Archive for: March 2014

Big West Baseball: UC Santa Barbara Proves Worthy at Hi Corbett Classic

UCSB MSU

TUCSON, Ariz — The inaugural Hi Corbett Classic was scheduled to feature two College World Series finalists of the past two years. The 2013 runner-up Mississippi State Bulldogs and 2012 champion Arizona Wildcats were the big draws with the University of California Santa Barbara filling out the tournament.

Through five of six games, it is the Gauchos (10-2) who are making the big news over the weekend, not the No. 17 Mississippi State Bulldogs (11-7). >>>Read more on College Baseball Central.

Arizona’s Trent Gilbert Dominates No.17 Mississippi State

Trent Gilbert

TUCSON, Ariz. — The Mississippi State Bulldogs (11-6) saw their seven-game win streak end on Friday after dropping a pair of games in the Inaugural Hi Corbett Classic. The University of California Santa Barbara Gauchos (8-1) extended their win streak to seven games when they beat MSU in the matinee, 8-3.

The Arizona Wildcats (7-7), who were on a streak of a different kind, rebounded in a big way and snapped their five-game losing skid in front of 2,764 fans on Friday night. >>>Read more on College Baseball Central.

Inaugural Hi Corbett Classic to Feature College World Series Finalists

hi-corbett-classic

TUCSON, Ariz.  —  The 2012 College World Series Champion, Arizona Wildcats and the 2013 College World Series runner-up Mississippi State Bulldogs will highlight the Hi Corbett Classic this weekend in southern Arizona.

The No. 15 College Baseball Central Bulldogs travel to Tucson after  sweeping the Diamond Classic in Starkville, Miss. Mississippi St. (11-4) defeated Michigan State and Eastern Illinois two times each and completed the 15-game opening home stretch with a 3-0 win over South Alabama an Wednesday. >>>Read More on College Baseball Central 

Rams baseball, softball split pair with McClintock Chargers

Dallas SpeerThe Maricopa High School baseball team visited McClintock High School in Tempe Tuesday while the softball team hosted the Chargers in Maricopa.

The baseball squad (3-1) brought senior pitcher Dallas Speer on the mound against McClintock’s senior Joe Schmidgall for a 4 p.m. showdown. The pitchers battled allowing only six hits each, but it was Tristan Hartley’s 2-4 game with an RBI in the third inning that would spell the difference in the game.

The Rams would go on to win 1-0 and Speer would earn his second victory of the year. Speer added 12 strikeouts to his season total after fanning nine Arizona Charter Academy batters Feb. 28.

After a tough opening day loss to Marana High School, the Rams have reeled off three straight victories including two shutouts. Next up for Coach Andrew Pollak’s squad is traveling to Gilbert on Saturday for the Campo Verde High School Tournament. The first game will be 1 p.m. against Tucson High Magnet School followed by a 4 p.m. game against Campo Verde. Tucson High begins play today and Campo Verde (3-1) will have played six games by the time the teams meet.

Photo courtesy of Sam Dugan

Photo courtesy of Sam Dugan

The Lady Rams hosted the Chargers and held a 2-1 lead heading into the final inning of play. The Chargers scored two runs in the top of the seventh to put the pressure on the Rams – and they answered with a run to take the game into extra innings. The teams battled through two scoreless innings until McClintock plated three runs in the top of the 10th. There were no more late-game heroics for the Lady Rams and they fell 6-3. Leading batters were Madison Byrd, Vickie Andrade and Madison Moncel, who had two hits apiece.

Next up for the Rams (1-3) will be hosting the Kristyn Diehl Tournament with games against Camelback High School at 4 p.m. Thursday, a doubleheader against Page High School at 4 p.m. and Florence High School at 8 p.m.

Mardi Gras in Tucson: All Beads, No B**bs

Mardi_GrasThe celebrated history of Mardi Gras or “Fat Tuesday” translated from French can trace its roots all the way back to the 17th century. The Roman Catholic Church season of Lent, replete with fasting and sacrifice begins on Ash Wednesday and Mardi Gras was to be one final fling before the 40-day abdication.

“By the 1730s, much of our modern-day traditions had started: People wore masks in processions, with slaves carrying flambeaux, or torches,” says Karen Leatham, museum historian for the Louisiana State Museum in New Orleans. “In 1875, Fat Tuesday became an official holiday in Louisiana.”

Parades for Mardi Gras first began in New Orleans in 1857 by “Krewes,” organizations that would build floats and organize balls. The latest count on New Orleans krewes has topped over 50 major parades in the metro New Orleans area. The tradition for tossing beads or “throws” from the floats soon became synonymous with the parades and they became the most sought-after trinket of the day.

Enter capitalism and hedonism.

Female attendants of early Mardi Gras parades proved that there was no limits to garnering the perfect Mardi Gras accessory—beads. The flashier, the gaudier, the bigger, the better.

The traditional colors of purple, green and gold were chosen by the Krewe of Rex in 1872 to honor a visiting Russian grand duke, whose house colors were purple, green and gold, according to the website Mardi Gras New Orleans. Later, the Rex krewe assigned meanings to each color. Purple stands for justice, green for faith and gold for power.

ParishIn Tucson, the Mardi Gras celebration is a little bit more tame. To get in the spirit of the celebration, I attended Southern Arizona’s largest celebration of Fat Tuesday revelers at The Parish to see how Tucson measured up to the original. I have been to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, but in all honesty, I hardly remember too much, as it was 20 years ago.

The festival began at 5 p.m. and promised an authentic crawfish boil, four different live bands, hurricanes, and other Cajun specialties including gumbo, jambalaya, hush puppies and collard greens.

Upon my arrival at 6 p.m., I noticed a huge setup in the parking lot with a considerable line for revelers waiting to partake in the celebration. I made my way to the bar to meet with Steve Dunn, co-owner of the “deep southern” eatery and cocktail bar.

As you might imagine, Dunn was quite busy when I arrived and so I took in the scenery, the music, the beer and the food. I began with the Abita Amber Lager, the preferred beer of Mardi Gras celebrations as it pairs remarkably well with crawfish and Cajun food in general.

I spoke with bartender, Jon Tokan while waiting to speak with Dunn and he was a wealth of great information as he has been with The Parish from the beginning. “We offer many hand-crafted cocktails and infusions that you won’t find anywhere else,” Tokan said. “I’m not completely certain, but I also believe that we are the largest supplier of Abita beer in Arizona.”

The “Liquid Courage” menu showed many examples of Tokan’s inspirations, but he stated that the most popular was the Dutch Well Water, a combination of house-infused cucumber gin, fresh lime juice, peach bitters and lavender water—sounds amazing. Other favorites including specialty infusions were the Parishioner and La Verdad using basil vodka and cucumber tequila, respectively.

CrawfishTokan mentioned that the crawfish were flown in fresh from New Orleans overnight, so I ventured out to get my serving of the mud bugs served with potatoes and corn on the cob. I was served a hefty dish of the crustaceans and went to work pinching the tails and sucking the heads of the Cajun specialty. I made quick work of the “little lobsters” and some were even large enough to have viable meat in the claws, so that was a bonus. The crawfish were great, incredibly seasoned but the potatoes and corn were mushy, but I still finished the entire dish and then ordered up a Mardi Gras favorite cocktail, the Hurricane.

I wasn’t paying attention to how the drink was made, but the original recipe calls for light and dark rum, orange and passion fruit juice, grenadine and garnished with a cherry and an orange slice. The drink packed a punch but had enough sweetness to mask the high alcohol content.

After my tour of Cajun food and drinks, I was finally able to catch the eye of Dunn who took some time out to speak me about his restaurant.

Dunn, along with two other owners, Bryce Zeagler and Travis Peters took ownership of the location which was a sports bar at the time in August of 2011 and transformed it to The Parish in October. Zeagler is the former owner of The French Quarter that was on Grant Rd. and Country Club, which was coincidentally one of the first places that my wife and I visited on Mardi Gras six years ago.

Dunn was the General Manager and Peters was the Executive Chef of the Cup Café at the historic Hotel Congress, the two along with Ziegler had a desire to bring tastes of Texas and the deep south to Tucsonans. Dunn describes the everyday menu not so much as Cajun, but as southern fusion gastropub fare.

They have a huge smoker out back that produces an unique smoke to dishes such as their sweet tea-brined double bone-in pork chop, beer braised adobo rubbed barbeque pork, salmon, and tomatoes for an incredible pasta sauce.

Dixie“All three of us have manged restaurants before,” Dunn said. “We couldn’t wait to bring our own brand of southern food along with Jon’s specialty infused cocktails to the restaurant scene. The reception from the Tucson market has been phenomenal and people are realizing that we are more than just a Mardi Gras destination.” Dunn backed up his claim by saying that Valentine’s Day was just as busy, if not busier than Fat Tuesday. “We had a steady stream of two-tops throughout the evening and couples were purchasing big-ticket items without batting an eye.”

After speaking with Dunn, I needed another beer, this time I went back to Abita and had their Hop Gator. According to their website,  The HopGator is a dry hopped Helles Doppelbock. It is a strong lager that is brewed with pilsner malt and a small amount of caramel malt. It is then aged for 8 weeks so the strong sweet flavors from the malt will blend with the spicy and fruity flavors from the hops. I truly enjoyed this beer with its sweet malty flavor and strong hop aroma.

As the night grew on, I noticed an increasing number of younger patrons begin to file in, all wearing the accessory du jour—strands of colorful beads. The live music played on, the drinks were flowing across the bar top at a rapid pace and the crowd of 20 and 30-somethings became more lubricated.

There was, however, no clamoring for beads and nary a shirt or top was raised in an attempt to garner the plastic trinkets that would most likely end up in the trash when they got home.

You stay classy, Tucson.

Rain Hampers Play in Pac-12 Softball Over the Weekend

Cheridan HawkinsSeveral games in California and Arizona were postponed or cancelled altogether after rainstorms and lightning persisted over the weekend. No. 4 ranked UCLA had its entire slate of games in the Long Beach Louisville Slugger Invitational cancelled while No. 7 ranked Arizona and No. 10 ranked Arizona State missed out on three games combined.

The USA Today/NFCA Coaches Poll was released on March 4 and there was a bit of movement by teams, both up and down.

The No. 2 ranked Oregon Ducks (18-2) traveled cross-country to the Diamond 9 Citrus Classic in Orlando, Fla., and took four of five games losing an extra-inning heart-breaker to top-ranked Florida 2-1 in eight innings. In the four victories, Oregon outscored its opponents 17-2 including three shutouts and a run-rule defeat of Maryland. Sophomore pitcher Cheridan Hawkins was named Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week for her efforts. Hawkins pitched all three complete game shutouts and registered 44 strikeouts against No. 25 Auburn, Bradley and Maryland.

Senior outfielder Victoria Hayward

Senior outfielder Victoria Hayward

The No. 6 Washington Huskies (16-2) recovered a spot in the polls after dropping four spots last week. Washington traveled to Stockton, Calif., to participate in the Libby Matson Tournament. Pitching ace Bryana Walker came in for the final two innings against San Jose St. and gained her ninth win on the year only surrendering two hits. Walker would return to the mound on Sunday to blank the UTEP Miners 9-0 in five innings, once again giving up only two hits. Junior pitcher Kasey Stanchek was in a pitcher’s duel with Cal State Bakersfield on Saturday until the Husky bats woke up and scored eight runs in the sixth inning.

The No. 7 ranked Arizona Wildcats (18-1) jumped in the rankings for the third straight week on the heels of three straight run-rule victories over the weekend. The Wildcats hosted the Wildcat Invitational and dominated Longwood and Valparaiso in Friday’s doubleheader. Saturday’s games against Texas-Arlington and Iowa were cancelled due to the rain and the ‘Cats returned to the diamond on Sunday to dismantle Indiana 9-1 in five innings. Senior catcher/designated player Kelsey Rodriguez was honored with Pac-12 Player of the Week, the 138th all-time for Arizona, the most in the Pac-12.

The Louisville Slugger Invitational in Tempe, Ariz., was not kind to the No. 10 ranked Arizona State Sun Devils (20-3) that fell seven spots to No. 10. The Sun Devils lost their first game of the season to South Carolina, 3-2, in the back half of Thursday’s

Mackenzie "Wild Thing" Popescue

Mackenzie “Wild Thing” Popescue

doubleheader. The Devils would finish the tournament going 3-3 with losses to Minnesota and Ball State. Mackenzie Popescue improved her record to 11-0 and Dallas Escobedo took two losses over the weekend and is now 7-2.

The No. 4 UCLA Bruins were idle over the weekend due to inclement weather and jumped a spot from No. 5. The Bruins were slated to take on current No. 5 Michigan, Long Beach St., Louisville and Northwestern. UCLA and Michigan will face off for two consecutive games on Monday and Tuesday nights, with the latter being broadcast on the Pac-12 Networks at 7 p.m. PT. The Bruins face a brutal stretch of eight games over the next six days, with the UCLA/CSUN Invitational taking place at Easton Stadium this weekend.

The No. 22 Stanford Cardinal dropped seven spots from No. 15 after dropping two of five games in Florida over the weekend. The Cardinal participated in the Under Armour Invitational with games in Tampa and across the bay in Clearwater, Fla. Both losses for Stanford came in the back end of doubleheaders on Friday and Saturday to South Florida and Central Connecticut State. Freshman phenom pitcher Madi Schreyer improved to 14-3 with a complete game shutout of Kennesaw St. on Sunday.

Pac-12 Baseball: Several Games Cancelled as Rain Wreaks Havoc Out West

Rain OutThe West Coast is known for its beaches, deserts and plenty of sunshine. That wasn’t the case over the weekend as Pac-12 games were postponed, suspended and even cancelled due to heavy rain and lightning.

The College Baseball Central No. 17 UCLA Bruins (7-4) traveled to Cary, N.C. for the Notre Dame Classic and was unaffected by the weather. The Bruins, coming off a three-game losing streak had much to prove, and prove they did. Over three games,  Bruins pitchers allowed only allowed one run, nine hits and delivered 27 strikeouts. James Kaprielian went eight innings on Friday against Notre Dame surrendering one hit and punching out 11 of 28 batters faced. >>>Read more on College Baseball Central.

Predictions for the Pac-12, NCAA and NIT Tournaments

RHJ UCLA

Welcome to March—may the madness be with you.

After Saturday’s epic meltdown of top-ranked teams, including five of the top 10 and 10 of the top 25, will Sunday’s top teams fare any better?

The No. 3 Arizona Wildcats host the Stanford Cardinal while five more ranked teams look to avoid the upset bug.

Arizona had earned the No. 1 seed heading into the Pac-12 Tournament and barring an unforeseen late-season meltdown, the Wildcats will win their 13th regular season conference championship since joining the Pac-10/12 Conference in 1978.

How many Pac-12 teams will punch their dance ticket and where will they be seeded?

 

No. 1 Seed Arizona Wildcats

Gordon wince

Brennan Linsley/Associated Press

This is a no-brainer.

The No. 3 Wildcats (26-2, 13-2 Pac-12) have three games remaining and are favored in all three games. Arizona will host Stanford for a Sunday evening nightcap on ESPNU for those not interested in watching the Academy Awards.

After suffering a heart-wrenching, double-overtime loss to in-state rival, Arizona State, the Wildcats have rebounded nicely with three straight victories. The ‘Cats swept the Rocky Mountain schools and exacted sweet revenge on Cal with a convincing 87-59 victory.

The Wildcats end the regular season on the road facing the Oregon schools. The Ducks (20-8, 8-8 Pac-12) will look to extend their five-game win streak and possibly revive their tournament hopes. The Beavers (15-12, 7-8 Pac-12) are just hoping to avoid an embarrassing loss.

I predict the Wildcats will finish their season 16-2 in conference and also win the Conference Tournament.

 

No. 6 Seed UCLA Bruins

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

What has happened to UCLA?

Two straight losses to Stanford and Oregon have dropped the dropped the Bruins farther in several pundits’ predictions, but a favorable season-ending schedule could stop the bleeding.

The Bruins started conference play a little shaky, losing two of their first five games, including a five-point loss to Utah (No. 78 RPI). Another bad loss was waiting for the Bruins in Corvallis, where the Beavers (No. 98 RPI) handed them a 71-67 loss.

UCLA hosts Oregon State on Sunday and will look to celebrate senior night with a revenge win over the Beavers before embarking on its road trip at the Washington schools.

The Bruins still have a mathematical chance at sharing the 2013-14 Pac-12 regular-season title—but it would require Arizona losing their next three games. I like my chances at winning Powerball over that happening.

I see the Bruins finishing second in the Pac-12 with a 13-5 conference record, garnering a No. 2 seed in the Pac-12 tournament. It would be neat to see an NCAA tournament first-round matchup with former UCLA head coach Steve Lavin, who is now head coach at St. John’s.

 

No. 8 Seed Arizona State Sun Devils

Ralph Freso/Getty Images

Ralph Freso/Getty Images

The Sun Devils (21-8, 10-6) had a horrific road trip in the Rocky Mountain region and were written off by several pollsters as “not ready.” Arizona State posted its lowest offensive output of the season, scoring only 52 points at Colorado, and followed that up with a 23-point shellacking at Utah.

The Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City is a tough place to pull out a win; the Utes finished the season 18-2 with the only losses coming to then-No. 10 Oregon and then-No. 1 Arizona.

Herb Sendek’s squad saved their season and Sendek’s job for the foreseeable future with a convincing home stand against the Bay Area schools by 12 and 18 points over Stanford and Cal, respectively.

The Sun Devils have a quirky schedule to end the season, with a Tuesday-Saturday road trip to the Oregon schools. Arizona State’s Doug Tammaro said the Sun Devils will return to Tempe after the Tuesday night game at Oregon and return on Friday to prepare for the Saturday game at Oregon State.

I predict that Arizona State will split the road trip with a loss to Oregon, finish 11-7 in conference and earn a No. 3 seed in the Pac-12 tournament.

 

No. 9 Seed Stanford Cardinal

Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

The Cardinal, who had won four of six before embarking on their Arizona road trip, knew they had a tough end to their schedule. It started with a 12-point loss in Tempe and continues with a Sunday matchup in Tucson—where no visiting team has won this season.

Stanford has the luxury of hosting the final two regular-season games at home, but when the visiting teams are Colorado and Utah, the term “luxury” is far from Johnny Dawkins’ mind.

Colorado is most likely making a return trip to the Big Dance, while Utah is a team that is dangerous at home and atrocious on the road.

I predict the Cardinal will finish the season 10-7 in conference and gain a No. 5 seed in the Pac-12 tournament, which is as good as a bye in many minds.

 

No. 10 Seed Colorado Buffaloes

Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

The Buffaloes were 14-2 overall, 3-0 in conference and were ranked No. 15 in the country when they traveled to Seattle to take on the Washington Huskies.

In an instant, the Buffaloes’ season, it would seem, would go up in smoke when point guard Spencer Dinwiddie fell to the floor, clutching his left knee. It was later revealed that Dinwiddie tore his ACL and would be lost for the season. A heartbreaking loss for a player who was weighing his NBA options, he told Brian Howell of BuffZone.com  he is now considering the 2014 draft, although his injury won’t be healed prior to the April 27 deadline.

Including the loss at Washington, the Buffs would go on to lose four of the next five games before winning three straight at home. Colorado’s final two games are on the road against the Bay Area schools.

I predict the Buffaloes will win out on the road and finish 11-7 in conference, securing the No. 4 seed in the Pac-12 tournament.

 

No. 10 Seed California Golden Bears

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Much like the aforementioned Buffaloes, the Cal Bears started the season like a team on fire. The Bears, however, didn’t lose a player in mid-January, they just lost their way.

Cal has the distinction of being the only team in the Pac-12 to lose this year to Southern California, but at least it was on the road. The loss at USC was the first of three consecutive losses and four of the next five.

The season seemed to turn around when it knocked off the No. 1 team in the country, Arizona, 60-58 on Justin Cobbs’ last-second shot. Since the victory, the Bears have settled back into mediocrity, going 3-3 and coming back empty-handed on their Arizona road trip.

The Bears welcome the Rocky Mountain schools for the regular-season finale, and I predict California will split the pair, finishing the year at 10-8 in conference, and gain the No. 6 seed in the Pac-12 tournament.

 

NIT No. 1 Seed Oregon Ducks

Chris Pietsch/Associated Press

Chris Pietsch/Associated Press

The Oregon Ducks made quick work of their nonconference opponents, winning 12 straight and reaching as high as No. 10 in the rankings. Overtime was needed twice in the early going for the Ducks to dispatch of Ole Miss and BYU, but conference play was looming.

Oregon traveled to Utah to start conference play and needed overtime, once again, to sneak out of Huntsman Center with a win. The Ducks would then hit the skids, losing five straight and seven of the next nine.

A resurgence has returned to Dana Altman’s squad, having won their past five, including a stunning double-overtime thriller in Pauley Pavilion.

If the Ducks can sweep the Arizona schools at home, they might return to bubble talk, but as of now, it is safe to say the bubble has burst despite their best efforts.

I predict Oregon will finish 9-9 in conference and will nab the No. 7 seed in the Pac-12 tournament.

 

NIT No. 3 Seed Utah Utes

Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

There’s no place like home for the Utah Runnin’ Utes.

Playing in arguably one of the most difficult arenas in the conference and the country, the Huntsman Center has become synonymous with a Ute victory. On the road, however, is a completely different story.

The Utes are an amazing 18-2 at home but an alarming 1-7 on the road. Among their home victories are over then-No. 10 Oregon and then-No. 25 UCLA, but in between those big wins, the Utes lost 49-46 to Washington State.

The final two games for Utah are on the road against NCAA tournament-bound teams, and I don’t see a break from the norm, with the Utes getting swept in the Bay Area.

I predict Utah will finish the season 8-10 in conference play and will be seeded No. 8 in the Pac-12 tournament.