NASHVILLE – There was never a question for Austin Gamblers coach Michael Gaffney about who Austin’s rider in the Bonus Round Sunday at Stampede Days would be.
Yes, the Gamblers had already clinched the event victory in Nashville courtesy of two-time World Champion Jose Vitor Leme’s walk-off ride of 87.5 points on ZZ Top to help Austin (7-3, Stampede Days 3-0) defeat the Missouri Thunder (7-3, Stampede Days 1-2) by 1.75 points – 173.75-172 – but there was something else the Gamblers wanted to cement.
Austin wanted to make sure they had control of first place in the PBR Team Series standings heading into its homestand – Gambler Days – next weekend at the state-of-the-art Moody Center in Austin, Texas.
The Gamblers’ victory over the Thunder has both teams tied at 7-3 atop the standings, and the first tiebreaker is points earned in the Bonus Round at Teams events.
Therefore, it was a no-brainer that Leme told his coaches he wanted to ride one more time Sunday and take on I’m Legit Too – a bull who he had ridden three straight times for 90 or more points.
It may not have been another 90, but Leme connected for 88.75 points on I’m Legit Too to split the Bonus Round win with Kansas City’s Marcus Mast (88.75 points on Big Black), and Austin will indeed head to its home arena as the No. 1 team in the league and on a red-hot winning streak of six games in a row.
“I like these moments, these situations, and being the last one to decide everything because when I see the other guys riding their bulls, it motivates me and pushes me to ride my bull too,” Leme said. “I love this style of competition, the teams. All the teammates, the teamwork – that brings me more energy to ride my bulls.”
Gaffney said it was no surprise on Sunday to see his team captain win the first-place showdown against Missouri with his ride on ZZ Top.
While the rest of the league’s coaches are going to be shaking in their boots when they see Leme climb into a chute with a chance to send their respective teams to defeat, Gaffney can just sit back and let out a confident grin.
“No surprise, he’s an alien, isn’t he?” Gaffney said in laughter. “To have that guy as your closer, what more could you ask for, or dream for?”
Leme continues to never shy away from a moment.
The 26-year-old rarely disappoints his teammates, and he is proving to be the most reliable ride in the inaugural PBR Team Series season. Leme leads the MVP race and is a PBR-best 10-for-14 this season.
He is Austin’s wisdom, strength and endurance.
Leme stands tall as a firm oak tree, Gaffney explained.
“My wife labeled him ‘The Oak,’ and he truly is,” Gaffney said. “He’s sturdy and he’s reliable and yet, he’s human and has to be able to rely on his other teammates too.”
Leme got that help this weekend. Leme and Lucas Divino carried the Gamblers to two of its three victories against Arizona and Missouri, while Ezekiel Mitchell and Austin Richardson got the job done during Austin’s win over Carolina on Saturday night.
Austin went 7-for-17 (43.75%) to rack up three wins in Nashville and surge to the No. 1 ranking in the league.
Gaffney and Leme both know what it takes to be the king of the mountain. Gaffney won the 1997 PBR World Championship, and Leme has two gold buckles on his waist.
Both men know the rest of the league will be gunning for them in Austin next weekend, looking to spoil the Gambler Days party.
“It makes you almost think about the lion on the hill story,” Gaffney said. “If you’re the lion going in and everybody is trying to knock you off, you wonder if it’s better being the chaser than being chased, but it feels good to be in the captain’s seat. It’s added extra pressure and it’ll be that much more that the guys are going to feel.
“It’s our job to say that some of these guys can carry this weight and they just need to relax and go in there. It’s our home turf and we can make it a nice statement to our new home fans, so I’m looking forward to it, but at the same time I’m a little nervous.”
The good thing for the Gamblers is that Leme will not be paying any credence to the outside noise or pressure.
If anything, Leme will thrive within the opportunity to put a show on for the home crowd. Leme has always been in his comfort zone atop the world standings, and that isn’t going to change with PBR Teams.
Leme says he and his teammates will certainly be prepared as they attempt to win a seventh-consecutive game when they face Nashville (3-7) Friday night.
“I’m sure we’re going to give 200 percent next week because all of us want to win at home,” Leme said. “Everybody knows it’s not easy to win, but that’s what we’re working for. That’s why we wake up every day at 5 a.m. to do our job, to stay serious. We think about this all week. We don’t have time to rest and everything, all of the glory is coming now. All the hard work – we’re getting our prizes now and that’s why we have to keep doing that, because that’s going to make all of the difference at the end of the season.”
Article Courtesy of PBR
Photo By: Andy Watson/Bull Stock media