Never in the history of sports has one city’s purple-clad men’s basketball, football, and box lacrosse teams, along with women’s rifle and equestrian squads, made the playoffs in the same calendar year.
OK, yes, I might have cherry-picked those stats a bit. But that doesn’t mean sports history is not being made in Fort Worth right now.
Panther City Lacrosse Club (the non-TCU purple-wearers in the above list) clinched a playoff berth last weekend with a road win against the Vancouver Warriors. It ranks as a historic achievement for a couple of reasons.
First, Panther City just completed the second regular season in franchise history. It’s not necessarily unusual in the National Lacrosse League for a team to make the playoffs its first couple of seasons, though that might change as the league continues to expand (it reached an all-time high of 15 teams this season). But it’s still not an easy task to be one of the final eight.
Head Coach Tracey Kelusky has won titles as a player in the NLL. He had some appreciation for what it took for his crew, which came up just short of the postseason last year, to break through.
“Our goal is to win a championship. But our goal this year was to make the playoffs. In two short years, I’m pretty proud of the strides we’ve taken as a group, from individual success and guys taking the next step to our record and making the playoffs. Guys have played in this league a long time on the outside looking in and there’s good lacrosse teams that are on the outside looking in.”
PCLC lost Friday night to Calgary for the second time in three weeks. While it hurt to drop a one-goal game they led much of the way, the team played the Roughnecks much closer than they did April 8 in Alberta. But for a missed penalty shot opportunity in the final minute of regulation, Panther City might have taken the contest to overtime where they would have been on a power play in a first-to-score-wins situation. The matchup matters because it could be renewed in either the first or second round of the playoffs. The Fort Worth team will finish either third or fourth in the West depending on what Colorado does in their final two games. Either way, they’ll play a single elimination game on the road against the first or second seed – either San Diego March 5th or Calgary March 6th.
If they do get the Roughnecks, Kelusky likes the attitude his team will bring to the clash.
“It’s a war,” he said of the way his team didn’t back down from intense and frenetic play.
“I just see the small battles that are going on and the individual matchups. Obviously, they’re a big offensive group and the fact that our guys are just getting in there and causing havoc and just trying to deter what they’re doing, there are some real significant matchups that I saw tonight and then getting our guy stepping up to it,” he explained. “But I really like the fact that from a defensive standpoint, we were harder to play against (than in the first game in Calgary).”
Should PCLC advance to the second round, they would host at least one game in Dickies Arena – the first professional postseason game of any kind in that venue’s short history. That’s the second part of the history they’ll make – for a city its size, Fort Worth has not seen a lot of professional postseason action.
Most recently, the Fort Worth Vaqueros made three straight playoff appearances in the National Premier Soccer League from 2017-2019. And baseball’s Fort Worth Cats appeared in the United League finals in 2013 and 2014.
For a professional indoor sport, though, we have to go all the way back to the 2006-07 Fort Worth Flyers of what the National Basketball Association at the time called the D-League. To give you an idea of how long ago that was, J.J. Barea played eight games for the team as a rookie on assignment from the Dallas Mavericks, and he’s now retired after an 831-game NBA career.
That Flyers team lost a single-game affair in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. To find a home gam, we have to go back to the previous season when they lost the league final to Albuquerque in the Fort Worth Convention Center.
The Fort Worth Brahmas made their final playoff appearance in the same venue in March of 2002, losing a first-round Central Hockey League series to Memphis.
So there’s been a bit of drought. The lacrosse club will next need to win a game on the road to earn a berth in the best-of-three second round and guarantee a home playoff game. Whatever they do in 2023, however, they have the potential to set a new bar for Fort Worth playoff teams, because Panther City fields a young roster. Of their top ten goal scorers, only one is over 30. Their standout goalie, Nick Damude, and several other major contributors are 25 or under.
Kelusky said of the group’s maturation “it needs to come naturally and then in due time.” That time – a historic time – might be rapidly drawing closer.