Maybe the Cuban baseball dynasty is beginning to crumble a little bit.
Lucas May blasted a three-run, second-inning homer and Team USA poured on six more runs in the seventh, topping the Cubans 10-5 to win the IBAF World Cup in Nettuno, Italy.
It was the 14th straight win for the Red, White and Blue, which had also beaten the Cubans on Thursday and lost just one of its 19 games after the group of top-level minor leaguers was assembled for the first time earlier this month.
The USA was the defending champion of the tournament, also defeating the Cubans in 2007. Team USA has won the World Cup four times, including its other back-to-back titles in 1973-74.
Tournament MVP Justin Smoak, former Durham Bull Jon Weber (pictured), Terry Tiffee and May all had RBI singles in the seventh-inning spree. Weber and Tiffee joined Smoak on the all-tournament team.
Brad Lincoln was the winning pitcher in relief of Cory Luebke.
After the RailHawks lost 1-0 Thursday night at Vancouver, they're in the unenviable position of needing a two-goal victory margin to move on in the USL-1 playoffs without throwing themselves into the crapshoot of a penalty-kick finish. Kickoff is at 5 p.m. at WakeMed Soccer Park. Tickets here.
Against the Whitecaps on Thursday, the RailHawks attack was notably punchless despite having Matthew Delicâte in the striker role for much of the game. Of the seven shots mustered, only a second-half look from close range by John Cunliffe posed any real danger to Whitecaps keeper Jay Nolly.
However, the RailHawks would likely have shown more pace and threat in the final third if Joseph Kabwe and Gregory Richardson had been selected for the match. Although the USLLive.com commentators speculated that Richardson, a Guyanese international, had encountered visa problems, he did not make the trip (nor did Kabwe, Sallieu Bundu or Amir Lowery).
What's apparent, then, is that coach Martin Rennie decided to keep some of his best legs in reserve for this afternoon's return leg. He'll need all the pace he can put on the field: The RailHawks have only been in one PK tiebreaker this season, and it was a dismal one, the sour finish at the end of Wilmington's shocking equalizer at the last gasp of extra time in the U.S. Open Cup second round.
Prior to Thursday's match, I looked at the RailHawks' record of scoring goals on the road against the six other playoff teams. I discovered that the ’Hawks had been notably unprolific in this regard, notching only four goals in 10 games (although they extracted 10 points from those contests).
Unhappily, the RailHawks would not change this pattern against Vancouver last Thursday.
However, I got an interesting note from Tim Candon, RailHawks blogger and a far more astute observer than I am, in which he argued that I was paying insufficient attention to the quality of the RailHawks' performances on the road. With his permission, I'm publishing his response here:
I like your deeper look at the RailHawks road record, but I will counter by saying look at more than just the results. Look at the performance, too, because that's the focus for Martin. If the performance is up to snuff, the result takes care of itself.
Of the road matches against the other USL-1 playoff teams:
1. PORTLAND: The RailHawks got screwed in the first game. Josh Gardner was pulled down in the box in the 2nd minute. Not only was a penalty not awarded, but the ball was cleared off the line as it was about to trickle into the goal. If that call goes the other way, it's a completely different game.
RALEIGH — Maybe I walked into the wrong press conference. I thought I came to listen to a coach beaming about scoring 21 unanswered points to barnstorm Pitt 38-31 and close a shootout of a game. A coach who'd be happy about his team's turnaround and its first win against a Football Bowl Subdivision team. N.C. State head man Tom O'Brien saw the contest a little differently, his emotions matching the dreary weather conditions.
"Well, we're certainly excited to come away with the victory," he said, using his usual opening line after a victory, looking down at the podium, combing his blond hair with his fingers.
"I know the kids are very happy, but an analysis you look at, we're just not a very good football team. Too many mistakes, a bad job of coaching anytime you've got 12 penalties, most of them before the snap, that's just a bad job. We've got to face up to some facts."
WALLACE WADE STADIUM/DURHAM History is being made in the old Bull City tonight, but unfortunately Mother Nature hasn't decided to cooperate.
Although the rains aren't still falling at kickoff, the field is wet for the start of the first "Bull City Gridiron Classic" - the inaugural football meeting between cross-town rivals Duke and N.C. Central - and the crowd is going to be somewhat smaller than expected. It's not a record crowd, but 26,390 and a full press contingent come out on an absolutely nasty night for football on which the Devils pull away with a big second half to win 49-14.
There has been a week of festivities around the game, with a Mayoral proclamation on Monday night, a big joint pep rally at newly remodeled historic Durham Athletic Park on Thursday and a day of service projects and basketball clinics involving students from both universities today.
The schools have previously met in both men's and women's basketball, baseball, tennis and cross-country dual meets and have had plenty of joint appearances in track & field.
But this is the first football meeting, primarily of late because the Eagles are in transition from NCAA Division II to Division I (Championship Subdivision) while Duke has played in the top level in football since the program was first established well over a century ago.
Duke will be a heavy favorite tonight, as the Eagles are playing only their second game against a team above the Championship Subdivision level (they lost 50-14 at Western Kentucky, which was transitioning from Division I-AA to Division I-A two years ago).
Duke - which is playing its annual homecoming game - comes into its final non-ACC regular-season game of the season with a 1-2 record, while the Eagles are 0-3.
After the traditional press box barbecue and fried chicken and banana pudding and sweet tea, Hillside high alum Desmond Scott gets his first collegiate touch on the opening kickoff and the Blue Devils are in business.
Duke needs five plays to go 59 yards, with Patrick Kurunwune bursting up the middle from 14 yards out. Nick Maggio's kick makes it 7-0 at the 12:33 mark.
The Eagles are three-and-out on their first possession, and Duke takes it down the field again. This time the Blue Devils go 64 yards in four plays, with Scott scoring on a 23-yard run and Maggio adding the boot for a 14-0 lead at 8:42.
And Duke scores again on its next possession, going 61 yards on 12 plays with Thaddeus Lewis hitting Donovan Varner from 18 yards out and Maggio converting again at 3:19.
The Eagles finally get on the board on their next possession. Tim Shankle scores from two yards out with 1:27 left in the quarter to complete a six-play, 70 yard drive with Frankie Cardelle on the conversion to make it 21-7. The big play of the drive comes from two more Hillside alumni, as Michael Johnson hits Geo Irvine for a 55-yard gain to the Duke 15.
Duke is moving the ball easily on its fourth possession when the Blue Devils have two bad things happen in quick succession. First, the senior Lewis is hurt. And on the next play freshman Sean Renfree - who has played solidly in his previous appearances - is hurried by Teryl White and throws the ball right to the Eagles' Jeffery Henderson, who returns the ball 83 yards to the end zone. Cardelle adds the boot and it's 21-14 with 13:33 left in the half.
The Blue Devils finish the first-half scoring in the closing seconds, as Lewis hits Varner from 14 yards out - with the receiver eluding a couple of tacklers at the 6 - to finish a 13-play, 80-yard drive. Maggio makes it 28-14 with 33 seconds remaining before intermission.
TV/RAYCOM—Georgia Tech's defense exposed the UNC offense, which couldn't stay on the field long enough to give the defense a rest and prevent the 24-7 loss Saturday in Atlanta.
The Tar Heel offense went 1-for-11 on third down plays while the Yellow Jackets converted 10 out of 19 third down attempts, effectively wearing out the UNC defense so that when Erik Highsmith (pictured) caught a 40-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter the defense was too gassed to force a punt ... or anything.
No. 22-ranked UNC managed to gain only 154 yards and turned the ball over three times, including two costly T.J. Yates interceptions. The running game totaled 17 yards on the ground due to an ineffective offensive line and a botched snap that ruined an early drive for UNC while the game was still in doubt.
TV/RAYCOM -- One half, zero points, 52 total yards. Sound familiar? UNC's offense looked worse than it did against UConn two weeks ago if that's even possible.
The Carolina defense woke up in the second quarter and slowed down the Yellow Jackets, keeping what should have been a blowout a manageable game.
Erik Highsmith caught a 30-yard pass that set up the Heels in scoring position, but Casey Barth missed a 32-yard field goal that would've broken the shutout and given the Heels some momentum heading into the half.
Key series of the half: Roddy Jones 13-yard touchdown rumble set the tone for the first half after the Yellow Jackets smashed the Heels nearly the entire length of the field, facing only one third down.
Georgia Tech's first offensive series resulted in more rushing yards (88) than Carolina has allowed in any of its first three games.
And it didn't stop after the first possession. The Yellow Jackets held the ball for over 18 of 30 minutes played and can put the Heels away with a score on their first possession of the second half.
So, um…hi. It’s been a while. Since last we talked training camp, my hometown Bulls won a triple-A championship, the Railhawks made the playoffs, a mute Tyler Hansbrough was featured in an AT&T commercial and “health care” became a dirty phrase.
In addition, the ‘Canes finally bought out Frank Kaberle and Anton Babchuk sulked back to Russia yet again. The ‘Canes’ rooks, featuring Brandon Sutter, Zach Boychuk and Drayson Bowman, also put on an impressive showing at the Traverse City Tournament, beating out the Minnesota Wild farm team for the tournament title. What made this strange – and pretty darn cool – was that this was the ‘Canes’ first year at this particular event. The AHL squad took perennial tournament scapegoat Tampa Bay’s place and ran away with the thing, which is a promising sign for the team’s future as the veteran core inches closer and closer to retirement.
Carolina is only scheduled for four preseason games this year, including two home and two away against Atlanta and Nashville. It dropped the first two before eking out a win tonight at the RBC Center and the best the team could do is break even.
Team USA will go into the championship game of the IBAF World Cup on a 13-game winning streak.
Kasey Kiker (pictured) allowed just one hit in six innings while Buck Coats had three hits for three RBI on Friday as the Red, White and Blue topped The Netherlands 8-2 in their final game of pool play.
The defending champion Americans will play Cuba in the gold medal game on Sunday in Nettuno, Italy, with the game shown live on the MLB Network.
Ike Davis had his fourth homer of the competition for Team USA, while former Durham Bull Jon Weber added two hits with an RBI.
The big inning was the sixth, in which the Americans rallied for six runs after two were out.
WALLACE WADE STADIUM/DURHAM Saturday's football game that's going to crown a collegiate champion of Durham for the first time may be doing a lot to bring the city together, but it's also doing plenty to divide small parts of it.
Offices, churches, school classrooms and even families are splitting their allegiances as Blue Devils or Eagles for the "Bull City Gridiron Classic" between Duke (1-2) and N.C. Central (0-3) at Wallace Wade Stadium.
And in some cases, people who are old friends or in even closer relationships just won't be able to sit together in the throng. It's not like the schools' inaugural baseball game a couple of years ago, where sweatshirts, polo shirts and jackets in Eagle Maroon or Duke Blue were scattered like so much salt and pepper through the lower seating bowl.
At least for a few hours, this is going to be war.
One house where things may get crazy is that of the Drew family from Georgia, as Roderick and Chandra have a son on either team.
Chris Drew (upper left) is a sophomore linebacker for the Eagles, while brother John (at right) is a true freshman defensive tackle for the Blue Devils.
Each is on the second line of his team's depth chart. And while the siblings are close enough for John to have chosen to become a Blue Devil partially because his other brother would be five miles away, that doesn't mean they'll be sneaking out of team curfews to meet for a pizza tonight.
When Chris showed up at his brother's first practice, John asked him point-blank to take his butt back to East Durham.
"He's an opponent for half the time and half the other time he's my brother," John said of Chris, who had accompanied their dad to the workout. "I was busy doing drills. I just saw him over there and thought 'What is my brother doing here?'' I was trying to get him away. He is my older brother, but on the other hand he might have been trying to get an edge."
John said that if Chris were a football player for a non-ACC team that wasn't on Duke's schedule, his presence at the workout would have been just fine.
"He said, 'Don't ever come back!'" Chris said, quoting his brother. "I didn't leave. I just stood there with my arms folded with my dad. I was watching them. I was focusing on what he was doing. I was out there to support him.
"I knew he was going to play right away. He's not an average defensive lineman. This game is mainly for bragging rights, and it's going to go from here until the day we both die."
Duke's sophomore safety Matt Daniels said there have been plenty of words among the players this month, and not all have been complimentary.
"A lot of the N.C. Central guys came over to East Campus (recently) talking trash," Daniels said. "Drew is one of the biggest trash talkers we have on the team. He's really hyped about this game because he's playing his brother. He's trying to get like 300 tickets for his family."
John Drew said his family has already worked out some semblance of a seating chart for the contest.
"I believe my mother is going to sit on the Central side and my father is going to sit on the Duke side," he said. "And I have a lot of relatives coming, and I think we're just going to split it half and half. I don't know the exact number (of tickets), but it's a pretty big number."
Besides the brother act, there are seven players on the rosters who went to high school in Durham.
Duke has senior nose guard Kinney Rucker from Jordan High, who is expected to start, along with freshman running back Desmond Scott - who played at Southern and then Hillside - who Duke coach David Cutcliffe said will get his first collegiate playing time. Duke's freshman wideout Corey Gattis (Hillside) may be a redshirt freshman next season.
NCCU has Durham natives starting in quarterback Michael Johnson and wideout Geo Irvine (Hillside) and fullback Saeed Abdul-Azeez (Southern), while defensive back James Reese (Southern) always plays and sometimes starts.
If there was ever a time to empty the quote notebook without the limitations of a print publication, I think this is it. Read on...
Team USA won the warmup game, and now the Americans just have to wait until Sunday to see if they can repeat it and win the IBAF World Cup championship game again.
A two-run homer from Terry Tiffee (pictured) provided the biggest blow on Thursday in Nettuno, Italy, giving the Red, White and Blue a 5-3 victory over Cuba in pool play.
Team USA, which has won 12 straight games since dropping its tournament opener to Venezuela in an extra-inning tiebreaker, will attempt to defend its title on Sunday. The USA is 1-6 against the Cubans in World Cup finals.
Jason Castro had an RBI single for the Americans. Lucas Harrell was the winning pitcher in relief of Trevor Reckling, while Ehren Wasserman collected the save.
Team USA will take on The Netherlands while Cuba plays Canada in their final pool play games today.