to wait until the bonus count finished to be sure. And then I saw his score: 34,030.

BOOM!

The moment I had been waiting for had finally arrived: my first ever first-place tournament finish. While it’s hard to really get worked up about winning a B division tournament or pretending the players are of the caliber of Keith Elwin (or even Phil Grimaldi or Erich Stinson, for that matter), it was still a borderline euphoric feeling to finally be the winner, somewhere, after so many second, third, and worse finishes.

I don’t have a picture of the trophy yet because it’s still in transit. I will add that picture when it arrives. To the fans I have out there, thank you for your support. To those of you who aren’t yet following this blog and the Facebook page, the time is now. I have a great feeling about the next year as it relates to my competitive pinball (and video game) efforts.