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LAKE OSWEGO – It featured drama, an injured shoulder, healthy banter, and yes, even a dose of Taylor Swift.
But in the end, the third-annual Delap Ping Pong Open Championship finished the way it did last year – with Benjamin "The Killer" Miller reigning supreme.
Miller held off a spirited Taylor Swift-backed rally by Stephen Asai, a.k.a. "The Commish," to take home his second straight PPO title, 2 sets to 1, during Thursday's title match in the Delap Training Room.
"It feels very nice to win the tournament again this year," the always calm-and-cool Miller said. "Stephen is one of the best players at Delap. He put up a very good fight."
In the inaugural PPO during 2012, former Delap auditor Kevin Johnson claimed the initial crown over another auditor, Casey (formerly Finney) Devine. Last summer, Miller won an all-tax final over Cam "Big Tuna" Ferguson.
This year's version of the PPO upped the ante, as the title bout featured audit versus tax. And it did not disappoint, as a standing-room-only crowd packed in to watch two heavyweights go toe-to-toe for three tension-packed sets.
"There's not many that can beat him when he's on his game," Asai said of Miller, a tax staff accountant. "He stepped it up for the championship. His ability to return almost anything puts a lot of pressure on his opponents. So it's a tough match."
During pool play of this year's 20-person tournament, Miller and Asai were drawn in the same Tim Tebow Pool. In that match, Asai took down Miller, 2 sets to 0, to finish first in the pool, while Miller came in second to also move on from one of the four pools, which were named after famous Denver Bronco quarterbacks.
The rematch, however, went to Miller, who had injured his shoulder during the tournament – playing Ultimate Frisbee, ironically – right before the semifinals.
That led to some back-and-forth chatter between the audit and tax departments, including an official appeal to the commissioner.
None of that mattered, though, as Miller remained in the competition – and went on to win it all again.
"Much better," Miller said, when asked how his shoulder felt. "I was worried about it earlier this week because it was bothering me a little, but (Thursday) it was fine and didn’t really affect the game much."
Asai jumped out to leads of 1-0 and 2-1 in the match's opening set, as chants of "tax" and "audit" rang out from the crowd.
But Miller slowly took over the set, peeling off five straight points to turn a 3-3 tie into a pull-away victory, 11-5.
Set No. 2 went back and forth in the early going, until staff Lisa Zhu broke out a Taylor Swift song on her phone. Swift, who just happens to be Asai's favorite singer, breathed new life into the audit senior, and he promptly went on an 8-2 run to win going away, 11-5.
"Taylor Swift was a positive light that inspired me to new heights," said Asai, who also happens to be the commissioner of the PPO, among other Delap offerings. "I won Game 2 solely because of Taylor Swift."
As if the match hadn't already featured enough drama and stellar ping pong play, the third set stood out from the other two. Long rallies, superb returns, jaw-dropping moments, and inspiring action left the crowd in awe.
Down 7-6, Asai had a chance to tie the set, but his return shot sailed into the net. Miller held on from there to claim the set and the championship, 11-7.
And to think, Miller might not even be the best player in his own family. He said Thursday that his younger 14-year-old brother routinely beats him when they play each other.
Which begs the question – how was Miller going to celebrate his victory?
"I'll probably eat some cake when I get home," he said.
*Photo Credit: Jill Tichenor, Audit Senior