PNC ARENA—In the space of 31 seconds Saturday night, the Carolina Hurricanes' season officially ended.
Just like that, a competitive game between two teams fighting for a playoff berth became a laugher. On their way to an almost casual 4-1 win, the Rangers moved to seventh in the Eastern Conference. And on a night when Winnipeg and Washington both won to put more distance between themselves and Carolina, the Canes dropped their franchise record-tying seventh straight home game.
Mathematically, the playoffs are still possible for Carolina. But ostensibly, after a nightmarish March and first week of April, this season is now in the books, and it's time to start taking stock of a team that once again teased fans with promise but came up lacking talent, fight and focus in the moments it needed them most.
After unveiling their 2012 NASL Championship placard and with former NASL Best XI goalkeeper Jeff Attinella (now with Real Salt Lake) in attendance, the Rowdies totally controlled play throughout the game, outshooting the RailHawks 17-6. An apparent Jay Needham goal in the 16th minute was nullified due to offsides. An on-target free kick by Luke Mulholland in the 30th minute was saved by a leaping Akira Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald proved solid in goal for Carolina throughout the game and earned seven saves, including a diving fingertip deflection of an Amani Walker header in the 38th minute.
The RailHawks opened the match with a midfield of Floyd Franks, Austin Da Luz and Nick Millington, leaving Ty Shipalane on the bench until he came on in the 72nd minute. Shipalane got loose in the box in the 84th minute, but he was knocked off the ball before unleashing a shot.
Along with Fitzgerald, the most impressive RailHawks performance was defender Paul Hamilton in his club debut. Hamilton made a terrific slide tackle from behind to save of a goal-scoring opportunity in the 26th minute and was a force in the air throughout. However, two yellow cards in the final 10 minutes sent off the 25-year-old Canadian, who will now be unavailable for next Saturday’s home opener against FC Edmonton, Hamilton’s former team.
While the RailHawks’ performance was subpar, the team nevertheless earned a point during their lone visit to St. Petersburg during the league’s Spring Season. With the other two NASL opening weekend games also ending in draws, every team will enter the second weekend’s competition on equal footing.
“After a slow start in the first half, I thought we responded well in the second and worked hard for the point,” said RailHawks head coach Colin Clarke in a team statement. “To come away with a point on the road moves us forward and our defense was a big part of that tonight. Akira (Fitzgerald) and Paul (Hamilton) had great performances in the back for us tonight.”
The RailHawks hosts FC Edmonton next Saturday, April 13 at WakeMed Soccer Park. Kickoff is 7 p.m.
At least for April, there aren’t much better nights for baseball around here, as the rain is gone and there is no wind and it’s 62 degrees at first pitch.
The Mudcats start the season with a three-game series against the Winston-Salem Dash, and the Carolina roster looks to be a lot stronger than the one that wasn’t really competitive in either half last season.
The Mudcats have a pair of first-round draft picks on their roster in shortstop Francisco Lindor (2011) and center fielder Tyler Naquin (2012).
Cody Anderson (4-7, 3.20 at Lake County) will start for the Mudcats tonight against Bryan Blough (2-0, 3.93). Blough’s two wins last season were against the Mudcats.
Carolina has the hot bats tonight, banging out 14 hits to the in-state rivals’ four in a 10-1 romp.
Even before the kickoff of the RailHawks’ 2013 NASL regular season, the club has already set a new single-game home attendance record of 8,054 for the March 20 friendly against Pumas da la UNAM. It announced a significant collaboration and sponsorship arrangement with Capital Area Soccer League in which the CASL boys’ USSF Development Academy and Elite Clubs National League (ECNL) girls’ teams will compete under the name “Capital Area RailHawks.” In conjunction with the expansion of WakeMed Soccer Park, the club has constructed open-air party decks that will feature, among other libationary amenities, after-match entertainment by musicians arranged through ReverbNation, a music social networking website. Musical groups will also accompany several pre-game events planned throughout the season.
And, oh, there are soccer games going on, too. The RailHawks return at least 15 players from last season’s roster, including the bulk of an attacking corps that scored the second-most goals in the league.
Rather, these are my final four thoughts about the state of ACC and college basketball as the curtain closes on the 2012-13 season of basketball and basketball blogging for Triangle Offense.
1. Talk that the failure of an ACC team to reach the Final Four since 2010 is a sign of a weak conference is a bit overblown, for two reasons. First, the league has had teams in the final eight the past three years. Last year's Carolina team probably would have made it to the Final Four without the Kendall Marshall injury. This year's Duke team probably would have been a No. 1 seed without the Ryan Kelly midseason injury, and hence wouldn't have had to play a team as good as Louisville until reaching the Final Four.
Second, there are other much stronger indicators of the league's relative decline. By the start of conference play in January it was evident the league would be getting a max of five tourney bids—it ended up with four, which was about right. More tellingly, in recent years other schools beside Duke and Carolina have failed to break into the elite and make noise nationally at the same time. N.C. State was supposed to do that this year, but had a season of relative under-achievement and now faces the prospect of having to undergo a complete facelift of its personnel. Miami did break through in the regular season and ACC Tournament, but its woeful performance against Marquette in the Sweet 16 was a major letdown.
Generally speaking, ACC basketball has been in slight decline the last four years or so. But all that its supposed to change next year with conference expansion, leading to our second thought...
2. Is ACC basketball as we have known it simply over? I have heard that opinion expressed by many long-time fans who are not pleased with conference expansion. They may be right. But there is a clear-cut way to preserve local rivalries: creating "pods" or divisions with home-and-home play within each of 4 pods (in a 16 team league) or 3 pods (in a 15 team league). Either way, you could have an 18 game league schedule, plus a tournament that would be truly interesting as a mechanism for determining the league's best team, since the unbalanced conference standings wouldn't tell you. This would allow the Big Four teams to play each other home and away every year, and keep at least part of the Tobacco Road tradition going.
FIVE COUNTY STADIUM/ZEBULON Play ball!
The Mudcats will boast a pair of fresh-faced first-round draft picks and a young new manager when Cody Anderson (4-7, 3.20 at Lake County last season) takes the hill against Bryan Blough (2-0, 3.93) in the first of their three-game set against the Chicago White Sox affiliates.
The manager is 33-year-old David Wallace, a Vanderbilt alumnus and former Indians organization catcher who played in Kinston and later Buffalo. Wallace is 112-102 entering his third season as a manager.
CONSTANT CENTER/NORFOLK, Va. It’s Go Time for Duke in women’s basketball.
ACC champion Duke (33-2) is seeded No. 2 and the Big East champion Irish (34-1) — who will join the ACC for next season — No. 1.
Notre Dame has a national marquee player in senior point guard Skylar Diggins, who was named a first-team AP All-American earlier in the day. Duke’s Chelsea Gray, out for the season since a knee injury on Valentine’s Day, was named to the second team while Duke center Elizabeth Williams and Notre Dame guard Kayla McBride are on the third team.
The teams did square off early last season, with the Irish coming back to win 56-54 on Nov. 25, 2011, in the Bahamas.
Duke fights hard and gives the Irish a good scare, but it’s too much Diggins as Notre Dame advances 87-76.
Speaking with Hamilton today after his first day of training camp in Cary, the 25-year-old Calgary, Alberta, native says his path to Carolina came to fruition rather suddenly.
“There had been talks the previous week with [RailHawks’ manager] Colin [Clarke] and my agent,” Hamilton says. “And then all of a sudden [Clarke] asked, ‘Hey, can you get down here? We’ll book you a flight.’ So I found out probably 5 o’clock Thursday night and was on a plane at 7 a.m. Friday morning.”
Hamilton played the last three years with NASL rival FC Edmonton, beginning with the club’s 2010 exhibition season. Since 2011, he appeared in 51 matches and scored two goals. “Hammy” led the Eddies last season with 2,024 minutes played and was named team MVP by the Edmonton Supporters Group. Moreover, he was selected to the 2012 NASL Best XI team by the league’s coaches.
CONSTANT CENTER/NORFOLK, Va. Duke will be a solid favorite coming into its regional semifinal game against Nebraska, and the Blue Devils have been great in this game in recent seasons.
No. 2 seed Duke (32-2) has won three straight times in Round-of-16 games before being eliminated in the Elite Eight.
The No. 2-ranked Irish (34-1) annihilated Kansas 93-63 in the other first-round matchup on Sunday.
It’s the first meeting between the No. 5-ranked Blue Devils and the No. 24-ranked Huskers.
And oh, it will be a homecoming game for Virginia Beach native and Duke center and leading scorer Elizabeth Williams, playing for the first time in Tidewater as a Blue Devil.
For the third time in as many NCAA games the Blue Devils grind one out, survive and advance, ousting the Cornhuskers 53-45.
As the games wind down, unfortunately, the necessity for viewers to actually watch the TV timeouts goes up. No more will there be four games on a time to skip between; instead, there's one game at a time, and if you plan to watch it live, you are going to be watching a lot of ads.
In regular season play, there are four "media timeouts" per half, plus coach timeouts, plus in the 2nd half the first coach time out automatically becomes a fifth media timeout. For this NCAA tournament, they are also making the first coach timeout in the first half a full media timeout. So we are talking about ten media timeouts in most games, plus additional coach timeouts.
How long are the media timeouts? I've been timing them on my DVR, and usually whistle to whistle there is between 2:45 and 3:00 of real time between the stop and start of play. That's a lot of coaches talking, players and fans standing around, trips to the bathroom, and mindless commercials airing.
Then there's halftime. Standard halftime for an NCAA basketball game is 15 minutes. In the NCAA Tournament, halftimes have been lasting 22 minutes or more.
Why is the NCAA (and CBS) blatantly breaking the rules of basketball by having Orange Bowl-sized timeouts?
That cha-ching you hear in your mind as the question is asked is surely the reason why.