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« Who Wrote "Croquet, as Played by the Newport Croquet Club"? | Main | Wisconsin Returns to the Shield Championship »

Oklahoma Wins Central Thriller

Oklahoma's Scott Spradling in play during the test winning game against MissouriOklahoma 6, Missouri 4

In the brief three-year history of the Croquet Network States Shield, no test had come down to the final one vs one singles match up. That changed on Sunday afternoon as the two Central Quad favorites Oklahoma and two-time defending Shield champion Missouri squared off in a back-and-forth championship final test at the Oklahoma City Golf & Country Club in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Both teams had advanced by taking relatively comfortable 7-3 wins on Saturday, with Oklahoma knocking off Kansas and Missouri winning over Colorado.

The Central Championship test on Sunday started with Missouri landing the first blow courtesy of a 7-5 doubles win with their 1/3 pairing of Matt Smith and Stephen Jackson against Oklahoma's 1/2 duo of Scott Spradling and Conner Helms. The 1v3 round split as projected and that kept Missouri's one game lead at 2-1. The morning sessions wrapped with the 2v3 matchups and that also went according to script and Missouri held the one game advantage with a 3-2 score.


With the test a good 40 minutes ahead of schedule, Missouri's Smith and Oklahoma's Helms started their afternoon game prior to the lunch break and delivered and entertaining 12-hoop battle. It was Smith that ultimately got the victory and that provided a brief two-game advantage for Missouri at 4-2. However, the cushion quickly disappeared after lunch as #1 Spradling delivered a 7-3 win over Billy Bob Breeden who was playing in the Missouri #2 spot.

Oklahoma's Jordan, Spradling and Helms. Click to Zoom.So, the teams went into the equal games round (3v3, 2v2, 1v1) with Missouri leading 4-3. The talk in the gallery noted that Oklahoma had a bit of an up hill climb as they needed two wins in three games just to force a tiebreaker. That mood quickly changed though as Missouri GC veteran Jackson fell behind 5-1 to Dale Jordan in 3v3 game. With Breeden and Helms playing a tight game on the same court in the 2v2 matchup, all of the sudden the opposite scenario was starting to form -- Missouri might be the one looking to force a tiebreaker in the 10th game.

Jackson put his 205 games of GC experience into overdrive and battled back. He pushed it all the way to the 13th hoop, but Jordan finally cashed in and claimed the 7-6 win to knot the test at 4-4. Breeden and Helms had a more traditional 13-point battle, but it was the sharp-shooting Helms that prevailed in dramatic fashion with a 7-6 win and more importantly delivering a key 5-4 test advantage for Oklahoma.

So, the 1v1 scene was set. Smith would need to win to force a doubles tiebreaker, while Spradling would be playing for the test win and a trip to the championship in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

They conjured up another back and forth battle. And of course it went to the 13th hoop, where Spradling was able to score to deliver the win for the home team with a 7-6 game win for a 6-4 test score.

The opening tests on day one featured Missouri against Colorado and Oklahoma against Kansas. As projected, Missouri and Oklahoma proved to be a cut above as both advanced 7-3. The highlight for Colorado on Saturday was the performance of Ron Eccles who went 3-0 in singles against Missouri and that include a 7-6 win over Matt Smith.

Kansas held a brief 2-1 lead over Oklahoma after Dylan Goodwin and Carl Archiniaco defeated Conner Helms and Dale Jordan 7-5 in the doubles opener. Oklahoma swept the 2v3 round and took a 3-2 lead into the lunch break. Kansas wilted in the afternoon as Goodwin opened the afternoon with a 7-5 loss to Helms. The test was already decided when Kansas #2 Justin Marciniak took his first career Shield and GC singles win with a 7-5 when over Helms in the 2v2 matchup.

While Oklahoma and Missouri battled for the glory on court one Sunday, Colorado and Kansas quietly fought for pride and third place in the background on court two. Colorado got an opening 7-5 win with Ron Eccles and James Creasey paired up against Goodwin and Marciniak. After a close 1v3 split, that went according to projection, but shocking close with both games at 7-6, Colorado held a 2-1 advantage. The 2v3 round again went as scripted and the Rocky Mountain state went into the lunch break up 3-2.

Colorado then put the pedal to the metal as #2 Creasey knocked off Goodwin 7-6 and Eccles downed Marciniak 7-4 for a commanding 5-2 advantage. The equal games proceeded to fall in line for Colorado with Creasy getting a 7-4 win over Marciniak and Judy McKeon picking up her first win with a 7-4 win over Archiniaco.

Goodwin did pick up a 7-5 win over Eccles to end on a high note for Kansas and put the final score at 7-3. It also ended Eccles bid to go undefeated in singles as he finished with an impressive 5-1 record.

The Oklahoma City Golf & Country Club and the supporting croquet club members put on a stellar event and did an outstanding job of hosting the four teams. There were lunches each day and teams were invited to dinner each evening. Each morning and afternoon club members taxied Shield to and from the courts and clubhouse. It was big leap of faith for the Oklahoma City club to take on the logistical challenge of the event and they set a new standard. Thank you to Suzanne and Scott Spradling and Conner Helms and all of the supporting Oklahoma players for organizing the event.

Also of note, the gallery provided a real sports event atmosphere as they of course cheered on the home team, but sportingly any great shots that occurred during the event.

I would also like to thank the team directors Matt Smith (Missouri), James Creasey (Colorado) and Scott Spradling (Oklahoma) and all of the players for the advance planning efforts as well as playing in the event. 

--Scott Spradling was the only player in the Central to go 6-0 in singles.
--Carl Archiniaco played for Kansas as a loaner from Oklahoma. Kansas lost normal starter and two-year Shield veteran Darin Watson near the roster deadline and successfully made an eligibility appeal to utilize a local Oklahoma City. The Kansas team is deeply grateful that Archiniaco was will to help out the team and overall event.
--Missouri's Stephen Jackson is the all-time leader in singles games played in the Shield with 15 games over five tests.
--Matt Smith was 4-2 in singles games over the weekend and now stands at 10-2 Shield singles games over his career. That is matched by Wisconsin's Nels Borjkquist and Cheryl Bromley who also both stand at 10-2.
--After the weekend's results in both Milwaukee and Oklahoma City, Shield home teams are now 8-0. Can Oklahoma break the streak in Milwaukee?
--Oklahoma swept the equal round with three 7-6 games. Missouri has to be wondering where they could have picked up one more hoop in that round.
--USCA certified golf croquet referee Doug Ledgett was on hand as a non-playing referee for the entire event and that proved to be a great resource for keeping games moving along.
--The Colorado team gets the Distance Award as they had a 10-hour, 680 mile drive to Oklahoma City. They also get the Savior Award as they stepped in quickly as the replacement team for Texas to ensure that both qualifiers were actually quads. Projecting long-term success for the Shield, their trek to Oklahoma City could be a pivotal moment in the history of the event.

Missouri 7, Colorado 3
Oklahoma 7, Kansas 3

Oklahoma 6, Missouri 4 (Championship)
Colorado 7, Kansas 3 (Third Place)

Oklahoma will travel to face Wisconsin in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for the 2018 States Shield Championship on August 18, 2018.

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