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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

No Fire tonight, but the hot shoe is burning down the avenue: RailHawks play Panama friendly at 7 p.m.

Posted by on Tue, Jun 30, 2009 at 10:48 AM

Tonight's game in Cary was supposed to be against the Chicago Fire. The Wilmington Hammerheads forced a change in those plans two weeks ago.  

Now the Fire are in Wilmington for the third round of the U.S. Open Cup while the ’Hawks play a recently scheduled friendly versus the Panama national team at 7 p.m. tonight. This will be the first time, team officials say, that the RailHawks have played a national team.

The Panamanians are coming off a 2-0 defeat to Honduras in a game that was played Sunday at WakeMed. Attendance for that game was modest, at 3,766, according to the RailHawks office, but still greater than the 2,783 who turned out to see the RailHawks-Puerto Rico game Saturday. (Attendance on Sunday surely would have been better had it not been scheduled on the heels of the U.S. men's national team's heartbreaker against Brazil in South Africa.)

Coach Martin Rennie faces an interesting dilemma in tonight's game. On one hand, he has a struggling team that could use a quality opponent in a friendly to continue to work out kinks, both in the back and the front.

On the other hand, this is an opportunity to give certain performers some badly needed rest, while taking a look at other players—including, possibly, players that are training but not on the roster. 

One could see it going either way: The RailHawks don't play another league game until July 11, thus giving regular players plenty of time to recover even if they're in the lineup tonight. We're guessing new players, but we shall see. 

The RailHawks play another friendly July 3 at 7 p.m. in Cary, against their good friends, the Wilmington Hammerheads.

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Durham Bulls Beat Columbus Clippers Again: Streaking?

Posted by on Tue, Jun 30, 2009 at 2:00 AM

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The Durham Bulls had such a miserable home losing streak not long ago that for a few days it seemed like they'd never win again. They would, of course, and did, but it's still something of a surprise that, with Tuesday's 4-3 win over Columbus, the Bulls have now won four games in a row. It was the 10th Bulls game in the last 11 decided by two runs or fewer. They maintained their one-game lead over second-place Norfolk.

This was another strong start for Wade Davis, who tossed six solid innings. He allowed all three Columbus runs, but one was unearned thanks to the effects of the second error of the game by first baseman Rhyne Hughes. Hughes also struck out three times, but he did make a savvy play in the last of the sixth, cutting off Matt Joyce's throw after an RBI single to right field by Wyatt Torregas and gunning down Andy Marte trying to advance to third on the hit. That ended the inning and Davis's night. Calvin Medlock threw two scoreless innings and Dale Thayer followed with one of his own to earn his 11th save. All in all, it was an old-fashioned ballgame: timely hitting, good pitching and, except for Hughes, good fielding. And in the usual Durham fashion, another close game. Apparently the Bulls find blowouts boring.

The hitting star of the night was Reid Brignac, who had three doubles (one of which was an end-of-the-bat, opposite-field cheapie). It was Brignac's third straight three-hit game, and it raised his batting average to .302, the highest it's been since May 6. During that time, his average hasn't fallen below .274 and has hovered generally in the .280s; Brignac's consistency has been his best quality. Meanwhile, his on-base average has steadily crept up, and seems to be leveling off at around the .350 mark. If he can keep hitting doubles and mix in the occasional home run, he'll have major-league-ready numbers. While he's in Durham though, his week-to-week steadiness makes him an ideal No. 2 hitter: you always know what you can expect from him.

Matt Joyce added a two-run homer, his eighth. It appears that Joyce is coming out of his post-demotion funk. If that's the case, the Bulls will be an immeasurably more dangerous club. Apparently, though, they're already (still?) formidable. Amazingly, after last night's win, the Bulls find themselves in precisely the same position they were in when they returned home from their last road trip, which preceded a disastrous 1-7 homestand: no matter what happens in Tueday's series-ending, adios-Ohio ballgame at Columbus, they'll come back to the DBAP and start July in no worse than a tie for first place. It's almost as if the season is starting all over again. Here's to new beginnings, and more streaking.

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Defense helps Mudcats end slide

Posted by on Tue, Jun 30, 2009 at 1:02 AM

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Finally.

Michael Griffin (picured) had two hits including a homer, Juan Francisco added three hits including a double with an RBI, and six Carolina Mudcats had extra-base hits Monday night in a 7-6 road win over the Chattanooga Lookouts.

The result ended Carolina's five-game losing streak.

Steven Otterness, who was just called up from Dayton as Dallas Buck went on the DL with a sore arm, was the winning pitcher in relief.

But the big plays came on defense in the ninth, as two Lookouts were tagged out at the plate trying to score the tying run.

In the Chattanoooga ninth, Ramon Nivar led off with a double. Josh Bell then singled down the left-field line, but Todd Frazier cut off the hit and gunned down the lead runner.

After a wild pitch, catcher Brian Peterson blocked a pitch that headed up the first-base line. Bell tried to score on the play, but pitcher Logan Ondrusek caught Peterson's toss and tagged him out.

Andrew Lambo grounded to second baseman Jose Castro to end the game.

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Monday, June 29, 2009

USA finishes off a sweep despite a blast from B.C.

Posted by on Mon, Jun 29, 2009 at 10:55 PM

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COLEMAN FIELD/CARY It's the finale of the big five-game series between the USA National (Collegiate) Team and the high school boys from Canada.

Before the game there's a huge networking event among a couple of dozen Chamber of Commerce organizations, etc. The Carolina Hurricanes and the Durham Bulls and the Carolina Railhawks all have booths, as do numerous well-known local restaurants. At least what serves as the press meal is healthy tonight - until they bring in the leftover chocolate chip cookies and cinnamon bagels.

Bill Coleman, long-time former Cary town manager, throws the ceremonial pitch on a night the stadium is dedicated in his name. It's a lot friendlier moniker than the "National Training Complex," huh?

Early in the game Cary Mayor Pro-Tem Julie Aberg Robison comes into the press box and sits for a bit. I can't resist picking her brain for a little politics. One thing she points out is the need to raise awareness of what a classy complex the town has put together, and she's absolutely right.

And since apparently I'm the only local keyboard media type covering this game - which the USA wins 9-3 - the problem is pretty apparent.

Anyway, the game gets going in front of a very polite crowd that seems as if it got lost going to a tennis or golf event. Not like DBAP or even Five County. Those wanting beer had to get it at the networking event.

So it gets going and nobody scores in the first. In the second, the USA run machine fires up. The hosts score two in the second on a hit and an error, then two more in the third with the first RBI hit by Michael Choice (pictured) of Texas-Arlington.

Continue reading…

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Carolina drafts big and re-signs a biggie

Posted by on Mon, Jun 29, 2009 at 6:20 PM

Photo by Gregg Forwerck, Carolina Hurricanes
  • Photo by Gregg Forwerck, Carolina Hurricanes

This just in: Jussi Jokinen is the first of Carolina’s free agents to scratch the j’s and dot the i’s – at least in spirit – from his summer abode in Europe. Jokinen signed a two-year contract that will pay him $1.5 million next season and $1.9 million in 2010-2011 after a jaw-dropping postseason in which he scored seven goals, three of which were of the game-saving variety. Jokinen will look to replicate that success in the regular season. Anton Babchuk and Tuomo Ruutu have yet to accept offers, though Carolina still has its hooks in the restricted free agents.

While looking through a few posts from the postseason, I’ve started to notice that I often supplant my own opinion with “’Canes fans.” This is not only ridiculously conceited, but I have no way of telling whether it’s true. So from now on, no more!

Continue reading…

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Blue Devils will head to blue water

Posted by on Mon, Jun 29, 2009 at 4:22 PM

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Duke will have some early-season women's basketball in Mexico this season, playing in the Caribbean Challenge Nov. 26-27 in Cancun.

Duke will play Marquette and Western Kentucky, while Arkansas State, Cleveland State and Iona are also in the challenge.

The Blue Devils are in the event for the first time since 2006, when under a different format they beat Bowling Green, SMU and Pittsburgh for the title.

Joanne  P. McCallie's club returns two starters - junior Jasmine Thomas (pictured) and senior Bridgette Mitchell - off last season's 27-6 team. Also back are seniors Joy Cheek and Keturah Jackson, juniors Karima Christmas and Krystal Thomas and sophomore Shay Selby, Chelsea Hopkins and Kathleen Scheer.  The incoming freshmen are Allison Vernerey of Alsace, France; Alexis Rogers of West Chester, Ohio; and Janee Johnson of Matthews.

Travel packages are available.

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Mudcats' Wood, Heisey most popular in SL North All-Star voting

Posted by on Mon, Jun 29, 2009 at 3:42 PM

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Carolina Mudcats starting pitcher Travis Wood (pictured) and former center fielder Chris Heisey are the only unanimous selections to the North Division team for the Southern League All-Star game July 13 at Birmingham.

Heisey won't be able to play since he had been promoted to Louisville, but he will be in the Major League Futures Game the day before in St. Louis.

Five Mudcats are scheduled to suit up for the North. Outfielder Todd Frazier was named, as well as utility infielder Zack Cozart and pitchers James Avery and Jordan Smith.

Players were selected by a vote of Southern League field managers, radio broadcasters, general managers and media.

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Mudcats alumni, Bulls' foes in TV game Tuesday afternoon

Posted by on Mon, Jun 29, 2009 at 12:36 PM

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MLB Network will be showing the Louisville Bats' game against the Gwinnett Braves at the brand-new Gwinnett Stadium on Tuesday at 2 p.m.

Chris Heisey (pictured), who was recently promoted from the Carolina Mudcats, should be in the game for Louisville.

Durham Bulls fans can of course catch up how both the Bats and the G-Braves are doing.

Louisville has a bit of a lead in the IL's West Division while Gwinnett - known as the Richmond Braves before last season - is one of the Bulls' two pursuers in the South.

In Southern League news the Jacksonville Suns' Brian Petersen, the former Mudcats outfielder who treated his former uniform so rudely all last week in Zebulon, has been named hitter of the week.  Mississippi's Ryne Reynoso is pitcher of the week.

The Mudcats are at Chattanooga tonight at 7:15.

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Durham Bulls Edge Columbus Clippers in 13: Just another day

Posted by on Mon, Jun 29, 2009 at 2:42 AM

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Catching is hard enough on the human body as it is. You have to put on all that heavy, oppressive gear, squat on those aching knees, take foul tips off the fingers and shoulders, crab around for balls off the plate and in the dirt, leap up and down constantly to make high-pressure throws, and run down the line on every infield grounder to back up first base---not to mention, you know, have guys throw baseballs at you as hard as they can. It's also your job to suggest what sort of baseball they should throw: Fastball? Splitter? Curve? Rose-breasted grosbeak? And by the way, you also have to get your act together and hit a few times each game, too.

So I've been having sympathetic pains on John Jaso's behalf. The Durham Bulls' catcher has not only done all of the regular duties behind the plate, he has also now caught every single pitch of three extra-inning games in the Bulls' last six contests. And these weren't nice little nine-inning ties tidily resolved in the 10th: two have gone 13 innings, and one went 15. These were long, complicated epics, replete with minor characters killed off early, unexpected reversals unexpectedly reversed, great heroism and great failure, scenes of tremendous, lightning-bolt excitement, and even cavernous stretches of yawning boredom.

And the Bulls have won two of these wars of attrition, both on enemy territory, the latest a seesawing 8-7 victory at Columbus. With the win, the Bulls also happen to have first place all to themselves.

Just another day for the Bulls, no?

Continue reading…

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Mudcats' slide continues at five

Posted by on Mon, Jun 29, 2009 at 12:48 AM

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Things just aren’t going well for the Carolina Mudcats, and that didn’t change a bit on Sunday night.

Andrew Lambo’s two-run double and Gabriel Gutierrez’ RBI single keyed a four-run rally in the eighth, giving the Chattanooga Lookouts a 6-5 win over the Mudcats in the opener of their six-game series at AT&T Field. It was Carolina’s fifth straight loss.

Carolina ace Travis Wood started the game but didn’t take the decision, as that went to reliever Sean Watson (1-4). Javy Guerra was the winning pitcher in his first decision of the season.

The Mudcats, now 1-6 in the second half in the Southern League’s North Division race after finishing second to the Huntsville Stars by just a game in the first half, got a pair of two-run homers from Todd Frazier and Sean Henry.

Wood worked seven innings and allowed five hits and two runs, striking out four against one walk.

The Mudcats had four transactions on Sunday, as right-hander Zach Stewart (pictured) earned a promotion to Louisville. Catcher Chris Denove is on the DL with a sprained left thumb after leaving Saturday night’s loss to Jacksonville. Two players — catcher Brian Peterson and southpaw Camilo Vazquez — have been sent down from Louisville.

The series continues tonight at 7:15, with Vazquez (2-1, 5.46) facing Jesus Castillo (4-5, 4.29).

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