Sunday, December 6, 2009

Ole Miss LSU Game

Here is a video of our tailgating experience at the LSU Ole MIss Game:

Monday, May 11, 2009

Red Sox Star Dominick Dimaggio Dies at 92

Former Boston Red Sox great Dom DiMaggio died Friday morning. He was 92 years old.

The Red Sox said DiMaggio, known as the "Little Professor" because of his eye glasses and 5-foot-9 frame, died at his Massachusetts home due to complications from a recent bout with pneumonia.

"Dom DiMaggio was a beloved member of the Red Sox organization for almost 70 years," said Red Sox principal owner John W. Henry in a statement. "Even after his playing days, Dom's presence at Fenway Park together with his teammates Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr and Johnny Pesky on numerous occasions reminded us all of a glorious Red Sox era of years past. He was a great teammate and an even better human being. His loss saddens us all but his contributions to the glory and tradition of our ballclub will forever be etched in the annals of Red Sox history."

DiMaggio was a seven-time All-Star center fielder in an 11-year career with the Red Sox from 1940 through 1953 -- with three years lost to military service. He still owns the club record for the longest hitting streak -- 34 consecutive games in 1949.

His streak was broken when brother Joe caught a sinking liner in the eighth inning of a 6-3 Red Sox victory over the New York Yankees on August 9.

"Dom and I played together for 10 years and he certainly deserves to be in the Hall of Fame," said Red Sox legend and former teammate Johnny Pesky. "He was a great player and, most of all, a great friend. I will miss him terribly."

Dom DiMaggio was the youngest of three brothers that played Major League Baseball. Joe had a Hall of Fame career with the Yankees from 1936-51, while Vince played for five National League teams from 1937-46.

In 1,399 games, Dom DiMaggio batted .298 with 87 homers and 618 runs batted in. He helped the Red Sox to the 1946 World Series, which they lost in seven games to the St. Louis Cardinals.

DiMaggio is survived by his wife of 61 years, Emily, three children and six grandchildren.

Pair of doubles help Red Sox complete the triple

With David Ortiz on second base, his Wall double just having landed, the scoreboard in center field played highlights from the other Boston teams' games. There was Glen Davis's shot. There were the Bruins winning. And there was Ortiz standing on second, clapping - whether for his frustration-breaking double or the Celtics, it was unclear.

There was - again - Jason Bay at home plate, mashing his own double to the Wall to score Ortiz with the winning run and complete the Boston sports trifecta as the hour grew late at Fenway Park last night.

"I think it was already pre-scripted," said Bay after the heart-stopping ninth inning had ended with the Red Sox still on top of the Tampa Bay Rays, 4-3. "Someone said, upstairs, the way Boston sports had gone the first two games, it was a foregone conclusion."

But earlier, Ortiz had looked defeated, his helmet in hand, as he walked back to the dugout after popping up to end the fifth inning. He sat down, looking depressed and frustrated. Those feelings were gone by the eighth.

Against Tampa lefthander Brian Shouse, against whom he was hitting .400 (6 for 15), Ortiz smashed a pitch that hit off the scoreboard in left. It wasn't that first home run that he's been seeking. But it put him on second base, representing the run that would break a 3-3 tie. Ortiz took third on a wild pitch by replacement pitcher Dan Wheeler, and Bay then did what he has so often done these past weeks.

"They all still feel pretty good," Bay said. "There's hitting and then there's hitting when it counts. Like I keep saying, I don't expect to do it every time. But in those situations, you want to come through. Wanting and doing are two different things."

The Sox were up by a run and had their closer coming in for the ninth. But the euphoria over Ortiz and Bay nearly ended with Jonathan Papelbon.

Papelbon started the ninth with a called strike. Things went downhill from there. Four straight balls to Akinori Iwamura ensued, the walk putting the Rays second baseman on first. Papelbon then put Iwamura on second, his throw over to first skipping away from Jeff Bailey. Jason Bartlett lined a single into center, putting men on first and third with no outs.

But he struck out Carlos Pena, B.J. Upton, and Carl Crawford, all swinging, to end the game.

"That's just Papelbon's thing, his deception in his pitches," Upton said. "They look good, but they aren't strikes. We'll put it in the back of our heads, and then next time we see him, it will definitely be something we think about."

Pat Burrell put it succinctly: "Frustrating loss."

For Papelbon, though, it was vintage. He found an extra gear in a situation that left no room for error.

"I basically put myself in a situation where I had to go into punchout mode," Papelbon said. "That's not always the situation I want to be putting myself in, but it is what it is."

"Pap really turned into Pap," manager Terry Francona said. "He kept his composure, he didn't get frustrated, he attacked with what he wanted to do, he elevated with really, really good finish on his fastball."

The Sox had taken a two-run lead in the fourth, but the Rays tied it with runs in the fifth and sixth. In that sixth, though, they had the bases loaded with one out and could score only once.

And a blow had already been struck to the Sox, with Dustin Pedroia joining the ranks of the injured when he aggravated his right groin on a swing in the third inning. It had been bothering him since he hurt himself getting out of the way of a pitch last week.

But the Sox looked all right in the fourth. After two strikeouts to start the inning, Bailey rifled a pitch off the wall in center for a double. Jason Varitek then doubled to left, scoring Bailey, and a ball off the bat of Nick Green dropped behind Iwamura and in front of Ben Zobrist. It was initially ruled an error on Iwamura, then reversed, giving Green an RBI single.

The first Sox run came on a second-inning double by Bay and a fielder's choice by J.D. Drew. The Rays had started the scoring in the first with an infield single by Crawford that turned into a run after a Wall single by Burrell, as Crawford covered the full 270 feet from first.

Though the Sox were able to get something going against Matt Garza - who had one-hit them over 7 2/3 innings the last time - it still came down to the bullpens. Ortiz came through in a late-inning spot, a bit of the old Ortiz coming out.

But then, a bit of the old Papelbon came out as well. With a flight to California looming, there were appreciative teammates in the clubhouse once the game finally ended.

"I'm sure there's a lot of guys in here that will give him a little pat on the back," said Bay. "I'll definitely be one of them."

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Jason Bay homer sends Boston Red Sox past Cleveland Indians

Jason Bay watched Kerry Wood's first fastball, a stitched, spinning blur, whiz past without taking a swing.

He watched the next one, too.

All the way into the bleachers.

Detroit's Curtis Granderson beats the throw from New York pitcher CC Sabathia to first baseman Mark Teixeira during the sixth inning Monday. The Central Division-leading Tigers won, 4-2, for their third straight victory.
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Bay took another star closer deep, hitting a three-run homer in the ninth inning off Wood as the Red Sox won their 11th straight, 3-1 over the Cleveland Indians on Monday night.

Down one strike, Bay pulled a 99-mph heater from Wood (0-1) into the left-field seats as Boston extended its longest winning streak since a 12-gamer in 2006.

"The guy throws like 100 miles an hour," Bay said. "You have to put it your mind to try and hit a mistake. I got a fastball up over the plate, and I didn't miss it."

Bay's third hit sent the Red Sox to another drama-filled win. They were coming off an emotional three-game sweep at Fenway Park over the rival New York Yankees, a series that began with Bay connecting for a two-run, two-out homer in the ninth off Mariano Rivera.

First Rivera. Now Wood. Bay's afraid he's going to end up on someone's hit list.

"There's going to be a bounty out on me," he said with a laugh.

In his last four games, Bay has nine hits with two homers and nine RBIs.

Wood replaced starter Cliff Lee, who shut out the Red Sox for eight innings, to start the ninth.

He walked Dustin Pedroia to open the ninth and gave up David Ortiz's bloop single to center before Bay pounced on a pitch Wood wishes he could have back.

"It was a matter of missing my spot," Wood said.

"Good hitters hit those pitches, bad hitters hit those pitches. Cliff shuts them down for 106 pitches, then I throw 12, and we're down 3-0. It's not good to waste a great performance by your ace pitcher.

"I didn't do my job."

Lee and Boston knuckleballer Tim Wakefield matched strikes and zeros for seven innings.

Lee went 22-3 last season with the last loss in Boston on Sept. 23. The left-hander, though, was in award-winning form, allowing five hits in eight innings. He walked none and struck out five.

"That was the Cy Young guy from last year," Bay said. "He was around the plate and getting outs with that fastball. The radar gun says 92-93, but he's got some life on it, and it plays a little bit harder than that."

The Indians have dropped six of eight.

Monday, April 27, 2009

What a great weekend to be a New Orleanean! What with the Jazz Fest, Zurich classic and the Hornets playoff game as well as all of the other choice events that regularly populate the Crescent City calendar. Thursday night was the regular meeting of the Round Table Club where my friend Sam Cashio expounded on the history of Thoroughbred breeding. And of course in addition to the Hornets victory over Denver, the Ole Miss Rebels took two out of three from #1 ranked Georgia, LSU beat Auburn 3 straight, and the Red Sox swept the hated Yankees in three thrilling ball games. How could it get any better?

Sox win 10th straight, sweeping Yanks

It was a rivalry weekend in which the Red Sox provided countless forms of excitement for their fans.

There was a walk-off win on Friday night despite a two-run deficit with two outs in the ninth, a slugfest victory on Saturday to overcome a six-run deficit and finally a 4-1 triumph on Sunday that included an electrifying straight steal of home by Jacoby Ellsbury.

Just like that, the red-hot Red Sox swept the Yankees in this three-game set to run their winning streak to 10 games.

"It was not the most direct route to win those games, but ultimately it came against a huge rival in the division," said Red Sox left fielder Jason Bay. "We came in with the same record [as the Yankees]. There's a lot of positives, not just because it's the Yankees -- which is a big plus -- but we want to keep playing well."

The Red Sox's first double-digit winning streak since they went on a 12-game run from June 16-29, 2006, has come on the heels of a 2-6 start.

Having completed a 9-0 homestand, the Red Sox will open a nine-game road trip in Cleveland on Monday night.

"We've played great," said Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. "We've hit, we've pitched -- we've won a lot of different ways. When you're doing a lot of good things, you're going to win."

Sometimes it's not just good things, but extraordinary things.

Ellsbury's steal of home with the bases loaded and two outs in the fifth inning came against Yankees left-hander Andy Pettitte. It was the first steal of home by a Red Sox player since Jose Offerman on Aug. 30, 1999. Ellsbury became the first Boston player to register a straight steal of home since Billy Hatcher on April 22, 1994.

"What we have is a really fast player with some guts," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona.

With left-handed-hitting outfielder J.D. Drew at the plate and the count at 1-1, Ellsbury got a big lead and bolted just as Pettitte went into his windup. The center fielder went in headfirst to beat Jorge Posada's tag. The pitch was a called strike.

"On the previous pitch, I saw Andy go into his windup," Ellsbury said. "I was joking around with [third-base coach] DeMarlo [Hale] that I could steal home, and it was just one of those situations where it was bases loaded and J.D. up. If I go, I have to make it. But I took the chance, and fortunately I made it."

There were no signs relayed from the dugout to Hale. Ellsbury went on his own.

When Ellsbury crossed home, the Red Sox had a 3-1 lead. Drew promptly drilled a ground-rule double into the corner in right to make it a three-run lead.

"Like I said, it was a huge pick-me-up," said Bay. "It's better than a base hit or a home run. It's something that -- baseball is a game that's hard to play on emotion. But that right there was kind of like a huge infusion of energy. It was one of those times in the game where momentum shifts, and that was a pretty obvious one."

Swing man Justin Masterson, making his second start in place of injured right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka, turned in another strong performance. Masterson went 5 1/3 innings, allowing six hits and one run, walking one and striking out four while throwing 99 pitches.

"He was terrific," said Francona. "He attacked the strike zone, he changed speeds -- I thought he had good depth to his slider. He threw a couple of changeups and got his fastball by a couple of guys."

Their bullpen spent after the chaos of the previous two games, the Red Sox went to some new faces but got good results. Left-hander Hunter Jones recorded the final two outs of the sixth inning in his second Major League appearance.

Michael Bowden, also pitching his second Major League game after being activated just for Sunday's game, gave the Red Sox a big lift with two shutout innings.

"Tonight was particularly satisfying," Francona said. "We went to Hunter Jones, and he got big outs. Michael Bowden comes in and gets outs. We didn't have a whole lot of different guys to go to, but it was very satisfying. We did enough to win tonight, and that's what we wanted to do."

With closer Jonathan Papelbon unavailable because of his recent workload, Takashi Saito came on for his second save, completing the sweep.

"It's nice to sweep anybody," said Pedroia. "But we know they're going to be there in the end. We've just got to keep playing good baseball."

Hornets must Get Physical to Battle Denver Tonight

A few things to watch for in Game 4, as the Hornets attempt to even the series prior to their Tuesday’s flight to Denver for Wednesday’s Game 5 at the Pepsi Center:
1) Can the Hornets maintain their level of offensive aggressiveness from Game 3?
An interesting stat from Hornets radio host Joe Block: Over the past two seasons, New Orleans has never attempted 30-plus free throws in consecutive games. The Hornets were 28-for-35 at the foul line on Saturday, after finishing 28th out of NBA 30 teams during the regular season in total free-throw attempts. New Orleans is more reliant on jump-shooting than most NBA clubs, which partly explains its relative lack of trips to the charity stripe. But when the outside shots aren’t falling for the Hornets, they become infinitely more beatable when they’re not trying to drive to the basket. In this series, not settling for perimeter shots has been even more imperative, because Denver’s fast-break attack can be fueled by long rebounds three-point misses that give the Nuggets’ transition game a head start.
2) How will physical play affect Game 4?
Although there has been more drama in a few other 2009 first-round series (especially in Celtics-Bulls, which is shaping up as a classic so far), Nuggets-Hornets has arguably featured more hard fouls and testy moments than any of the eight matchups. There were three flagrant fouls during the second half of Game 3, along with two technical fouls. The atmosphere inside the New Orleans Arena on Saturday was about as intense as you can imagine, with a sellout crowd producing a decibel level that Hornets reserve big man Sean Marks described as “the loudest gym I’ve ever been in.” Players from both teams have said that they understand there has been nothing personal to some of the hard fouls, and that the contact is just part of the territory in the playoffs. So far the Nuggets and Hornets have done a commendable job of staying composed despite a few cases of extraneous jawing and posturing on the floor.
3) How will the Hornets’ frontcourt respond to a subpar Game 3?
Much of the talk from Denver after Game 3 was that it was an encouraging day despite the loss, because the Nuggets played poorly yet still had a chance to win on Carmelo Anthony’s mid-range jumper in the final seconds. From a Hornets standpoint, however, they can point to winning a game despite one of the poorest combined showings of the season from their starting frontcourt of Peja Stojakovic, David West and Tyson Chandler. Stojakovic was 1-for-9 shooting and missed all of its jump shots; West had a miserable time around the basket, missing countless chippies; Chandler’s outing was limited to just 18 minutes due to constant foul trouble. West did end up with decent numbers of 19 points and nine rebounds before fouling out, but New Orleans essentially received no production from its small forward and center. If both Stojakovic and Chandler can make a larger impact tonight, the Hornets’ chances of equaling the series improve drastically.
Other notes from Hornets shootaround this morning in the Arena:
• It’s uncertain how much James Posey will be affected, if at all, by the sprained knee he sustained in Game 3. “He’s going to give it everything he’s got, but I have no idea what to expect tonight,” Byron Scott said. Scott added that if Posey’s minutes need to be reduced, Julian Wright, Devin Brown or Morris Peterson will likely move into the rotation.
• Chris Paul said the knee injury that resulted from his fast-break collision with J.R. Smith in Game 3 will not impact his play tonight. “I’m good to go,” Paul said.
• Tyson Chandler mentioned that after Game 2’s defeat, Posey entered the Hornets’ locker room and told his teammates to “keep fighting” and not think that the series is over. Posey was part of the 2006 NBA champion Miami Heat, who rallied from a 2-0 deficit to beat Dallas. Based on the physicality of Nuggets-Hornets so far, a reporter jokingly asked Chandler if the “keep fighting” suggestion by Posey was meant to be taken literally. A grinning Chandler responded, “No, not at all. I can’t afford (the fines). I’ve got to be able to send my kids to school.”
• Chandler said he heard Nuggets guard Chauncey Billups visited Jazz Fest on Sunday, but did not receive a warm welcome from New Orleanians. Stressing that there is nothing personal to this series, Chandler smiled and said that if he’d been standing near Billups during Jazz Fest, Chandler would’ve “tried to help him out a little bit” in dealing with the crowd.

Tigers Sweep Auburn at the Box

LSU third baseman Tyler Hanover delivered a three-run homer, and right fielder Jared Mitchell collected three hits to lead the sixth-ranked Tigers to a 7-6 victory and SEC series sweep of Auburn Sunday afternoon in Alex Box Stadium.

LSU (33-12, 14-7 SEC) moved into a first-place tie with Georgia in the SEC overall standings following the Bulldogs’ loss to Ole Miss Sunday. Auburn fell to 25-19 overall and 8-13 in the conference despite a five-hit performance from shortstop Casey McElroy.

Hanover’s dinger, which came with two outs and runners in scoring position, was his fourth on the year. The freshman is now batting a robust .522 with two outs and runners in scoring position this season.

In addition, second baseman DJ LeMahieu and center fielder Mikie Mahtook each finished with two hits, and catcher Micah Gibbs and first baseman Buzzy Haydel drove in one run apiece on RBI doubles.

Right-hander Daniel Bradshaw (3-0) recorded his third win of the season, hurling 2.1 innings out of the bullpen and giving up two earned runs. Freshman Matty Ott tallied his 10th save on the year as the freshman surrendered only one hit and gave up no runs in 1.1 innings.

The Tigers also received a big spark from sophomore Chad Jones, who made his collegiate pitching debut out of the bullpen. The southpaw entered at a critical juncture in the eighth inning, and after giving up a single, he fanned two lefties with the bases loaded.

“Tyler Hanover gave us the big hit of the game when we were down 4-2,” LSU head coach Paul Mainieri said. “He hit the three-run homer to give us the lead. Daniel Bradshaw did a pretty good job for a couple of innings there, but he kind of lost it in the eighth inning, so I pulled out the secret weapon (Jones).

“Once Chad started showing that he could throw strikes with his fastball, I felt really confident he could do the job. If he could get to an advantage count, I knew he could throw that slider, which can be a wicked pitch to left-handed hitters, and he just did a tremendous job.”

LSU notched two runs in the second to take an early 2-0 lead. Following a single by Mahtook and a walk to Gibbs, Haydel lined a double down the third base line to drive in a run. Left fielder Ryan Schimpf drove in another two batters later on a grounder to second.

Auburn struck back in the third with two runs to tie it at 2-2. First baseman Hunter Morris launched a two-run homer over the right field wall.

The Plainsmen scored two runs in the fifth to go up, 4-2 when LSU right-hander Paul Bertuccini hit left fielder Brian Fletcher with the bases loaded, and third baseman Wes Gilmer drew a walk in the next plate appearance.

However, Hanover put the Tigers back on top, 5-4, in the bottom of the frame with a three-run dinger to left. Mahtook followed with an infield single, and Gibbs drove him in with a double off the wall in right center to give the Tigers a two-run lead.

Auburn strung together three consecutive singles to load the bases with one out in the sixth, but LSU reliever Daniel Bradshaw retired the next two batters to pitch his way out of the jam and preserve the 6-4 advantage.

The Tigers added a run in the sixth as LeMahieu came through with a clutch, RBI single with two outs to bring home Mitchell.

After Jones’ back-to-back strikeouts with the bases loaded in the eighth, Auburn was able to close the gap with a two-run single by Fletcher off of Ott to cut the lead to 7-6, but Ott kept the Plainsmen off the scoreboard in the ninth to preserve the victory.

Ott forced second baseman Justin Hargett to ground into a 4-6-3 double play with one out and runners on first and second to end the game.

LSU returns to action Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. (CDT) with a home game against in-state rival Tulane. The contest will be broadcast by Cox Sports Television and can be heard on the LSU Sports Radio Network (98.1 FM). In addition, live video, audio and stats will be available in the Geaux Zone at

LSU 7, Auburn 6 (Apr 26, 2009 at Baton Rouge, La.)

Auburn.............. 002 020 020 - 6 11 0 (25-19, 8-13 SEC)
LSU.................... 020 041 00X - 7 11 0 (33-12, 14-7 SEC)

Rebels Take Series From No. 1 Georgia With 6-1 Win

Scott Bittle continued to perform masterfully on the mound while the Rebel offense out-hit the Bulldogs to a tune of 10-5 as No. 11 Ole Miss (32-12, 13-8 SEC) defeated No. 1 Georgia (33-11, 14-7 SEC) by a score of 6-1 to claim the weekend series.
Sunday’s crowd reached 8,219 fans to push the three-day total to 26,929 fans in attendance for the weekend series. It’s the largest three-game series attendance for the Rebels in school history.

Bittle (5-2) picked up the win as he worked 7.0 innings and held the Bulldogs to one run on five hits with one walk and 11 strikeouts. The senior did not allow a hit from Georgia after the first batter of the third inning as the pitching staff combined to hold the Bulldogs hitless from that point on. Only one Georgia batter reached base in the final 7.0 innings.

Georgia starter Justin Grimm (2-3) suffered the loss as he allowed five runs - four earned - on eight hits with two walks and two strikeouts in 5.0 innings of work.

“It was a great baseball game today that topped off a great weekend,” said Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco. “That was a tremendous effort by Scott Bittle - to do what he did with the three hits in the first before hanging in there and really holding them off. I thought Justin Grimm did a great job, but we were able to squeak out a few runs against him.

“The crowd really took over when we loaded the bases (in the sixth). It’s not often you see that in a college baseball game, but I think that certainly happened today.”

Georgia got on the board in the first inning for the third time on the weekend with a single run to open the game. Colby May came up with a single before moving to second on a single from Rich Poythress and then scoring on a single from Joey Lewis.

Ole Miss answered with two runs in the bottom of the inning to take the lead. Jordan Henry singled before stealing second and then moved to third on a sac bunt from Logan Power. He then scored on a single from Matt Snyder. Snyder then scored two batters later on a fielding error in right field on a high fly ball from Kyle Henson that was dropped, allowing the freshman to score from first and give the Rebels the 2-1 lead.

Ole Miss never trailed again.

The Rebels got a surprising run in the fourth inning when Michael Hubbard hit an inside-the-park home run to push the lead out to 3-1. Hubbard hit the ball deep to left center where it bounced off the wall. Hubbard then beat the relay in for the score.

Ole Miss added three runs in the sixth for the final margin of victory at 6-1. Henson opened the inning with a single before taking second on a wild pitch. Zach MillerTaylor Hashman to load the bases with no outs. then drew a walk before a passed ball advanced both runners to scoring position. Georgia then went to its bullpen for Justin Earls, who walked pinch-hitter

Georgia again went to its bullpen for Jeff Walters who struck out Kevin Mort, but saw Evan Button lay down a bunt single that scored Henson and gave Ole Miss the 4-1 lead as all runners advanced safely, keeping the bases loaded. Henry then came up with a two-RBI single up the middle to score Miller and Hashman and give the Rebels the 6-1 lead.

Bittle then held the Bulldogs off the board in the seventh, while David Goforth and Jake Morgan closed out the eighth and ninth, respectively, to secure the win.

Ole Miss will return to action on Tuesday night when the Rebels will face Southern Miss at Trustmark Park in Pearl, Miss. First pitch is set for 6:30 p.m.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Rebels Rally To Down #1 Georgia 10-8, Pull Even In Series

A day after watching Georgia come up with a big hit in a critical situation, the Rebels pulled off a little magic of their own as No. 11 Ole Miss (31-12, 12-8 SEC) rallied in the eighth to defeat No. 1 Georgia (33-10, 14-6 SEC) by a score of 10-8 on Saturday.

With 9,478 fans on their feet in the eighth inning and the game tied at eight, Logan Power came up with a two-RBI double to right field to score Evan Button and Zach Miller and push the Rebels to a 10-8 lead. The attendance was the second largest ever at Oxford-University Stadium/Swayze Field.

The Rebels scored three runs in the inning, sparked by a Kevin Mort single to open the frame. With a runner on, Georgia went to the bullpen to for Justin Earls. A wild pitch moved Mort to second before Evan Button came up with an RBI single to tie the game at eight.

Jordan Henry then flew out for the second out of the inning before Button then moved to second on a wild pitch and took third on a passed ball. A walk of Zach Miller put two men on before Power came up with the big hit that drove in both runs and gave the Rebels the lead.

Jake Morgan then entered the game and closed out the ninth, retiring all three batters in order to pick up his sixth save of the season and clinch the win. Brett Bukvich (6-1) picked up the win in relief as he worked 0.1 innings and struck out the final out of the eighth inning before the Rebels would rally in the bottom half of the inning.

Earls (0-1) suffered the loss for the Bulldogs as he gave up two runs on two hits with a walk and a strikeout after entering the game with the Rebels trailing by one and a runner at first.

“There were lots of heroes today,” said Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco. “Phillip Irwin had a tough game without his best stuff, but he gutted it out and gave us a lot of innings. Offensively we were able to get some big hits with runners in scoring position, which we weren’t able to do Friday night. We got the crowd into it. It was very loud on the field. We got some runners on , did some things offensively and got them into the game.”

Georgia scored two runs in the first inning for the second straight day as Bryce Massanari hit a two-run shot that scored Matt Cerione and gave Georgia the 2-0 lead. Cerione reached on a walk to open the game.

Ole Miss answered in the bottom of the first as Miller drew a walk then scored from first on a double to right field from Matt Smith.

The Bulldogs answered in the third as back-to-back singles put runners on and a fielding error at second pushed one run across and left runners at the corners. A sac fly from Poythress scored Cerione for the second run of the inning before back-to-back doubles from Massanari and Johnathan Taylor notched a third run and gave Georgia a 5-1 lead.

Ole Miss again answered, pushing two runs across the plate in the bottom of the third to cut the lead to 5-3. Tim Ferguson opened the inning with a home run before a Henry walk and a Miller double scored the second run of the inning and cut the lead to two.

The Rebels then claimed the lead in the fourth with a three run inning that saw Ole Miss jump out to a 6-5 lead.

Georgia again had an answer, as Massanari came up with his second home run of the day to knot the game at six in the fifth inning.

The Bulldogs moved out to an 8-6 lead in the seventh when Poythress reached on a single, only to see Massanari come up with his third home run of the day to plate two more runs for the Bulldogs.

The Rebels then pushed a run across in the seventh to cut the lead to one when Smith came up with a two-out double and scored a batter later on a single to left field from Kyle Henson. The run pulled the score to 8-7 in favor of the visiting team.

That’s when Ole Miss dug down and came up with its rally, using three hits to push three runs across the plate and take the lead for good.

Ole Miss and Georgia will face-off again at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday in the rubber-match as each team fights to claim the weekend series.

Sox Bats Prevail Over Yanks

There were more dizzying dramatics for the Red Sox against their rivals on Saturday, when the truest form of a slugfest unfolded.

Even after sustaining an early 6-0 deficit, the Red Sox found a way to outbash the Yankees, 16-11, in a wild contest at Fenway Park.

Red Sox-Yankees
Sat.: BOS 16, NYY 11
• Sox outslug Yanks
• Smoltz, Dice-K better
• Yanks restock roster
• A-Rod's next step
• Batboy enjoys series
Fri.: BOS 5, NYY 4
• Youk wins it for Sox
• Papi: No ill will
• Van Every fills void
• Lugo eyes Monday
• A-Rod improving
• Wang to DL
• Tex on the scene
• Ransom to DL
• Bruney examined

In a game billed as a pitchers' duel between Josh Beckett and A.J. Burnett -- two right-handers who were phenoms on the same Marlins staff a few seasons ago -- neither power pitcher had much of anything.

This was a game dominated by the bats, as the American League East heavyweights traded haymakers all afternoon and into the early evening.

Mike Lowell's three-run homer in the bottom of the seventh inning was the one hit that stood up, giving the Red Sox their ninth straight win -- a franchise record for April -- and a chance to sweep the Yankees in this three-game series on Sunday night. The homer from Lowell, who finished with six RBIs, came against right-hander Jonathan Albaladejo.

Making the loss more painful for the Yankees was the fact they held a two-run lead with two outs in the ninth inning on Friday night, only to lose that game in 11 innings.

Aside from Lowell's game-winner, perhaps Boston's most clutch hit of the day came from Jason Varitek. The captain turned on Burnett's 96-mph heater and launched it into the visitors' bullpen with two outs in the fourth inning to cut New York's lead to a mere run at 6-5.

Burnett didn't settle down in the sixth, as the Red Sox went right back at him. Jacoby Ellsbury opened the inning with a game-tying homer, again into the Yankees' bullpen. Dustin Pedroia (single), David Ortiz (double) and Kevin Youkilis (hit by pitch) then combined to load the bases with nobody out. Though Burnett got a brief reprieve when J.D. Drew hit into a 3-2-3 double play, Bay lofted a two-run double off the Green Monster to give the Red Sox their first lead of the day, 8-6.

Improbably, Beckett had a chance to get the win. But the right-hander's misery continued when the Yankees jumped right back on him, getting a Derek Jeter walk and a two-run homer by Johnny Damon that tied the game.

Back and forth it went. In the bottom of the sixth, the Red Sox took the lead again on a sacrifice fly to right by Ortiz. The bad news of that go-ahead run was that Pedroia strangely tried to tag and go to second and was thrown out to end the inning.

That was just the first unfortunate event for Pedroia, who uncharacteristically let a routine grounder from Damon with two outs go through his legs in the top of the seventh for a two-run error that put the Yankees back ahead, 10-9.

Again, though, the Red Sox would have an answer.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Sox Primed For Yankee Invasionthis Weekend

With the Yankees coming to town for the first time, the stars happen to be aligned just right for the Red Sox. No, not the stars that hover above, but rather the ones that fill out Boston manager Terry Francona's lineup.

The renewal of the rivalry -- which takes place Friday night at Fenway --- couldn't come at a better time for the Red Sox, who look more like the Red Socks these days.

In case you haven't noticed, the Red Sox bring a seven-game winning streak into this series, and the catalyst has been an offense that has gone from an early-season funk to a steady display of mashing.

There will be no better test for Boston's surging sticks than the Yankees' starting pitchers, which will consist of Joba Chamberlain, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte in this series.

What has gotten into an offense that combined to hit .213 over the first seven games, only to bring its overall average up to .275 just eight games later?

A big part of it is venue. When the Red Sox were at their worst at the plate, they were on a six-game West Coast swing. The revival has come at Fenway, where even when the weather is cold, the ever-inviting Green Monster hovers just 310 feet from home plate.

"We play good at home," said Red Sox slugger David Ortiz. "Everybody is in a good mood. Everybody is locked in right now."

That includes Ortiz. Though he has yet to go deep, the big man has been wearing out the Monster of late. Typically when Ortiz starts going to the opposite field, it is a sign that he is primed for a breakout.

"I'm swinging hard -- just in case I hit it," quipped Ortiz.

There is a significant list of teammates who are also shredding the ball.

The one guy who has been mashing since, seemingly, the national anthem on Opening Day, is Kevin Youkilis. The first baseman is hitting .429 with 14 runs scored, six doubles, four homers, 12 RBIs, a .522 on base percentage and a .750 slugging percentage.

"He always puts together consistent at-bats," said Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell. "This is a streak that's ridiculous. He knows the count, knows what he's looking for, and when he gets his pitch, he doesn't miss it."


"If you're scoring a lot of runs, it means you're winning. Hopefully we can keep the momentum going and maintain this hot streak we're on right now. There's a lot of guys in this lineup that are really hot right now."
-- Tim Wakefield


Then there is Lowell. Offseason hip surgery was going to hinder his production? It doesn't appear so. The gritty third baseman is back in that 2007 mode where he can smell RBIs. Lowell has driven in 16 runs to lead the team, this to go along with three homers and a .315 average.

Not bad for a No. 7 hitter. That placement alone is indicative of the depth of Boston's lineup.

"I know, man. No [kidding]. They should move him to third," quipped Ortiz, who occupies the three-hole for the Sox. "We got him back there just to fool people."

But very few Red Sox hitters are getting fooled these days. And as much as both rivals talk about the importance of pitching, Lowell notes that it could be the most locked-in offense that prevails in this initial series.

"I think the key is going to be which offense is going to be able to take advantage of mistakes," Lowell said.

While Lowell, Youkilis and Ortiz have been getting a lot of accolades the last few days, the reigning American League's Most Valuable Player is also catching fire. Dustin Pedroia, who was hitting .179 on April 15, is up to .286.

"It's just a matter of getting more at-bats," Pedroia said. "There was a small sample of at-bats early and guys want to do so well. Once you get to the grind of the season, you start having better at-bats and the numbers to show for it."

While media and fans will dissect the fluctuations of the offense all year long, there is a simple fact that hits home to Ortiz to demonstrate the recent hot streak.

"We've got good hitters. Good hitters are always going to hit, no matter what," Ortiz said. "I don't care what anybody has to say. Good hitters are always going to hit. You could have a whole bad month and then you have a good month -- not even a good month, you have two good weeks, and that bad month is in the past because everybody knows that you're hitting. That's how the game goes -- period."

And when the Red Sox are hitting, an attitude develops in the clubhouse.

"If you're scoring a lot of runs, it means you're winning," said Red Sox right-hander Tim Wakefield. "Hopefully we can keep the momentum going and maintain this hot streak we're on right now. There's a lot of guys in this lineup that are really hot right now."

Now the Red Sox just hope the Yankees get to experience just how hot.

Button's Offense Leads Rebels Over Eagles

Evan Button had a big night for the Rebels, going 5-for-5 at the plate with two RBI and a run scored to help the offense lead No. 11 Ole Miss (30-11) to a win over Southern Miss (25-15) by a score of 8-4 on Wednesday at Pete Taylor Park.

It marks the first win in Hattiesburg for the Rebels since the 2001 season.

Button led the Rebels, who had 17 hits on the night. Six Ole Miss players posted multiple hits, including a 3-for-4 performance from Kyle Henson and a 2-for-3 performance from Kevin Mort. The bottom of the order came up with 10 hits, four RBI and five runs.

Rory McKean (5-1) picked up the win in relief for the Rebels as the junior entered in the fifth and worked 2.0 innings as he held Southern Miss to two runs - one earned - on four hits with a walk and a strikeout. David Goforth picked up his third save of the season as he worked the final 3 innings and held the Golden Eagles hitless while walking one and striking out five.

Seth Hester (2-2) suffered the loss for the Golden Eagles as he worked 2.0 innings, allowing four runs on seven hits with a walk and two strikeouts. Southern Miss would go on to use six pitchers in the game.

“The bottom of the order did great for us tonight,” said Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco. “Evan Button had a great night and it was nice to see that out of him. Kevin Mort continued to be Mr. Consistency and Kyle Henson had a great night as well.

“Our pitchers did a good job tonight as well, and David Goforth was tremendous at the end. He is super talented and just so athletic.”

Ole Miss got on the board in the second when Kyle Henson came up with an RBI double down the left field line to score Zach Miller. Miller singled before stealing second to get into scoring position for the Henson hit. Mort then singled to short, allowing Henson to move to third before Evan Button came up with an RBI single to score Henson and give the Rebels a 2-0 lead.

The Rebels added to the lead in the third inning when Matt Smith singled up the middle and drove in two more runs as Logan Power and Matt Snyder scored on the play. Power walked before moving to third on a double from Snyder.

Southern Miss rallied in the fifth as the Golden Eagles finally got to Bukvich and broke up the no-hitter. James Ewing drew a walk before moving to second on a single from Josh Fields. Both runners advanced on a wild pitch before scoring on a double to right center from Corey Stevens. A single from Joey Archer put runners at second and third and sent the Rebels to the bullpen for Rory McKean.

McKean walked B.A. Vollmuth to load the bases before getting Travis Graves to ground into a double play at third as the Rebels got the lead runner at home and Graves at first. Taylor W.lker then flew out to right field to end the inning with Ole Miss up 5-2.

Ole Miss extended the lead again in the seventh when Smith scored from first on a double to the wall in centerfield from Miller. Smith singled to open the inning and get on base for Miller’s hit. Two batters later, Henson singled then scored from first on a double to left center from Kevin Mort to give the Rebels a 7-2 lead and send Southern Miss to the bullpen for Collin Cargill.

Evan Button then tripled off the wall in left to score Mort as Ole Miss took an 8-2 lead.

Southern Miss answered in the bottom of the frame as three straight singles pushed a run across and left runners at second and third with no outs on the board. The Rebels then turned to the bullpen for David Goforth. Goforth got the next three batters out with a strikeout, groundout and fly out - but a run scored on the groundout as Southern Miss cut the lead to 8-4.

The Golden Eagles would get no closer as Goforth held the home team in check down the stretch to preserve the win for the Rebels.

Ole Miss will return to action this weekend as the Rebels host No. 1 Georgia in a three-game series at Oxford-University Stadium/Swayze Field. First pitch on Friday night is set for 6:30 p.m. as Ole Miss will kick off a celebration of the newly renovated stadium and host a fireworks show immediately following the game.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Bittle Named Finalist For 2009 Lowe's Senior Class Award

Right-hander Scott Bittle was named one of 10 finalists for the 2009 Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award which honors senior who have committed four years of excellence both on and off the playing field, Lowes and the NCAA announced recently.

The Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award – which is an acronym for Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School – is an award which has developed into one of the nation’s premier tributes to college seniors. The award, which began with basketball in 2001, is now in its third year with baseball.

The finalists were chosen by a media committee from a list of 30 candidates based on qualities that define a complete student-athlete. These four primary areas of criteria include: classroom, community, character and competition.

Nationwide balloting begins immediately to determine the third annual winner, who will receive the award from Lowe’s during the NCAA Men’s College World Series this June in Omaha, Nebraska. The nationwide voting concludes on May 31. Fan balloting is available on the award’s official website and will be combined with votes from coaches, media and sponsors to determine the recipient of the award.

Fans can go vote at

“It’s very flattering for Scott to be named as a finalist for the Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award,” said Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco. “But it’s also an honor for which he is certainly very deserving. He is having another tremendous season and once again, we would not be having the season we are having without him.”

Bittle has been the epitome of the traits put forth by candidates for the Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award. After battling through his sophomore season, Bittle returned for his junior year and helped lead his team to the program’s sixth straight NCAA Regional as he led the nation in strikeouts per 9.0 innings pitched and led the Southeastern Conference in strikeouts with 130. He also posted a 7-1 record with eight saves as he earned First Team All-America honors.

After being drafted by the New York Yankees in the second round of the 2008 MLB Draft, Bittle opted to return to Ole Miss for his senior season. He began the season as a closer, but has since transitioned into the role of weekend starter to help anchor the weekend rotation.

Since moving into Sunday starter role, Bittle has posted a 3-0 record with a 1.29 ERA and has posted 38 strikeouts while allowing on four runs in 28.0 innings of work. He pitched a complete-game shutout of Kentucky with a career-high 13 strikeouts and was named Southeastern Conference Pitcher of the Week for his efforts. He also turned in a streak of 21.1 scoreless innings pitched in the first three weekends as a starter covering games against LSU, Kentucky and South Carolina.

Papi & Red Sox on a Roll

Batting just .170 with no home runs and 4 RBIs on the season, Ortiz was a mess. But Francona saw something, and said before the game, "I actually think it will be good for him" to face 6-foot-9-inch Baltimore lefthander Mark Hendrickson. " 'Cause it will force him to really stay on the ball. You hear lefties say it all the time: If you cheat a little bit, you don't just make an out, but they can embarrass you."

There was no embarrassment. There were no timid ground outs to the right side. Sure, there was one strikeout swinging on an 86-mile-per-hour fastball, but Ortiz also bashed a Wall double and a triple, driving in two runs, as the Red Sox thumped the Orioles, 12-1, with marathoners racing by. That made the Red Sox proud owners of a four-game series sweep and pushed themselves a notch ahead of the sorry O's.

While many in a crowd of 37,865 were downing beer at an early hour - that 11 a.m. start - Ortiz was attempting to prove to himself and to his semi-faithful that he was not done. Not at 33 years old, after his swing looked particularly slow against the fastballs of Koji Uehara Sunday.

"If you as a hitter slow down with 88 miles an hour [fastballs], that means you've got to go," Ortiz said. "But it's crazy how you can come after you get beat by 88, and come and hit 94. That means that it's not that you've got to go, it means that you've got to pull yourself together to keep working. This is a long season.

"I was late. It doesn't matter how hard the pitch was thrown. If you're late, you're late."

But while Ortiz proved that he can have an Ortiz game, he has not yet proven who he is now. It could be this way all year - beacons of hope in an otherwise steady downturn. Or he could start rolling, the bat speed picking up as the weather turns warmer. He said he "hasn't felt like this in years" physically.

"I've been working with my mechanics, man," Ortiz said. "I've been late, a little late with pitches, which is something that I normally don't do, and pitchers are taking advantage of it.

"It's got a little bit out of hand. But at this point you don't want to get frustrated. It just makes it worse. You want to make sure you get to the point where you like to be and where you need to be. It's the beginning of the season and you don't want to give up.

"I would like to swing like [Dustin] Pedroia - you don't have to worry about mechanics."

Pedroia, too, continued to break out of whatever funk he was in. And Jacoby Ellsbury. And Jason Varitek. All together, the Sox threw out 15 hits against a sad-sack Orioles pitching staff that must be glad to head back to Camden Yards. Fenway was not hospitable, the Orioles' fifth consecutive loss matching the fifth consecutive win for the Sox.

It was good, all the runs and the hits and a holiday crowd looking for amusement. But even as Justin Masterson was putting Daisuke Matsuzaka's shoulder injury out of the minds of the revelers, there were more injury concerns to contemplate. Rocco Baldelli left the game after the third inning with a mild left hamstring strain. Word came after the game that Jed Lowrie could be in for surgery in the next day or two, likely costing him half of a season.

Masterson's only blemish on his 5 1/3 innings and 84 pitches came in the third inning. Ryan Freel led off with a single, then went to second on a sacrifice bunt by Felix Pie. After the pitcher knocked Freel out of the game with a pickoff attempt that hit him in the head, pinch runner Robert Andino scored on a two-out infield single by Cesar Izturis.

Six days after he saved the bullpen with four innings, Masterson showed off his fastball, getting up to 96 miles per hour, a velocity he had reached as a reliever but not as a starter.

"It's probably not fair to expect that," Francona said of Masterson's flexibility. "He was sharp from the very beginning. He maintained the velocity on his fastball, the life on his fastball, the depth on his breaking ball. Eleven o'clock in the morning start, there are a lot of things that he just went out and did. We're fortunate, we know that."

Fortunate, also, that the offense appears to be leaving those Mendoza Line batting averages behind.

The Sox got all they needed in the first inning, with a double by Ellsbury and a single by Pedroia, followed by that opposite-field double by Ortiz. Another run came in the second, when Varitek hit his third home run of the season, his first righthanded, as his batting average sits at an acceptable .250. (He declined, once again, to discuss his offense, as he has since spring training.)

Then came three runs in the sixth inning, highlighted by Ortiz's two-run triple. And 12 batters came to the plate in the seventh, when the Sox scored six more runs to truly put the game away.

That's the offense they have had in the past, jumping on bad pitching. Whether they - and Ortiz - can do the same against a higher caliber of pitching remains to be seen. The bat belonging to the designated hitter might be speeding up. Or it might be continuing a precipitous decline.

"He swung the bat good today," Pedroia said. "He's got to build on that and keep moving forward. It's a long year. He's got 600 more at-bats left. The season's not 50 at-bats."

Monday, April 20, 2009

Tigers Lose Weekend Series to Vols

Exactly a year ago -- April 20, 2008 -- Paul Mainieri and the LSU Tigers left Alex Box Stadium after losing a home SEC series they felt they should have won.

Then they went out and won the final 16 games of the regular season to launch a magic carpet ride that didn't stop until the College World Series.

Flash forward 364 days to a new season, a new Alex Box Stadium, a different home SEC series and similarly frustrating results. Mainieri looked to the past for inspiration before leaving the ballpark Sunday night and heading out toward the future: a future with 16 regular-season games remaining.

"This is when we started our winning streak last year," Mainieri said. "This is when we caught fire last year, so maybe that will happen now starting Tuesday."

The situations are not perfect parallels. A year ago LSU lost the first two games of the Georgia series, then tied with the Bulldogs in the final game. That left the Tigers at 6-11-1 in the SEC, fifth place in the Western Division and 11th place overall.

This LSU team entered the weekend ranked No. 1 nationally and, for a time, was in sole possession of first place in the SEC West. The Tigers are tied with Ole Miss for second now (at 11-7), and they'll lose their No. 1 ranking when the polls update today, but they're still in much better position than a year ago.

"The first goal is to make the SEC tournament, and we're in a good position if we can have some success here," Mainieri said Sunday evening. "We want to win the SEC West, and we're right there in the midst of that. Georgia's two games ahead of us for the SEC championship, and they've got tough games ahead too.

"I think we're in good shape probably to earn a (regional) bid, and we're within striking distance of being a national seed."

None of those things seemed likely on April 20, 2008. Then, LSU started winning. The Tigers won the stay out of last place. Then they won to win the SEC West. Then they won for a shot at winning the regular-season championship, and failing that, they still became the No. 2 seed for the SEC tournament. They won to strengthen their case for a home regional one last time at the old Alex Box Stadium, and they won to make sure they could be ranked high enough to be at home for a super regional if they advanced. They won to go to Omaha.

They won 23 consecutive games, rewriting record books and wearing out the managers who kept washing the sunflower-gold jerseys the Tigers began wearing every day as good luck charms.

This team is hardly sitting in a precarious position. Unlike the 2008 team, this group is not hoping to rally to avoid an embarrassing lower-division finish. This club is a top-10 team that just lost an SEC series for the first time together.

"Everything's right out there in front of us," Mainieri said. "We just have to play well."

Another major difference between the 2008 and 2009 teams is all about expectations. Many had to recalibrate theirs for LSU baseball following a 2006 season without NCAA postseason play and a 2007 season without an appearance in either the SEC or NCAA tournaments.

When the Tigers languished in 11th place in the conference a year ago, it seemed it would take some time for Mainieri and his staff and recruits to bring LSU back to what it considers its rightful place in the college baseball landscape. As the winning streak grew, it exceeded expectations, and it was fun.

Going 1-for-3 in Omaha left some of the Tigers hungry for more. One of them was pitcher Louis Coleman, who chose to return for his senior season largely because he wanted one more change to help LSU win a national championship.

That amazing 23-game winning streak reignited high expectations in Baton Rouge. Preseason No. 1 rankings stoked passions. Suddenly, LSU baseball had something to try to live up to again, and the Tigers entered 2009 with a much different point of view than the one that welcomed the 2008 team to Opening Night.

When all of a sudden you're expected to do it, it has a way of releasing all kinds of sports-confidence equivalents of free radicals, the kinds of adrenaline-inspired demons and doubts and pressures and what-not. It happens when a Freshman All-America player gets to his sophomore season and finds he cannot carry a team as everyone expects. It happens when an unsung hero has songs written about him.

Consider LSU relief pitcher Nolan Cain. His was a career outing Sunday in the 9-4 loss to Tennessee. He came within one out of pitching the last five innings, and he shut out the Vols on two hits and two walks. He struck out seven, and he kept Tennessee hitters off balance while his teammates tried to rally the offense. The early 9-0 deficit was too great.

It also took all of the pressure off Cain. If he blew it and gave up a bunch of runs, who was going to remember? He inherited a nine-run deficit. No worries. Just go out there and pitch. Pitch he did.

Now, if Cain throws his next pitch with an SEC game on the line, will he look as sharp, as in command? If so, then he's probably turned a corner. If not, you could perhaps attribute part of his success Sunday to the lack of any real expectations.

That's not to say he didn't perform admirably. He did.

"He was very inspiring, and as happy as I was for our team because he kept us in the game, I was more happy for him," Mainieri said. "It was a good moment for him. I know right now he'd be very humble about it because we lost, and he would tell you that it doesn't matter, but to me it did matter. I was just happy for the kid to have a moment like that."

Mainieri continued.

"He's such a wonderful kid. He bleeds purple and gold. He loves this team. It was frustrating to him when he was hurt at the beginning of the year after we had thought we were really going to count on him at the beginning of the year.

"He was really competing for a starter's role, and he'd never really had that here. He had a really freaky arm, and nobody could figure out what the problem was. Then it got better, and he showed some glimpses of throwing well, and he's been a little inconsistent, but today he was outstanding."

His teammates, mostly, were not. Jared Mitchell, retired by an amazing P.J. Polk catch of a foul ball in the first inning, came to bat three more times and struck out each time. Mitchell struck out seven times in the three-game series, three times on called third strikes. The team's leadoff hitter leads the team in strikeouts with 40.

Speaking of leadoff hitters, Tennessee -- the worst team in the SEC -- retired six of nine LSU leadoff men Saturday and six of nine Sunday. The first man up each inning doesn't need to get on base for a team to win, but it doesn't hurt. The Vols put the leadoff man on base in each of the first four innings Sunday, and three of those scored as Tennessee built a 9-0 lead during that span.

In the Vols' 7-5 victory Saturday, Tennessee's leadoff men were 1-for-9 (with one reaching on an error), but LSU's season-high five errors more than offset that.

So, after a weekend that began with an impressive 18-3 victory against the Vols, LSU finds itself looking to take steps forward in a lot of areas.

"I'd like to see us solidify things defensively in the infield, and I'd like to see us swing the bats better and continue to see some good pitching," Mainieri said. "We just need to keep getting better in every phase. There's a lot of room for improvement."

Mitchell struck out in five consecutive at-bats at Alabama the weekend before the Tennessee series. He looks lost at the plate, especially against left-handed pitchers. Leadoff hitters should get on base, but more than that they should make contact. Even more than that, they should not let as many good pitches go by as Mitchell has done lately.

It's time Mainieri put someone else at the top of the batting order, but whom? It's not an easy choice, and not because there are so many worthy candidates. This team has yet to reveal any true leadoff men. Ryan Schimpf has had modest success in the role and was first in the batting order in 40 games last year. The early-season Leon Landry would be a strong candidate, but his slump is too recent for Mainieri to consider him the answer for the homestretch.

If Mainieri knew the answer Sunday night, he kept it to himself.

"I haven't put that kind of thought to it yet," he said. "Obviously something needs to be done. I don't know yet what I'm going to do. I'm going to sleep on it for the next day or two and come up with a plan."

He planned to discuss it today with his staff.

"He's hit well hitting leadoff too," Mainieri said. "There's been a couple of times I haven't hit him leadoff and I wished I had."

Mainieri said he's considering changing things up to take the pressure off Mitchell, but he said he's not going to give up on Mitchell.

"It seems like he's been 0-2 every at-bat, and when you're struggling that's what happens," Mainieri said. "It seems like you get in the hole 0-2 every time, and pitchers are making great pitches, and when you think they're balls, the umpires are calling them strikes.

"He'll come out of it. I don't have any doubt about that."

Don't be surprised to see a shakeup of the lineup as a whole, just to see what shakes loose. Mainieri hinted there would be more changes this week, but he wasn't specific.

This team is talented. Louis Coleman is Jared Bradford, the 2007 version, and Blake Dean is, once again, Blake Dean. Freshmen Mikie Mahtook and Tyler Hanover asserted themselves and inserted themselves into the lineup. There is no Matt Clark, but there are more potential Ryan Schimpfs, the 2008 on-a-tear edition. There is more overall pop if no home run champion.

Pitching has some issues. You saw that during the weekend, and you saw it before the weekend.

"Today we didn't win because we pitched very poorly through the first four innings of the game," Mainieri said Sunday. "To have a team that wins consistently, you have to pitch great every day. Of course, when you pitch great, there's no guarantee you're going to win. If you don't pitch great, there's a pretty good chance you're not going to win.

"So to have a very consistent team you have to have a deep pitching staff that has three or four solid starting pitchers and quality middle relief and a quality closer. Our pitching is OK in some areas, but in other areas we need improvement."

There is, every weekend in college baseball, the tendency to overreact. Win a series? Great. Lose a series? Horrible. The difference? Often, a razor-thin margin, such as a bloop single or a throwing error after an outstanding fielding play.

LSU is seemingly on an endless parade of weekend chances in which the Tigers go into Sunday with the chance to win or lose a series. Here they are, on April 20, 2009, in the mix for SEC divisional and regular-season championships.

It's a lot better place than LSU occupied on April 20, 2008. You and I both know what's different this time.

We all expected the Tigers to be at this place or better. They inherited that expectation from the 2008 version of themselves.

Diamond Rebels Down No. 20 Florida 5-3 To Claim Series

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- In a wild day at McKethan Stadium on Sunday, the Rebels came up with the key plays when they needed them as No. 16 Ole Miss (28-11, 11-7 SEC) defeated No. 20 Florida (26-14, 10-8 SEC) by a score of 5-3 in a game shortened by travel curfew.

The Rebels picked up the win in eight innings behind the pitching of Scott Bittle and Jake Morgan and some key at bats.

Bittle (4-2) picked up the win as he worked 6.0 innings and allowed three runs on six hits with six walks and eight strikeouts, while Morgan picked up his fifth save of the season. Morgan worked the final 2.0 innings and held the Gators to two hits with one walk and three strikeouts.

Florida starter James Panteliodis (3-5) suffered the loss as he allowed three runs on four hits with four walks and two strikeouts. The Gators used four pitchers in the game.

Kyle Henson was big for the Rebels at the plate, going 2-for-3 with a run scored and three RBI as he came up with a two-run home run in the third inning to tie the game. Jordan Henry went 1-for-1 at the plate, but drew four walks on the afternoon and scored two runs. Henry also stole three bases on the afternoon as the Rebels stole six bases.

“We just ground it out today,” said Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco. “Bittle struggled a bit early but he was close on his pitches. Then he settled in and really took control of the game. We got some key hits from there. Kyle (Henson) was tremendous and came up with the key home run and the hit to extend the lead. And then you look at Jordan Henry with all his walks and stolen bases today."

Florida struck first, scoring in the bottom of the first inning on a single through the left side from Adams that drove in Daniel Pigott from second. Pigott walked and then moved to second on a walk of Avery Barnes. A walk then loaded the bases before another walk pushed a second run across the plate for the Gators as Florida took a 2-0 lead on the Rebels. Bittle then got Hampton Tignor to fly out to end the inning with the home team leading by two runs.

Ole Miss tied things in the third when Kyle Henson hit a two-run home run to left center to tie the game. Jordan Henry walked in the previous at bat to get on base for the Henson hit that evened he score at two.

The Rebels took the lead in the fifth when Henry scored on a wild pitch from reliever Greg Larson. Henry walked to reach base - his third walk of the game - before stealing second. He then moved to third on a sacrifice bunt from Henson before scoring on the wild pitch. Logan Power, who was intentionally walked, moved to second on the wild pitch and then scored a batter later on a single from Zach Miller that escaped the grasp of a sprinting Josh Adams at second as Ole Miss took a 4-2 lead.

Florida rallied in the bottom half of the inning with two outs on the board. With men at first and second, Adams came up with his third hit of the day to push a run across and leave men at the corners with two outs and the Rebels holding to a 4-3 lead. Bittle struck out Brandon McArthur in the next at bat, however, to end the rally and keep Ole Miss in the lead.

The Rebels got the run back in the sixth when Tim Ferguson scored on an single to left from Henson. Ferguson singled and then stole second before Henry drew his fourth walk of the afternoon to bring Henson to the plate. Henson then came up with the RBI single to give the Rebels the 5-3 lead which would prove to be the final margin of victory.

Morgan then held the Gators off the board in the seventh and eighth as the Rebels claimed the win.

Ole Miss will return to action on Tuesday when the Rebels host UALR at 6:30 p.m. at Oxford-University Stadium/Swayze Field.

Lester Shots Down Orioles for 7 Innings as Sox win again 2-1

The video surprised the Baltimore Orioles earlier this week while they prepared for yesterday's opponent. They watched Jon Lester's start April 13 in Oakland, Calif., and saw a different pitcher than they expected. His top velocity, they said, barely reached 90 miles per hour. "I said, 'Man, he lost something on his fastball or something,' " first baseman Aubrey Huff said.

Yesterday afternoon, Lester strode to Fenway Park's sun-splashed mound and fired a 96-m.p.h. fastball past Brian Roberts with the game's first pitch. He announced that he had lost nothing.

Lester shut out the Orioles over seven innings in a 2-1 victory yesterday before 37,869, vaulting the Red Sox to .500 and into a third-place tie with Baltimore. Cameo closer Takashi Saito added unwanted intrigue by allowing one run and moving the tying run into scoring position in the ninth, but he squirmed loose and the Red Sox won their fourth straight. Saito's strikeout of pinch hitter Gregg Zaun preserved Lester's jewel, which proved the 25-year-old ace's rocky start an aberration.

"He was back to his old self," Huff said. "It kind of caught you by surprise a little. I think he might have been a little [ticked] off at the 0-2 start. I've seen him some times, I don't know how many at-bats I have off him, but today is as good as I've seen him throw against us."

Lester insisted he had been pitching well, even while the results of his first two starts and what the Orioles saw on video suggested otherwise. He recorded an out past the sixth inning in neither start, both losses, and his ERA skyrocketed to 9.00. The A's roped 10 hits and scored six runs in six innings against him.

Between that start and yesterday, Lester changed nothing. "We really didn't think anything was wrong to fix," Lester said. "There was nothing to worry about, to fret on." He knew himself well.

Lester dominated the Orioles so thoroughly they never sniffed a run. Lester struck out nine, one shy of his career best. He surrendered four hits, all singles. Aside from those four singles, two balls left the infield. Two runners reached second base, and none reached third.

"It just reiterates in the back of your mind that, 'OK, nothing is wrong, I'm still OK,' " Lester said. "It was nice today to go out and throw the ball well again and get the results I wanted to."

His success, Lester said, stemmed from making in-game adjustments. Lester struggled to command his curveball early but he worried about the feel for the pitch, not the early returns. He gained confidence with his curve, and it became a weapon.

Lester struck out Ryan Freel swinging over a 79-mile per hour curveball to lead off the third inning. Stuck in one of the only jams he confronted, two men on with one out in the fifth, Lester faced Nick Markakis, the majors' RBI leader. Lester threw a curve with two strikes. Markakis watched it hook into the strike zone for strike three.

This spring, Lester honed his changeup, a pitch he rarely used last season. He threw the pitch without hesitation yesterday. The changeup forces batters to respect his fastball, and because it darts to the left side of the plate, it perfectly complements his cutter, which bites to the right.

"The big thing is when it's called or when I want to go to it, I have the confidence to throw it," Lester said. "Whereas last year, it was, 'Where is this pitch going to go?' I had no idea what it was going to do, if it was going to cut, if I was going to bounce it, if I was going to throw it off the backstop. I didn't know. This year I have an idea of the area it's going to be in. That helps me free up and throw it a little easier."

Limping into the series with a 3-6 record, one starting pitcher suspended, and another on the disabled list, the Sox received the perfect salve in their opponent. The Sox, after thumping them three straight, are 26-6 against the Orioles at Fenway Park in their past 32 games, the best record against any team at home since September 2005.

After scoring 24 runs in three games, the Boston offense stagnated on a day designed for pitching, chilly with a significant wind blowing in from center. Japanese rookie Koji Uehara deftly mixed offspeed pitches and a "sneaky" fastball, Jason Bay said, but the Sox produced two well-timed hits. Kevin Youkilis doubled and scored on Mike Lowell's bloop single in the second inning, and Dustin Pedroia drove in Nick Green, who had doubled, with a two-out single in the fifth.

Lester needed no more. From his first pitch to his 108th, which Chad Moeller weakly skied to shallow center, Lester brushed off the two losses he never worried about. In his mind, he was back. He had never left.

"It felt like a normal day," Lester said. "Nothing out of the ordinary."

Sunday, April 19, 2009

April Is A Sporting Time Of Year

So where are we at this time of the sports year, when every event seems larger that life, The Masters, the Kentucky Derby, The Final Four, Opening day for baseball season, The NBA Playoffs, The NFL draft and perhaps most important of all, SPRING FOOTBALL.
Of all of our teams, the ones which charm us most are the Tiger and Rebel football teams. Maybe that’s because they have yet to play anyone, and in April, more than any other time of the year, hope springs eternal. Coming off of impressive bowl victories and highly rated recruiting classes both teams seem poised to achieve the pinnacle of success. But they still will have to play the games in the fall.
Last night under the lights in Tiger Stadium, 20,000 rabid fans gathered to watch LSU’s spring game, a suped-up scrimmage with restrictions on hitting in an effort to avoid unnecessary injuries. The defense held sway as is the case in most of these events. And of course, that’s what every one wanted to see, for it was the defense that was a big disappointment last year. As was QB. However last night all 3 QB’s played well, even beleaguered red shirt sophomore Jarrett Lee. Running backs Scott & Murphy also played well. So Tiger fan’s can put this moment under their pillows to dream on until early August.
In Oxford, Jevon Sneed led the first team offense to a victory over the reds. Snead directed six consecutive touchdown drives and threw for 254 yards as the Blue team defeated the Red 55-28 in the "Grove Bowl". Snead finished 11-of-15 with touchdown strikes of 12, 20 and 70 yards to Shay Hodge, Dexter McClusker and Markeith Summers, respectively. Rebel hopes for an SEC championship are riding high. Of course this was against the second team defense, but who cares, it looked like football.
Our Hornets, that’s another story. On the diamond, although not achieving the exalted ranking of LSU, Ole Miss appears to have rearranged their pitching staff to the point that they have an effective rotation and are ready to make another run for the SEC championship in Hoover, Alabama, A regional in Oxford, and the elusive College World Series. LSU on the other hand has kept on track as their #1 ranking will attest. That actually means nothing except that the LSU baseball is very good. They beat Tennessee squad by an 18-4 score Friday night but lost yesterday because they could not overcome errors and unearned runs. They play again today to keep LSU’s run of successive conference series victories alive.
The Hornets, now that’s another story A team that was one game away from playing for the conference finals last year. But now they are a shell of last year’s team. Injuries have hurt. But the departure of Jeremy Pargo for Russia was a devastating blow that can only be appreciated now that there is no backup for Chris Paul. The bench is woeful. It seems that Chris Paul and David West will not be able to carry this team past the first round of the playoffs. First game tonight.
The Red Sox may be coming around. The early schedule was stacked up against them with an opening series against AL Champion Tampa Bay, then a trip to the west coast where the Sox seldom do well, and they didn’t. But the last game against Oaklnd they got a quality start and complete game victory by rubber armed knuckleball pitcher Tim Wakefield. The bats have come alive in the past 3 games and today Jon Lester won a 2-1 decision. The Bull pen has been stellar, and Kevin Youkalis has warmed to the cleanup spot as though he were born for it.
So our teams are doing well, some better than others. But right now there is a lot to cheer about.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Barkavius Mingo commits to LSU

West Monroe linebacker Barkevious Mingo has made his choice to become an LSU Tiger and will make the announcement public on Wednesday in front of his family and peers at 8:30 a.m. in the West Monroe fieldhouse.

“I’ve been knowing for a while,” Mingo told The News-Star in an exclusive interview. “I’ve been down there a pretty good bit and have gotten to know the coaches. I feel like they’ll take care of me.”

The 6-5, 206 pound all-state defensive player of the year in Class 5A is ranked the No. 9 linebacker in the nation by Mingo finished his senior year with 59 total tackles, four for a loss, seven sacks, four forced fumbles, seven fumble recoveries, eight pass break ups and two kicks blocked.

Under Construction

Like the subcontractors who replaced 20,000 square feet of infield sod at Fenway Park this winter, Red Sox management was busy making roster upgrades as they try to remain a contender in the American League East. With the Jason Varitek deal seemingly signaling the end of their offseason moves, we look back at the making of the 2009 Red Sox, in chronological order.

Ramon Ramirez, RHP
On Nov. 19, the Sox traded popular outfielder Coco Crisp to Kansas City in exchange for the 27-year-old reliever. Ramirez, who went 3-2 with a 2.64 ERA as the Royals set-up man in 2008, projects to be part of the bridge to Jonathan Papelbon in the Boston bullpen.

Junichi Tazawa, RHP
On Dec. 4, Boston signed the Japanese reliever to a three-year deal worth $3 million. We don't know much about Tazawa, other than the fact he throws in the low-90s and idolizes Daisuke Matsuzaka. He should start his American baseball career in the Sox' system.

Josh Bard, C
The Sox re-acquired the free agent on Jan. 2, signing the former Padres backstop to a one-year deal with an option for 2010. Bard, who hit .278 in seven games with Boston in 2006, is mostly remembered for an inability to catch Tim Wakefield's knuckler. His role on this team is yet to be determined, as he is currently the only catcher with major league experience on the roster.

Rocco Baldelli, OF
A new Fenway favorite was born on Jan. 8, when the Sox signed the Cumberland, R.I. native to a one-year, $5 million deal. Baldelli, 27, was the fifth overall pick in the 2000 draft and played all of his five seasons with the Rays. He will be a backup outfielder in Boston.

Brad Penny, RHP
The following day, the Sox officially inked the former Dodgers ace to a one-year deal that could be worth up to $8 million with bonuses. Penny, 30, was an All-Star in 2006 and '07, but had his worst season last year with the Dodgers thanks of a right shoulder injury. He went 6-9 with a 6.27 ERA in 19 games (17 starts) while striking out 51 and walked 42 over a career-low 94.2 innings. The Sox hope he can anchor the back of the rotation. If he's healthy, he could be a major steal.

Takashi Saito, RHP
On Jan. 10, the former Dodgers closer signed a one-year deal worth between $1.5 and $2.5 million, with a club option for 2010. The deal could pay him more than $7 million in incentives. Saito, who will turn 39 in February, missed much of last year because of elbow trouble. He saved 39 games for Los Angeles in 2007.

Mark Kotsay, OF/1B
Though it isn't yet official, the Sox are bringing back the 33-year-old on a one-year deal, according to the Globe. Kotsay, shown here scoring the tying run in Boston's comeback win in Game 5 of the ALCS against the Rays, batted .226 with 12 RBIs in 22 regular-season games with the Sox after coming over in a trade with the Braves Aug. 27. He'll play the backup first-baseman/outfielder role.

John Smoltz, RHP
On Tuesday, the Red Sox announced the signing of Smoltz, who spent all of his 20-year career with the Atlanta Braves. Smoltz's one-year deal will pay him $5 million, with bonuses that could bring the total up to $10 million. The 41-year-old missed most of last year due to elbow surgery. He is the only pitcher in baseball history to record 200 wins and 150 saves.

Jason Varitek
The prolonged negotiations between Jason Varitek and the Red Sox were resolved Friday, two weeks before pitchers and catchers were scheduled to report to spring training. Varitek agreed to a one-year contract with a mutual option for 2010. He will earn $5m in 2009, with the club holding a $5moption for 2010. If the Red Sox do not pick up that option, Varitek has the choice of remaining with the club on a $3m deal. In '10, he can earn another $2m in incentives based on playing time. The incentives apply to the player option only. The catcher agreed to a one-year, $5 million contract with a mutual option for 2010 that includes a potential sweetener.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Veritek & Sox Agree

Jason Varitek and the Red Sox have agreed to a one-year deal with an option for a second season, a baseball source told the Globe

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Whippin’ Wildcats: Rebels hang on to upset No. 24 Kentucky at home

You can’t stop Kentucky’s Jodie Meeks, you can only hope to contain him.

If the Rebels wanted a chance to defeat the No. 24 Kentucky Wildcats they were going to have to do just that, contain the Southeastern Conference’s leading scorer.

Tuesday the Rebels (11-9 overall, 2-4 Southeastern Conference) did just that in their 85-80 upset victory over No. 24 Kentucky (16-5, 5-1) at C.M. “Tad” Smith Coliseum.

Entering the game, Kentucky’s junior had been averaging 26.1 points per game and had only been held to 22 points or less in a game eight times.

Thanks to a slew of defensive strategies and pressure defense, Meeks was just 4-for-15 from the field for 21 points (six points came in the waning moments of the game with Ole Miss’ reserves on the court).

The man in charge of defending Meeks, Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy’s pick for National Player of the Year, was sophomore Zach Graham.

“I thought (Graham) was tremendous. The game plan was we were really going to team-defend and he was going to chase (Jodie) Meeks. We were going to try to sag. We weren’t going to chase the other bigs away from the perimeter,” Kennedy said. “I thought our guys carried the game plan out as to not giving him easy touches, and then when he dribbled it we were going to have two guys at the ball.”

“They played a lot of zone, they played a little 2-3 zone and little box-and-one, but mostly man-to-man,” Kentucky coach Billy Gillespie said. “That’s when they played their best, when they played us man-to-man.”

Ole Miss’ players and coaches made no attempt to hide the fact that stopping Meeks was the focus of their practices.

“He’s a great player and all week we’ve been practicing how to guard Jodie,” Graham said. “We’ve had sections of our practice, 30 minutes, just on how to guard Jodie.

“Just me working on face-guarding him and everybody else making sure they help off screens.”

Ole Miss also focused on limiting Meeks’ touches, which seemed to be working in the first half. Meeks was 0-for-6 from the field, with six points coming from free throws.

“I think the more touches Jodie has, the more opportunities he’s going to have to hurt you,” Graham said. “We limited those touches so it helped us in the long-run.”

Although Meeks didn’t play against the Rebels a year ago, Graham was familiar with Meeks dating back to his high school days in Suwanee, Ga. at Peachtree Ridge High, where he said he faced Meeks’s Norcross High team six times from his freshman to junior year. Graham also said the two standout prep players played on the Georgia Hurricanes AAU team together and that he was surprised there wasn’t more yapping between the two Georgians on Tuesday.

“There wasn’t a lot of talking going on,” Graham said. “I thought we were going to talk more, but it was strictly business tonight.”

Asking around the locker room, it’s unclear whether players were more surprised Meeks was held to under 40 points or that Ole Miss was able to pull out the victory.
“Yeah, it was pretty scary. The whole team was saying, ‘Meeks, he’s going to get 40 tonight,”’ Ole Miss’ Terrico White said jokingly about the Rebels’ predictions prior to the game.

Huertas comes on strong

Ole Miss led early, but an 8-2 run by Kentucky to close the half gave the Wildcats a 39-37 lead at the break.

Ole Miss’ David Huertas struggled in the first half, shooting 0-for-3 from the field with two made free throws. Due to two quick fouls, Huertas was limited to just six minutes in the first half.

The junior’s luck quickly changed in the second half when he drained a 3-pointer to put Ole Miss ahead 40-39. As the game heated up, so did Huertas, who finished the game shooting 5-for-15 for 21 points.

Kennedy said Huertas rebounding was pivotal for Ole Miss’ success.

“I know without David (Huertas) being productive it’s very difficult for this team,” Kennedy said. “But what a second half he had by making huge shot after huge shot.”

Gillespie echoed Kennedy’s sentiments.

“It’s hard to score from the bench,” Gillespie said. “He got two quick fouls and he came right out at halftime and they had the first possession and we didn’t guard him well enough. He made that 3, probably got a little confidence, and he just continued on. He made extremely hard cuts.”

Malcolm stands out

Malcolm White came to Ole Miss with big-time hype.

Tuesday night the sophomore center cashed in on his potential, registering a career-high 20 points, while also collecting six rebounds and making one block.

“Where’s that guy been? He was the guy we needed him to be tonight,” Kennedy said. “As a coach you want to infuse confidence in the players, but it doesn’t work that way. Sometimes they have to feel good about their performance. I know Malcolm was tremendous tonight.

“He played 36 minutes, stayed out of foul trouble, and was flying all over. Hopefully this is the impetus that he needs to be the player that we need him to be.”

Ahead 62-57, White scored on a putback of a Terrico White missed 3-point attempt. On the ensuing Kentucky possession Malcolm White made a big block on DeAndre Liggins out of bounds.

On Ole Miss’ next trip down the court, Malcolm White made two free throws to extend Ole Miss’ lead to 66-57.

In addition to Malcom White’s 20 points and Huertas’ 21, Terrico White also contributed 21 points on seven of 15 shooting from the field.

Kentucky’s big-man, Patrick Patterson, finished with a game-high 24 points on eight of 12 shooting from the field. He also grabbed seven rebounds.

Tuesday’s victory was the Rebels’ first win against Kentucky since Ole Miss won 65-55 in Oxford in 2001. The win also snapped a three-game skid for the Rebels that included losses at South Carolina and Alabama, and at home against LSU.

Ole Miss returns to action Saturday when it travels to Starkville to face Mississippi State at noon. The game is scheduled to be televised on Raycom.

Rebs Upset Kentucky at the Tad Pad

Terrico White and David Huertas each scored 21 points and Ole Miss upset No. 24 Kentucky 85-80 on Tuesday, snapping the Wildcats' five-game win streak a day after they entered the Top 25 for the first time this season.
Neither Kentucky's Jodie Meeks nor Huertas - the Southeastern Conference's Nos. 1 and 3 scorers - managed a field goal in the first half. But Huertas hit a 3-pointer with 11 seconds gone in the second half and the injury-ravaged Rebels (11-9, 2-4 SEC) managed to overcome 24 points from Patrick Patterson for a rare win over the Wildcats (16-5, 5-1).

The win snapped Ole Miss' current three-game losing streak and its nine-game slide to Kentucky, which had won 11 of 12 overall coming into the game. It was just the 12th win for the Rebels in 107 games against the Wildcats.

The Rebels, without three of their best players due to season-ending knee injuries, managed one of their best defensive games of the season.

The Wildcats were fourth in the nation with a shooting percentage of 50.2 percent per game, but struggled against Ole Miss' 2-3 zone and shot 34.3 percent (25-of-65). It was an especially difficult night for Meeks, the nation's No. 3 scorer coming in with 26.1 points per game.

The Rebels held him without a field goal for the first 28:04 and he finished 4-for-15 fro the florr with 21 points. He had eight in the first half, all on free throws, after scoring in double figures in the first 20 minutes of nine of the Wildcats' last 10 games and 14 of 20.

Huertas quickly got open on the left wing on the opening possession of the second half and buried a 3. That spurred Ole Miss to a 16-4 run to open the half that featured four 3-pointers. Graham's second 3 of the run put the Rebels up 53-43 and Kentucky never crept closer than three points after Meeks hit his first two field goals of the game to make it 58-55 with 11:18 left.

Malcolm White scored five points and Huertas hit another 3 during a quick 8-2 run to put the game out of reach.

Ole Miss hit 10 of 26 3s in the game and outrebounded Kentucky 45-40. The Wildcats were just 7-of-28 from the 3-point line.

Terrico White had an especially big game for the Rebels. The freshman finished a point shy of his career high, set one with seven assists and had five rebounds in 37 minutes despite being a game-time decision due to a bruised knee.

Ole Miss led much of the first half, only succumbing to a quick 7-2 run by Kentucky to end the half with a 39-37 lead.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Sox Set Saturday as Deadline for Veritek Signing

The Red Sox should know by the end of the week if Jason Varitek, their primary catcher since 1999, will be part of their 2009 squad.
The Boston Herald -- citing a "source close to the negotiations" -- reported that the Red Sox have given Varitek a deadline of Saturday to either accept or decline their formal offer that was made last week.

If Varitek doesn't accept the offer by Saturday, the Red Sox are likely to proceed with alternate catching plans.

One possibility is that the Red Sox will ratchet up trade talks with the Diamondbacks for Miguel Montero and with the Rangers for Taylor Teagarden or Jarrod Saltamacchia.

As a matter of fact, even if Varitek does return to the fold, general manager Theo Epstein is still likely to continue his pursuit of a talented young catcher of the future. Under that scenario, part of Varitek's role going forward would be to mentor that prospect.

The Red Sox did sign catcher Josh Bard to a contract in late December, though he is viewed more as a backup. Dusty Brown and George Kottaras are both coming off solid years at Triple-A Pawtucket, but only time will tell if either player is ready for the Major Leagues.

Varitek, who will be 37 in April, is coming off the worst offensive season (.220, 13 homers, 43 RBIs) of his career. However, even through those struggles, he remained a glue for the pitching staff and a respected leader in the clubhouse. Varitek has been Boston's captain since 2005.

The market for Varitek hit a snag on Dec. 7, when the catcher declined Boston's offer of salary arbitration. Had Varitek accepted that, it would have solidified his return to Boston for 2009 at an approximate salary of $10-12 million.

However, Varitek was looking for a multi-year offer and also might have been leery of the fact that salaries awarded in arbitration are non-guaranteed.

The arbitration offer made by the Red Sox hurt Varitek's market, as prospective suitors were reluctant to sign the Type A free agent because they didn't want to give up the compensatory draft pick.

On Jan. 16, Red Sox principal owner John W. Henry flew to Atlanta to meet directly with Varitek. The meeting was requested by Varitek, and did not include agent Scott Boras.

With pitchers and catchers scheduled to report to Fort Myers, Fla., on Feb. 12, the Red Sox are eager to get the Varitek situation resolved one way or the other.

By Saturday, they should have a far better read on what their catching situation will look like for 2009.

Varitek, a three-time All-Star, has played 1,330 games, all with the Red Sox. He is a career .263 hitter with 161 homers and 654 RBIs.