After conceding two goals from setpieces in a crushing stoppage-time defeat in their home opener last weekend, RailHawks coach Martin Rennie said the team spent all week focusing on defending corners and free kicks.
That made it all the more frustrating Saturday night when in the 11th minute Montreal Impact defender Kevin Hatchi was left unmarked along the back post and smashed home from a corner kick.
“We just completely switched off, there was a player wide open,” Rennie said.
Luckily they still had 79 minutes to turn the game around.
They didn’t need that long.
The RailHawks won a corner of their own 10 minutes later. Midfielder Floyd Franks served in the cross to captain Brad Rusin whose free header was cleared from the line. The ball sprayed back out to Franks who whipped it back into the box where winger Nick Zimmerman nodded on to striker Pablo Campos, who nicked it to partner Etienne Barbara. The Maltese striker’s shot deflected off a defender, leaving Montrael Impact goalkeeper Bill Gaudette stranded.
In the 34th minute, Carolina RailHawks midfielder Matt Watson was going to play a pass out wide, but just before he released the ball, Campos’s flamboyant boots flashed across his vision.
“I don't know if you've seen them, they are like bright green, and honestly I just caught them out of the corner of my eyes, and I just slipped him in into that little gap, he took a good touch and a good finish.”
The strike erased the early one-goal deficit in 24 minutes and proved to be the match-winner. It marked only the third time in club history that the RailHawks have won when conceding first, all occurring in the past two seasons under Rennie. It also made Watson the club’s all-time assists leader with 10.
DBAP/DURHAM It’s going to be a near-perfect night for baseball now that the grounds crew has finished its work.
It’s a showdown for early-season supremacy in the International League’s South Division. The Bulls come into the contest in their usual first-place spot in the division — they have won it in nine of their 13 seasons in the league — while Gwinnett is a game back.
They’re meeting for the fifth time this year, after splitting their season-opening four-game set in the Atlanta suburbs with ever game a serious nail-biter.
Southpaw Alex Torres (0-0, 0.00) makes his DBAP debut against the Braves’ Todd Redmond (0-1, 3.00). And there’s certainly a respectable crowd in the house.
The Bulls get an unearned run and begin the series on a high note, escaping with a rare 1-0 DBAP victory.
In fact, Desmond Jennings nearly beat Norfolk all by himself. He hit a three-run home run in the second inning and narrowly missed another later in the game, when he blasted a long drive way, way out of the ballpark but a little bit foul, west of the snorting Bull above the Blue Monster. He also drew a pair of walks, scored after one of them, and stole his third base of the season in as many tries.
The homer is the highlight, of course, because it was Jennings's second of the season so far after he hit just three all of last year: The power is back, he's swinging without impediments—he's healthy. Everything about Jennings's game right now tells you that he feels good and is ready to make a push to the big leagues.
Almost as important as the home run, though, were Jennings's two walks. He has always been a disciplined and patient hitter, and you might have expected him to lose a little of that discipline out of sheer excitement at feeling healthy enough to swing away for the first time in a year. But his approach was the same last night as it has pretty much always been: He saw 20 pitches, 11 of them taken for balls (a 12th hit him). Jennings has drawn seven walks so far this year and struck out six times, a slight improvement on his already very good career K/BB ratio. More and more, it seems to me that hitting at the highest level, assuming you can swing a bat decently, is simply a matter of being able to tell the difference between a ball and a strike. Simple, yes, but not easy, since you have about four 10ths of a second to make your decision. But that's the hitter's job.
Why go straight into the details of Jennings's performance last night? Because that was about the only real excitement of the sludgy, 2:56 affair, which was filled with walks and deep counts and poor hitting and a lot of runners left on base by both teams. Orioles and Tides fans, I hate to tell you this, and I know it's early in the year, but your Triple-A team, now 1-8 this year, already looks listless and frustrated on the field barely five percent of the way into the season. Bulls starter Edgar Gonzalez was nothing like dominant; he doesn't have electric stuff and he put eight men on base in five functional innings, but Norfolk didn't take advantage. The only run the Tides scored off of him was aided by a fielding error by second baseman J. J. Furmaniak and an infield single that might have been an out had Gonzalez not deflected (a reflexive stab he couldn't help making) Brandon Snyder's bouncer up the middle. Chris George, who replaced a very shaky Steve Johnson—making his first Triple-A appearance and lasting only four innings—had bad body language on the mound, looking frustrated and down in the mouth. That's why it wasn't really a surprise that, after he pitched two scoreless relief innings in the fifth and sixth, George self-destructed in the seventh. But apparently he was out there to eat up some innings for the Tides, because it wasn't until all four runs had scored in that inning that his eventual replacement started to warm up in the bullpen. Bulls manager Charlie Montoyo said after the game, in his generously sportsmanlike way, that the Tides would eventually get hot, but right now they look like a team just playing out a string.
The Bulls, meanwhile, are, as Jennings put it, "relaxed, laid back." Where the scrappy 2009 team was often raucous and frothy and the 2010 edition coolly affable but businesslike, the 2011 bunch—younger overall, I think, than the two previous squads—has a breezy confidence about it. Many of them have been in the Rays organization for a while, and three of the new players were together in the Chicago Cubs organization last season. The collective attitude seems to be one of a sense of belonging here now, in the right place at the right time (no doubt fifth-year Bull Justin Ruggiano would disagree). Every man jack of them would rather be in the majors, of course, but the team has fewer old salts anxiously watching the sands drop through the hourglass, grain by grain and day by day; fewer super-prospects itching to get called up; and zero just-demoted longtime big-leaguers resentful of their downwardly mobile direction. It's probably good for the Bulls, frankly, that Casey Kotchman and Felipe Lopez, both veteran major-league players stuck in unfavorable minor-league circumstances, were both called up to Tampa Bay immediately after the season began: Whatever disgruntlement they might have inflicted on the clubhouse followed them right out the Durham door.
The team that remains—and again, it should be stressed that it's early in the year, too soon to draw conclusions—seems like peers—a club, rather than just a bunch of players. As we reporters collected around Jennings for a postgame interview, pitcher Dane De La Rosa—who I imagine barely knows Jennings—asked a mock question on our behalf: "Desmond Jennings, why'd you do so well tonight?" Everyone laughed, partially because De La Rosa's question both cut to the chase that we often take too long to arrive at, and also exposed its own essential unanswerability: Jennings did so well because he's really good at what he does, and like anyone with a job, he has everything from really good days at it to really bad ones. Last night, he had one of the good ones.
More after the jump.
And in his first start at the DBAP in 2011, Cobb began with three no-hit innings—perfect ones, in fact. He wound up allowing three hits, just as he did against Louisville in 2010, and he struck out 10 Norfolk Tides, the same number of Ks he had against the Bats. This time, he went six innings, removed after 82 pitches, right around the current early-season limit imposed by the Tampa Bay Rays. (Coincidentally, he also threw 82 pitches in his second and final start for the Bulls last year, a difficult and blister-shortened but nonetheless scoreless four-inning stint against the Columbus Clippers in Game Three of the Governors Cup Championship series.)
The difference? This time, Cobb made no mistakes; or if he did, they went unpunished. He and two relievers, Mike Ekstrom and Brandon Gomes, shut out the Norfolk Tides, 4-0. The Bulls improved to 5-3; Norfolk fell to a glum 1-7 for the season so far. In support, new Durham third baseman Russ Canzler hit a solo homer, his second dinger in two days, in the sixth inning, an impressive opposite-field drive to right-center field; and the Bulls clawed at Tides starter Rick VandenHurk, who took the loss, for three additional runs early on in this deceptively quick game, which was rather dull once Cobb left but only took just over two hours to play. It had the feel of a solid early-season win, a sort of still-in-beta performance for a team that hasn't really found its bearings yet; they arrived in Durham after Spring Training in Florida just a couple of days before the season began, and then immediately left for a week-long road trip. And they have already had to adjust to a fistful of surprising roster moves.
If the essential makeup of the 2011 team holds for most of the season, last night's home-opener may be indicative of what's to come. Counting some of the ways after the jump.
The Durham Bulls' season has already had a few twists and turns, thanks mainly to surprises in Tampa Bay like the injury to the Rays' superstar third baseman, Evan Longoria, and the abrupt retirement of Manny Ramirez, just a few days into his Tampa tenure, after he tested positive again for performance-enhancing drugs. Two brand-new Bulls, Casey Kotchman and Felipe Lopez, have already been summoned to the major leagues. A couple of others have already missed time with injuries. The starting pitchers haven't lasted deep into games, partially owing to the Rays' early-season 75-pitch limit imposed on them from above; as a consequence, the Durham bullpen, year in and year out one of the most overworked cadres around, is already groaning under its workload.
Stay tuned—plenty more drama to come.
We'll see you all on Thursday, April 14 at the DBAP—one-dollar concessions on the first night of the home season. Read on for a glossary/primer.
Jasmine Thomas wasn’t unhappy she wasn’t called until the final pick of the first round of today's WNBA Draft.
And one pick later UNC forward Jessica Breland’s name went on the board, setting her up for a trade later in the day.
All three of Duke’s seniors were chosen as forward Karima Christmas went late in the second round and center Krystal Thomas was chosen with the very last pick, while UNC’s Italee Lucas was chosen midway through the second round.
The Triangle players in blue were five of the seven ACC players picked in the draft, which took place at the ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn.
In one of the worst-kept secrets in the history of women’s basketball Connecticut’s Maya Moore was the No. 1 pick, going to the Minnesota Lynx.
Monday is likely to be one of the biggest WNBA draft days ever for basketball players from the Triangle.
The draft will take place today at 3 p.m. at ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn. ESPN U and NBA TV will telecast the second and third rounds.
Jasmine Thomas and Breland are among the 15 players expected to be in the studio.
Connecticut’s Maya Moore is considered the certain first choice. The Minnesota Lynx, which through trades has two of the first four picks and four of the first 14, has that pick.
Unfortunately for Carolina, the rematch yielded another victory for Puerto Rico, as the RailHawks fell to the Islanders 2-1 thanks to Jay Needham’s goal late in stoppage time.
In that some might claim the RailHawks’ survival is partly the product of divine intervention following their offseason travails, it is fitting that Saturday night’s match took place in biblical conditions. With wind, fog, and a deluge that swung from vertical to horizontal at a moment’s notice, all that was missing was the hail and locusts.
On Saturday, the Carolina Hurricanes' inspired run to the cusp of playoff qualification ended earlier than anticipated, as the Tampa Bay Lightning rode three first period goals and solid play from goaltender Mike Smith to a 6-2 win in Raleigh, eliminating the Hurricanes from postseason play.
The New York Rangers set the stage Saturday afternoon for the Canes' final push to the playoffs with a 5-2 win over the New Jersey Devils. The win meant the Canes were in charge of their own destiny, needing two points to tie the Rangers. The tiebreaker situation would have put Carolina in eighth place, ahead of New York thanks to the Canes' two-point edge in the teams' head-to-head during the season.
Coming off a six-goal night in Atlanta, coach Paul Maurice said the issue in the first period wasn't his team's, but the speed of the opponent, that led to the early deficit.
"The bench didn't seem like it was going to have a problem with it," Maurice said of his team's resilience after Dominic Moore's goal in the seventh minute to put the Lightning up 1-0. "It felt right going out and had come off a good night and boom. It happened so fast. You're shell-shocked."
Captain Eric Staal also noted the opposition's speed, especially since Tampa Bay's playoff spot was already locked up. The Lightning had already clinched the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference.
"That game meant nothing to them and they were flying into the zone and making plays," Staal said. "They've got some offensive skill to make you pay and they did that early on."
Goaltender Cam Ward said getting knocked back in the first period presented too tall a task for the Canes to come back.
"They came here looking to spoil our playoff hopes and that's what they did. Maybe some other teams wouldn't have played that hard knowing that their position was safe, but they played us really tough in that first period," he said. "It was a pretty big hole to come out of. We just couldn't seem to find the net enough to win."
Maurice equated the three-goal first period to a "knockout punch."
Staal said the loss was particularly hard to swallow after the team won nine of its last twelve games to set up the win-or-go-home situation. "We worked our butts off all year to have this opportunity at home and we didn't get the job done tonight," he said.
Jussi Jokinen said last year's unlikely near trip to the playoffs made this year's early end more difficult to cope with as well, since last year's push came from so far back and this year presented the Canes with several chances to clinch.
"The last three or four weeks we played really good hockey," he said. "But it's tough to stay out and win."
Despite making the loss hurt that much more, Maurice said having his team's postseason hopes end in the final game of the season was better than being eliminated in March.
"I still would much rather have been in the situation where we fought as hard as we could to get to this point and have to go through the pain of the result than letting it slip away a month ago," he said.
And the 82-game NHL season comes down to one game for the Cardiac Canes.
Carolina's 6-1 win in Atlanta gave them an 8-1-1 record in their last ten games, leaving them tied with the Rangers in points but ahead in a tie-breaker. A Rangers loss to the Devils on Saturday would also clinch the playoffs for Carolina, regardless of the Tampa result.
If they get in, the Canes will face the division rival Washington Capitals in the first round. But coach Paul Maurice was quick to remind the press that his team is not in yet.
"Nothing has really changed," Maurice said. "Tomorrow night is the one we're focusing on. It will be a challenge for us."