Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Pedroia signs extension

The 2008 American League Most Valuable Player is now under contract with the Boston Red Sox for years to come.

Dustin Pedroia, the team's popular and remarkably productive second baseman, signed a six-year extension with the Red Sox today for $40.5 million, with a club option for a seventh year, the Globe's Amalie Benjamin and Tony Massarotti have confirmed. ESPN's Peter Gammons first reported the deal this afternoon.

The club will formally announce the news at a 3 p.m. press conference at Fenway Park, with Pedroia and general manager Theo Epstein in attendance.

Pedroia, 25, had a truly outstanding sophomore season with the Red Sox, batting .326 with 17 home runs and 83 RBIs while 20 bases en route to winning the AL MVP. He led the AL in hits (213), runs (118) and doubles (54), and also won the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards, becoming just the eighth player in league history to take all three honors in one season.

A club source told Benjamin that the Pedroia's representatives have been working on the deal since mid-August. Massarotti reports that Pedroia will receive a $1.5 million signing bonus and a $1.5 million salary in 2009. He will be paid $3.5 million in 2010, $5.5 million in '11, $8 million in '12, and $10 million in both 2013 and '14. The club option for '15 is for $11 million, or the Sox can buy him out for $500,000.

For the Red Sox, the significant point here is that they bought at least two of Pedroia's free agent years for $10 million per season. If the club exercises the '15 option, they will effectively have signed Pedroia, who is eligible for free agency in '12, to a three-year deal worth $31 million.

The benefit to Pedroia is that he guarantees himself a good deal of money now and gains a great measure of long-term security.

If the Red Sox exercise the option, Pedroia's contract will be worth $51 million over seven years, an average of just under $7.3 million per season. Without the option, the deal is worth an average of $6.75 million, which becomes Pedroia's average annual salary from 2009 to 2014. That $6.75 million is the number which will be used in the formula to determine the Sox' payroll for luxury tax purposes.

The option will increase to $13 million if Pedroia wins another MVP at any point over the next six years. Anytime he finishes in the top three of the voting, his option would increase by $1 million each time, capping at $13 million. At most, barring award incentives, the deal could be worth $53 million over seven years.

Just two years into his career, Pedroia has already achieved staggering success. His MVP award is the 10th in Red Sox history and the first by an AL econd baseman since Chicago’s Nellie Fox in 1959. He also joined Ryan Howard (2005-06) and Cal Ripken Jr. (1982-83) as the only players ever to capture the league MVP one season after being named Rookie of the Year, a distinction Pedroia earned in 2007.

This season, the Woodland, Calif. native established single-season Red Sox records by a second baseman for runs, hits, doubles, batting average, total bases and extra-base hits. He finished second among qualifying major league second basemen with a .992 fielding percentage.

He has a .313 batting average with 27 home runs and 140 RBI in 327 games with the Red Sox.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Crisp dealt to Royals for Ramirez

Ramon Ramirez, the righthanded relief pitcher the Red Sox acquired from the Kansas City Royals this morning for center fielder Coco Crisp, might be a mystery to Boston fans right now. But if general manager Theo Epstein proves correct, the unheralded but remarkably effective 27-year-old will make a name for himself here soon enough.

"In Ramirez, we believe we've acquired a young, controllable reliever that can really help our bullpen," Epstein said during a conference call this afternoon to discuss the deal.

"He has a plus fastball, 92 to 95 miles per hour, and an outstanding power changeup. A lot of people think it's a split, it's actually a changeup, 87 to 88. That's a swing-and-miss pitch for him against lefthanded and righthanded hitters, and a pretty good slider. He's very quietly had a tremendous amount of success in the major leagues over the last two seasons. We were looking for that type of upgrade to add to our bullpen."

Ramirez (pictured) is coming off a quietly excellent 2008 season, having posted a 2.64 ERA in 71.2 innings while striking out 70. He allowed just two home runs, and held righthanders to a .153 average in 137 at-bats, the lowest in the AL and third in majors among pitchers with at least 50 games. Only the Cubs’ Carlos Marmol (.103) and Philadelphia’s Brad Lidge (.105) ranked higher. In his career, Ramirez has held righties to a .198 clip with an OPS of .586. He was particularly effective in September, allowing just one earned run and four hits in 9.2 innings (0.93 ERA).

Ramirez, who has little more than a year of service time and is not yet arbitration eligible, made $397,000 last season, a bargain given his production. Should he pitch as well with the Red Sox, his arrival will have another benefit -- allowing the club to use versatile Justin Masterson as a starter if it so chooses.

"[Ramirez] does give us the flexibility to start Masterson if that does end up being what we feel is in the best interests of the ball club," Epstein said. "[Both dominate righties], in that way Ramirez could potentially replace Masterson in the 'pen. It's not easy to find a [cost-controlled] reliever with a good track record and plus stuff."

Ramirez, who originally signed with the Texas Rangers as an outfielder at age 15 in 1996, debuted in the majors in 2006 with the Colorado Rockies after he was acquired from the Yankees for pitcher Shaun Chacon. He posted a 3.46 ERA in 67.2 innings over 61 appearances as a Rockies rookie, and did not allow a run in his first 15.1 innings.

He struggled with an elbow injury in '07, going 2-2 with an 8.31 ERA in 22 games. He was not on the Rockies' World Series roster against the Red Sox, but said this afternoon that he is looking forward to coming to Boston now.
"I feel fine about it because I realize baseball is a business and every team tries to do the best for their organization," Ramirez told's Ian Browne through an interpreter on a telephone call. "If I'm going to Boston, I'm going happily and I will work as hard as I worked for Kansas City."

For Crisp, 29, it was the end of a three-year run with the Red Sox, one that didn't quite live up to expectations after he was acquired in a deal that sent catcher Kelly Shoppach, among others, to the Cleveland Indians after the 2005 season.

"I think when we acquired Coco, he was coming of an age 25 season in which he posted impressive numbers," Epstein said, while emphasizing how impressive Crisp's defense became in 2007. "For whatever reasons, those trend lines didn't continue with us. Injuries played a factor and the ballpark played a factor. Right field took a lot of home runs away from Coco [at Fenway]. He didn't necessarily make all the [offensive] strikes that we had hoped for."

Crisp did have arguably his best season in Boston in 2008, batting .283 -- .315 in the second half -- with seven homers, 41 RBIs and 20 stolen bases in 361 at-bats. He shared the job in center field with rookie Jacoby Ellsbury during the regular season, starting 98 games. Crisp started five games in the American League Championship Series loss to the Rays, batting .450 and delivering a memorable game-tying hit in Game 5 as the Red Sox rallied from a 7-0 deficit.

Trading Crisp clears roughly $6 million in payroll this season, according to Epstein. The outfielder will earn $5.7 million in 2009, with a club option for 2010 for $8 million or a $500,000 buyout.

It's likely that the Red Sox will now be looking outside the organization for a righthanded-hitting fourth outfielder. Rocco Baldelli, the Rhode Island native and former Tampa Bay Ray, might be one possibility.

The deal was first reported this morning on Kansas City sports radio station WHB 810 by Brian McRae, a former Royals outfielder who is a part owner of the station.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

LSU-Ole Miss Winner to Take Home 'Magnolia Bowl' Trophy

LSU will host the first “Magnolia Bowl” rivalry game with Ole Miss on Saturday in Tiger Stadium, a name determined by the student bodies from both schools.

The student body of each school started discussing the idea of an official rivalry game about a year ago. The two student bodies held a “Name that Rivalry” campaign for students to provide input on the name via text messaging. The Ole Miss and LSU student governments then voted in their respective Student Senates to name the rivalry the “Magnolia Bowl.” The two student bodies have since worked together to create a “Magnolia Bowl” trophy and logo.

The trophy was designed by LSU senior sculpture major Evan Trapp with input from the leaders of the two student bodies. The trophy is carved from bass wood with a stained finish. The game’s logo will be emblazoned on the base, as will all of the scores following the Nov. 22 game. The top of the base will have four wood-carved leaves cradling a bronze-cast magnolia flower.

The logo was designed by Cultigraphic Creative located in Mississippi. The student body leaders of Ole Miss played a major role in its development and finalization. The logo contains the LSU, Ole Miss, and SEC logos as well as the magnolia flower. The two schools will use this logo as the official Magnolia Bowl Logo.

The trophy and all parties involved will be introduced on the field before the game. The student body president of the winning school will then present the trophy to their team following the game.

Major parties involved on the LSU side include past student body vice-president Josh King, past executive staff member Corey Weber, Sculptor Evan Trapp, Student Body President Colorado Robertson and Student Government Athletic Director Andrew Remson.

Pedroia in Contention for MVP

In the course of just two seasons, Dustin Pedroia has built himself an impressive portfolio of big hits, dazzling defensive grabs and, yes, awards for his accomplishments.
But on Tuesday at 2 p.m. ET, when the results of the American League Most Valuable Player Award are announced, the second baseman of the Boston Red Sox might get what would qualify as his crowning achievement.

In 2007, Pedroia was named the AL Rookie of the Year just weeks after celebrating a World Series championship. Following an even stronger 2008, Pedroia won the Gold Glove Award and earned a spot on the AL Silver Slugger team.

Now, it's on to the race for MVP, an award no Red Sox player has won since Mo Vaughn in 1995.

Pedroia, 25, is considered a top candidate in what is expected to be a tight race.

Others who are in the running? First baseman Justin Morneau and catcher Joe Mauer, the dynamic duo from the Twins, are contenders. So is Josh Hamilton, the feel-good story of the season and highly productive outfielder for the Rangers. Francisco Rodriguez, the closer who saved a record 62 games this season for the Angels, is another who could do well in the balloting.

And, of course, don't forget about Pedroia's friend and teammate, Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis. The right-handed hitter had breakout numbers (.312 average, 29 homers, 115 RBIs).

For the Red Sox, who lost production in different ways (David Ortiz's seven-week injury, Mike Lowell's multiple injuries, Jason Varitek's decline, the trade of Manny Ramirez), Pedroia and Youkilis were the hard-hitting constants for a team that won 95 games and reached the postseason for the fifth time in six years.

The one thing that will probably help Pedroia most in the MVP race is the way he lit up the leader board.

With 213 hits, Pedroia tied Ichiro Suzuki for the Major League lead. His 54 doubles led the Majors. He led the American League in runs (118) and multihit games (61).

Backed by a .326 average, Pedroia lost the batting title by just four points to Mauer. He finished fourth in total bases and seventh in extra-base hits.

Pedroia isn't much for talking about his candidacy for awards.

"Obviously it was a great season, but personal goals, I'm not big into those," Pedroia said earlier this month. "I'd rather have the feeling after '07 than after '08. The biggest thing for me right now is to focus on 2009 and get my body back together and ready for that long season."

While Pedroia is an elite table-setter, he also demonstrated unexpected thump, belting 17 homers and collecting 82 RBIs. He was a presence on the bases as well, stealing 20 bases.

2008 AL MVP Race
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• AL MVP preview 800K
• Past Most Valuable Players
Complete Awards coverage

In short, there basically wasn't anything Pedroia didn't do for the Red Sox.

"The guy carried this team for, I would say, since Day 1 all the way to the end," Ortiz recently said of Pedroia.

Though attitude can't be quantified, Pedroia established himself as an infectious leader in the clubhouse, mixing in humor and intensity.

"He's the team's leader right now," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said of Pedroia in August. "People take him for granted. He's cocky, got toughness and got everything going for him."

By Tuesday afternoon, Pedroia could have even more going for him. All he'll need to do is clear a spot in his trophy case.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Varitek tops Red Sox's offseason list

The two weeks of exclusivity the Red Sox had with Jason Varitek, their catcher of the last decade-plus, has passed. Varitek, just like every other free agent in Major League Baseball, is now eligible to sign with all 30 teams.
As the clock struck midnight ET and Thursday turned to Friday, free agency officially began.

Varitek is clearly a front-burner issue for the Red Sox. Catching depth is not strong throughout Major League Baseball. Complicating the situation is that Varitek, who will be 37 in April, is coming off what is easily the worst offensive season of his career.

"He's an important part of the organization -- there's no doubt about that," Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein said recently. "Obviously, he's coming off a year that wasn't his best, but he's important nonetheless. Now he's a free agent and we'll be talking to him. We have an obligation to explore all our options. We do that with every position."

Catching just happens to be a difficult one to fill.

"There's not a lot of elite catching out there," Epstein said. "But at the same time, that changes the standards for what you're looking for. What we like to do is be league average at every position and then be way above league average at as many positions as we can. We try to have no weak links and be at least league average at every position. So with the state of catching, what is league average? It's well documented that there's not a lot of elite catching out there, but we'll figure it out."

Epstein did have some initial meetings at the General Managers Meetings with Scott Boras, who represents Varitek. It isn't known if offers were exchanged.

One sticking point could be length, with the Red Sox preferring a shorter-term deal than Varitek might be willing to accept.

The other free agents from the Red Sox are Mike Timlin, Curt Schilling, Bartolo Colon, Sean Casey, Alex Cora, Mark Kotsay, Paul Byrd and David Ross.

Aside from Varitek, the Red Sox might have interest in bringing back Casey and Cora, two veteran bench players.

Timlin doesn't figure into the team's plans for next season and Schilling will either retire or pitch a partial season. Kotsay and Byrd are likely to explore opportunities to play more vital roles for other teams.

Epstein will also spend plenty of time in the next few weeks exploring free agents from outside the organization. Starting pitching could be of particular interest to the Red Sox, and there is a lot of it on the market.

Derek Lowe, A.J. Burnett and Ben Sheets are just some of the names that could make a significant impact on a rotation.

Other than that, it's unclear which areas Boston will pursue when it comes to free agency. The Red Sox are in a luxurious spot in that they have starting players under contract at every position and in some cases -- shortstop and center field -- they have two potential starters.

Red Sox slugger David Ortiz recently expressed the desire for his team to add another big bat. The most intriguing free agent in that regard is first baseman Mark Teixeira. But it's unclear if he is a fit for the Red Sox, given that Kevin Youkilis and Mike Lowell currently man the corners.

Hornets Lose to Rockets in Houston

During the Hornets’ 3-0 start to the season, they racked up a league-best average of 107 points per game, while defeating Golden State, Phoenix and Cleveland. Six games later, the NBA’s premier offensive attack of Week 1 of the regular season has become a major weakness.
The Hornets were held under 90 points for the fifth time in their last sixth games, resulting in a wire-to-wire Rockets victory. Houston (6-4) moved a half game ahead of New Orleans (5-4), into first place in the Southwest Division.
Why have the Hornets experienced such a drastic downturn in their offensive production? The player and ball movement have stagnated at times, but simply put, we're also seeing several Hornets shoot poorly and miss open shots that they normally make. New Orleans will have three days of practice to try to make adjustments prior to Wednesday's home game vs. Sacramento. In the meantime, let's take a look at how individual Hornets have fared in the shooting department through the first nine games:
Chris Paul: He’s shooting exactly 50 percent from the field (61-for-122) after his 2-for-10 outing at Houston. Fifty percent is obviously outstanding for any guard, but especially a point guard. The only PGs who consistently shoot this well are Steve Nash, Deron Williams and Jose Calderon.
Morris Peterson: He’s not taking as big of a chunk of his attempts from three-point range in comparison to last season. Overall, he’s shooting 42 percent from the field, and 30 percent from three-point range. He’s a 37 percent career three-point shooter.
Peja Stojakovic: His 1-for-5 in Houston continued a recent shooting slump. For the season, he’s at 37 percent, almost 10 percent below his career number.
David West: A bit below his norm, shooting 46 percent thus far. His jumper has been somewhat inconsistent. West shot 51, 48 and 48 percent over the past three full seasons, respectively.
Tyson Chandler: Hornets TV analyst Gil McGregor noted Saturday that opponents seem to be focusing more on preventing the “Crescent City Connection” alley oop, a play that resulted in countless dunks for Chandler last season. It was back in Houston, though, three times. Chandler is always going to shoot a high percentage based on the close-range nature of his attempts, and is at 62.5 percent right now.
James Posey: The team’s overall dip in shooting hasn’t affected the free-agent pickup. He’s made numerous big shots in the fourth quarter. He’s been the team’s best three-point shooter, just under 50 percent.
Rasual Butler: Saturday’s 1-for-7 was a rarity for Butler, who has been an excellent marksman off the bench and in fourth quarters. He’s 10-for-23 from three-point range (43 percent).
Hilton Armstrong: He’s 12-for-28 (43 percent). Shot 54 percent as a rookie and 45 percent last season.
Devin Brown: Went 5-for-10 in Houston and played a second straight solid game at backup point guard. He was 5-for-20 from the field prior to Saturday, though, so his season rate is still low (33 percent).
Julian Wright: Played double-digit minutes again Saturday, this time logging 17. He’s 5-for-14 overall in five appearances.
Mike James: Was 8-for-25 (32 percent) from field prior to being bumped out of rotation by Brown on Friday vs. Portland.
Melvin Ely: Has only played in two games and is 4-for-9.

Obviously nine games is an extremely small sample. Making sweeping judgments on anything through the equivalent of 10 percent of the season doesn't make sense. Still, if you go through the list, you can begin to see why the Hornets are not producing offensively the way they did in 2007-08, at least to this stage.
The good news is that veteran players tend to return to their career norms as the season progresses. For several New Orleans players, you have to believe they will begin to shoot the ball much better, based on their track records.

Rebs Crush UlaMo

- Jevan Snead threw three touchdowns and added two rushing scores on Saturday as Ole Miss became bowl eligible for the first time since 2003 with a 59-0 win over Louisiana-Monroe. It was the Rebels' greatest margin of victory since a 69-7 win over Southern Miss in 1969.
Ole Miss (6-4) built a 38-0 halftime lead after scoring on six of seven possessions. The first half offensive outburst was the most productive since a 40-0 halftime lead against Memphis in 1980.

Snead was 6-of-12 for 170 yards and rushed three times for 11 yards to account for five touchdowns. Cordera Eason added 107 yards in 14 carries as the Rebels finished with 520 yards, 341 in the first half, in total offense.

ULM (3-8) managed to cross midfield only twice and was limited to 131 yards in total offense

Ole Miss covered 72, 54, 37, 31 and 94 yards on the first half touchdown series. Snead had scoring passes of 22 and 23 yards to Gerald Harris and Mike Wallace, between touchdown runs of 17 and 22 yards by Eason and Dexter McCluster.

Snead capped the first half with a 1-yard scoring run before connecting on a 3-yard touchdown pass to Derrick Davis and a 9-yard scoring run for a 52-0 lead with 5:54 left in the third period. Davis added a 1-yard touchdown run in the fourth period.

Defense, Lee Key Record Comeback by No. 19 LSU, 40-31

Never before in LSU football history has a comeback of such magnitude been witnessed. What looked to be the lowest moment of the 2008 season turned into the highest, as LSU came from four touchdowns down to defeat upstart Troy, 40-31, on Saturday night in Tiger Stadium.

A miserable first-half performance by the Tigers on both sides of the ball allowed Troy (6-4) to take a 24-3 halftime lead. The Trojans then scored on their first drive of the second half and led 31-3 until the waning minutes of the third quarter.

LSU (7-3), coming off a heartbreaking defeat to No. 1 Alabama, was beaten in every aspect of the game in the opening 40-plus minutes.

Then, those who were left in Tiger Stadium witnessed the largest comeback in school history -- and a majority of those in attendance on the cool fall evening were at home on their couch when it happened. Though records were only available from the modern era of LSU football (since 1958), the previous record was 21 points most recently against Ole Miss in 1977 (trailed 21-0 in second quarter).

The Tigers scored 37 points in the game's final 16:26 to stun Troy.

LSU's maligned starting quarterback, redshirt freshman Jarrett Lee, shook off a dismal first half to lead his team to victory.

Without the efforts of the LSU defense – which held Troy without a first down for six-straight drives in the second half – Lee may have been held most accountable for an unexpected loss.

After allowing a 79-yard scoring drive to start the second half, LSU gave up only 46 yards on 30 plays for the duration.

Lee overcame another interception for a touchdown to complete 18-of-26 second-half passes for 205 yards and a touchdown. For the game, he was 20-of-34 passing for 216 yards.

Wide receiver Brandon LaFell had career-bests of 12 catches for 126 yards with a touchdown. Terrance Toliver added 54 yards on four catches.

Lee's backup, freshman Jordan Jefferson, saw spot duty and completed 1-of-6 passes in the first half. Jefferson also ran for LSU's first touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the 3 late in the third quarter. He had seven runs for 17 yards.

Running back Charles Scott paved the way on the ground for LSU, running 24 times for 90 yards and the game-winning touchdown. He also eclipsed the 1,000-yard total for the season (1,071).

Troy quarterback Levi Brown threw the ball more than any player in Tiger Stadium history, completing 34-of-72 passes for 316 yards and two touchdowns. His only interception deep in his own territory allowed the Tigers score a field goal and cut the lead to 31-27.

Wide receiver Jerrel Jernigan led Troy with 10 receptions for 63 yards, while Kennard Burton added 74 yards on five catches. Running back DuJuan Harris caught four passes out of the backfield including a touchdown. Harris led the Trojans with 65 yards on 14 carries.

Troy couldn't have asked for a better first half, forcing LSU to punt on the opening drive before scoring touchdowns on its first two possessions. The Trojans added a field goal and an interception for a touchdown to take a 24-3 halftime lead.

The Trojans marched 88 yards on 16 plays -- including 15 passes -- on their opening possession. Troy used mostly five-wide receiver formations to spread the Tigers defense, meeting little resistance along the way. A 10-yard catch by Jernigan on third-and-10 at the LSU 17 setup a 7-yard touchdown reception by Patrick Cherry.

LSU was able come away with its first points on the next drive, a career-long 52-yard field goal by Colt David which was setup by a 16-yard run by Scott into Troy territory.

The Tigers trailed 7-3 with 6:16 left in the first quarter.

Troy's continued its passing attack on its second drive, gashing the LSU defense for double-digit gains and moving to LSU's side of the field. Again, LSU had a chance to stop the Trojans on third-and-10 at the LSU 38, but Troy came up with a 35-yard catch by Austin Silvoy. An LSU substitution infraction moved the ball to the 1, allowing Kennard Burton to take an end-around for a touchdown.

Troy led 14-3 with 4:00 left in the first quarter.

After the teams traded punts on its next three possessions, Troy again began its offensive march from its 42. The Trojans converted three third downs on the drive but were unable to punch it into the Tigers endzone. A 22-yard field goal by Sam Glusman pushed the Troy lead to 17-3 with 10:08 left in the first half.

Lee's seventh interception for a touchdown gave Troy a 24-3 lead, as Terence Moore tipped a pass in the air and came down with it. He ran 22 yards untouched for a touchdown with 6:46 left in the half.

After failing to convert on fourth-and-8 from its 38 late in the half, LSU got a second chance at cutting into the lead when defensive tackle Drake Nevis forced and recovered a fumble in Troy territory.

However, the Tigers moved only nine yards in three plays, and were unable to attempt a 42-yard field goal when the snap was fumbled by punter Brady Dalfrey as time expired.

LSU trailed 24-3 at the half.

Troy's first drive of the second half was no different. An efficient 10-play, 79-yard drive was punctuated with an 8-yard touchdown catch by Harris out of the back field.

Troy led 31-3 with 11:13 left in the third quarter.

That's when things changed for the Tigers. Everything that had gone wrong for LSU went right and vise versa for Troy.

Though LSU's next drive ended on downs, the Tigers showed life on offense for the first time. Troy went three-and-out and punted, giving the Tigers possession at their 34.

Needing to pass to get back into the ballgame, Lee guided the Tigers on a 13-play, 66-yard drive that ended with a fourth-and-3 touchdown run by Jefferson.

With 1:26 left in the third quarter, the comeback was on. LSU trailed 31-10.

Another three-and-out by Troy gave LSU another chance to get its offense on the field. This time, the Tigers wasted no time getting back into the endzone. After a 9-yard completion to Byrd, Lee found Toliver for 33 yards to the Troy 33. Then came the big strike LSU needed, a 33-yard catch by LaFell who got behind the defense.

The lead was reduced to 14, 31-17, only 2:26 later with 14 minutes to play.

After a 38-yard kickoff return, Troy started at LSU's 49 and looked to regain momentum that was clearly lost. However, faced with a fourth-and-1 at the 40, the Trojans elected to go for the first down rather than punt and pin LSU deep.

The gamble failed and the Tigers offense returned for another scoring drive.

Lee again went to the air, finding Toliver for 9 yards and Dickson for 6. Dickson was taken down by his facemask, giving LSU 15 yards to the Troy 30. After consecutive completions of 6 and 15 yards to LaFell, the Tigers used their ground game to pound the final nine yards. Fullback Quinn Johnson scored from the 1 to cut the deficit to a touchdown, 31-24.

Troy continued its wide-open passing offense, giving LSU opportunities slow the game and stop the clock often.

An interception at the Troy 21-yard line by LSU nickel back Chad Jones gave the Tigers a perfect opportunity to tie the game. However, three plays yielded only four yards and the Tigers settled for a 27-yard field goal by David.

LSU still trailed, 31-27, with 7:51 to play.

With its defense rolling, LSU got the ball back quickly but three plays went for no yards. However, good fortune shined on the Tigers when Dalfrey's short punt hit Troy's Jorrick Calvin in the leg and was recovered by LSU safety Danny McCray at the Troy 20.

Four plays later, Scott scored from the 4-yard line to give LSU an improbable lead, 33-31. David's point after touchdown was missed to the right, bringing a moan from the chilled crowd.

LSU's defense stopped Troy without a first down for the sixth-straight drive, as the Trojans ' fourth-and-14 pass attempt fell incomplete with 3:35 to play.

Scott opened the drive with a 30-yard run to the Troy 4-yard line. Three plays later, Johnson scored his second touchdown from a yard out for the final margin.

The announced crowd was 92,103.

LSU returns to action on Saturday, Nov. 22, when Ole Miss comes to Baton Rouge for the Tigers’ final home game.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Hornets Take Season Opener Against Golden State

After a 2007-08 season highlighted by numerous buzzer-beaters and dramatic late-game heroics, the Hornets picked up right where they left off in Game 1 at Golden State. Trailing by a point, Chris Paul dribbled past the Warriors' defense for a driving layup that gave New Orleans a 104-103 lead with 19 seconds left. Peja Stojakovic and Rasual Butler tacked on a pair of free throws apiece to account for the final five-point margin.
Paul had misfired on a pair of wide-open, mid-range jumpers earlier in the fourth quarter, so the 6-foot point guard decided to try to get closer to the rim on the go-ahead score.
“In the second half it was tough,” Paul related. “I started second-guessing myself (and hesitating to shoot). (Byron Scott) put the ball in my hands, and I saw an open lane. I couldn’t make a jump shot, so I figured I’d drive in for a layup.”
New Orleans fell behind by as many as 11 points in the first half, but rallied back within one by intermission. Golden State racked up 57 points in the opening half, partly by drilling five three-pointers.
“I give our guys a lot of credit for sticking with it,” Scott said. “We felt pretty good about the deficit at halftime (of only one point), because we didn’t feel like we were playing very well.”
Other developments from Wednesday’s opener:
Rasual Butler was playing in a regular season game for the first time since March. He struggled in the opening half, but came through with seven fourth-quarter points, including a three-pointer and jumper early in the period. “He played well,” Scott assessed. “The first half he couldn’t make a shot, but in the second half he hit two big ones for us.”

In his first official game as a Hornet, James Posey canned several momentum-changing shots, finishing with 11 points, including 3-for-6 accuracy from three-point range. He also was responsible for a key defensive play with the game on the line. After Paul’s layup gave New Orleans a 104-103 lead, Golden State’s Stephen Jackson tried an inbounds pass to Corey Maggette – who was being defended closely by Posey – but the pass went out of bounds.

Paul ended up playing the entire second half, after Scott was dissatisfied with how the reserves performed in the first half. Backup point guard Mike James knocked down a pair of three-pointers in the first quarter, but after logging a total of eight minutes in the opening half, James sat the rest of the way.
“He just didn’t run the offense as well,” Scott assessed. “He was too anxious and too much in a hurry. He didn’t get guys where they needed to be at the offensive end. And that really hurt us. I (also) thought on the defensive end we stopped guarding. I told Chris late in the third quarter, ‘You will (play) this whole half, so get ready for it.’ ”

Julian Wright (ankle) was not ready to return to action and joined Sean Marks on the Hornets’ two-player inactive list. Melvin Ely and Ryan Bowen dressed but did not play. James, center Hilton Armstrong and guard Devin Brown received minutes but played primarily in the first half.

Byron Scott
“Great finish. I just hope that all of them don’t start off this way. I thought we got off to a rocky start, opening night and they’re all jacked up. That is a great team over there, they got so many different lineups that can really confuse you and I give a lot of credit to our guys for sticking to it. Especially in the first half when we got down 11 points and we cut down the deficit by halftime.”

Tyson Chandler
“We battled it out. It was a game on the road. Any win on the road is a good one, so for us to stay together, it shows good signs for us to start the season. The Western Conference is so good, every game is going to be a battle, especially when you’re facing a back to back. It is great for us to start the season against contenders.”

Chris Paul
“It was an ugly win, but it was the first game of the season and we will take it. The Warriors have a really good team. they made a lot of good shots, and stuck to their game plan and played well. I think it shows a lot of credit for our team. We have a long, long way to go, but to win this game in the situation on the road showed we had a lot of fight.”

Don Nelson
(On tonight’s game) “They have two of the best players in the league (Chris Paul & David West) on the same team. We knew they would hurt us… not that we played error-free but we followed our game plan pretty well. I was pretty proud of the fellas. I told the subs that I’m not going to be able to play these guys this many minutes on this next road trip or for long periods of time. ... I thought it was a good game, I enjoyed the competition and they’re very good and we played at a very high level so I have no complaints.“
Posted by at 9:58 AM

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Hornets Eak out Last Minute Preseason Win over the Pacers

Based on the final few minutes, you never would’ve known it was only preseason. In a nip-and-tuck affair, Byron Scott subbed four of his starters and James Posey back into the game in the fourth quarter. Scott had vowed to use his first string for a larger portion vs. the Pacers and he wasn’t kidding – four starters logged 30-plus minutes.
The regulars teamed up to keep the Hornets (6-0) perfect in preseason, outplaying the Pacers in the late going to secure another victory.
With most of the 12,684 fans in attendance on their feet for the last few possessions, the atmosphere in the New Orleans Arena resembled a regular season contest. Hornets All-Stars Chris Paul (23 points, 15 assists, 36 minutes) and David West (26 points, 12-for-17 shooting) also put up statistics that looked like their lines after a game that counted in the standings.
“They look like they’re in midseason form already,” Scott described of Paul and West. “They played like All-Stars.”
New Orleans will try to cap a perfect exhibition slate on Thursday in Mobile, Ala., when it faces Miami. The Hornets are the only team in the league that has not lost a preseason game.
Other notes from Tuesday:
Scott emphasized that he wants to see his reserves mesh better as a group and be less concerned about how they fare offensively.
“I think most of them think that their playing time is predicated on how well they do offensively,” Scott said. “It’s not. It has nothing to do with their offense. You can still hustle, still defend, still communicate. Those are all things they have to do every single night. The talk (I’ll have) with that unit is to make sure they understand that I’m not looking for offense. I’m looking for you to be tenacious on the defensive end.
“I’m trying to get a second unit I can trust to go out there and do the things we want them to do.”
Although Paul and West played more Tuesday than you’d expect in a preseason game, Scott says he wants both to average fewer minutes in the regular season, even if it’s only a minute or two less per game.
“I’m trying to knock a couple minutes off both of those guys’ (averages),” Scott said. “So that they’re fresher when the season’s over and we’re getting ready for the postseason. But the bottom line is we’re still trying to win games.
“You hope that your second unit can come in and take some of that pressure off, so that they don’t have to play big minutes. I have a lot of confidence that we’ll be able to do that this year.”

Hornets postgame quotes
Hornets Head Coach Byron Scott
On the game: “It was a good chance for us to have a tight game. It was good to see the way we reacted. It was a good game for us because Indiana is a tough team.
“We have come a long way in a short period of time, and we still have a long way to go. I think I’m ready for the season, I think they are ready for the season. I am very happy with the way preseason has gone thus far. ”

Forward Rasual Butler
On his play: “I played better tonight. I tried to do some positive things for us. I’m out there to be an offensive threat.”

Guard Chris Paul
On the game: “This is a game we definitely needed. Especially now, gearing up for the regular season. Whether it’s pre-season or not, we want to experience success. We want to get better as a team. We’re always going to play to win. We played this like a regular season game. I got to play the fourth quarter. We understand we have to get better defensively, but that’s what the pre-season is for.”

Monday, October 20, 2008

Just 1 game Shy of the Series

It's never easy winning two successive World Series championships. Nobody has been able to perform the feat since the Yankees won the World Series three straight years, from 1998-2000.
When a team jumps as many hurdles as the Red Sox did in 2008, that task gets even tougher.

Truth be told, Boston didn't win 95 games in the regular season and force a Game 7 in the American League Championship Series the easy way. The Red Sox endured, clawed and battled their way to within one game of reaching another World Series on Sunday, then fell short with a 3-1 loss to the Rays at Tropicana Field.

"To say we were going to get to Game 7 of the ALCS with all the injuries we had and what we've been though as a team, it's a pretty good accomplishment," said Dustin Pedroia, who may end up winning the AL MVP Award in the offseason. "We still felt like we had a championship-caliber team. We just ran into a team that played a little bit better than us."

General manager Theo Epstein was proud of what the Sox accomplished this season.

"This was a year where we had to survive almost from Day One right to Game 7 of the ALCS," said Epstein, who noted Boston overcame a lot of obstacles. "These players grinded through everything. Along the way, great camaraderie and sense of team and a sense of purpose developed, including a lot of magic. These guys really pulled hard for one another. That's really what we tried to preach as an organization. These guys are the organization. They make us proud with what they do out there."

There were road struggles in the season's first half, the trade of future Hall of Famer Manny Ramirez on July 31, and injuries that popped up again and again to prominent members from the team's 2007 World Series championship run.

But look no further than the team's performance in the ALCS as an indication of how tough the Red Sox were. Trailing, 7-0, in the seventh inning of Game 5 -- and behind, 3-1, in a best-of-seven series -- the Red Sox rallied for an 8-7 win, then took Game 6 in St. Petersburg to force their third ALCS Game 7 in five seasons -- all of which included Boston late-series rallies.

Yet another miracle comeback -- the same type the Sox became known for throughout the decade -- was there for the taking.

They just fell a little short.

There were obvious inconsistencies throughout -- compare the Red Sox's 21-29 road record at the All-Star break to their 36-11 home mark. Boston won 13 in a row at home from May 2-June 5 but lost 12 of 17 on the road in that same span. The Red Sox rallied to finish the season just four games under .500 on the road.

Despite not reaching the World Series, closer Jonathan Papelbon was proud of how his club performed this season.

"I said to myself, 'I'm proud of us,'" said Papelbon. "I'm proud of what we went through this year and how we overcame things. We put ourselves in a situation to get to Game 7. When you do that and you battle all the way back to a Game 7 and you try to put yourself in a position to win, which we very well did tonight, that's all you can ask for."

For every Red Sox setback, it seemed there was an answer that exceeded expectations.

It started early, with a right shoulder injury to Curt Schilling that prevented the 2001 World Series Most Valuable Player (while with the Diamondbacks), who was also a pivotal part of the Sox's title runs of '04 and '07, from throwing even one pitch in 2008.

The answer? Boston relied not only on the steady growth of Jon Lester, who went 16-6 with a 3.21 ERA and became the team's most consistent starter throughout the season, but the insertion of new starters into the rotation to fill voids. Justin Masterson, Bartolo Colon and Paul Byrd all found themselves winning games in the starting rotation.

That trio went 12-7 while starting in 2008.

On May 31, David Ortiz injured his left wrist and missed nearly two months. Instead of crumbling, the Red Sox's offense received a boost from J.D. Drew, who took Ortiz's No. 3 spot in the batting order and hit .337 with 12 homers in June.

"This team had a lot of heart," said Drew who won the AL Player of the Month Award in June. "We fought through it and dealt with injuries all year. To be in this position, you don't want to lose in this round of the playoffs. To get here through all we've been through is pretty impressive."

When the Red Sox's bullpen began sputtering in mid-July -- a period when the club looked to find a steady reliever who could consistently pitch the eighth inning and preserve a lead for Papelbon -- manager Terry Francona called on Masterson again.

Masterson was sent to Triple-A Pawtucket to be converted to a reliever, and it worked, as the 23-year-old went 2-2 with a 2.36 ERA in 27 relief appearances. He allowed just six earned runs in July and August combined.

By the non-waiver Trade Deadline, it was obvious that Ramirez's future was no longer with Boston. The team traded him to the Dodgers in a three-team swap that moved Jason Bay to the Red Sox as Ramirez's replacement.

Bay did his part, batting .293 with nine homers and 37 RBIs through the end of the regular season, and he was an upgrade defensively in left field.

Stints on the disabled list again set in. The Sox lost right-hander Josh Beckett for a period in August with a right elbow injury, then a right oblique injury. Drew spent a month nursing his lower back, and Triple-A prospect Jed Lowrie became the everyday shortstop when Julio Lugo was lost for the season. Mike Lowell, the 2007 World Series MVP, didn't play after Game 3 of the AL Division Series because of a right hip injury.

The Red Sox made the necessary adjustments.

Lowrie made all of the routine plays in the field and became a legitimate offensive threat in August, collecting 16 extra-base hits. Kevin Youkilis, an AL Gold Glove Award-winning first baseman, became the everyday third baseman in the playoffs during Lowell's absence.

A late-August deal for Mark Kotsay gave Boston a viable option for a backup outfielder and a first baseman. Kotsay filled in for Drew in right until Drew returned, then he took Youkilis' spot at first while Youkilis played third for Lowell.

For every setback, there was an answer.

"We had a lot come together this year," said Jason Varitek, who will be a free agent this offseason. "Our bullpen solidified itself. Our pitching took steps at becoming better. We were able to play a little different offensively and manufacture runs and added some speed in there. This team has a lot to be proud of."

It was enough to help the Red Sox earn an AL Wild Card berth in September, then knock off the Angels -- the Majors' only 100-win team -- in the ALDS. And down, 3-1, in the ALCS, the Red Sox battled to beat the Rays in Games 5 and 6, forcing a winner-take-all Game 7 with a World Series trip on the line.

Other teams facing such difficulty might not have seen October at all. Boston took it all in stride, building character and growing together as the adversity mounted.

Every time it seemed there was no chance at another trip to the World Series, the Red Sox responded.

They came close. It was just one game short.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Sox Victory Forces Game Seven

Two days after pulling out that astounding and historic comeback that earned them this ticket to Tropicana Field for Game 6 of the American League Championship Series, the Red Sox had no desire for such stress-inflicted heroics. They just needed a workmanlike win to push this riveting series with the Tampa Bay Rays to the limit, and that's precisely what they got.
In Saturday's 4-2 victory over the Rays, the big hits were spread throughout the contest instead of being saved for the tense final moments. And this time, the pitching tone was also set early, thanks to a less-than-vintage Josh Beckett relying on grit to earn the win -- Boston's first by a starter since Daisuke Matsuzaka in Game 1.

Perhaps no hit was bigger than the solo homer by Jason Varitek, who snapped out of an 0-for-14 drought in the ALCS to break a 2-2 tie with two outs in the sixth. The Red Sox led for the rest of the night.

"We fought," said Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. "That's what our team does. We believe in each other. I think Josh's performance said it all. He's out there with everything he's got trying to keep us in that game, and he did an unbelievable job and set the tone for the game."

After falling behind, 3-1, in this ALCS, Boston has forced Game 7, just like it did in 2004 and '07. In the previous two occasions, the Red Sox were successful in moving on to the World Series. They hope the third attempt will be equally charmed.

"We have been in there before and we know what it takes to win games," said Red Sox slugger David Ortiz. "It's not easy. It's not like we like to be in this situation, but I guess that's the way our destiny has been the past few years that we've won the World Series. It's hard, man. It's not an easy thing to do. You don't want to be [trailing 3-1]."

But there's no more hole for the Red Sox to climb out of. Now the ALCS is even.

"We get to play [Sunday]," said Pedroia. "One of us is going on and the other one is going home."

Jon Lester, Mr. Consistency all year for Boston, will take the ball Sunday night hoping to avenge a rare shaky outing in Game 3. Matt Garza, who beat Lester in that matchup, will be Tampa Bay's Game 7 starter.

With a win Saturday vs. the Rays, the Red Sox are 8-0 in Game 6s when they are trailing 3-2 in a best-of-seven or best-of-nine postseason series.
To get to Lester, the Red Sox turned to Beckett, who was clearly pitching at less than 100 percent. Beckett, who injured his right oblique at the end of the regular season, gave Boston five innings, allowing four hits and two runs, walking one and striking out three.

The biggest clue that Beckett was hurting was the sight of Javier Lopez warming up in the bullpen throughout the fourth and Hideki Okajima following suit in the fifth.

"I thought he threw with a lot of guts," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "It's not vintage Josh Beckett, but he also proved who he is, and again, that was [big]. He gave us what we needed. I don't think it was real easy for him at times, but he pitched with a lot of composure and a lot of guts."

In Beckett's final inning, he surrendered a game-tying homer to left by No. 9 hitter Jason Bartlett, who went deep just once in the regular season. Though Beckett's velocity was down to 88-90 mph for much of the inning, he was able to reach back for a 93-mph fastball to get Akinori Iwamura on a groundout to end the inning. That was all for Beckett, who threw 78 pitches.

Beckett, who carried the Marlins throughout the 2003 postseason and the Red Sox last year, downplayed his Game 6 performance.

"I felt like I executed pitches when I needed to," Beckett said.

The bullpen took it from there, setting up the much-anticipated showdown on Sunday night. In particular, Okajima was big, firing two hitless innings. Justin Masterson, the unflappable rookie, pitched a perfect eighth. Jonathan Papelbon, who has a 0.00 ERA in 25 career postseason innings, fired a 1-2-3 ninth for his second save of the series.

The Red Sox are 9-1 in elimination games under manager Terry Francona.
"I think tonight was a battle," said Papelbon. "It was just another classic game where we had to grind out a win. That's pretty much what we've put ourselves into, is having to sit here and grind out wins. That's what we're doing. That's all we're trying to do."

Varitek is the epitome of a grinder. He got a 2-0 pitch from Shields that he liked -- an 89-mph fastball -- and deposited it over the fence in right-center.

"I say this all the time, but I can fortunately go 0-for-2,000 and put down the right fingers and get pitchers to do stuff and come away gratified," Varitek said. "You may not have that opportunity in other positions, and I enjoy that."

It was Varitek's first homer since Sept. 15, which also took place at Tropicana Field.

"It's awesome," said Beckett. "You know, he wears a 'C' on that jersey for a lot of different reasons, but none more important than how much respect everybody in that clubhouse -- including players, coaches [and] upper management -- has for him. We're always pulling for the guy. It was huge for him to do that."

The homer by the captain seemed to spark the Red Sox. The offense kept rallying in that sixth, aided a little by the Rays. Coco Crisp (3-for-4) belted a single off second baseman Iwamura and into short right. Pedroia hit a grounder to short that Bartlett made a poor throw to first on. The error set up runners at the corners for Ortiz, and the big designated hitter lofted an RBI single into right-center to make it a 4-2 game.

For the fifth straight game, the Rays struck with some quick offense. It was delivered off the bat of B.J. Upton, who crushed a Beckett fastball off the C-ring catwalk for a solo homer with one out in the bottom of the first.

The Red Sox didn't take long to respond. Kevin Youkilis opened the second by hammering a 89-mph fastball by Shields for a solo shot to left to tie the game.

Pedroia got a rally started in the third by drawing a one-out walk. Ortiz followed by ripping a double down the line in right. Youkilis, Boston's best RBI man all year, did his job, giving the Red Sox a 2-1 lead with a fielder's-choice grounder to short.

The game still had some momentum swings left, but in the end, the Red Sox were again left standing to improve to 9-1 in potential elimination games under Francona.

"You're battling every single pitch, and mentally, it's obviously draining," Pedroia said. "Once you hit the pillow at night, you go straight to sleep. But it's fun just being here. It's exciting to play. A couple of nights ago, down 7-0, we really didn't think this would come. We're here."

And with one more win, the Red Sox will be in the World Series with a chance to defend their title.

Defense Sparks LSU Win Over Gamecocks

LSU came into the season with one of the top-rated defenses in the country, and lost its swagger and reputation in a lopsided loss at Florida. One week later, the Tigers allowed 42 yards in a second-half shutout to shutdown South Carolina and get back to its winning ways, 24-17.

LSU (5-1, 3-1 SEC) rebounded from the worst loss of the Les Miles era (51-21 at Florida). The Tigers will play host to Georgia on Oct. 25 at either 2:30 p.m. CDT or 6:45 p.m. CDT. Kickoff will be announced on Sunday.

South Carolina (5-3, 2-3 SEC), which had its four-game winning streak snapped, lost by seven points for the fifth time in 2008. The Gamecocks are on bye next weekend.

The Tigers defense recorded six sacks for minus-49 yards, helping LSU allow only 39 yards rushing on 31 carries. USC was 1-of-9 on third down.

Offensively, once the defense changed the field position with a forced fumble on the opening drive of the second half, the Tigers began to gain momentum and roll up yards against the highly ranked Gamecocks defense.

Starting LSU quarterback Jarrett Lee finished 16-of-26 for 189 yards passing with an interception that led a South Carolina touchdown just before the half.

Lee was spelled in certain situtions by backup Andrew Hatch, who was 2-for-3 passing for 10 yards including the game-tying 7-yard touchdown pass to tight end Richard Dickson with 44 seconds to play in the third quarter.

Hatch also ran for 19 yards on five attempts.

LSU's two-headed running attack of Keiland Williams and Charles Scott provided a powerful punch. Williams had 72 yards on 15 carries, while Scott pounded in touchdown runs of 5 and 2 yards. The second was the game-winner with 4:16 to play in the second half.

Wide receiver Demetrius Byrd led the Tigers with 65 yards on three catches. Brandon LaFell had four receptions for 55 yards, while Dickson had two catches for 24 yards and the TD.

The LSU offense held the ball for 34:32 compared to South Carolina's 25:28.

South Carolina redshirt freshman quarterback Stephen Garcia was 14-of-26 passing for 215 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

Kenny McKinley had a game-high 77 yards on four catches, while Jared Cook added 74 yards on five grabs. Weslye Saunders had a 26-yard touchdown catch that tied the game at 10-10.

Four double-figure gains by the Tigers led to their first score that ended the second drive of the game. A 10-yard scamper by Holliday moved the Tigers into Gamecocks territory with 9:16 to play in the first quarter.

After a 10-yard catch by Brandon LaFell, LSU forced a timeout with its no-huddle offense. However, a 7-yard loss on a bunch formation lateral from Hatch to Holliday stalled the drive. David hit a 48-yard field goal to give the Tigers an early 3-0 lead.

A knock-out hit by LSU safety Harry Coleman on USC tailback Eric Baker jarred the ball loose in LSU territory. Unable to cleanly grab the loose ball, Coleman regained his footing, picked up the ball and returned 17 yards to the Gamecocks 42.

On the ensuing drive, LaFell dropped a perfect third-and-10 pass from Lee at the USC 25 that would have put the Tigers inside the redzone. LSU's punt went into the endzone for a touchback.

Late in the first quarter, preseason All-SEC tight end Jared Cook got involved in the offense for South Carolina, coming across the formation to make a 31-yard catch-and-run to the LSU 47. Garcia then overcame a sack by Jackson by scrambling 17 yards to the 23. A pass interference call against LSU cornerback Chris Hawkins gave USC first-and-goal at the 8, but LSU defensive end Kirston Pittman's sack of Garcia was too much for the Gamecocks to overcome.

Ryan Succup's 21-yard field goal tied the game at 3-3 with 12:56 left in the first half.

A quick three-and-out by the Tigers led to a short punt and excellent field position for USC. This drive ended with a missed field goal by Succup from 39 yards, giving LSU another opportunity to get its offense on the field and throw a different look at the Gamecocks defense.

The Tigers alternated quarterbacks Hatch then Lee to drive into Gamecocks territory on a 19-yard catch by LaFell from Lee. On first-and-10 from the USC 20-yardline, Lee tossed a middle screen to Keiland Williams who used downfield blocks by left tackle Ciron Black and left guard Herman Johnson to advance to the 5. Two plays later, Scott scored from 5 yards out to give LSU a 10-3 lead.

South Carolina was able to answer the score on its next drive, as Garcia used another broken-down pocket to gain 41 yards on a completion to McKinley at the LSU 26. Two plays later, Garcia again came under pressure in the pocket. This time, he stayed in and found tight end Weslye Saunders wide open in the left flat for a 26-yard touchdown with 2:38 to play in the half.

The game was tied at 10-10.

LSU hoped to run its two-minute drill and add a score before the half. But, as he did at Auburn, Lee tossed an interception over the head of intended receiver Terrance Toliver and into the waiting hands of cornerback Carlos Thomas. Thomas had his sights on the endzone but stepped out of bounds at the 8.

On fourth-and-goal at the 1, Davis was able to get the nose of the football over the goalline to give South Carolina a 17-10 halftime advantage.

On the opening drive of the second half, LSU linebacker Darry Beckwith hit Garcia and forced a fumble that was picked up by fellow linebacker Perry Riley at the LSU 47-yardline.

Though LSU's next drive ended in a punt, the play changed field position and ultimately led to the Tigers' next score after four-straight punts.

Starting at his 47-yard line, Lee connected with tight end Richard Dickson for the first time for a 17-yard gain to the USC 33-yard line.

Faced with third-and-11, Lee then found Toliver over the middle for a 13-yard reception to the 21. After a 9-yard pass to Williams, Scott gained the first down at the 7-yard line with a 5-yard run. Hatch entered in place of Lee and started the play to the right, before changing direction to find a wide-open Dickson in the left side of the endzone. The point after tied the game at 17-17 with 0:44 left in the third quarter.

The LSU defense continued to give the Gamecocks fits in the second half, recording their fifth and sixth sacks of the night by Rahim Alem and Curtis Taylor, respectively.

LSU returns to action on Saturday, Oct. 25, when the Tigers play host to Georgia. Kickoff time will be announced on Sunday by the SEC (either 2:30 p.m. on CBS or 6:45 p.m. on ESPN).

Rebs Fall Short at Bama

After seeing Alabama reel off 24 straight points in the first half, Ole Miss responded with 17 unanswered points in the second half, but the Rebel drive in the final minutes stalled in UA territory as the second-ranked Crimson Tide escaped 24-20.

John Parker Wilson threw for a season-high 219 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and the Crimson Tide (7-0, 4-0 Southeastern Conference) stopped the Rebels (3-4, 1-3) on fourth-and-5 from its 43-yard line in the final minute, when Jevan Snead's pass to Dexter McCluster fell incomplete.

Ole Miss closed to within 24-20 on Joshua Shene's 35-yard field goal with 6:09 left. The Tide pushed the ball across midfield on its next possession aiming to put the game away but the drive stalled. P.J. Fitzgerald's short punt gave Ole Miss the ball at its own 24 with 3:03 left.

Snead ran it on the first three plays, including one 5-yard gain on a pass that was batted right back into his arms by Bobby Greenwood. Brandon Deaderick then had a sack, Snead threw an incompletion and hit McCluster for a 10-yard gain to set up fourth down.

The Tide has won its past two games by a total of seven points since rising to No. 2 with a series of easy victories. It was also another in a series of close calls with Ole Miss. The Alabama had won each of the past three meetings by a field goal, but holds a commanding 23-1 advantage in Tuscaloosa.

The Rebels were going for their second road upset of a top-five team after beating Florida three weeks earlier.

Houston Nutt's team cashed in on two big gambles on the opening drive of the second half to make it 24-10. Snead ran up the middle for 17 yards on fourth-and-4. Then, Ole Miss faked a field goal, with blocking back Jason Cook taking a shovel pass from holder Rob Park for a 9-yard touchdown.

A later fourth-down try in Alabama territory didn't pay off, when Don'ta Hightower stuffed Davis on fourth-and-inches late in the third. Ole Miss got more chances, though.

After the teams exchanged fumbles in the fourth quarter, Snead hit Shay Hodge for a 17-yard touchdown with 9:27 left. Snead had fumbled at the end of a long run on the previous drive.

Alabama went three-and-out to give Ole Miss the ball back near midfield. Snead kept the drive alive with a 31-yard pass to Lionel Breaux on third-and-11. His next two passes fell incomplete, forcing the Rebels to settle for Shene's kick.

Wilson was 16-of-25 passing and was intercepted once. Mark Ingram ran for 73 yards and Glen Coffee was held to 52 yards on 13 carries and lost a fumble.

Enrique Davis gained 70 yards on 11 carries for Ole Miss, most of that coming on a 62-yarder that set up Shene's first field goal. It was the longest play from scrimmage yielded by Alabama this season.

The Tide had outscored opponents 88-0 in the first quarter before that.

Snead was 16-for-31 for 192 yards.

Alabama got rolling quickly after the early deficit with 24 consecutive points before halftime.

Wilson hit Marquis Maze on a perfectly thrown fade route for a 26-yard touchdown to start it. The Tide then ran the ball on the final six plays of its next scoring drive, capped by Ingram's 2-yard touchdown midway through the second quarter. Terrence Cody, a 365-pound noseguard, played his first snap on offense as a lead blocker on the play.

The key cog in Alabama's run defense, Cody was carted off the field with an apparent right leg injury in the third quarter, and his status wasn't immediately known.

Justin Woodall and Rashad Johnson each picked off two passes in a 3-minute span and returned them well into Ole Miss territory - one thrown by Snead and another by McCluster on the ``Wild Rebel'' play where he lines up at quarterback. The Tide scored on Leigh Tiffin's 41-yard field goal and Wilson's 30-yard pass to Mike McCoy, splitting two defenders after a handoff and pitch-back from Glen Coffee.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Lester, Sox get jump on LA

Jon Lester, at 24, had assumed titles unbefitting a man his age, already a no-hit phenom, a World Series clincher, a cancer survivor.

Now add one more. Lester is an ace, pure and simple, every bit as much as Josh Beckett, the man he replaced last night in the Red Sox' 4-1 victory over the Los Angeles Angels in Game 1 of the American League Division Series. Lester twirled seven brilliant innings, giving the Sox their 10th straight postseason victory over the Angels. He allowed six hits and one unearned run, striking out seven and staking his claim as one the sport's elite.

"He's an ace," Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. "We've got Josh and Dice [Daisuke Matsuzaka]. But Jon is a guy we want out there. He's been great all year. I wasn't surprised at all."

Los Angeles beat Boston eight of nine games during the regular season, but Jason Bay took part in none of them. Bay, the left fielder who came from the hapless Pittsburgh Pirates July 31 to replace Manny Ramírez, bashed the decisive hit in his first career playoff game, a two-run homer in the sixth inning off John Lackey.

Justin Masterson and Jonathan Papelbon owned the eighth and ninth. Jacoby Ellsbury added three hits, an insurance RBI in the ninth, and a jaw-on-the-dirt diving catch in shallow center in the eighth.

But it was Lester who carried the Sox, from the first inning - when he escaped a bases-loaded jam - to his 117th and final pitch. Everyone who fretted the Red Sox would miss Beckett forgot Lester became their most consistent and durable pitcher all season. He amassed a 3.21 ERA and 16-6 record. In the past 130 years, no pitcher with at least 59 career starts (Lester's total) had a better winning percentage than Lester's .771.

Manager Terry Francona this week, when he discussed Lester overtaking the task reserved for Beckett, smiled like a man who knows a secret and isn't telling. He never worried, and everyone else discovered why last night.

"I believe that we don't put too much on any one of our pitchers' shoulders," catcher Jason Varitek said. "There's a reason we have a full staff. Jon's just a part of it. And he's a big part of it. Nobody can bear the weight for somebody else. Just go out there and pitch the games you can pitch."

Vladimir Guerrero helped Masterson in the eighth with a base-running mistake, a gaffe bound for Angels infamy.

After Ellsbury made his diving catch on Mark Teixeira to lead off the inning, Guerrero singled. Torii Hunter followed with a bloop to shallow right, just out of Kevin Youkilis's grasp.
Guerrero, waiting by second base to see if the ball would land safely, scampered to third as Youkilis gathered the ball. "Throw!" Masterson thought. Youkilis fired across the diamond to Mike Lowell, who snared the throw on a hop and easily tagged out Guerrero, desperately diving head first, for the second out.


from today's globe
Red Sox 4, Angels 1 Lester, Red Sox get jump on Angels
Galleries Game photos | The scene in Anaheim
Video Massarotti | Ryan | Shaughnessy | Kilgore
video Ellsbury | Varitek | Lester | Bay | Francona
Report card Submit your Sox grades for Game 1
Dan Shaughnessy Ramírez's replacement turns tide
Bob Ryan Make room for a new ace
Red Sox notebook Tough choice: Lowell's grit the difference
Angels notebook Scioscia hopes Angels rewrite this LA story
Baseball notebook Cashman has unfinished business with Yankees
Ellsbury off and running again
How the runs scored
Lackey a little lacking on 1 pitch
Same game, only scenario has changed for playoff rookies
Exhausted Sox fans, rejoice. You can look rested even if you're not.
alds essentials
ALDS schedule
Scouting reports
ALDS video
Red Sox blog
Tony Massarotti
Hideki Okajima warmed in the bullpen in the seventh; Lester kept him there. Erick Aybar popped a fastball to short. Chone Figgins watched a low fastball for strike three. Garret Anderson, two singles under his belt, went to two strikes. He dribbled a pitch foul. Lester threw him a 95-mile-per-hour fastball, his hardest of the night. Another foul. Anderson weakly flared the seventh pitch he saw to Pedroia at second base.

Lester strode slowly toward the dugout, holding his glove in his left hand, head down. Francona met him at the top step, offering his palm. Francona shook his hand and tapped Lester on the back of the head.

"A little bit of everything," Lester said. "Seems like some innings I had good stuff, command of everything. It seemed like once the game started flowing, I got better command."

Lackey fired lightning bolts through the thick, clear California air for five innings. He was never quite dominant, but he threw his best pitches at the most critical moments and kept the Sox scoreless. Youkilis drew a walk with one out in the sixth, which it seemed Lackey would negate when he struck out J.D. Drew.

Bay walked toward the plate, a welcome sight for Lackey. Bay had never faced Lackey before last night, and Lackey overmatched him in his first two at-bats. He swung through a fastball in his first at-bat, and swung over a curve in the dirt in his second.

Lackey started Bay with another strike in the sixth. He fired an 0-1 fastball. All night long, his pitches darted into the lower half of the strike zone. This one sailed over the outside of the plate, chest high.

Bay unleashed his quick swing, hips flying open, wrists rolling. There was no doubt. The ball sailed high into the air to left. It landed in the back of the Sox' bullpen, some 400 feet from home plate. The Red Sox led, 2-1, and the frenzied crowd hushed.

"That was a huge hit for us, to get us breathing," Pedroia said. "He's not trying to be Manny Ramírez. He's trying to be Jason Bay."

Equipped with a lead after Bay's home run, Lester strengthened. He struck out Howie Kendrick. Mike Napoli ran the count full, then flailed at strike three. Gary Matthews Jr. battled to another full count, then fouled of a pitch. Lester's seventh pitch, a fastball at the knees, froze Matthews and sent him back to the bench. His pitch count hit 100 exactly.

Anderson singled to left with one out in the fourth, and Lester kept him there by striking out Teixeira. When Guerrero rolled a fastball to Jed Lowrie, Lester, surely, had escaped.

Lowrie had handled each ball hit his way as a shortstop - all 155 plays - without an error, a rookie record. The first chance he had in the playoffs forced him to his left. Lowrie shuffled toward second and leaned over. The ball bounced struck the heel of his glove and skittered away.

Hunter ensured Lowrie would be punished. Hunter flared the fifth pitch of his at-bat, a 1-2 fastball, to left field. Bay, playing deep, charged forward but the ball thudded in front of him. Anderson chugged from second and slid home for the game's first run, the only run, as it turned out, the Angels would score.

"A lot was being made of Josh not pitching in that game," Bay said. "I'm glad everyone got to see that Jon Lester has been doing it all year."

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Red Sox beat Lee to punch playoff ticket

With the thirst for postseason champagne lingering around the Red Sox for a second straight night, not even overwhelming American League Cy Young Award favorite Cliff Lee was going to prevent the corks from popping.
The Red Sox truly earned their 5-4 victory in this Tuesday night clinch contest against the Indians, getting to the normally dominant Lee for two runs in the fourth and three more in the fifth.

Now that they've solidified their fifth postseason berth in the past six years, the Red Sox can go about the business of trying to become Major League Baseball's first repeat World Series champions since the 2000 Yankees.

Though the Red Sox are still in contention for the American League East title, their most likely entry into the playoffs will be as the Wild Card winner, which would earn them a AL Division Series matchup with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, a best-of-five set that would start in Anaheim on Oct. 1 or 2.

Veteran knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, the only player to be on Boston's past eight postseason entries dating back to 1995, earned the win, allowing six hits and four runs (all of which were scored in the fifth inning) over six innings. Wakefield walked one and struck out six.

Fittingly, Kevin Youkilis (two-run homer in the fourth) and Dustin Pedroia (two-run double in the fifth) provided two of the biggest hits of the night. They've been Boston's most consistent offensive players all season.

And it was equally appropriate that Jason Bay, who has been so productive since coming over in the trade for Manny Ramirez on July 31, drove in the go-ahead run, a two-out RBI single up the middle in the fifth.

Clinging to a 5-4 lead after reliever Manny Declarmen loaded the bases with two outs in the seventh, Red Sox manager Terry Francona went to lefty Hideki Okajima to face Victor Martinez. And Okajima, amid a tense, eight-pitch at-bat, got Martinez to pop a 3-2 pitch to Youkilis to end the threat.

Jonathan Papelbon came on to escape a two-out, bases-loaded jam in the eighth. He then navigated the ninth for save No. 41, giving the Fenway faithful good reason to erupt.

The Red Sox have five games left in the regular season.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Hornets Picked to Tie for First in West

As part of’s preview of the 2008-09 season, we continue our look at what several of the major preseason publications are writing about the team. Today we review Lindy’s projections and opinions.
The preseason preview from Lindy’s uses a mathematical formula to project the finishes of each NBA division. As unlikely as this sounds - and it’s even more far-fetched that it would actually happen - Lindy’s predicts a four-way tie in the Southwest Division between Dallas, Houston, New Orleans and San Antonio. Here is more from the magazine on the 2008-09 Hornets:

On the Hornets’ overall outlook:
“The New Orleans Hornets were accused of sneaking up on everybody, but what they did last season wasn’t a surprise to them. They knew if they were healthy, they wouldn’t just make the playoffs, they would bust through the door. Now making the playoffs is no longer enough for the Hornets. Never mind the p-word, the c-word is now part of the Hornets’ venacular - as in championship.
“ ‘It’s not something we run away from,’ said general manager Jeff Bower, who has done a masterful job in building one of the most exciting and talented teams in the league. ‘I think that’s the next step for us as players and an organization.'
“Last season, the Hornets were a smash hit throughout the NBA, but especially back home in New Orleans. The fans embraced the Hornets and their style of play, which was easy to do.
“The Hornets tasted victory and bitter defeat all in one magical season. Getting the bitter taste out of their mouths should push this young group. Having James Posey around to show them what it takes to win in the postseason should be invaluable.”

On Byron Scott:
“Scott finally won the Coach of the Year award that escaped him when he guided the Nets to a franchise-best 52 wins during the 2001-02 season. Scott obviously is doing something right to have led two teams to their best records ever. Everything fell into place for Scott last year. His team was healthy and it played his style of exciting offensive basketball while also being one of the best defensive teams in the league.”

On David West:
“David West proved last season he should be considered among the game’s best power forwards. He earned the first of what should be many All-Star berths. For the fifth straight year, West increased his scoring and rebounding numbers. He averaged 20.6 points and 8.9 rebounds. If he can average 20 and 10, West truly will be an elite power forward. No one doubts he can or is willing to work to put up those numbers and be in that class.”

On James Posey:
“The Hornets learned a valuable lesson at home (in Game 7) against the (Spurs). Then two months later, the Hornets signed someone who could help them if they’re in that situation again and could teach them something about winning big games, having won so many. (Posey) could be the missing piece to the puzzle for this young group, many of whom enjoyed success for the first time as pros last season.
“Posey is a good three-point shooter, but his strength is defending multiple positions and being able to make big plays.
“ ‘We hit a home run (by signing) Mr. Posey,” Byron Scott said. “It obviously puts us a step closer to our ultimate goal, which is winning a championship, and that is what he wants to do. He’s done it with two different organizations, and hopefully we can get the trifecta.”
Posted by at 10:29 AM 0 comments
Monday, September 15, 2008
Hornets second in NBA 2009 title poll
By: Jim Eichenhofer, recently asked 25 of its experts to predict which team will win the 2009 NBA championship. The leading selection, the Los Angeles Lakers, was relatively expected, collecting 12 votes. The Hornets (6 votes) were a surprise runner-up in the poll, however, earning more mentions than even the defending champion Boston Celtics (4 votes).
“The top challenger in our voting will surprise some: the up-and-coming New Orleans Hornets, not the Boston Celtics,” wrote Later in the article, the website said the Hornets have a shot to win it all if these three things occur:
• "Newly acquired James Posey plays tight D and hits clutch 3s like he did in Miami and Boston."
• "Chris Paul improves on his MVP-worthy season from a year ago."
• "The young squad learned some valuable lessons during its impressive postseason run."
Posted by at 4:16 PM 1 comments
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Ask Chris Paul continues with Offseason: Part 2
By: Jim Eichenhofer,
When I came up with the idea during the summer of 2006 to begin our “Ask Chris Paul” feature on, the 6-foot guard had just wrapped up his 2005-06 NBA Rookie of the Year campaign. He was a relatively popular and well-known player at that point, but he had not yet achieved household-name status. When the Hornets' PR staff approached Chris and his agent about the idea, they immediately agreed to do it.
Two years later, he’s been an NBA All-Star, a runner-up in the league’s MVP voting and an Olympic gold medalist. His jersey is in the top 10 of uniform sales among all NBA players.
The most recent edition of “Ask Chris Paul” is now on the site (part 1 of this offseason appeared recently; there will be a part 3 coming soon). He has thoroughly enjoyed getting a chance to interact with fans and field questions from visitors to
Multiple people have asked me recently about the feature, so I wanted to provide a few brief pieces of information that might help you get the question(s) you submit chosen by We receive a large number of questions to on a weekly basis – including a huge upswing in queries from citizens of China after Chris and the Redeem Team’s visit there – so to stand out, try to be as creative as possible. Generally speaking, the more unique your question, the better chance it will be selected and not duplicated by another fan.
One aspect of getting to see the questions that has been interesting to me is how many come from shorter-stature high school basketball players. Many kids want to know what tips and secrets CP3 might have to excel on the court, despite being a smaller player. We’ve included several of those lately, but also excluded many others simply because they were redundant to what someone else had already asked.
We’ll soon be sorting through the hundreds of e-mails that have been sent over the past few weeks. We’ll try to catch up with Chris for interviews during training camp and get several more editions of “Ask Chris Paul” on the site after the regular season tips off on Oct. 29.
To ask Chris Paul a question, send an e-mail to Please include your full name and hometown. Also please include "Ask Chris Paul" in the subject of your e-mail.
Posted by at 1:17 PM 0 comments
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Multitaskers. That's what the defending World Series Red Sox are forced to be in this final week of the regular season.
Though they are still one win or Yankees' loss from officially qualifying for the postseason, the Red Sox will get there -- that much is certain.

Sure, the Red Sox will take some time to celebrate their berth into October once they officially secure it on Monday night against the Indians, or perhaps later in the week.

But there is also the task of winning the American League East.

That goal is still within reach, as the Red Sox -- with seven games left, all at home -- are 1 1/2 games behind the Rays.

If Boston can win the division, it would open the postseason at home against the champion of the American League Central. As the Wild Card, the Red Sox would have to start at Anaheim against an Angels' team that, at least on paper, might be the best in the game.

"Absolutely," said Jason Varitek when asked if finishing first remains a priority. "We really had to win [Sunday] to put ourselves in the right spot for the rest of the week. We've got a lot of fun baseball ahead of us."

What will the Red Sox have to do in order to win the division against a Tampa Bay team that will beat them out in any tiebreaker?

If the Red Sox run the table over the last seven games, Tampa Bay would have to go 5-3 in their last eight games. If Boston goes 6-1, the Rays would have to go 4-4. A 5-2 finish by the Sox means that Tampa Bay would have to lose five out of eight. Tampa Bay has four games at Baltimore and four more at Detroit to finish its season.

You get the picture. It won't be easy for the Red Sox to win the East.

That's why the Red Sox will remain mindful of their other goal, which is to get to the postseason in one piece.

Red Sox Pitching Probables

vs. Indians, 7:05 p.m. ET

Josh Beckett (12-9, 3.96) vs. Zach Jackson (0-3, 6.35)


vs. Indians, 7:05 p.m. ET

Tim Wakefield (9-11, 4.18) vs. Cliff Lee (22-2, 2.41)


vs. Indians, 7:05 p.m. ET

Paul Byrd (11-12, 4.53) vs. Fausto Carmona (8-7, 5.19)


vs. Indians, 7:05 p.m. ET

Jon Lester (15-6, 3.26) vs. Jeremy Sowers (4-8, 5.48)


vs. Yankees, 7:05 p.m. ET

Daisuke Matsuzaka (18-2, 2.80) vs. Andy Pettitte (14-14, 4.54)


vs. Yankees, 7:05 p.m. ET

Josh Beckett (12-9, 3.96) vs. TBA


vs. Yankees, 1:35 p.m. ET

Tim Wakefield (9-11, 4.18) vs. Mike Mussina (18-9, 3.57)

Third baseman Mike Lowell has been hindered badly of late with a partial tear of the labrum in his right hip. Right fielder J.D. Drew hasn't played since Aug. 17 because of ongoing back woes.

So aside from winning baseball games, the Red Sox would love to get both of those players healthy enough to contribute in the playoffs.

"I think it will be a real interesting week," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "As far as health goes, I think we'll do what we need to do to make sure guys are healthy. Again, just try to mix in the production part along with it. We'll just do the best we can."

The final homestand of the season starts with four games against the Cleveland Indians and finishes with three against the Yankees.

Perhaps the biggest challenge the Red Sox will have in any of those games will come Tuesday night, when overwhelming Cy Young Award favorite Cliff Lee takes the mound. All Lee has done in his 30 starts this season is go 22-2 with a 2.41 ERA.

As far as Boston's pitching goes, Francona has things lined up exactly how he wants them. When Francona and pitching coach John Farrell plotted the alignment a few weeks back, they did it with the idea that they could be prepping for the playoffs and trying to win the division at the same time.

Ace Josh Beckett will kick things off on Monday against the Indians, followed by Tim Wakefield on Tuesday, Paul Byrd on Wednesday and Jon Lester on Thursday. Daisuke Matsuzaka will go after his 19th win on Friday, followed by Beckett on Saturday and Wakefield in Sunday's regular-season finale.

"We have it set up how we have it set up for a reason," Francona said. "I guess we reserve the right to make changes if we want to. I don't anticipate doing that unless, again, a health issue. There's a reason we did it like we did it and I think we're comfortable. We're more apt to maybe short a guy than change the days. But, if we decide to make a change, we can always do that, but I don't think so."

Instead of thinking too deeply about what is at stake, Francona merely wants his team to keep the same tunnel vision they've had for the last few weeks.

"As a team, we all work hard and we're all here for the same goal -- to win," said Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury. "When you have guys all on the same page that want to win, you're going to have a pretty successful team."

Hamilton leads Vanderbilt to 4-0 with 23-17 win

Ryan Hamilton tied a school record with three interceptions, scored a touchdown on an interception return and saved a score with a goal-line tackle to help Vanderbilt beat Mississippi 23-17 on Saturday.

The Commodores intercepted four of Jevan Snead's passes to put themselves in position to be ranked for the first time since 1984 by surviving an early and odd Rebels scoring flurry. Vanderbilt was one spot out of the Top 25 entering the week and is 4-0 for just the fourth time since World War II.

But the Commodores (2-0 Southeastern Conference) needed a pair of goal-line stands and a final interception as time expired to win.

The Rebels (2-2, 0-1) appeared as if they might run away early after forcing a fumble deep in Vanderbilt territory with a 10-0 lead. But Hamilton stepped in front of Snead's pass and returned it 79 yards for a score.

His second interception of Snead and 23-yard return helped set up a field goal that rallied Vanderbilt to a 17-17 halftime tie. The Commodores could only manage two more Bryant Hahnfeldt field goals in the second half, but Hamilton and the defense made it stand up.

Hamilton made a crucial tackle on Ole Miss' first series of the second half, when he caught running back Cordera Eason from behind on fourth-and-inches at the goal line. Hamilton later recovered a fumble on a punt return to negate another Ole Miss drive and finished the game off with a pick on Snead's pass around the Vanderbilt 10.

Hamilton also recovered a fumble, but wasn't the only playmaker on the Commodores defense. Reshard Langford killed another drive with a bobbling interception of Snead at midfield, then Chris Marve finished off another Rebels' goal-line chance for a rally when he forced Dexter McCluster to fumble into the end zone. D.J. Moore fell on the loose ball with 2:40 left.

If ranked Sunday, the Commodores will be the sixth SEC team in the poll and the eighth to be ranked at some point this season. Vanderbilt was ranked as high as 19th in 1984 after starting 4-0.

Ole Miss had plenty of chances to pick up the program's 600th victory after an early fumble return by Peria Jerry and a kickoff return by Mike Wallace put the Rebels up 17-7. But six turnovers, poor play from an out-of-sync Snead, who finished 12-of-25 for 184 yards in his first bad game, and seven penalties for 82 yards sent them to their ninth straight SEC loss and 13th in the last 14 games.

Hahnfeldt tied a career high with three field goals, hitting from 34, 31 and 40 yards.

Lafell Catch Seals LSU Victory over Auburn

LSU made the final big play, and as usual that's what settled the annual down-to-the-wire clash with Auburn.

This time the winning connection wasn't Flynn-to-Byrd, but Lee-to-LaFell.

Jarrett Lee and Brandon LaFell hooked up on an 18-yard touchdown pass with 1:03 left to lift No. 6 LSU to yet another dramatic comeback win over No. 10 Auburn, 26-21 Saturday in an SEC West showdown that once again produced a fantastic finish and wild momentum swings.

The last five meetings have been decided by a collective 19 points in a rivalry that has produced more than drama. The winner has gone to the SEC championship game in six of the last eight seasons.

And last year Matt Flynn's last-second TD pass to Demetrius Byrd helped propel LSU to a national title.

"We expected such a battle when we came here," LSU coach Les Miles said. "I thought they showed great poise. To be tested away and be tested by a very, very capable opponent and answering that test is just what this team needed."

The only major difference in this one was the road team came out on top. The last eight games in the series had gone to the home team. LSU (3-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) also snapped Auburn's streak of six consecutive victories at Jordan-Hare Stadium against Top 10 teams.

Lee took over for an injured Andrew Hatch in the third quarter and produced a series of big plays to make up for a lousy start for LSU. Lee missed his first five throws, with an interception returned by defensive end Gabe McKenzie for a touchdown.

Auburn (3-1, 1-1) moved to LSU's 47 on the final drive, with help from Rahim Alem's roughing the passer penalty. Alem atoned with a sack of Chris Todd to recoup the 15-yard loss.

Todd's desperation fourth-and-25 pass to Rod Smith came up short of the first down.

Byrd came up big again for LSU. He pulled in a 22-yard halfback pass from Keiland Williams on the final play of the third quarter for a 17-14 lead. Miles said the coaches installed that play in practice this week.

"It just happened to be the right time for that play," said Miles, who also had successfully converted an onside kick after LSU's first TD. "We needed a fast score."

Colt David added a 32-yard field goal with 8:27 left and set LSU's career record for points scored by a kicker.

Todd and Auburn's offense kept the team alive. He hit Robert Dunn for a 15-yard touchdown pass with 6:40 left on third-and-9 to give Auburn a 21-20 lead. It was set up by a 58-yard heave to Tim Hawthorne when Todd rolled left, turned around and saw Hawthorne running free near the right sideline.

Lee, who had been platooning with Hatch, was 4-for-4 on the winning drive for 43 yards.

"We had the ballgame," Tuberville said. "We had the lead, we lost it; we had the lead again, we lost it. We've got a disappointed bunch of guys in the locker room. We felt like the way we played at times, we should have won it. They made a few more plays than we did."

It was the first major test for the defending national champions, who opened with wins over Appalachian State and North Texas.

Once again, LSU passed. And ran, too.

Charles Scott rushed for 132 tackle-breaking yards against an Auburn defense that was virtually untouchable in a 3-2 win at Mississippi State last weekend but appeared to weaken under the 233-pounder's barrage.

LSU had never had a 100-yard rusher at Jordan-Hare.

Lee was 11-for-22 for 182 yards and two touchdowns, including a 39-yarder to Chris Mitchell in the third. LSU gained 284 of its 389 yards in the second half.

"In the first half, receivers were getting open and the offensive line was blocking," Lee said. "I was just making poor decisions. I knew I would get back in and I knew when the opportunity came back, I had to make the right decisions.

"I just felt comfortable out there."

Scott said LSU players at halftime felt they would pull it out.

"I know we had no doubt," he said. "We knew it would be like this, we knew it would be a four-quarter game and we were ready to play."

Todd had his most productive game as Auburn's starter, going 17-for-32 for 250 yards. The junior college transfer was intercepted twice by Chris Hawkins.

"It was real exciting. There's nothing like it," Todd said. "The adrenaline rush, playing on that stage was awesome. You'd like to win, but it came down to the end, and those are the type of games you like to play in."

Auburn's Ben Tate was held to 45 yards on 19 carries. Fellow tailback Brad Lester left with a right leg injury in the third quarter, but Tuberville said he could have returned.

McKenzie had returned an interception 24 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter for a 14-3 lead.

Hatch was only 2-for-6 for 16 yards for LSU, but ran for 51 yards. He looked wobbly after his final run and was helped off the field after going to the ground while trying to walk to LSU's sideline.

"We think he'll be fine," Miles said. "He had his neck yanked and it kind of stung."