By: Darci Miller
PUEBLO, Colo. – If Team Las Vegas had collectively ridden its bulls for one additional second in its loss to Team Cooper Tires on Friday night at the Monster Energy Team Challenge, presented by U.S. Border Patrol, Vegas could’ve had two additional rides on the board.
Garrett Smith bucked off Uncle Gangster in 7.5 seconds, and Chase Dougherty bucked off Ponotoc in 7.56 seconds.
Those two near misses were the difference between Team Las Vegas suffering its first loss, or potentially improving to 4-0.
So when Team Captain Stetson Wright followed the same pattern on Saturday night during Las Vegas’s game against Team Can-Am at the Pendleton Whisky Let ‘Er Buck Saloon at the South Point Arena, bucking off 4 Bears in 7.77 seconds, he knew something had to change.
“Well after that first one, I could just hear my dad saying, ‘Ride for 10 (seconds),’” Wright told CBS Sports Network’s Kate Harrison. “And I started counting my money before I got to the bank, so it really fired me up.”
When Wright’s next opportunity came around, he made sure to finish strong, riding All It Takes for 86 points.
Those extra fractions of a second made all the difference, as those 86 points put Team Las Vegas (4-1) over the top, giving it a 172.25-89.25 victory vs. Can-Am (2-3).
“On that second one, he was just as hard to ride, if not harder. I just gritted through it. And now I’m going to start riding for 10, like my dad’s told me my whole life. Took a while to learn.”
Las Vegas improved to 4-1 and, most importantly, clinched a berth at Championship Weekend in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on July 11-12. Team Can-Am, meanwhile, falls to 2-3, and currently sits at No. 3 in the Division A standings.
The Monster Energy Team Challenge features 12 teams, and two Divisions (A & B). The Top 3 teams in each division, based upon win-loss record, will qualify for Championship Weekend and a single-elimination tournament in Sioux Falls.
Las Vegas and Cooper Tires are guaranteed two of those three spots, and will face off for the top seed in Division A – and a bye into the semifinals in Sioux Falls – on Sunday beginning at 11:45 a.m. ET. Can-Am and Team Union Home Mortgage will battle it out for the third and final playoff spot beginning at 1 p.m. ET on CBS national television.
It will be close to impossible for Team Las Vegas to catch Cooper Tires for the division title. Team Las Vegas will not only need to win the game, but ride every bull they attempt and have Cooper Tires go 0-for-6.
Team Las Vegas received its first ride of the night on Saturday against Can-Am from Dougherty, who rode Gambini for 86.25 points.
On Dougherty’s second attempt of the night, however, he sustained a concussion when he bucked off Anthrax Jr. in 1.85 seconds. He will likely not be competing Sunday, and will be replaced by Brady Portenier.
“We’ve got our gunslinger, dragon slayer right here,” Wright said of Portenier. “We’re ready for tomorrow.”
Following Dougherty’s ride, Rafael dos Santos got Team Can-Am on the board with an 89.25-point ride aboard Big City to give his squad the lead until Wright came through for Las Vegas.
“I love how much of a gamer this Stetson Wright is,” said two-time World Champion Justin McBride on CBS Sports Network. “This bull is not going to put up the biggest bull score that we’re going to see – 41.75 – but this is one of the hardest bulls to stay on as a bull rider. There’s direction-change, there’s tons of forward movement. We’ve talked about Stetson’s been having trouble finishing rides. That’s a great job by their captain right there in Stetson Wright. Big stuff.”
Wright has drawn Hot Spots and Little Joe on Sunday.
Team Las Vegas has been a pleasant surprise in Division A competition thus far. The only team composed entirely of PRCA bull riders largely unknown on the PBR stage, the squad has gone 9-for-30 with an aggregate of 776.75 points. It trails only Cooper Tires (5-0) in the standings, and Cooper Tires (1,276.25) and Can-Am (783.25) in the aggregate.
It could be quite the Cinderella story should Las Vegas continue to win, and they’ll continue forward the only way they know how: with that trademark cowboy toughness.
“We kind of came in as the underdogs, and I guess we don’t know how to quit,” Smith told Harrison. “We all hang on ‘til our head hits the ground.”
Professional Bull Riders – Team Challenge – Game 14
Las Vegas, NV, 2020
Event Leaders (Round 1-Round 2-Event Aggregate-Event Points)
1. Rafael Henrique dos Santos, 89.25-0-89.25
2. Chase Dougherty, 86.25-0-86.25
3. Stetson Wright, 0-86-86.00
Fabiano Vieira, 0-0-0.00
Mauricio Gula Moreira, 0-0-0.00
Ezekiel Mitchell, 0-0-0.00
Brady Portenier, 0-0-0.00
Garrett Smith, 0-0-0.00
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