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Thursday, September 24, 2009

UNC-Georgia Tech preview: Jackets to take stinger out from Miami loss

Posted by on Thu, Sep 24, 2009 at 6:30 PM

No. 22 UNC (3-0) at Georgia Tech (2-1)

[12 p.m., Sept. 26, Bobby Dodd Stadium]

ESPN.360/RAYCOM

1997 ... that's the last time UNC won against the Yellow Jackets in Atlanta. Last season a similarly alarming statistic was brought up when the Heels traveled to Charlottesville, where they have now failed to win 14 times in a row.

Those statistics and other factors remind me of last season's 16-13 loss to the Cavaliers.  UNC entered that game ready to take a strangle hold on the Coastal Division and solidify its national ranking.

This season, UNC beat three opponents it should have and the weaknesses seen in Blacksburg and Atlanta have opened a door for UNC to compete against Miami for the Coastal Division title.  A loss here and ACC championship plans look rather weak.

Key stats: With Georgia Tech's offense centered on running ... running ... and then running again, this game will be won in the trenches.

UNC is allowing just 1.8 yards per carry while Georgia Tech piles up nearly 250 yards on the ground each game, good for 16th in the nation.

Will Carolina's strength -- its linebackers and defensive line -- control the Yellow Jackets' playmakers who were bottled up against Miami?  The Hurricanes gave the Yellow Jackets fits with a similar core of defensive talent, so we're about to find out just how good this vaunted Carolina defense is.

Best message board tidbit on the game: Wise Heel fan on the absurd possibility raised that UNC could go undefeated and reach the championship game: "Get over yourself. The point is, we don't need to start sounding like the folks over at Crackride, talking about a possible BCS title game appearance after 3 freakin' games. Beat Tech, and then let's move on. NC game talk is absurd at this point in the season. I've seen many up here bashing the State and EZU fans for mentioning BCS bowl talk, and now here we are with multiple threads on our board talking about the same thing.  Again, beat Tech this week, and then let's worry about the next game."

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Football history coming to Durham in just over 48 hours

Posted by on Thu, Sep 24, 2009 at 4:32 PM

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WALLACE WADE STADIUM/DURHAM Some folks may have been anticipating this one for an old man's lifetime, and it's finally going to happen on Saturday night.

The "Bull City Gridiron Classic" will put host Duke - which is playing in its homecoming game - and N.C. Central on the football field at the same time for the first time, and it's definitely the talk of the city.

The Mayor already issued a proclamation on Monday night.

Today at 5:30, the student unions are holding a joint 5 ½-hour pep rally at historic Durham Athletic Park at which both coaches will speak and student performance groups from both schools will entertain all comers.

And all day Saturday before the 7 p.m. kickoff there will be service projects and youth clinics and cultural events bringing together the two universities and their associated communities.

Both teams are sorely in need of a win, although for the Eagles (0-3) an upset would be of the monumental variety. But even if Duke (2-1) plays well and wins convincingly, a good night against an inspired challenger from last than five miles away would be a lot bigger feather in the cap than another one against a Brand X Championship Subdivision team nobody in Durham knows.

For the longest time in the bad old days, the schools didn't play because of race. Then they didn't play in any official athletic events for another long time because Duke was Division I and NCCU was Division II. Now that the Eagles are in transition to become a full member of Division I (Championship Subdivision) in 2011-12, the game is a natural.

"I think it's a great opportunity to Durham to come out and see good football," said Duke coach David Cutcliffe, who has done a much better job of attracting black athletes - and even hometown black athletes - to the program than any previous Blue Devil mentor. "I would think the atmosphere in Wallace Wade Stadium should be the best it's been since we've been here. I think it's going to be a fantastic Saturday night atmosphere in Wallace Wade.

"They have a fine staff. Their director of athletics (Ingrid Wicker-McCree) has done a fine job. They have a new field (surface). I think there's a celebration going on at Central about who they are. There's a celebration going on at Duke about who we are. You put the two together in Durham, and how awesome is that that we've got programs that are on the rise right here in Durham? I see it as a celebration of two programs that are headed in the right direction."

Duke now has dozens of black football players. Like Duke, NCCU is no longer a racially segregated football team, instead having whites in several key spots on the field and many others as assistant coaches and in the larger support staff.

"A lot of people were pessimistic about this ever happening," said NCCU coach Mose Rison, who counts Duke AD Kevin White among his oldest and best friends. "People are very excited about this. We've had success here in football, and people have wondered how good can we be? Are we good enough to play with a school like Duke in the ACC? The wondering minds have wondered if it could happen. But it's going to take a monumental effort for us to win this football game. I know everybody's excited. It's going to be a fun atmosphere."

One more post is coming tomorrow, folks. We'll see what the players have to say. Read on for keys to the game.

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Wanted: Better broadcast coverage of the RailHawks; Vancouver tonight, will away goals materialize?

Posted by on Thu, Sep 24, 2009 at 2:22 PM

Gregory Richardson made his RailHawks debut against the Whitecaps in July, scoring a goal that was later ruled to be an own goal. (photo by Rich Bostwick)
  • Gregory Richardson made his RailHawks debut against the Whitecaps in July, scoring a goal that was later ruled to be an own goal. (photo by Rich Bostwick)

It's Thursday, Sept. 24, and the RailHawks playoff run begins tonight in Vancouver. Tune in at 10:30 p.m. to www.usllive.com for the Webcast, and/or follow the tweets from the RailHawks' Tim Candon @RailHawksFC. I published a short print preview in the Indy this week (with a great picture of Gregory Richardson during his dominating first-half performance against Puerto Rico).

We also heard coach Martin Rennie on 850 the Buzz yesterday. While it was great to hear the RailHawks featured on a local AM sports chat show, the quality of the interview was a little discouraging.

The host, David Glenn, averred that he'd been attending games and even mentioned that he himself is a coach of his kid's U-7 team. Unfortunately, he didn't ask Rennie a single tactical question, nor were any RailHawks players' names mentioned in the interview.

There was, however, a question about how Rennie's American wife, Amy, liked living in Scotland, but no question about the experience and quality Scottish Premier League veteran Greg Shields has brought to the back line. (Shields, by the way, was named to the 24th and final USL-1 team of the week and, remarkably, he's the 18th RailHawk so honored this season.)

After a discussion of soccer's potential for growth in America and an amusing recounting of Rennie's encounter with a water bottle in Montreal, Glenn inquired about the family friendliness of WakeMed Soccer Park. Rennie dutifully enumerated all of the children's activities available, along with the half-time shows and the promotional games. It was as if he was being asked to justify a night out to something intrinsically uninteresting—a soccer game.

Questions about Matthew Delicâte's subbing (or Matthew Watson's broken leg)? Nope. Questions about Rennie's strategy in a two-leg playoff? Nope. Questions about matching up with Vancouver's Charles Gbeke and Marlon James? Nope. Questions about the difficulty the RailHawks have in scoring on the road (more on that below)? Nada.

The whole interview was quite pleasant, and Glenn was genuinely enthusiastic and not condescending. I'm sure the RailHawks are happy to have the radio exposure, but we await more mature, sophisticated soccer coverage from the area's broadcast sports media. Rennie himself said on the program that increased media interest is key to soccer's growth in America--and he told the Indy's Chris Gaffney as much back in March: "To tell the truth, I hope that the press becomes critical here, because that means they're interested."

In our continuing effort to, ahem, do just that, we recently took a closer look at the RailHawks' road record against the six other teams in the playoffs. Although the RailHawks' overall road record is a strong 5-5-5, for 20 points in 15 games, the team has had more difficulty against the playoff teams. This is to be expected, of course, but we thought we'd look at the numbers.

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Redmond, Weber, Childers spark USA Baseball into title game

Posted by on Thu, Sep 24, 2009 at 12:02 AM

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Todd Redmond pitched 8 1/3 shutout innings while three teammates including former Durham Bull Jon Weber (pictured) homered, leading defending champion Team USA to a 3-0 victory over Puerto Rico in Florence, Italy and a berth in the title game of the IBAF World Cup.

Ike Davis had a solo homer to right in the second inning, while Buck Coats soloed to right in the fifth and Weber added a blast to center in the eighth.

Redmond (3-0) allowed just four hits and struck out four before former Bull Jason Childers came on to close and earn his first save of the tournament.

The USA will face Cuba on Thursday at 2 p.m. (EDT) in Nettuno in a game to be shown live on MLB Network. Team USA will then close out Round Three against The Netherlands on Friday before playing in Sunday's 10 a.m. (EDT) title game which will also be shown live on MLB Network.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Durham Bulls Beat Memphis Redbirds in extra innings, win Triple-A Championship

Posted by on Wed, Sep 23, 2009 at 5:00 AM

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ESPN 2---And that's that: the Durham Bulls took a 4-0 lead early, squandered it in the middle, and got help at the end to beat the Memphis Redbirds, 5-4, in 11 innings and claim the Triple-A Championship. It's kind of amazing, really. (What's really great is that the Bulls' own Web site has the winning run in Memphis's row in the linescore.) The Bulls, who are the first International League team to win the crown, are officially the best Triple-A baseball team in America, which by extension makes them the best team in the entire minor leagues. They could probably also take six of 10 from the Pittsburgh Pirates, if they had Winston Abreu---which they don't, not anymore, but that's for well after the jump.

Did you know, by the way, that 2009 is the Year of the Bull? A game report and some final thoughts follow.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Revenge win clinches medal-round spot for USA Baseball

Posted by on Tue, Sep 22, 2009 at 9:24 PM

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Team USA took advantage of a balanced offense, avenging its only loss of the IBAF World Cup with a 6-3 win over Venezuela in Florence, Italy.

The result clinched for the Red, White and Blue a spot in the tournament's medal round this weekend.

Pedro Alvarez (pictured) ripped his fourth homer of the tournament for the Americans, while Tug Hulett was 2-for-2 with a pair of runs and veteran Terry Tiffee added two RBI.

Trevor Plouffe extended his hitting streak to 10 games in the win.

Brad Lincoln (2-0) pitched 6 2/3 innings in the victory while Team USA's fourth pitcher of the night, Geno Espinelli, picked up his first save.

Team USA is 4-0 in Round 3 because of a 3-0 record against Pool G qualifying opponents, and held a 2 1/2-game lead over Australia, Canada and Chinese Taipei following the win.

The next game is against Puerto Rico on Wednesday at 2 p.m. (EDT) in Florence.

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Durham starts to get amped up for Bull City Gridiron Classic

Posted by on Tue, Sep 22, 2009 at 7:50 PM

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WALLACE WADE STADIUM & PEARSON CAFETERIA/DURHAM The game is still four days away, but the hype is already getting pretty revved up.

If you're a football fan in Durham, then unless you've been living under a rock for a few years you know what Saturday night's "Bull City Gridiron Classic" is all about.

Duke will host N.C. Central for an historic first meeting at 7 p.m. at Wallace Wade Stadium, and while neither team has had the kind of season it might have wanted so far, that's taking none of the shine off the matchup.

The Blue Devils are 1-2 and looking for their first win at home this season. A victory would certainly leave a good taste in the mouths of David Cutcliffe's boys heading into ACC play starting next week.

For Mose Rison's 0-3 Eagles, it would be not only the first win but also a big start toward getting the program some major respect.

It won't be the biggest football game ever played in Durham. The Blue Devils' classic old yard has already hosted a pair of bowl games, when Duke hosted Oregon State in the 1942 Rose Bowl and the Eagles took on Grambling in the 1972 Pelican Bowl for the Black National Championship.

Both teams have been ranked high in their respective divisions - Duke always competing in the top level of NCAA Division I while NCCU is over halfway through its transition from Division II to Division I's Football Championship Subdivision - in the past, with each hosting Top Ten battles in the Bull City. And Duke has hosted numerous "Victory Bell" games against historic rival UNC while NCCU's "Turkey Day" matchups with archrival North Carolina A&T were always the talk of the town.

But it's arguably the most important. Never have both Durham universities - who have squared off in men's and women's basketball and baseball and many other sports - been on the football field together.

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UNC Tuesday Tour: Welcome to Hotlanta

Posted by on Tue, Sep 22, 2009 at 2:34 PM

No. 22-ranked UNC is about to find out just how good of a team it is.

Butch Davis takes his 3-0 Tar Heels to Atlanta Saturday, facing Georgia Tech's dynamic and confusing spread option attack. Carolina has not beaten the Yellow Jackets in Atlanta since 1997 -- which happens to be the last time the Tar Heels began the season 3-0. Carolina has also not won its conference opener dating back to 2001.

Carolina edged Georgia Tech 16-13 in 1997, and a similar low-scoring affair could be in store this weekend.

Links follow below:

  • UNC started preparing for the option back in preseason practice,the News & Observer reports.  A similar approach paid off last season with a 28-7 win.  The Tar Heels had a bye week before hosting Georgia Tech but still allowed over 300 rushing yards.
  • The Heels are still stuck at No. 6 in the ACC Sports Journal power rankings. Both Georgia Tech and Clemson are ahead of the Heels, but it should be interesting to see how this changes after Saturday's big conference games.
  • Davis' Monday audio is available for download on www.TarHeelBlue.com.  He talked about injury updates, the Yellow Jackets' offense and of course the offensive line.
  • Long snapper Trevor Stuart will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL.  Mark House replaced Stuart against ECU and has previous starting experience.
  • Most interesting about House is how www.StateFansNation.com -- a Wolfpack blog -- uses him to illustrate Davis' scholarship manipulation.  According to the blog, House was kicked off the team ... well, apparently not.  The article is long but worth the read for good ol' rivalry  delusion, especially the recurring theme that UNC uses youth as an excuse.  I'm glad State fans haven't tried any type of excuse for their team ... like injuries or something like that.
  • Don't worry.  There are delusional Carolina fans, too.  The UNC message boards are playing the no R-E-S-P-E-C-T card. Beating an FCS team, an average UConn team on the road and a down ECU team should, apparently, warrant a much higher ranking for the Heels.  Maybe if UNC looked impressive in all of these victories I could understand a higher ranking -- but right now, No. 22 seems about right.

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Durham Bulls Postview (Governor's Cup Championship) and Preview (Triple-A Championship)

Posted by on Tue, Sep 22, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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You can still watch a few highlights of the Bulls' dramatic championship-clinching win over Scranton/ Wilkes-Barre on the team Web site. Those clips drive home (so to speak) just how crazy the last inning really was. Justin Ruggiano's diving catch of Reegie Corona's sinking slice down the left-field line was not only great per se; it also saved the game, because the ball was ruled fair (but was it fair?) by the umpire. At the end of that play, though, second baseman Ray Olmedo made a poor relay throw to first base in an attempt to turn a game-ending double play, a throw he shouldn't have attempted at all under the circumstances. He was fortunate that after the ball sailed well to the left of first baseman Joe Dillon, it bounced straight off the railing where it was picked up by pitcher Julio DePaula, who was properly backing up the play and made a quick recovery of the ball in foul territory.

To top things off, DePaula himself nearly blew the game, catastrophically, on the very last play: Doug Bernier's bouncer back to the mound was easy enough for DePaula to field, and you could understand his excitement in running the ball all the way to first base himself rather than make an easy toss to Dillon. But DePaula decided to make a big puddle-jump onto the bag, and the hop-step he indulged in slowed him down so much that Bernier, hustling all the way, nearly beat DePaula to first base. As it was, DePaula won the race by about three quarters of a step, but it was a scarily close play. Had Bernier been safe due to DePaula's grasshopper insouciance, the game would have been tied. As it was, the Bulls are champions. (Champions! It's really extraordinary, when you think about it, after all that.)

A few more notes follow on the game, the season, and the final ballgame to come. If you're deplaning here, one thing to take away with you: Tyler's, the pub/eatery right by the DBAP, is hosting a viewing party (the game will be televised nationally on ESPN 2) of Tuesday night's Triple-A championship game between the Bulls and the Memphis Redbirds, an affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals and winner of the Pacific Coast League. Game time is 7:00 p.m. and it will be a lot of fun to watch it right by the ballpark, surrounded by Bulls fans, in a place that serves something like 712 different beers. Come on out, and do drop by my table to say hello, to buy me a beer or to pour one over my head. I'll be the guy with black (going gray) hair, the black button-down shirt, the blue jeans, the bandanna, and Heather.

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Monday, September 21, 2009

Plouffe walk-off gives USA Baseball No. 1 seed in group

Posted by on Mon, Sep 21, 2009 at 8:01 PM

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Trevor Plouffe's walk-off homer made the difference as Team USA beat Australia 4-3 in the IBAF World Cup in Bologna, Italy, clinching the top seed in Group G for the Final Round.

After the Aussies took a 1-0 lead, Justin Smoak extended his team record with his ninth homer of the tournament to tie the game in the sixth. Former Durham Bull Jon Weber gave the Red, White and Blue the lead with an RBI grounder later in the inning.

Australia scored twice in the seventh, but Plouffe (pictured) tied the score again with an RBI grounder in the bottom of the frame to make it 3-3.

His two out homer to left in the ninth then ended the game.

Cory Luebke had a six-inning quality start in the no-decision. Former Durham Bull Jason Childers then added two innings of scoreless relief, striking out three, before Ehren Wasserman got the win in his first decision of the tournament.

The USA will take on Venezuela today at 2 p.m. (EDT) in Firenze, Italy. Venezuela defeated Team USA in its first game of the tournament, 13-9 in an extra-inning tiebreaker.

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