The SportsTalk Shop: Summer Hoops 2017 (Part 1)

With area schools now out of session, high school summer league basketball action has been picking up speed this past week.

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The “SportsTalk​” cameras were out and about covering several different local tournaments in the RCN viewing area the last few days and caught up with a number of coaches and players to get their thoughts on summertime basketball thus far.

(For more of these interviews, plus additional video highlights of summertime basketball action, check out last week’s “RCN Sports Talk presented by the Morning Call” program available through RCN On Demand as well as this Thursday’s show.)

A few notes/observations on the summer basketball action…

*The Central Catholic girls basketball team looks to return to form this year. After a rare under-500 regular season last winter, the Vikettes have added both height and depth to a young but talented team. With an extra year of experience under their belts, Central’s players looked extremely confident (and efficient) in running Coach Kopp’s motion offense to near perfection in the Holy Family Tournament last week—claiming the #1 ranking heading into the final day of action with their scrappy style of play.

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*Northampton, Nazareth and Easton are three of a number of girls teams that lost significant players to graduation, but each has lots of talent coming up through its system. The K-Kids probably have the biggest gap to fill, replacing Aja Blount (who averaged over 20 points and almost 20 rebounds per game).

Easton has shown a strong back court presence, led by Jah’nel Oliver, who had 13 points in the Holy Family Championship game, and boasts several outstanding forwards as well, including Hanna Doell—who is back after missing last season with an injury.

Nazareth also some big shoes to fill and is still looking to establish its back court combination (and have a TON of unselfish ball distributors), but the Blue Eagles have lots of depth at every position (and even more height coming in) and no doubt will be among the top teams in the 6A classification once again this year.

 

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*Before I saw the Patriots last weekend, several parents (from opposing schools, no less) advised me to keep an eye on both Whitehall and Freedom girls teams—programs that were not considered about the elite teams last winter. Both squads have a number of young players coming up, and one player from a rival school that I talked with said she’s not looking forward to facing either of those teams again during the regular season.

We’ll have more interviews, video highlights and packages, both on this Thursday’s “SportsTalk” program (7pm, LIVE) and here in the next installment of the “SportsTalk Shop.”

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Also, don’t forget to stop by Buffalo Wild Wings (Grape St., Whitehall, PA) this this Thursday night for this week’s show as we broadcast LIVE on location. Check out the “SportsTalk Gets Wild” page here on the RCN-TV website for more details on this show and for ways to help out a local organization!

 

The SportsTalk Shop: Phillies, Lacrosse & Special Events

As we have crossed the Memorial Day weekend and are roughly two months into the pro baseball season.  Players have now gotten enough experience that you can start analyzing and evaluating performances.  With that in mind, we caught up with Morning Call Senior Sports Writer Tom Housenick (who covers the Phillies minor league affiliates) to talk about the Phillies, their farm system and get his thoughts on how well the organizations top prospects are doing…

Tom will be on the June 22nd edition of “SportsTalk” to go into more details about MLB & MiLB baseball issues.
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There are also some special high school teams and organizations I want to give shout-outs for their recent efforts.

First, the Allentown Central Catholic state winning girls volleyball team.  The Vikettes not only captured district and PIAA gold this past year (coming out of perhaps the most competitive area for volleyball in the entire state) but did a great job on last week’s “SportsTalk Goes Wild” show, on location at the Whitehall “Buffalo Wild Wings.”

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Head Coach Laurie Corcoran, her staff and her players had some great insights on their accomplishments, both this year, and in the program’s history (Central Catholic was the “original” girls volleyball champion in the Valley–winning the first one back in 2001).

This year’s squad shared some of their special memories and were very entertaining on our program.  We’d like to thank them for coming out on a rainy evening to be the stars of our show last Thursday.  If you missed it, RCN customers can watch the show for free (for up to two months) through RCN On-Demand!

Also, I want to single-out the teams who competed in the District XI girls lacrosse championships at Lehigh University this past week.  SportsTalk Videographer Alyssa Sheckler and I had the pleasure of taking in both title games last week, and both of us were very impressed with the competing teams.

Saucon Valley (winners of their first district lacrosse title ever, after not winning a single game five seasons ago) and Moravian Academy and then Parkland (the 3A winners) against a spirited Easton ball club made for two hard fought games.  The Panthers took the early lead in their title game but had to hold on as the Lions stormed back to make it close.  The Trojans and Red Rovers went back and forth all night before Parkland held the final possession for a one-goal victory.

Lacrosse doesn’t get the attention local baseball and softball receives (ironically, we tried to cover four different lacrosse matches this year–all of them got rained out or moved to different sites).   I, for one, was very impressed by all four representatives in the District XI championships (our features on those games are also available through RCN On-Demand).

Saucon, Parkland and Easton all move on and embark on the state tourney this week, and we wish all three local teams the best of luck in their state championship quest.

Thirdly, I wanted to mention an upcoming event held at William Allen high school. Canaries’ Senior Marcus Dileo Vereen was diagnosed with Aplastic Anemia.  To help raise money to help with medical costs, the school is sponsoring #MarcusStrongDay on Saturday, June 3rd from 9am-2pm in the Allen cafeterias.  They are holding a blood drive, bone marrow registry drive, a bake sale, raffles, prizes, games and fun for all.  Support is desperately needed for this outstanding student (who is also dual-enrolled in college level classes).

For more information, you can call Susan Wood at 484-765-5197 or email her at Woods@qallentownsd.org.  You can also email the Allen Football Head Coach, George Clay, at claygf@allentownsd.org for details on this cause.

Last but certainly not least, June 3rd is also the date of this year’s Howard Deppe Memorial Baseball All-Star Event held at Fegley Field at Limeport Stadium.  There are multiple activities going on throughout the day to highlight local high school baseball all-star players, including a skills competition and home run hitting contest.  The event raises money and awareness for the American Cancer Society.

A representative will be on the next “SportsTalk” program to talk about this year’s festivities and let you know how you can help support and donate to this worthy cause.

The SportsTalk Shop: The “Pokemon Go Effect” on Sports

There is a charming game (that nearly everyone probably knows by now) that has been sweeping the world, that everyone can play for free (for the ‘basics’ anyway) on their cell phones and tablets, called “Pokémon Go.”

While my son is an expert (or he better be, with all the cards and accessories that I’ve paid for) and I know very little about the game itself, I do admit there are a number of benefits to participating in this activity.  It encourages people to get out, walk around and get some exercise and fresh air.  Also, it is a nice “unifying” event that helps bring people together, and it is something that people of many different ages, classes and demographics can participate in.

There are also times when I see parents so engaged in their cell phone activities that their little kids are getting into trouble or nearly get hurt themselves—being oblivious to things going on around them.  It’s also quite common now for couples to be holding hands while simultaneously frantically typing on their screens with the other hand while never exclaiming a word to each other.

But I am not here to pass judgment on social issues…and if that’s how love looks in 2017, then so be it.

The “disturbing” feeling that I sometimes get while watching people overly addicted to this activity at the expense of everything else around them, is the same emotion I have felt a few times during this school year when some (but certainly not all) teams seem to be trending down a similar path.

Let me explain.

I’ve noticed more than a handful of individual athletes—at different schools in different areas and in different sports—who seem largely focused on what is clearly most important to them—themselves.   Players who seem more interested in padding their stats, doing what’s in their best interest, and, in many cases, doing what their parents are telling them to do—even when in direct contradiction with his/her head coach.

The primary interest of these athletes’ parents appears to be to do what is best for them, for now and for their immediate future and, oh yeah, the coach better keep winning games so that my son/daughter can continue to get more and more exposure.

This year, I’ve noticed a slight spike in the already excessive amount of student-athletes (do people still use this term?) who coincidently/ironically/purposefully transfer out of schools at a time when their team’s win total is declining, and “moving” into school districts in which their new team’s win total is increasing.  More wins equal more media/internet coverage, which equals more exposure to college scouts which translates to scholarships and dollars in other areas.

Once the family makes this commitment, then the “new” coaches’ philosophies better change to accommodate their son/daughter or there’s going to be conflicts that quite frequently escalate to the school’s administration and school boards, which, as we’ve seen over time, frequently leads to the removal of coaches that parents don’t “approve” of—regardless of how successful or how many wins that coach has achieved in the past—or is currently achieving.

In one school district, speculation (in the absence of clear specified reasons) has left the very strong impression that the style in which a coach wins games is (now was) even more important than if the team succeeds.  This “theory” becomes more palpable when the new coach indicates operating in a style that will be more beneficial to the individual player(s).

Keeping your eye on your own game is key to having success in the world of Pokémon Go.  But encouraging an atmosphere where it’s acceptable for athletes to only care about their own self-interests at the risk of their school and community will undoubtedly continue to erode the waning interest in many high school sports programs that numerous districts are now facing.

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Don’t forget to stop by Buffalo Wild Wings on Grape St. in Whitehall this Thursday for our special “SportsTalk” show, honoring the Allentown Central Catholic Girls Volleyball Team for capturing a state championship title.  We’ll talk with members of the Vikettes during the hour- long program and you can have the opportunity to ask a question or make a comment, supporting their tremendous achievement. Also check out ways here on the website how you can also support a local charity at the same time! This week’s charity is LLS.

 

The SportsTalk Shop: Phillies & Nationals Prospect Updates

Both the Phillies and Nationals have built strong minor league foundations and MLB fans of these two organizations will start to see the fruits of their respective front-offices’ labors over the coming weeks and months.

Here are some notes and video interviews with a few of the top Triple-A performers in each of the franchises.

Nationals’ Austin Voth
This right-handed starting pitcher has not just posted incredible numbers this spring, but he seems to be on a fast track to the Major Leagues.  Voth has cruised through Washington’s farm system.

He mixes his pitches extremely well and has great command of them.  He’s always been a pitcher who’s right around the plate, but he’s been even more accurate so far this season (just six walks in almost 40-innings pitched and seven starts).  Once more, in his worst start of the season against Lehigh Valley, when he didn’t have his best stuff, he’s a competitor and battles giving his team a chance to win.  While he’s not a dominating pitcher, he’s averaging over one strikeout per inning.

With Max Scherzer and Steve Strasberg anchoring the front of the rotation for years to come, Voth should be a nice middle-of-the-rotation hurler for many future summers—and his composure and ability to throw strikes should make him the first viable option should one of the Nats’ current starting pitchers fall to injury this year, even during a pennant drive.

Phillies’ Nick Williams

Many Philadelphia sports fans are calling for his call-up, but it’s a little premature at this point.  After raking it in the Eastern League last year in the postseason for Reading, he’s taking more time getting used to Triple-A pitching (he had just one home run up until two weeks ago).  However, as the weather has warmed up, so has Williams’ bat.  He’s also been playing more center field of late and has looked “OK” (he probably does not have the arm to be a regular right fielder).

What you don’t want to have happen is that the Phillies get involved in a pennant race and are forced to bring up Williams early (see previous outfield sensation Dominic Brown—no longer with the team).  Williams is, at best, a September call-up for a cup of tea this year, and perhaps, some time in winter ball.

He’s a great talent who could fill a couple different spots in the Phillies near-future batting order, but hold off on the screaming pleas for the Phillies to call Williams up for now.

Nationals’ Trea Turner
We featured the Nationals’ number-one rated position prospect a few weeks ago both here at “The Shop” and on our “RCN SportsTalk” program.  This is a guy who Washington fans will love.

He’s a great leadoff hitter with more power than Nationals’ current lead-off man, Ben Revere.  He has an awesome slash line (.320/.384/.471) with three home runs, is third on the team with 17 RBIs and a team leading 15 steals (all as of 5/20/16).  He’s aggressive at the plate but will still try to bunt every once in a while if a third basemen is playing back or to try to reach base in a key spot.

Also, he has great range defensively and is a nice spark on the field for his current Syracuse Chiefs’ team.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Washington fans see Turner sooner rather than later—especially if the team’s offensive struggles continue into the summer.

Nationals’ Brian Goodwin & Pedro Severino

Because of Turner’s and Voth’s successes, the better-than-normal batting averages of Goodwin and Severino have gone unnoticed by many Nats fans.  Goodwin gives Washington versatility in that he can play all three outfield positions well, has great speed (might be used as a pinch runner by the Big Club) and could be a fourth outfielder on this year’s team.  Goodwin has been hitting over .300 consistently and is tied for the team lead in homers (his Grand Slam gave his Chiefs last Thursday a 7-4 win over Toledo).

Severino has always been an outstanding defensive catcher and calls a great game.  He’s seen as the Nationals catcher of the future because of what he does behind the plate, but his near-.300 batting average this year—if he can sustain it at the Major League level—would be a nice plus.

More importantly, he understands how important it is to know his pitching staff, inside and out, and constantly monitors the Nats staff and the scouting reports so that when (not if) he gets called back up to the parent club, he’s up-to-speed on what every pitcher needs to do to have success.

Every Phillies Triple-A Starting Pitcher
Ben Lively is pitching “lights out” at Double-A Reading, but up until recently (and only then because of injury) there actually hasn’t been room on the Triple-A roster for even a chance for a promotion for Lively.

Adam Morgan was already called up to the Majors a few weeks back, but the current starting fives’ ERA (as of 5/21/16) looks like:
Mark Appel                        3.58
Jake Thompson                3.32
David Buchanan               3.92
Zach Eflin                           2.36
Alec Asher                          1.53 (just placed on the DL)

The Phillies front office made a clear decision to improve pitching this offseason, and the team is seeing the rewards of this initiative both in terms of individual and, so far, team success for both the Phillies and their upper-level affiliates.

There are a few more players within both the Phillies’ and Nationals’ farm systems who deserve some attention.  Keep watching “SportsTalk” and checking back here at “The Shop” as we continue to have more interviews and insights on players within both franchises.

Also, be sure to come out and watch “RCN SportsTalk” broadcasting  live from Buffalo Wild Wings in Whitehall, PA this Thursday and help out a great cause.  This week’s remote show will benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, with 10% of your total bill going to support this great organization.  Our guests will be legendary (and Pennsylvania’s all-time winningest) Head Coach Sue Butz-Stavin and members of her State Champion Field Hockey team.