By: Justin Felisko
PUEBLO, Colo. – Championship Weekend may not start until July 10 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, but the postseason began on Saturday night for Team Union Home Mortgage, and its playoff aspirations will officially come down to Sunday morning.
No. 3 Team Can-Am (2-3) and No. 4 Team Union Home Mortgage (2-3) face off on the CBS Game of the Week Sunday with the winner officially clinching the final Division A playoff spot for the Monster Energy Team Challenge, presented by U.S. Border Patrol, for Championship Weekend.
The game begins at 1 p.m. ET on CBS national television.
It is simple enough for either team. If they want to go to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, then they have to ride their bulls and win.
The Top 3 teams in the Division A standings following Sunday’s games at the Pendleton Whisky Let ‘Er Buck Saloon at South Point Arena qualify for Sioux Falls.
No. 1 Team Cooper Tires (5-0) and No. 2 Team Las Vegas (4-1) have already clinched the first two playoff spots.
Mason Taylor kept Union Home Mortgage’s postseason dreams alive Saturday night with his 88-point ride on Dynamite Cap to deliver UHM a nail-biting 88-87.5 point victory over Team YETI (1-4).
Union Home Mortgage had to hold its breath when Jordan Spears rode Major Threat on YETI’s final attempt of the game, but he came up 0.5 points short, cementing the win for Union Home Mortgage and ending YETI’s playoff hopes.
The victory put an end to a three-game losing streak for Team Union Home Mortgage.
Taylor admitted he was not aware of the must-win scenario at the start of the night, but once Can-Am lost to Team Las Vegas 172.25-89.25, it made the Union Home Mortgage/YETI game an elimination game.
“I did not know that,” Taylor said. “Not at all. I am glad that I stayed on and was actually able to contribute to my team. I have been letting them down all week. It felt really good to clinch the win with that ride I had. I just have to ride two more tomorrow and keep moving forward.”
Team Captain Silvano Alves also did not know about the scenarios at hand on Saturday night, but Union Home Mortgage understands very clearly what is at stake on Sunday.
Alves was unable to finish the game against Team YETI after aggravating a left hip injury when Oz bucked him off in 5.25 seconds in his first out, but the three-time World Champion said he would be ready to lead his team to the postseason on Sunday.
“Sunday is a big game,” Alves said. “The guys are a little sad tonight, but are happy to get the win. We only got one ride. That is alright. This happens sometimes. This is part of the competition. Everybody is happy that everybody is healthy and just sore. We will be ready.”
Alves has drawn two bulls that have bucked him off before in The Right Stuff (2.59 seconds in Tulsa, Oklahoma, last year) and Anthrax (4.62 seconds two years ago in Sacramento, California).
Taylor has been battling a nagging injury to his riding hand, and he had bucked off five consecutive bulls until riding Dynamite Cap.
The 20-year-old admits he is in plenty of pain, and that he needs to get an MRI done with Dr. Tandy Freeman after this weekend, but Taylor wants to give it all he can Sunday to try to help get Union Home Mortgage to Sioux Falls.
“It is feeling like shit, but it is only 16 seconds tomorrow, and then I have a couple weeks off until we go to Sioux Falls,” Taylor said. “I should be able to get it dialed out and knocked out before we get to Sioux Falls. Just have to ride two more with it and then I can take time off.”
Luciano de Castro is battling a chronic hip injury, but he too will give it a go on Sunday. If any of the three riders can’t make it through the entire game, alternate Marcus Mast will be ready.
Alves spoke to his team late Saturday night before leaving the Pendleton Whisky Let ‘Er Buck Saloon at South Point Arena.
“We don’t think about nothing,” Alves said. “The team needs to ride together. I told all of the team, ‘Tomorrow we aren’t finished until the last bull is done. Work hard each bull. Each ride. Ride them jump for jump.’”
Taylor said having a future Ring of Honor inductee on the team who is no stranger to success in Las Vegas is a huge boost.
“Man, it is very helpful,” Taylor said. “Silvano has won it three times. There is no ifs, ands or buts about it. He won it all them three years, and he was the best those three years, and I think he is still one of the best now. For him to be in my corner, that does nothing but light a fire in me and make me more confident.”
Sunday is a rematch between Can-Am and Union Home Mortgage. Can-Am defeated Union Home Mortgage 173.25-0 on Friday night.
Can-Am Team Captain Fabiano Vieira went 0-for-2 in the victory and agreed to sit out his team’s game Saturday night vs. Las Vegas because of shoulder soreness.
The 37-year-old, though, said he is ready to try to carry his young team to the playoffs Sunday on national television.
Vieira has drawn Quid Pro Quo and Love Shack, and he will be replacing Ezekiel Mitchell in the draw.
Mitchell is only 23 years old, and fellow Can-Am riders Rafael dos Santos, 24, and Mauricio Moreira, 20, are rookies.
“This is what we come here for, to ride in Sioux Falls,” Vieira said. “My team, every guy is young, I don’t have old guys on my team. It is just me to look up to. I tell the guys I will try to ride good for them here. I tell them, ‘Let’s go. Stay on.’”
Can-Am is 9-for-30 in divisional play, while Union Home Mortgage is 7-for-30.
Moreira and Santos also have the ability to step up on Sunday next to their veteran captain, and have already made some big rides in Las Vegas in the past two weeks. Santos was the only rider to record a score for Can-Am Saturday night in its defeat by riding Big City for 89.25 points.
“My team was only able to get one ride today. They did not ride good today, but we can fix this tomorrow,” Vieira said.
Similar to Alves, Vieira said he too chatted with his team on Saturday night at the arena.
The message is also self-explanatory for Can-Am.
“We had a good talk,” Vieira said. “We need to win. That is it. Ride good, and we are the winners.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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