Clemson eyes ACC title berth while Wolfpack bowl hopes hang in balance
Clemson (6-3, 4-2 ACC) vs. N.C. State (4-5, 1-3 ACC)
Noon, Saturday, Carter-Finley Stadium
Raycom (WRAL, CBS), Wolfpack Sports Network (101.5 FM)
Key stats … N.C. State finally got its first ACC win of the season last week in a sloppy game against Maryland at home that went down to the final snap. Now things get even tougher, with a Clemson squad headed north in hopes of securing its first ACC Championship game appearance (Divisions and the title game started in 2005.). All they need is a win and a Boston College loss to Virginia to wrap up the Atlantic Division this weekend. N.C. State meanwhile needs to win out to become bowl eligible. The embattled Wolpack defense, that's struggled in ACC play before showing signs of life last week, when it only gave up 17 points (Maryland posted 31, but one touchdown came on an interception return and another on a kickoff), faces a stiff test from the Clemson ground game, averaging 160.9 yards a contest. Clemson leads the series 49-27-1.
It's been 34 years since anyone but Kay Yow was patrolling the sidelines for a season opener as the women's head basketball coach at N.C. State.
Tonight things will be different as Kellie Harper, named in April to fill the full-time vacancy left by Yow's death in January following a 22-year fight with breast cancer, makes her debut as the Wolfpack's head coach.
Florida International, which beat the State 58-42 last season in Miami, will be the opponent in the 8 p.m. nightcap of the first evening of the Sheraton Raleigh Wolfpack Invitational. That contest follows the tournament's 6 p.m. opener between Vermont (21-12) and Western Michigan (7-23).
All three Triangle ACC women's teams open their regular-season schedules tonight. No. 5 UNC will tip off against the College of Charleston at 7 p.m. at the Smith Center, while No. 6 Duke visits Houston Baptist in a homecoming game for Karima Christmas and the opener of a two-game Texas road trip.
Harper has been waiting to be head coach at a big-time program since her playing days ended as Tennessee, where the point guard was part of three NCAA championships under Coach Pat Summitt.
GREENSBORO COLISEUM/GREENSBORO UNC is the pick of the Blue Ribbon panel to win the regular-season championship in ACC women's basketball.
But a lot of that, of course, is predicated on the health of senior forward Jessica Breland.
Breland (pictured at left), who was found in the off-season to be suffering from Hodgkin's lymphoma, was named to the five-player preseason All-ACC team selected by the 45-member panel of school representatives as well as national and regional media.
But whether or not she plays this season is still up in the air.
"She's feeling great and she looks good," Tar Heel coach Sylvia Hatchell said of Breland, who is undergoing a fifth month of chemotherapy. "She comes to practice and does a little bit of shooting. If I had to make a decision right this minute, I would say she's probably going to redshirt. But, the first of December doctors may say she can go. They've got a lot of testing the next few weeks, and then we'll sit down and see."
Hatchell said at ACC Women's Basketball Media Day that Breland may play in a few regular-season games before the decision is made whether or not to give her a medical redshirt.
"I told her 'If you can make All-ACC and play as well as you did as sick as you were, imagine what you can do when you're well," the coach continued. " ... I can tell you from a coach's position that for the past two years the kid has not been well. First we thought she had asthma, because she's having breathing problems and they treated that. And then she got better, and then it was the same old thing. And then we thought she had allergies and they tested her for allergies and started allergy shots and all this. And then this past year, the whole year she had breathing problems.
O'KELLY-RIDDICK STADIUM/DURHAM N.C. Central wasn't expecting a tough challenge when the game was scheduled.
It's one of those "guarantee" games that the home team is supposed to win.
But when NCCU scheduled Central Methodist of Fayette, Mo., for the first and perhaps the only "Battle of the Central Eagles" nobody knew what kind of team CMU would have.
Alan Dykens' club, a member of the Heart of America Athletic Conference, comes in 5-1, ranked No. 20 in the NAIA national poll and having one of the best seasons in school history. NCCU is 0-6 including three excruciatingly close losses.
With the losing streak and the home fans unfamiliar with the opposition, there's not a big crowd in the house at kickoff on a chilly afternoon many might call a "perfect day for football." It's a breast cancer awareness day and the officials are throwing - you guessed it - fuschia pink flags.
And it does turn out to be an almost perfect day for NCCU, which scores on its first seven possessions and dominates every facet in a 52-7 victory. The home Eagles finish with 361 yards' total offense to the visitors' 93, get two special-teams touchdowns and a turnover margin of 4-0.
NCCU gets on the board on its first possession after a CMU punt. The hosts go 62 yards in 10 plays, with Frankie Cardelle booting a convincing 41-yard field goal at the 6:49 mark of the period.
Soon after that NCCU gets another break when Calvin Hillie, who had two takeaways at Appalachian State last week, picks off a Bryant Jackson pass at the CMU 28. Five plays later Tim Shankle takes it in from six yards out. Following that is a trick play, in which Cardelle takes a lateral from holder Nickolas Hahula and runs left before heaving an ugly but effective pass to Saeed Abdul-Azeez in the end zone, making it 11-0 at 3:24.
And the next time the home team gets the ball, lightning strikes. Michael Johnson (pictured) hits Andrew Johnson in stride up the middle for a 59-yard touchdown, with Cardelle's kick making it 18-0 with 1:53 left in the first.
WALLACE WADE STADIUM/DURHAM Duke gets a very big opportunity on a sunny and warm day in the Bull City.
The Blue Devils are all right after a 2-2 non-conference start, riding pretty high after a 49-14 romp over N.C. Central in the inaugural Bull City Gridiron Classic last week.
The visitor is No. 6 Virginia Tech (3-1, 1-0), the favorite to win the ACC and a team on a roll after a 31-7 romp over then-No. 9 Miami a week ago in Blacksburg.
Frank Beamer's Hokies have won eight straight in the series, and the only close one of those was a 14-3 victory over the Blue Devils last season at Lane Stadium. And although the Blue Devils play hard and well, the streak goes to nine as the Hokies hang on to win 34-26.
Lane Stadium, oddly enough, is a place I have visited a lot, since my first three paid newspaper jobs were at papers in Virginia. The first was from 1978-80 at Franklin's Tidewater News, which came out twice a week and was the flagship of a small chain of six papers in the Southeastern part of the state.
Since it was farm country - pork, peanuts and pine trees - at least a plurality of the locals were Hokie fans.
And that number increased when then-coach Bill Dooley showed up in Courtland to sign local Southampton High hero Cyrus Lawrence, who remains the best high school football player I have ever covered. The trips to Blacksburg for most home games were over 250 miles away after about five hours of sleep, but well worth a chance to begin covering major-college sports.
Lawrence was good enough as a true freshman that by the end of September he was listed as a co-starter at tailback alongside senior Kenny Lewis, who was the Hokies' career rushing leader at the time. Lawrence might have been a bigger national star if the Hokies hadn't been independents at the time, and his football career was ended during his senior year by an injury to his anterior cruciate ligament that surgeons didn't know how to fix at the time.
OK OK, I'll move back to 2009, eat some kind of egg and sausage casserole concoction and start the game.
Duke has a nice home crowd, augmented by perhaps 5-7,000 Hokies, but plenty of seats are available. And it's band day. The announced crowd is 26,211, about what it was for the NCCU game in the rain last week.
The game starts very slowly, but finally gets going late in the first quarter.
Duke goes 79 yards in seven plays to take the early lead, with Thaddeus Lewis hitting a wide-open Brandon King down the left sideline at about the 30 en route to a 48-yard touchdown pass. Will Snyderwine adds the boot and it's 7-0 at the 3:35 mark.
FIVE COUNTY STADIUM/ZEBULON Back for Game 2 of the Carolina Mudcats' only home series with a loaded Birmingham Barons club, and the Mudcats' hole has gotten just a little deeper.
The Mudcats are currently in last place in the Southern League's North Division, with a "tragic number" of 16 for elimination from the playoff race heading into the game.
Things don't turn out well tonight either, as the Mudcats outhit the Barons 9-7 but make two costly errors in the seventh and lose 5-3.
Now, as I told you a day ago, Birmingham hitting coach Andy Tomberlin played for the Durham Bulls for several years, and was actually in a big 1988 series for the Bulls against the Kinston Indians.
Durham had gotten off to a lightning-fast start - I believe it was 30-13 - under Buddy Bailey before the day Chuck Tanner was fired as the Atlanta Braves' skipper. That set off a chain reaction that sent Russ Nixon from Greenville to Atlanta, Bailey to Greenville, and Grady Little from the Braves' Midwest League franchise in Burlington, Iowa, to Durham.
Little went on to become one of the Bulls' best managers, but the chemistry with that team seemed to get all discombobulated by the change in managerial styles. The Bulls found themselves needing to win three of four in the series at Kinston to end the first half, and didn't manage to get it done when they lost the series finale at a packed Grainger Stadium.
That was one of four times I witnessed the Bulls losing the one road game they had to win to get a first-half championship in the Carolina League's Southern Division. Good times.
Anyway, one of the Kinston Indians' stars in 1988 was Ever Magallanes, who is now Birmingham's skipper and Tomberlin's boss.
Tomberlin, a Monroe native and Western Carolina alum, was enough of a gamer to get by on his hustle and guts to play parts of six seasons in the Major Leagues.
That was evident one night in Durham, as he is to date the only player I have ever seen get three visits from a trainer in the same game and play all nine innings. He got spiked at second base, was hit on the arm by a pitch, and ran into the right-field wall at the DAP catching a long fly ball.
But I digress.
Let's get some chicken tenders and play ball.
Birmingham continues to play at a very high level, and that continues tonight.
David Cook (pictured) gives the Barons the lead when he starts the second by blasting Tom Cochran's 2-2 pitch over the Catfish Corner fence in right.
The Carolina RailHawks defense hasn't conceded a goal in 400 minutes, the third time this year they've gone for more than 300 minutes of keeping the linen clean. Although the men in the back seem to be the big part of the difference in the team's victories over Rochester and Cleveland, only one defender, goalkeeper Caleb Patterson-Sewell, takes a spot on the team of the week. Patterson-Sewell shut out the Rochester Raging Rhinos, and his selection is the first time in more than a year that a RailHawks goalkeeper has made the squad.
Kupono Low gets on for his 90th-minute winner in Rochester, while Gregory Richardson, who scored once against Cleveland and played a major role in a second strike, was named for a third straight week.
You can see Low's goal and subsequent shirt-waving here.
Richardson's goal is included in this highlight reel from the Cleveland game.
Press release here.
WAKEMED SOCCER PARK—It was bloody hot, 2 p.m. on a Sunday. It took effort to get to the stadium. Surely, there were cooler things to do. When I sat, the backs of my legs burned until they absorbed the heat of the plastic. It hurt but I consoled myself with the realization that I was watching, not playing. Expectations were low. Miami FC and the RailHawks had both played on Friday night. It was hot. Hot like Mexico 1986, like USA 1994. Who chose this time of day in this month in the dang South? The game would be slow. I hoped the sweat running down my back would make it into the seat so I could sit in a puddle. Tweet!
Ten minutes of running industry produced a few good chances for the RailHawks before physiology trumped psychology. Everyone squinted at the emerald field for the next half an hour, wondering how much one would have to earn to run around a stadium wearing an oversized bird head. Swoops is probably receiving an intravenous drip in his cage. In the 39th minute, just as I felt the sweat reach my buttocks, Joseph Kabwe sliced through midfield, laid off to Gregory Richardson charging into the box on his left and the lad from Guyana slotted home from 12 yards. Luke Kreamalmeyer turned good fortune into a great goal with a sweet left-footed, lobbed volley four minutes later. The referee mercifully did not add any time. Tweet! We ran for the shade, 2-0 to the good.
In football, as in NASCAR, there is no substitute for skill and pace. Richardson has bags of both and he’s brought them with him to Cary. Twenty minutes into the second half, as the back of my neck changed hue, Daniel Paladini orchestrated Richardson’s second. His 30-yard run finished with a crashing left-footed drive that left the ‘keeper swatting at flies. Four minutes later, coach Martin Rennie gave Richardson the ball for a penalty (taking it from a clearly miffed Paladini), and Richardson notched his first hat trick in a RailHawks kit. 4-0. Tweet! The kid is hot.
Carolina had a shocking outing in Charleston on Friday night and missed a great chance to pick up some valuable points on the three points leaders. With this victory, however, they become the first team in USL-1 to reach 10 victories this season and have surpassed their victory total from last year. When the Austin Aztex come to visit next weekend, the Hawks will be without Amir Lowery and Paladini, but have the depth on the bench to cover for them. Richardson is the real deal and is supported by a solid defense and creative midfielders who can get him the ball in dangerous positions. 4-0 was a fair score today. Rennie’s side look deep, strong and organized. Kudos for a blistering show on a scorching day.
Stat box here.
The Carolina Mudcats' ace pitcher finally got his promotion.
Southpaw Travis Wood has been promoted to Triple-A Louisville, and scheduled to make his International League debut at Syracuse tonight at 7.
Wood is currently leading the Southern League in ERA (1.21) and strikeouts (103), and is on a nine-game winning streak. The win streak is the longest in Mudcats history, while the ERA is by far the best for any Mudcats pitcher throwing over 90 innings. Ryan Tucker had a 1.58 ERA last season.
Southpaw Lee Tabor has been reinstated from the temporary inactive list and is scheduled to start Monday's series opener against Chattanooga at Five County Stadium.
Catcher Chris Denove has also been actvated, with catcher Korey Feiner going onto the disabled list.
Also, infielder Jose Castro has been placed on the seven-day DL after straining his right calf muscle on Friday night at Huntsville.
Six unearned runs in one inning will do it every time.
Japan rallied for a half-dozen in the third inning, and then held on for a 7-5 victory over USA Baseball's National Team at the Tokyo Dome to tie the 37th Collegiate Friendship Series at one win apiece.
It's an annual best-of-5 series, and Game 5 will be played even if somebody sweeps the next two.
Yuki Saito, a national hero in Japan known as "The Handkerchief Prince," was the winning pitcher while Ole Miss' Drew Pomeranz (2-1) took the loss.
Arizona State's Matt Newman (pictured) - who finished 3-for-5 with four RBI - and Arkansas' Andy Wilkins had RBI singles to give the USA a 2-0 lead in the first.
But the hosts got their six runs in the third after a Pomeranz throwing error. Takanori Sato's two-run double was the big hit in the frame.
Japan made it 7-2 on a wild pitch from Kansas' T.J. Walz in the sixth inning.
The Americans responded with three in the seventh on Newman's bases-clearing double, but could get no closer.
Game 3 is Tuesday at 5 a.m. (EDT) in Sendai, Japan.