Behind the Mic: Dead Pool

I am the Sports Director at RCN.  RCN has only one Sports Director.  I am their guru of sports, right?

The RCN Fun Committee (notice the word “Fun”) runs an NCAA pool every year.  There is no money involved.  Anyone can enter and the prizes are donated by the company and are minimal.  In other words, it’s “for entertainment purposes only.”

One would think the Sports Director would have the inside track to victory or, at the very least, a top three spot or a top ten spot.  Or a place with the word “top” in it.  One would think that, right?

There are 63 games played in the tournament.  I already know that I will only get 35 right or 56% correct (I rounded up).  You see, I only have North Carolina in the Final Four and I have them losing that game.  My pool is over – Kaput!  Who would have guessed that Gonzaga, South Carolina, and Oregon would be in the semifinals?  Gonzaga and South Carolina have never been there and Oregon only once before even I was born.

Before Sunday’s games, I was trailing sixteen other fellow workers.  That’s not so bad, I guess.  Okay, Mr. Sports Director, it’s VERY bad!

To make matters worse, I have an arch–enemy in the pool.  Let’s call her Laura because that’s her name.  She takes great pleasure in challenging me and is not shy about rubbing it in when she is ahead.  She beat me last year and was quite obnoxious about predicting that she would do it again this year.  I considered last year a fluke.  She did not. And she took any opportunity to announce to everyone that she had embarrassed the Sports Director.  I was determined not to let that happen again.

I guess I was not determined enough.  Not only is she beating me, Laura is currently beating everyone.  She is in FIRST PLACE!  Out of 38 players, she has the lead!  Now, she may not win (she has Kansas to win the Championship), but she will certainly beat me and beat me badly.  I cannot earn another point with the three games that are yet to be played.  I have Duke and Kansas winning the semifinals.  Since their uniforms are washed and stored away for another year, that will not happen.  In fact, I can only go down; I cannot go up.

So Laura will beat me again!  Do you know how hard that is to type?

So for those of you who think that Sports Director is, obviously, a misnomer for me, then I can guarantee you that so is “Fun Committee” and “for entertainment purposes only”.  You see, again this year, I have had neither fun, nor entertainment.  Now if the company would just form an Embarrassment Committee, I would be the first to sign up.

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS) 

  1. The Bethlehem Catholic AAAA girls’ basketball team won the PIAA State Championship! It was their first state championship in girls’ basketball.  They thumped Villa Marie -Erie 46-27 and finished the season with a 30-2 record.  They won all five of their state games with double-digit wins.  They were dominating.  Congratulations to Coach Medina and the girls.
  2. In the ESPN MLB power rankings, they have the Phillies as #24 out of thirty teams. They also picked them last in the NL East.  This doesn’t offer up much hope for the season.
  3. Speaking of Philadelphia desperation, the Flyers are six points behind for a wild card berth in the NHL and there are three other teams ahead of them. The Sixers, well, are the Sixers – no playoffs again this year.
  4. It appears that the Oakland Raiders will relocate to Las Vegas. 24 votes were needed as I write this and the league office said the result will be “positive”.  I bet (no pun intended) legal gambling across the country on NFL games will soon follow.
  5. The Giant Center held all 12 boys’ and girls’ PIAA championship games this past week. The highlight was the Reading-Pine Richland AAAAAA game. 9, 531 fans filled the Center, as Reading won their first state title in school history 64-60.  Reading has played basketball for 118 years; has won over 2000 games, but they had never won a state title.  Until now.

 

Behind the Mic: Thrill; Agony

From 1961-1998, I regularly would watch The Wide World of Sports on ABC.  Jim McKay was the host and the show’s introductory video and catchphrase was “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat”.  Those words were spoken over a celebration of a great win followed by a ski jumper severely crashing during a competition.  The pictures and the phrase became ingrained into the psyche of every regular viewer.

That phrase came back to me this past week while broadcasting the two Emmaus state basketball games.

Let’s start with the “thrill of victory”.  Emmaus had beaten Cheltenham 68-67 the previous Saturday to advance to the PIAA State second round.  They were the only AAAAAA boys’ team left from the Lehigh Valley because both Allen and Parkland had already been beaten.  The irony of their participation is that up until this year when the PIAA added six classifications, Emmaus would not have even gotten into the state playoffs.  With the additional classes, four teams were eligible and Emmaus was the fourth.

That set up a one day snow-delayed matchup with the Harrisburg Cougars, the #1 team out of a very strong District 3 at Reading High School.  Harrisburg had beaten Reading in their District playoffs and they were now considered the favorite to make it to the state championship game.  In a thrilling game with a nail-biting finish, Emmaus won 64-61 and, for the first time in school history, would move on to play in the state quarterfinals.  They would be part of, in NCAA March Madness lingo, the Elite Eight!  The celebration that followed was the definition of “the thrill of victory”.

That set up a return trip to Reading for Emmaus as they would take on the Carlisle Thundering Herd for a place in the state semi-finals.  Harrisburg had beaten Carlisle twice and they were in the same district as the Cougars.  They entered the playoffs as the #5 team in District 3.  Emmaus certainly could enter this game knowing they were every bit as good as their opponent.  And they were.

Emmaus led by six at the end of one period and by ten at the half.  They still led by ten with just 3:05 to go in the game.  But… Carlisle waged a comeback.  Emmaus still could clinch the win as they led 62-59 with 7.9 seconds to go.  Emmaus’ all-time leading scorer, David Kachelries, a 76% free-throw shooter, went to the line to shoot one free throw (he had made his first six of the game, but missed his previous three).  Make it and the Hornets are in the state semi-final; miss it and the Herd still needed to make a three-point shot to send the game into overtime.  He missed and Ben Milligan made a three at the buzzer to tie the game at 62.  “Thrill” and “agony” by anyone would be delayed.

Emmaus needed three free throws on one trip to the foul line by David’s twin brother, Matt Kachelries, to send the game into a second overtime.  He calmly went to the foul line and made all three.  The first overtime ended 69-69.

But the second overtime period ended with Carlisle controlling the scoreboard and the Thundering Herd galloped to a 78-74 win.  The Emmaus season was over.  The Kachelries twins had scored an amazing 57 points in the game and that was still not enough.

David ended his career with 1,910 points and Matt finished with 1,027.  Matt had missed two-thirds of his sophomore year due to injury or his total would have been much higher.  Emmaus finished with one their greatest and most memorable seasons ever.

None of that mattered though at @ 6:30pm on Saturday night as the Green Hornets and Coach Steve Yoder walked off the floor in Reading.  Much like the skier in the Wide World of Sports intro, they were severely suffering from “the agony of defeat”.

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS) 

  1. The Bethlehem Catholic AAAA girls’ basketball team is the last team standing from the Lehigh Valley. As I write this, they are preparing to play Gwyned Mercy in the PIAA semifinals.  A win would get them into the state championship game.  Congratulations to Coach Medina and the girls.  Go Hawks!!
  2. How are you doing on your NCAA bracket? I assume many of you had Villanova and Duke to go far into the tournament and even winning it all.  I had Duke making it to the Final Four.  I still have Arizona, Kansas, and North Carolina alive to make the Final Four.  I heard a lot of moans and groans this past weekend.
  3. It is hard to imagine that the next Eastern Pennsylvania Conference basketball season could match this one. Losing so many stars like Sam Iorio, Kevin Wagner, the Kachelries twins, Tyrese Martin, Talek Williams, etc. will be hard to duplicate for a very long time.
  4. He gets a mention every week – Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman of Central Catholic is still playing in the NCAA tournament. Muhhammad starts and plays as many minutes as anyone for Michigan.  He scored 16 against Oklahoma State and some vital points down the stretch against Louisville as his team moved on to the Sweet Sixteen.
  5. My usual reaction at the end of the basketball season is how fast winter flew by. Except this year, the season has come to a close and winter continues to rear its ugly head.  C’mon!  What’s a golfer to do?

Behind the Mic: Bracketology

Northwestern is in!  For the first time in school history, the Wildcats are in the NCAA tournament after winning 23 games this season.  Can they win their first game ever when they take on Vanderbilt in Round One?

Before we get to that, there are more important things to consider – which of the 68 teams will win their bracket and move on to the Final Four?

WEST
Gonzaga (32-1) was given the top seed in this bracket.  There are many who believe that, despite their 29 straight wins before a loss to BYU, top seed was only possible because they played a weak schedule.  With that said, they have beaten the #2 team in this section – Arizona.  Gonzaga has never made it to the Final Four.  And… they will not make it again.  They will lose to Arizona in the Regional final.

And, by the way, Northwestern will lose to Vanderbilt in the first round.

MIDWEST
Kansas (28-4) is #1 in this region and the committee selected them #2 overall in the tournament.  They were the Big 12 champions.  I like the way Michigan played in the Big 10 tournament and they have local favorite Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman.  I like Michigan to beat Oklahoma State in their first-round game, but then they run into Louisville and their season will end.  Louisville will play Kansas in the Regional final.  Kansas is a potential national champion and will win this region.

SOUTH
After winning the ACC tournament championship, many expected Duke to garner this top spot.  Instead it went to North Carolina (27-7), a team that Duke beat two out of three times.  Time will tell if this was a wise decision by the committee.  It is probably their most questionable top seed.  It appears that UCLA or Kentucky would be their biggest challenge and that can only happen in the Regional final.  UCLA’s Lonzo Ball is certainly one of, if not the best, freshman in the country.  So I like UCLA vs North Carolina in the final.  North Carolina wins.

EAST 
I saved the East for last.  Can Villanova (31-3) do it again?  They are good enough to do it and they are certainly battle-tested having played one of the toughest schedules in the nation.  If, as many believed, Duke should have been a #1, then Villanova may have the toughest road to the Final Four because Duke is #2 in this region.  And it should come down to these two outstanding teams.  I would rather see Villanova win, but I think Duke wins this game.

FINAL FOUR
                        Kansas vs North Carolina
                        Duke vs Arizona

NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP
                        Duke vs Kansas
 
NATIONAL CHAMPION
Kansas

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS) 

  1. It was certainly not the weekend that local basketball fans expected when our 15 boys’ and girls’ teams played in the first round of the PIAA basketball playoffs. Only four of our teams advanced into the second round of playoffs.  Northampton, Bethlehem Catholic, and Southern Lehigh girls moved on, but only the Emmaus boys won their game against Cheltenham by a 68-67 score.  It was shocking that the Allen boys, Bethlehem Catholic boys, and the Easton girls lost.  What is the adage – “That’s why you play the game.”
  2. If the local basketball players disappointed over the weekend, the District XI wrestlers did not – Lehigh Valley AAA wrestlers claimed four state titles, two runner-ups, and 18 total medals. Nazareth won the team title, had two state champions, and Coach Dave Crowell was named Coach of the Year for a record sixth time.  In AA, eight local wrestlers won medals.
  3. Parkland boys’ basketball lost to Archbishop Ryan on Saturday, indicating, once again, just how powerful the Philadelphia Catholic League teams are. Ryan was the #3 team out of District 12 and they were every bit as good as any team here in the Lehigh Valley.  They beat Parkland by 24 – enough said.
  4. The Bucknell men will face West Virginia in their opening round NCAA matchup in the West Region. Bucknell was seeded #13 and that’s impressive for the Patriot League. West Virginia is the best team in the nation at forcing turnovers, so this will not be a pleasant experience for the Bison.  But I will cheer them on and hope for the upset.
  5. One final note about the Allen Canaries – this team under Doug Snyder made basketball in Allentown meaningful and exciting again. No team had a more supportive fan base and their energy migrated out to other communities once basketball fans got to see them.  It was a great year ending in disappointment, but thanks for so many memorable individual plays and games.

Behind the Mic: Play Ball!

Play ball!!  Those are the words that baseball fans heard this week when the 2016 season began on Sunday.  Hopes are always high as the new season begins.  Fans from Toronto, Texas, Kansas City, St. Louis, LA, and New York hope their teams can repeat as Divisional champions.  Royals’ fans are hoping for a two-peat as Kansas City defends their World Series championship.  And Phillies fans are hoping for great improvement and a possible miracle on Broad Street.  This is how I think the divisions will go:

American League
West

  1. Houston – Wild card entry last year; lost to Kansas City in the playoffs; needed a closer and got the Phillies Ken Giles; will win division this year.
  2. Texas Rangers – Weak in the outfield and at starting pitching; could finish lower, but not higher.
  3. Seattle – Rookie manager; weak pitching rotation; almost a whole new roster.
  4. LA Angels – With Trout and Pujols, you would think they would be better, but pitching makes them “not so good”.
  5. Oakland – Play poor defense and bullpen is weak; lost 35 games by one run last year – turn those around and…

Central

  1. Kansas City – Defending champs; fundamentally they are terrific; offense and bullpen overcome an average starting rotation; will win division easily.
  2. Cleveland – Excellent rotation; little offense; no attendance = no money to get even better.
  3. Chicago – Poor offense; poor bullpen; poor rotation = poor season.
  4. Detroit – 74-87 last year, horrible bullpen, but team is better than last year with off-season deals.
  5. Minnesota – Manager Paul Molitor is their greatest asset; performed miracles with this team last year; not again.

East

  1. Toronto – First place last year; first place this year; best offensive unit in the AL overcomes any other weaknesses.
  2. Boston – “Big Papi’s” last year; might drive the Sox to emotional title, but pitching staff as a whole is very questionable.
  3. New York Yankees – Great bullpen (I mean “Great!”); aging lineup; this team could finish first or last depending on starters.
  4. Tampa Bay – No fan support, no money, no bullpen; starting rotation is pretty good and makes them better than the Orioles.
  5. Baltimore – Can score (hit 129 HR’s last year), but can’t keep other team from outscoring them.

Kansas City will win the American League pennant.

National League
West

  1. San Francisco – The Giants win in even-numbered years (what? – I read it somewhere); upgraded their pitching staff; need to upgrade their batting stats.
  2. LA Dodgers – Clayton Kershaw will win almost every five days and this team is solid in every way, but team chemistry is a problem (ask fired manager Don Mattingly).
  3. Arizona – Could win the division after acquiring two very good starters; bullpen is suspect for sure.
  4. San Diego – Will not contend; rebuilding after trying their best with deals last year.
  5. Colorado – Stadium helps them offensively, but seems to help the opponents even more. Among the worst teams in baseball.

Central

  1. Chicago – Joe Madden! Joe Madden!  No real weaknesses except their own history.  Last title in 1908.
  2. St. Louis – Great manager in Matheny; not as strong as last year when they won 100 games, but they always seem to be at or near the top.
  3. Pittsburgh – outstanding outfield both offensively and defensively; Melancon led majors in saves; happen to be in a very tough division.
  4. Milwaukee – While being weak to begin with, they got weaker in spring training when they lost their closer; pitching was bad anyway.
  5. Cincinnati – Had an all-rookie starting lineup for the last third of the 2015 season; still rebuilding; not good.

East

  1. NY Mets – Great pitching; same lineup as last year, except for Daniel Murphy; should win it again.
  2. Washington – With Bryce Harper and their pitching, they still find a way to lose (injuries); maybe first-year manager Dusty Baker can finally get them over the hump.
  3. Miami – Eighth manager (Don Mattingly) in last seven years and Barry Bonds as hitting coach makes one go “hmmm”; and still they will be better than the Phillies and the Braves.
  4. Philadelphia – Pete Mackanin will have the team playing hard, but the talent level is low ( except for Franco).
  5. Atlanta – Worst team last year in runs scored; won four more games than the Phillies last season; four less this year?

Chicago will beat the Mets for the N L pennant.
Cubs win it all!!

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)

  1. As bad as my bracketing was this year, I did manage to pick the correct winners in the semifinals in last week’s blog – North Carolina and Villanova. As I write this on the National Championship morning and if “defense wins championships” then Villanova will win the 2016 NCAA Championship.
  2.  With North Carolina in the title game, it brought back memories of Catasauqua’s Larry Miller who I played against in the 1963 District championship game at the Harrisburg Farm Show Arena. He scored 42 points and we lost the game.  The following year, Larry scored 46 of his team’s 66 points while beating Steelton in the 1964 state playoffs.  He went on to play for Dean Smith and North Carolina and was the ACC’s Men’s Basketball Player of the Year in both 1967 and 1968 and was named as one of the fifty greatest players in ACC history.
  3.  I also remember back to April 1, 1985, when Villanova, under Rollie Massimino, beat Georgetown 66-64 in a big upset to win the NCAA National Championship. They were led by Ed Pinckney.  By the way, they beat North Carolina that year in the Southeast Regional final 56-44.
  4.  Bourjos, Hernandez, Herrera, Franco, Howard, Galvis, Rupp, and Goedel will be the Phillies position players to start the season. Bring a scorecard – remember, “You can’t tell the players without a scorecard”.  This has never been more appropriate.
  5.  And, finally, the UConn women won their 74th consecutive game on Sunday destroying Oregon State 80-51 and will play Syracuse on Tuesday for the Women’s National Championship. A UConn win for Coach Geno Auriemma would be his 11th national championship and move him past UCLA’s John Wooden for the most all-time.  The two teams are meeting for the first time this year or last year and no team who hasn’t played them in the last two years has beaten them in the last decade!  No need to go out on a limb – UConn wins their 4th straight championship and their 75th straight game!!