Archive for: February 2014

Maricopa High Rams Baseball, Softball Seasons Underway

MHS BaseballThe crack of the bat, the smell of the fresh-cut grass, the perfectly lined chalked baselines, everything that makes springtime in Arizona the best time of the year is upon us – baseball and softball season.

The 17 members of the Maricopa High School varsity baseball team along with the 18 members of the varsity softball team have waited for this week since returning from the holiday break.

The baseball team started playing Wednesday in the four-day Tomas Pinon Tournament in Casa Grande where they will take on Marana High School, Arizona Charter Academy and host team Casa Grande Union High School in consecutive days.

New head coach Andrew Pollak said he looks to get the Rams back into contention after a 12-13-1 overall and 9-9 in its league 2013 season. Pollak is a former catcher at Arizona State University and brother of NFL lineman, Mike Pollak.

The team includes 12 seniors this season along with three juniors. Two sophomores, Nate Ford and Tyler Rapp also made the cut. Ford along with junior Joel Silva were both promoted from the junior varsity this season and will split time behind the plate. Rapp, not only played for the varsity squad as a freshman, but also was second on the team in at-bats with 71. He also made six pitching appearances garnering two wins.

Rams LogoSenior pitchers Dillon Moran and Dallas Speer will return for their final season on the mound for the Rams along with Tristan Hartley and Michael Gunter. Leading hitter Sean Dugan graduated last year but seniors Michael Gunter, Michael Ashe, Dillon Moran and Bernardo Juarez swing big bats as well.

The Rams varsity softball team traveled a bit farther than their male counterparts when they started play Thursday in the Sun Blast Tournament at Boulder Creek High School in Anthem, a far-reaching Phoenix suburb to the north.

The ladies face Gila Ridge from Yuma today, then a doubleheader against La Joya Community from Avondale and Xavier College Preparatory from Phoenix on Saturday.

Head coach Chris Ansley returns for his fourth season and is looking to improve on the 15-12 record from last year. Making up the varsity squad this year are seven seniors, six juniors, four sophomores and a freshman in Kayla Martinez.

Leading the Rams this season are junior infielder Isabel McCloskey who finished the 2013 season with batting average of .471 in 19 games. McCloskey also knocked out four homeruns as well as 19 RBIs and two doubles in her 39 at-bats. Senior Chelsea Trejo, who played in 26 of 27 games last year also carried a big bat, hitting .327 with 18 hits including three doubles and a home run.

Additional returning seniors this season are Madison Moncel, Madison Byrd, Rosie Naranjo and Sydnee Akers.

Moncel and Byrd started 26 and 25 games respectively last season. Moncel had a solid season hitting .373 with 19 hits and 18 RBI in 51 at-bats. Byrd is the only returning player that hit both a triple and a home run for the Rams last year while registering 14 hits

Yasmin Santa Cruz winds up to deliver the pitch.  Tena Dugan photo

Yasmin Santa Cruz winds up to deliver the pitch.
Tena Dugan photo

and 15 RBI. Naranjo played in 21 games last year with a respectable .297 batting average. Akers’ experience will also be an asset in the dugout.

Senior newcomers Kaylee Darnall and Chelsea Jones will provide maturity and leadership.

On the mound for the Rams will be returning junior, Victoria Andrade (5-3). Andrade started nine game and maintained a solid 1.95 ERA over 13 appearances. Andrade threw five complete games including one shutout. Her strikeout-to-walk ratio was also admirable at 45:14.

Joining Andrade on the mound this year will be sophomores Yasmin Santa Cruz and Amber Cramer.

5 Pac-12 Softball Teams in Top 10; Arizona State and UCLA Still Undefeated

ASU Softball

The No. 3 ranked Arizona State Sun Devils (17-0) hosted and swept the Diamond Devil Invitational over the weekend while seven Pac-12 teams competed in the 35-team Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic in Cathedral City, Calif. The USA Today/NFCA Coaches Poll was released on Tuesday with five teams ranked in the top 10 and six in the top 15.

The No. 4 Oregon Ducks and the No. 5 UCLA Bruins swept their opponents this weekend in the Classic. The No. 10 Arizona Wildcats suffered their first loss of the season yet still skipped up four spots. The No. 7 Washington Huskies lost two at the Classic while the No. 15 Stanford lost three of five.

The Sun Devils jumped one spot after an utterly dominant performance in the Diamond Devil Invitational over the weekend. In five games, the Sun Devils utilized the run-rule four times and Dallas Escobedo (7-0) threw a complete came shut out in the other. Escobedo’s 0.45 ERA and Mackenzie Popescue’s (8-0) 0.62 ERA are second and third in the conference (min. five starts).

Jose Ubeda/Daily Bruin

Ally Carda
Jose Ubeda/Daily Bruin

The Bruins squeaked by the defending national champion Oklahoma Sooners on Friday and the Missouri Tigers on Saturday by a run in the Mary Nutter Classic. UCLA would have no trouble the rest of the way, compiling 29 runs against its opponents and using the run rule against New Mexico in the finale. Ally Carda advanced to 9-0 on the season and owns the conference’s best ERA at 0.40.

The Ducks also took advantage of their weekend sweep at the Mary Nutter Classic and moved up to No. 4. Oregon’s 14th consecutive win after its season-opening loss shows how short the poll voters’ memories can be. The Ducks defeated two ranked teams over the weekend in No. 23 LSU and No. 24 Notre Dame in a nine-inning pitchers’ duel. The Ducks defeated the aforementioned Tigers and Fordham in regulation and used the run rule on Virginia and UC Davis.

The Huskies trip to the Mary Nutter Classic was less than memorable and the poll voters noticed by dropping Washington four spots to No. 7. The Huskies started and ended the tournament well with shutouts, but it was the in-between games that offered the biggest challenges. Washington lost the back end of doubleheaders on Thursday and Friday nights to LSU and Northwestern, 6-3 and 4-2 respectively.

AZ SBThe Wildcats had a successful weekend outscoring its opponents 34-4, but lost a 2-0 decision on Thursday night to Missouri. Not only was this Arizona’s first loss, but also its first shutout loss since May 17, 2013.  The Wildcats then went on to shut out Fresno St. 8-0 in five innings and Nebraska 7-0. Saturday’s game saw Arizona dismantle UNLV 14-1 in five innings.

The Cardinal faced three ranked teams in Baylor, LSU and Tennessee at the Mary Nutter Classic and lost every one. The Cardinal even needed eight innings before dispatching of Syracuse 11-5. The opening game against Maryland proved to be a harbinger of silent bats over the weekend. Other than the nine runs scored in the final two innings against the Orange, Stanford only scored six runs in four games.

Arizona State Basketball: Sun Devils Stumble at Rocky Mountain Schools

Carson UtahHot on the heels of one of the biggest victories in Arizona State basketball history over the No. 2-ranked in-state rival Arizona Wildcats, the Sun Devils (19-8, 8-6 Pac-12) went on the road and fell flat—hard.

Traveling to the newer basketball arenas in the Pac-12 and escaping with a victory at Colorado and Utah is not easy, just ask the aforementioned Wildcats, who needed overtime to escape the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City unscathed.

When Arizona State arrived at the Coors Event Center in Boulder, the Buffaloes were fresh off a road victory over USC and had won four of their last five games including a thrilling overtime win over Utah. The Sun Devils had only lost one game in the previous month, including two overtime games and the epic victory over Arizona.

The Sun Devils were embarrassed in Boulder, shooting a meager 31.5 percent from the floor and 28 percent from beyond the arc. Arizona State was out-rebounded by the largest margin all season, 48-27, including a 15-5 advantage on the offensive glass. Five offensive rebounds—by the entire team—in 40 minutes.

Jermaine Marshall, who had been clutch in the past three overtime victories over Cal, Oregon State and Arizona, went ice cold. Marshall shot 3-of-13, including 1-of-8 from three-point territory, in Boulder and 3-of-10 from the field, 1-of-7 from three, in Salt Lake City.

Bachynski

Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

Jordan Bachynski, the Pac-12 all-time leader in blocks, who leads all Division I players averaging 4.4 per game, had one block against Colorado and three at Utah. Bachynski nearly averages a double-double on the season with 8.9 rebounds and 11.7 points per game. In the past two games, he averaged 4.5 points and rebounds per game.

Jahii Carson, the most NBA-ready player on the team, was like Jekyll and Hyde on the roadie. Carson nearly missed a double-double in Boulder, netting 18 points and seven rebounds, but he was nowhere to be found in Salt Lake City, with eight points and one rebound.

The most consistent player of the Rocky Mountain trip was senior forward Shaquielle McKissic, who averaged 12 points and seven rebounds per game, a sizable improvement from the 8.8 points and 5.3 rebounds he averaged before leaving on the road trip.

The Sun Devils played horribly on the road trip and head coach Herb Sendek would be the first to admit it.

Sad Sendek

Ralph Freso/Getty Images

“We played horrible basketball,” Sendek told Doug Haller of azcentral.com. “I have no explanation. You’d have to ask them. We didn’t make plays. We didn’t defend. Couldn’t make shots, couldn’t make free throws. It’s really inexplicable and quite a dismal performance.”

With all the work that Sendek has done to extinguish his hot seat over the past two seasons, will this horrible road trip re-ignite the flame? Arizona Republic sports columnist Paola Boivin tweeted this assurance for Sendek:

 

It’s not all doom and gloom for Sendek and the Sun Devils as they still maintain a quality RPI of 32 and are 3-3 against teams with an RPI of 50 or better; their College Basketball Power Index (BPI) is also respectable at No. 38, which places them as a No. 10 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

America’s foremost bracketologist, Joe Lunardi, has the Sun Devils as a No. 9 seed playing against Virginia Commonwealth in the South bracket in Orlando. Regardless of the seeding, ASU Basketball had this to say on Twitter Monday afternoon after the new bracketology prediction was announced:

The Sun Devils are 14-1 at home this year and 30-5 in the past two seasons, including victories over two ranked teams in Arizona and Marquette. This week, Arizona State welcomes two teams with better conference records in Stanford and California, so victories over the Northern California schools will dramatically improve their seeding in the upcoming Pac-12 Tournament.

Arizona State finishes on the road again this season against a pair of struggling Oregon teams. Regardless of the competition, if the Devils repeat this past road trip in Oregon, everything could all be for naught.

Oregon Ducks and USC Trojans Continue Diamond Dominance

Ducks

The College Baseball Central No. 9 ranked Oregon Ducks traveled to Los Angeles, Calif., for a Week 2 series against the Loyola Marymount Lions. The Ducks (7-0) who have yet to play a home game, have been perfect on the road, opening up at Hawaii for a four-game set and then three games at LMU.

Ducks’ right fielder Tyler Baumgartner was the story of the weekend hitting 4-of-8 over the weekend with four doubles and a spectacular diving catch with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning on Sunday to keep the score >>>MORE on College Baseball Central.

 

World Golf Championships Quarterfinals has Big Names Absent

RickieAmerican golfer Rickie Fowler wasn’t the only player to find himself in a “sticky” situation on Friday. Several PGA veterans and top-seeded golfers found the Golf Club at Dove Mountain in Marana, Ariz. to be difficult in the Sweet 16 matchups.

Of the top 12 seeded players beginning play on Wednesday, only two remain—No. 2 seed Jason Day and No. 3 seed Jordan Spieth.

A third round of upset-laden matches were par for the course on Friday as we bid adieu to two No. 2 seeds, a No. 3 seed and a No. 4 seed—all to higher seeded players. Of the remaining eight golfers, three were considered underdogs receiving a seeding of eight or higher.

 

Rickie Fowler Is Unstoppable

 

One of the more stylishly flamboyant golfers on the PGA Tour, who never fails to bring it with his fashion sense hasn’t brought it when it comes to his golfing.

Fowler’s last and only PGA tour victory was the Wells Fargo Championship in May 2012. His highest finish in a major was tied for fifth in the Open Championship in 2011. Fowler recently finished tied for 10th in last year’s U.S. Open.

So, forgive the powers that be who seeded Fowler at No. 14.

Fowler has shown that he is for real in Marana. He has taken down three of the top 25 golfers in the world, according to Official World Golf Rankings, coming in at No. 56, down three spots from last week.

No.2 seed Sergio Garcia, who was leading 2-up on the front nine, conceded a putt on the seventh hole, in essence, handing the entire match to Fowler. The American would go on to win on the final hole with a birdie while Garcia parred.

After going down three skins through eight holes, Fowler knew what he had to do but would his actions speak louder than words down the stretch?

I would say so.

Fowler birdied holes nine and 10 to bring the deficit back to one and he kept it close with five straight halving holes through 15, including a birdie on 11 as well as a bogey on 14. Fowler finally tied it up with a birdie on the short 16th hole and won it all with a closing birdie on 18.

Fowler’s Saturday opponent will be crowd favorite, University of Arizona alum, Jim Furyk.

8 Is Great in This State

Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

Ernie Els Out of the Trap
Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

Two No. 8 seeds, both from South Africa and both intricately intertwined with the other, could meet in the semifinals on Sunday. Both golfers defeated a lower-seeded player on Friday, hot on the heels of knocking out their bracket’s top-seed golfer on Thursday.

Louis Oosthuizen made quick work of No. 5 seed Webb Simpson 5 and 4. Simpson birdied on the fifth hole to take a 1-up lead, but it was his last birdie and last lead of the tournament. Ooosthuizen would win the next three holes and six of the next eight, eventually taking the victory after the 14th hole.

Ernie Els’ journey would take a little longer than 14 holes, but he was surely happy to win on Friday in regulation after needing playoff holes in his previous two matches.

No. 4 seed Jason Dufner took an early 2-up lead after three holes but his bogeys on the fifth and sixth holes brought the golfers back to even. Els would take a 2-up lead of his own after 12 holes before returning to even after 17. Els’ clutch birdie putt on 18 secured a victory—in regulation for the South African veteran.

Oosthuizen will face No. 2 seed Jason Day for the Bobby Jones championship, while Els will take on No. 3 seed Jordan Spieth for supremacy in the Gary Player bracket.

Hometown (Sort Of) Hero Making Good Back in Tucson

Jim Furyk with Heroes' Welcome Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

Jim Furyk with Heroes’ Welcome
Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

The 43-year-old from West Chester, Penn., now makes his residence in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., but he lived in Tucson from 1988 to 1992 attending the University of Arizona. Furyk was a two-time All-American at Arizona and led the Wildcats to the lone NCAA title in 1992.

Chants of “U of A” could be heard across the course by lubricated Tucsonans showing their pride and at the same time, their age.

Furyk struggled mightily to begin Friday’s match, dropping two of the first three to Harris English. Furyk found himself 3-down after six holes but would eventually right the ship, knocking in birdies at seven and 12. Coupled with English’s bogey on 10, the golfers were all square moving to the 13th hole.

A back-and-forth lead change on holes 14 through 16 provided great entertainment for the crowd but when Furyk matched birdies on 17, the crowd went wild. He would maintain the 1-up advantage through 18 to claim victory.

A daunting task for Furyk lies ahead in taking on Rickie Fowler for the Ben Hogan championship on Saturday.

Graeme McDowell Shows His Staying Power

 

No. 4 seed Graeme McDowell and No. 8 seed Hunter Mahan were not the last golfers to tee off on Friday, but they were the last to finish. A marathon 21-hole match was sealed on McDowell’s birdie on the third playoff hole.

Mahan won the first two holes but McDowell evened things back up after five holes were completed, and it was a dogfight from there for the next five holes before Mahan birdied 11 to take the 1-up lead. A rollercoaster ride was in store for Mahan hitting a double-bogey on 14 followed by consecutive birdies.

McDowell needed to take the final two holes to send it to a playoff and Mahan helped with a bogey on 17, but the glory was all McDowell’s when he birdied 18. The golfers halved the first two playoff holes before McDowell sank the birdie on the third hole, claiming the victory.

Facing McDowell in the Sam Snead championship bracket will be No. 7 seed Victor Dubuisson.

The Frenchman Defeats the Good ‘Ol Boy

Watson and Dubuisson Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

Watson and Dubuisson
Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

George Lester Watson, Jr., otherwise known as “Bubba,” the good ‘ol boy from the “Redneck Riviera” couldn’t catch a break on Friday in Marana.

Victor Dubuisson took an early 2-up lead after as many holes and never looked back. Watson did his best to keep it close, winning five skins, but Dubuisson never relinquished the lead and won 1-up after 18.

When it seemed that Dubuisson was ready to finish off Watson after taking a 3-up lead after 14, Watson responded with birdies on 15 and 17. Watson needed the skin on 18 to bring the golfers even but ended up with a par giving Dubuisson the only wire-to-wire victory of the day.

The Sam Snead bracket will set the Frenchman, Dubuisson against Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell.

3 Top Seeds Fall on Day 2 of World Golf Championship

Rory 2

It was another gorgeous southern Arizona day at the Golf Club at Dove Mountain with temperatures nearing the 80-degree mark without going over. The atmosphere in the hospitality tents was raucous but nowhere near that of the “other” PGA golf tournament held in Scottsdale annually on Super Bowl weekend.

The beautiful weather must have convinced the top-seeded players that they would rather be enjoying the lavish confines of the neighboring Ritz-Carlton resort as opposed to playing on its course. The three remaining No. 1 seeds were shown the door Thursday, leaving three No. 2 seeds and two No. 3 seeds as the highest-seeded players heading into Friday’s final eight matches.

No. 8 Seed Louis Oosthuizen Defeats No.1 Seed Henrik Stenson

 

South African Louis Oosthuizen, the 35th ranked golfer in the world according to Official World Golf Ranking, has been having a great time in the southern Arizona desert.

He defeated No. 9 seed Nick Watney 1-up on Wednesday and was rewarded with the task of facing No. 1 seed Henrik Stenson, Sweden’s top golfer and the No. 3 golfer in the world—ahead of Phil Mickelson.

Oosthuizen showed no signs of awe or astonishment and took a quick 3-up advantage after the first four holes. Stenson would birdie six and pull back to within one stroke but the two went on a five-hole par streak leaving Oosthuizen up two after the 11th hole.

Stenson went on to bogey 12 and both golfers birdied 13 then bogeyed 14 to keep Oosthuizen 3-up. Oosthuizen’s birdie on 15 coupled with Stenson’s par ended the day for Stenson.

Oosthuizen will face No. 5 seed Webb Simpson on Friday at 1:43 p.m. ET.

No. 8 Seed Ernie Els Defeats No. 1 Seed Justin Rose

Els

Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

Ernie Els, another South African golfer, who actually financially supported fellow countryman Louis Oosthuizen through his foundation, advanced a step farther on Thursday.

“The Big Easy” has won four major championships; twice at the U.S. Open and twice at the Open Championship, as recently as 2012. Els has had an extremely successful 20-year career dating back to his 1994 PGA Rookie of the Year nod.

Els is one spot above Oosthuizen in the World Golf Rankings at No. 34 and is making his presence known in Marana after convincing victories over Stephen Gallacher and a 20-hole triumph over No. 1 seed Justin Rose.

Els looked like he was going to pull away early after going 2-up through four holes but bogeys on five and seven brought them back to all square, where they stayed over the next four holes. Rose took a 1-up lead when Els bogeyed 12 but a birdie on 15 evened the score again.

The back-and-forth continued over the next two holes and the golfers were all square after the regulation 18 holes.

A birdie on the second playoff hole secured the upset for Els and he will face No. 4 seed Jason Dufner on Friday at 2:07 p.m. ET.

No. 9 Seed Harris English Defeats No. 1 Seed Rory McIlroy

 

The 24-year-old Valdosta, Ga., native won two PGA Tour events in 2013, the OHL Classic at Mayakoba in November and the FedEx St. Jude Classic in June, besting Phil Mickelson.

English is ranked No. 39 in the Official World Golf Rankings and defeated PGA veteran Lee Westwood on Wednesday 5 and 3 before knocking off tournament favorite McIlroy 1-up on Thursday.

English had a two-stroke lead twice on Thursday after holes 11 and 13, but McIlroy proved why he was the favorite winning holes 14 through 16. English’s par on 17 brought the golfers back to even and McIlroy apparently folded under the pressure with a double-bogey on the first playoff hole.

English will face local favorite, University of Arizona alum, Jim Furyk in the first group on Friday, teeing off at 12:55 p.m. ET.

No. 14 Seed Rickie Fowler Defeats No. 6 Seed Jimmy Walker

Allen Henry-USA Today Sports

Allen Henry-USA Today Sports

Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

Rickie Fowler wasn’t expected to play well this weekend, he was supposed to take an early exit against Match play expert Ian Poulter. Yet, here he is, with two straight victories heading into the Sweet 16.

Fowler needed all 18 holes to dispatch of Walker but dispatch of him, he did.

The golfers see-sawed through the first six holes and no clear leader was apparent until Walker took the 1-up lead on the ninth hole. The score stayed the same for the next four holes until Fowler birdied on 14 to square it up.

Cue the see-saw again.

Walker went 1-up after 15 and Fowler took the next two skins to take a 1-up lead into the final hole where both golfers parred and Fowler emerged victorious.

Friday brings another match that Fowler is “supposed to” lose—facing the No. 2 seed, eighth-ranked player in the world, Sergio Garcia. The pair will tee off at 1:07 p.m. ET.

Remaining Sweet 16 Matchups

 

There were other matches on Thursday where the lower seed won but not by any large margin to be considered an upset. The highest seed still remaining in the Sweet 16 is No. 14 seed George Coetzee who defeated No. 11 seed Patrick Reed 1-up after 21 holes.

Coetzee upset Steve Stricker on Wednesday, and he will once again have his work cut out for him on Friday when he faces No. 2 seed Jason Day at 1:55 p.m. ET.

A battle of USWG top 15 golfers face off in the final pairing of the day when No. 2 seed, Matt Kuchar (No. 10 USWG) takes on No. 3 seed Jordan Speith (No. 13 USWG) at 2:19 p.m. ET.

Another balanced pairing to watch at 1:19 p.m. ET is No. 4 seed Graeme McDowell taking on No. 8 seed Hunter Mahan. Both are respected veterans on the PGA Tour that have been the model of consistency in Marana over the past two days.

Directly following Mahan and McDowell at 1:31 p.m. ET is everyone’s favorite Bubba—Watson will be looking to limit upstart Victor Dubuisson.

World Golf Championships Match Play Sees Several 1st-Day Upsets

Rory

The World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play began in Marana, Ariz., Wednesday morning to gray, overcast skies.

The Golf Club at Dove Mountain, 30 miles northwest of downtown Tucson, is a fickle course, not because of tricky pin placements or desert landscape—but because of the weather. The field was welcomed to overcast skies that burned off as the morning wore on en route to a beautiful 80-degree day.

A stark contrast to the 30-degree temperatures and snow—yes, snow—in the foothills of the Tortolita Mountains in 2013.

Even with the near-perfect conditions and temperatures, the event saw some of the tournament’s top names go down on the first day and many more double-digit seeds advance.

 

No. 16 Seed Richard Sterne Defeats No. 1 Seed Zach Johnson

Zach Johnson, the 37-year-old Iowa native, entered the World Golf Championship as a top seed, but in the end, he just had a bad day. Johnson took an early 1-up lead after a birdie on the second hole, but he would never increase it.

Three birdies in four holes by Richard Sterne built a sizable lead from which Johnson could not recover. Johnson gained a point back on 10, but Sterne came roaring back to once again birdie on three of the next four holes.

Sterne won 5 and 4 after 14 holes and will face Hunter Mahan on Thursday.

 

No. 15 Seed Peter Hanson Defeats No. 2 Seed Dustin Johnson

Peter Hanson Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

Peter Hanson
Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

It’s a good thing that they don’t call it “Keeping up with the Johnsons,” as two top-seeded golfers with the surname Johnson lost on Wednesday.

Coastal Carolina alumnus and the No. 8 golfer in the world, according to Official World Golf Ranking, Dustin Johnson, lost 4 and 3 to Peter Hanson.

Hanson birdied and took the advantage on the first hole, gaining a 2-up lead when Johnson double-bogeyed on seven. Johnson would win the 11th hole when Hanson bogeyed but then hit the skids himself with back-to-back bogeys on 13 and 14.

The match was called after 15 holes when both golfers parred the hole.

 

No. 14 Seed George Coetzee Defeats No. 3 Seed Steve Stricker

Steve Stricker has dealt with a lot in the past week.

The 50-year-old brother of the world’s No. 12 player successfully underwent liver transplant surgery last weekend, and Stricker decided to play in the tournament. He was a No. 3 seed and would most likely win the first two rounds.

So much for that line of thinking.

Stricker fell into an early hole, bogeying the first two holes and four on the front nine. When the pressure was on, Stricker responded, winning back-to-back holes on 13 and 14 before ultimately losing 3 and 1 after 17 holes.

George Coetzee will face another upset winner in 11th seed Patrick Reed on Thursday.

 

No. 14 Seed Rickie Fowler Defeats No. 3 Seed Ian Poulter

Rickie Fowler Matt York/Associated Press

Rickie Fowler
Matt York/Associated Press

Rickie Fowler, the 25-year-old from Murrieta, Calif., has been struggling as of late. He recently dropped three spots in the Official World Golf Ranking from 53 to 56 and was paired against OWGR’s 15th-ranked Ian Poulter, a daunting task for any golfer, much less a recently struggling one.

The pair was all-square through the first three holes prior to Fowler nabbing birdies on holes four, six and seven, taking a three-point advantage. Poulter struck back on the back nine, earning the skin on 11 and 14. The pair ended the match as they began it, with three straight matching pars. After 17 holes, Fowler was named the victor, 2 and 1.

Fowler faces No. 6 seed Jimmie Walker on Thursday.

 

No. 12 Seed Matteo Manassero Defeats No. 5 Seed Luke Donald

The youngest player to win a European Tour event struck early and often on Wednesday, defeating No. 5 seed Luke Donald 5 and 4.

The 20-year old phenom from Negrar, Italy broke Bobby Cole’s 1967 record as being the youngest player to make the cut at the Masters Tournament in 2010 at 16 years, 11 months and 2 days. He would turn pro a month later, competing in the BMW Italian Open and won his first title five months later in October, 2010.

It wasn’t so much that Donald had a rough day in Marana, but Manassero had a great one. Manassero birdied four of the first 10 holes while Donald bogeyed on nine and double-bogeyed on the third hole.

After four consecutive all-square holes from 11 to 14, Manassero was declared the winner and will face 4 seed Jason Dufner on Thursday.

 

No. 11 Seed Jonas Blixt Defeats No. 6 Seed Keegan Bradley

Jonas Blixt Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Jonas Blixt
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Keegan Bradley, the 2011 PGA Rookie of the Year, started his career like a man on fire. He won in his major debut—the PGA Championship, no less. Since then, the 27-year-old New England golfer has only one PGA Tour win, the 2012 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

Conversely, Swedish golfer Jonas Blixt’s best finish in a major is fourth in the 2013 PGA Championship to go along with two tour wins, the 2012 Frys.com Open and the 2013 Greenbrier Classic.

In one of the closer matches of the day, with four lead changes, Blixt bettered Bradley down the stretch, taking a 3-up advantage after 15 holes. Blixt pulled to all square after nailing a birdie on 11, and Bradley bogeyed the next two holes, giving a three-point swing in as many holes.

Bradley birdied on 16 to pull back within two, but when both golfers parred on hole 17, Blixt was declared the winner, 2 and 1.

Blixt will face everybody’s favorite Bubba—Bubba Watson—on Thursday.

Washington & Arizona State Highlight Latest USA Today/NFCA Coaches Poll

Husky Softball

The Washington Huskies (10-0) and Arizona State Sun Devils (11-0) put forth dominant performances in the Littlewood Classic in Tempe, Ariz. over the weekend and were rewarded for their hard work. Washington garnered an additional first-place vote although they remained at No. 3 and Arizona State moved up a spot to No. 4 in the latest USA Today/NFCA Coaches Poll released on Tuesday. Four additional Pac-12 teams swept conference tournaments over the weekend and moved up in the rankings as well.

The Pac-12 now holds four of the top 10 spots and six of the top 14.

The No. 3 Huskies put on an offensive clinic at the Littlewood Classic in Tempe over the weekend, outscoring opponents 52-2 in four games. Washington (10-0) capped the weekend with a 3-1 victory over defending national champion Oklahoma on Sunday. Husky pitcher Bryana Walker (6-0) struck out a career-high 14 batters and notched her fourth complete game of the young 2014 season.

Dallas Escobedo

Dallas Escobedo

The No. 4 Sun Devils also swept their Littlewood Classic opponents, including a resounding defeat of the No. 18 Sooners. Arizona State pitcher Dallas Escobedo (4-0) came within one hit of throwing a no-hitter against OU before relinquishing a hit in the top of the seventh. Escobedo finished the game with 12 strikeouts.

Oregon jumped four spots to No. 6 and looked to be fully recovered from the season-opening loss to Cal Poly. Since then, the Ducks have won nine straight, including the past five in the Easton Desert Classic in Las Vegas, Nev. The Ducks run-ruled its opponent in three games but needed extra innings to overcome UNLV 3-1 in a marathon 10-inning matchup.

The No. 8 Bruins entered the top 10 this week, also gaining four spots. UCLA hosted the Cathy Winsberg Memorial Tournament over the weekend and outscored its four opponents 30-3 in six games.

Keeping with the current trend, Stanford swept its tournament and jumped four spots in the polls to No. 13. The Nike Invitational held at Stanford saw the Cardinal defeat Cal Poly and Bradley twice over the weekend while the Pacific Tigers came up just short of the upset on Sunday, scoring four runs in the top of the seventh before losing 11-9.

Arizona Softball

Arizona Softball

 

The No. 14 Arizona Wildcats were the biggest movers in this week’s poll. The ‘Cats jumped 10 spots after their big weekend in which they surrendered only one run over six games in the Hillenbrand Invitational in Tucson. The big bats for Arizona registered 39 runs this past weekend, including 14 home runs. In nine games the Wildcats have a blistering 0.41 ERA and have pitched seven shutouts while only allowing three hits.

Pac-12 Baseball Sees 7 of 11 Teams Earn Series Win on Opening Weekend

ConfortoThe stars came out to shine on opening weekend in the Pac-12 Conference after a shaky Opening Day. The defending National Champion UCLA Bruins were handed a surprise 1-0 loss to open the 2014 season in Jackie Robinson Stadium and needed 11 innings to gain the weekend series over the upstart Portland Pilots out of the West Coast Conference.

UCLA junior reliever David Berg, the Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year earned his first win on Sunday after throwing four scoreless innings. Junior LHP Grant Watson notched an easy 12-1 win on Saturday behind the big Bruin bats of 3B Chris Keck (4-5, 3 runs, 1 RBI) and shortstop Trent Chatterton (2-5, 1 run, 3 RBI). <<<More on College Baseball Central.

Pac-12 Basketball: Rivalry Week Takes Center Stage for Wildcats and Sun Devils

jahii-azRivalry week is intense.

Kansas State shocked Kansas on Monday, Michigan took down Ohio State on Tuesday and Duke and North Carolina were set to battle on Wednesday night before Mother Nature intervened. The next big rivalry game on the docket is No. 2 Arizona at Arizona State on Friday night.

Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe, Ariz., will host the in-state rivalry known as the Territorial Cup Series on February 14 and it’s safe to say that even though it is being played on Valentine’s Day, there is no love lost between the two teams.

 

 

 

What seems to be more compelling is that the game is being played on Arizona Statehood Day and will be nationally broadcast on ESPN at 7 p.m. ET with Dave Pasch and Bill Walton on the call.

The teams met on January 16 in Tucson and it was a blowout from the opening tipoff. The Wildcats took an early 26-8 lead and led by as many as 24 in the second half before capping a 91-68 victory.

Arizona (23-1, 10-1 Pac-12) leads the series 145-80 and has won 31 of the past 39 matchups between the teams. Arizona State (18-6, 7-4 Pac-12) has tried its best to keep the rivalry competitive by winning seven of the past 14, but have lost the last three.

The Houston Rockets’ James Harden, he of the massive beard, propelled the Sun Devils to five straight victories over Arizona in 2008 and 2009. The Wildcats’ longest streak is at 17 games (1945-52) while the Sun Devils’ winning streak best is 15 (1958-64).

Ashley injury

Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

Friday night’s game will be markedly different from the last time the teams met due to a personnel change for both teams. The Wildcats will be without sophomore forward Brandon Ashley, who suffered a season-ending foot injury in the team’s lone loss against Cal. The Sun Devils will also have senior guard Jermaine Marshall in the game, who missed the January 16 game in Tucson.

It appears that the Wildcats are still adjusting to the loss of Ashley while the Sun Devils seem to be on a tear as of late due to the huge plays of center Jordan Bachynski.

Bachynski was named Pac-12 Player of the Week after a home sweep of the Oregon schools in which he averaged 21.5 points, 12 rebounds and eight blocks. Bachynski also became the Pac-12 record holder for career blocks at 279—and added nine more on Saturday for good measure.

Can the loss of Ashley and the addition of Marshall swing the pendulum back to Arizona State? Wells Fargo Arena has had a raucous atmosphere this season for Arizona State.

It makes it so much more fun to play when it’s loud. When we make a big play and the whole arena explodes, it is such an amazing feeling, and I love it. I am so grateful that we have the fans that we do that are coming out and being loyal and staying the whole time and just doing—no other word for it, just a phenomenal, a great job. It’s fun to play in.

jahii-mayesArizona’s stout defense will have much to say about keeping Bachynski, Marshall and point guard Jahii Carson in check. The Wildcat defense ranks seventh nationally in field-goal percentage defense and fourth in scoring defense. The lane is sacred to Arizona and it leads the nation in two-point scoring defense, holding teams to 40.7 percent inside the arc.

The Sun Devils are 13-1 at home this year and 29-5 in the past two seasons at Wells Fargo while the Wildcats are 7-1 in games away from Tucson this season and hold a Pac-12-best 29 true road game victories since the beginning of the 2009-10 season.

Something has to give and 14,198 people will be in Tempe on Friday night while countless others across the country will watch it unfold.