The SportsTalk Shop: District Basketball Playoff Thoughts

 

The District XI boys basketball playoffs are heading up…and RCN-TV will have you covered!

This week, we’ll have a full breakdown of all this weekend’s boys and girls high school championship games on our live “RCN SportsTalk” this Thursday at 6pm. Local coaches will be on our show dissecting all the playoff games and giving their insights, keys to victory and strategies for all of the big matchups this weekend. We’ll also have several title games broadcast Friday and Saturday on RCN (keep checking our website for our broadcast schedule).

In the meantime, here are several thoughts and video highlights of some of the teams in our coverage area still alive in the playoffs!

PARKLAND
With the return of Nick Rindock, the Parkland basketball team looks like it is playing its best basketball of the year at just the right time. It has an outstanding point guard in Jimmy Hahn, an exciting freshman who does a ton of things well in Sam Iorio, and looked solid defensively in its last two games (which included a tight ball game with undefeated Central Catholic).

The Trojans are playing like the best team in this classification right now, and, should it continue, could play several rounds into the state tournament.

EMMAUS
The Hornets got a scare Saturday as they had to fight off a scrappy Bangor ball club. However, this year’s group of players has had success at all younger levels and is ready for prime time. They have a ton of talent who have had big games throughout this season, including David Kachelries, Joe Nicolini, Nate Feiertag and Joe Polczynski. I think they might have been looking past the Slaters a bit, but that won’t happen this week and I expect Emmaus to give Liberty a solid game this Wednesday (LIVE on RCN-4 this Wednesday at 6pm).

LIBERTY
Both RCN Basketball analyst Tom Stoudt and I said back on “SportsTalk” in January that if Liberty got into the playoffs, they could be the most dangerous 4A team. Even with some roster subtractions, it looks like our prediction is coming true. They manhandled Whitehall in the first round and upset the number-one seed Pocono Mountain West. They have four players, DeShawn Oyeniyi, Ludwin Gonzalez, Jaevan Dobbins and Trenton Coleman-Bishop, all playing at a high level right now. With the exception of the third quarter versus the Zephyrs, everyone has been playing solid defense. I don’t know how he does it every year, but Head Coach Chad Landis always has his team playing well at just the right time and probably deserves to be the LVC Coach-of-the-Year for what he’s done this season. Even if Liberty loses Wednesday, they could still reach the state playoffs with a win in the consolation round on Saturday, which would be a major accomplishment given all this team has been through this winter.

STROUDSBURG
It’s becoming a tradition for the Mountaineers to play in the final rounds of the district playoffs, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of Stroudsburg during the regular season once they merge with the LVC for the next school year. Shawn Thornton is one of the top coaches in the district, and the team has tons of talent once again this season, led by three players (Danny Cuevas, Edwin Lopez, Jacob Battle) all averaging in double figures. They have a tough matchup in Parkland this Wednesday, but if they can pound the ball inside and open up their great perimeter shooters, we should be in for a great contest (LIVE on RCN-4 this Wednesday at 7:30 pm).

CENTRAL CATHOLIC & BETHLEHEM CATHOLIC
We’ve talked quite a bit about both of these teams in an earlier blog post as well as on “SportsTalk” and neither team has done anything recently to derail their outstanding seasons. While the first meeting between these two 3A powers went decisively to the Vikings (highlights below), I would not be surprised if the Hawks challenge them a bit more here in round two (LIVE on RCN-4 this Tuesday at 7:30 pm). Remember, three teams can reach the PIAA playoffs in this classification, so the loser of the semifinal game will still have a chance to play on.

NOTRE DAME
No boys’ basketball team in the Lehigh Valley, with the exception of Central Catholic, comes into the postseason with more consecutive wins. I was promoting Tannor Reed for a Colonial League MVP award when we did their game against Salisbury in January, and he has truly carried this team through their ups-and-downs this year. With the 6’8” Vincent Eze back and doing so many things well at both ends of the floor, this team looks nearly unbeatable against most teams in Eastern Pennsylvania. They also have the momentum following their thrilling buzzer-beating win in the Colonial League championship.

CATASAUQUA
Despite the loss to the Crusaders, Catty has a lot to be proud of with reasons for optimism. They did not play well in the first half of their league championship game, yet went down to the wire and did not let a very talented Notre Dame team run away with the game. The Rough Riders are used to having players battling through tough injuries and this week will not be an exception. However, Catty has already defeated other, larger playoff-bound teams in Bangor (a 4A team) and Salisbury (3A) and could make for another thrilling title game if they dispatch North Schuylkill in the semifinals.

Which teams do you think will win championships this weekend? Which players will step up big and help their squads to victory? Email your opinions to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and we’ll read your thoughts live on this Thursday’s show at 6pm.

 

The SportsTalk Shop: District Wrestling Individuals Preview

 

The biggest weekend for high school wrestling fans is nearly upon us and RCN will look to feed its rabid fans’ appetites over the next several days. A full preview of all of the weekend’s weight classes will be on our “RCN SportsTalk” show this Thursday live at 6pm (we’ll also talk a little Penn State football as well). Also, RCN-TV will broadcast the District 3A Championships on February 22. In the meantime, here are a few notes on several of the schools that should do very well in the tournament, along with video highlights of the area’s top wrestlers and teams.

BECAHI
Clearly, the best team in this tournament. The Golden Hawks cruised to their fourth straight 2A district championship and are coming off their fourth straight team state title, beating their four opponents by a whopping 235-18 (they also owned 27 of the first 28 takedowns registered in their dual meets). The program is so much on a roll that Becahi hasn’t lost a dual meet since February 16, 2011 (to Easton). Luke Karam (currently 28-2) and Zeke Moisey (32-0) lead an uber-talented squad that figures to dominate eight or nine of the 14 weight classes. Anything less than seven gold medals this weekend would be a major shock.

LIBERTY
The Hurricanes had a banner season under Jody Karam this year. His team beat Easton for the first time since 1991, they won the competitive Virginia Duals American Division, they finished second at the Penn Manor Tournament and battled Parkland before losing by a close margin in the first ever “Ultimate Qualifier” dual meet. Jake Gunning and Orlando Miller, who never wrestled prior to high school, both own 27 wins a piece heading into the tourney. Noah Klingborg and Andrew Gunning both had exceptional years, and K.J. Fenstermacher proved to be one of the most exciting freshman wrestlers in the area. For more on the Hurricanes, check out their recent appearance on “RCN SportsTalk” on free RCN On Demand (the show entitled “Bethlehem Wrestling”).

NAZARETH
If not for Becahi, Nazareth would be getting a lot more attention. Sage Karam (if he’s not racing in Daytona) is one of the key wrestlers to watch at 145 lbs. Tyrone Klump (who pinned in a big state semifinal bout at 120 lbs.), Brandon Lane (285 lbs.), Travis Smith (113 lbs.), Josh Golden (220 lbs.) and Tyson Klump (106 lbs.) are just a few of the wrestlers with chances to medal this weekend. The Blue Eagles, fresh off their 3A District XI team title and a bronze finish in the PIAAs, are the tournament’s favorites to capture the most gold medals in individuals if all goes right.

EASTON
First of all, congratulations to Head Coach Steve Powell for earning his 500th coaching victory during the team district tournament this year. Don’t know of a classier wrestling coach in the area, nor do I know of anyone in the state that would ever say a bad word about him.

This wasn’t quite the typical Easton year. Although they had a very good squad, they lacked the one or two dominant standout wrestlers, like a Jordan Oliver-type, that you could almost guarantee a gold medal coming out of the district tournament. Nevertheless, they have several solid wrestlers in the middle-to-heavier weight classes who could contend, and two or three gold medals for the Rovers would not be out of the question.

PARKLAND
After beating Easton early in the season, it looked like the Trojans could be the team to beat in 3A. They battled Nazareth in an exciting District Championship Battle Royale before dropping the meet, but came back strong and had an impressive run in the PIAAs. Their list of candidates to contest for gold this weekend is quite long, including Jacob and Ethan Lizak, Josh Ortman, Marques Sturdivant and Omar and Nezar Haddad. There will be some exciting bouts all throughout the tournament, but it would not surprise me if Parkland comes away with the most medals.

Who else do you feel has a chance to medal at this year’s District XI Individual Wrestling Tournament? What do you think of the dominant run of Bethlehem Catholic, the possibility of them jumping up to 3A and all the other issues surrounding their program? Send an email to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com with your opinions and thoughts and tune in to RCN-TV this Thursday at 6pm to hear your comments read on-air, plus a full preview of this year’s tourney.

 

The SportsTalk Shop: HS Winter Sports ’14 Highlights

 

I know high school wrestling and boys basketball get the lion’s share of fans’ attention in the Lehigh Valley area, but there are tremendous accomplishments being made by a number of scholastic sports programs currently in session.

Here’s a video sample of some of our features on different local sports programs produced recently for our “RCN SportsTalk” show (to see more of these features, they are available for free on RCN On-Demand for the next several weeks), and then we have some additional highlights and accomplishments by local teams and athletes deserving mentions this winter.

Some other local sports highlights include:

 • Bethlehem Catholic girls basketball team. Chosen by many to make it to the PIAA championship game again this year, the Golden Hawks have lost just two games so far this season—both to formidable opponents. Kalista Walters could very well repeat as the Lehigh Valley Conference’s MVP again this season, but among several other talented players on the roster include Janelle Robinson. Robinson is a guard by trade, but I continue to be impressed by what a great all-around contribution she makes to the team (she recently led the team in one game with nine rebounds).

 • Becahi is not the only local girls programs that have a shot at going to the PIAAs. In fact, this might be one of the most competitive LVC and Colonial Leagues playoff races in some time. Nazareth, a team that lost four starters to graduation, is back with a group of tall and athletic young ladies that have been drawing impressive results. Central Catholic is back to being one of the top teams in the state—their only loss thus far was their epic 74-72 double-overtime defeat to Becahi. Parkland is also looking very solid and is coming off a terrific summer basketball season. In the Colonial League, Southern Lehigh, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Salisbury and others all have legitimate shots to qualify for the playoffs. With very few exceptions, these teams playing each during the regular season have resulted other so far in down-to-the-wire finishes.

• Parkland has a long line of dominance in the sport of swimming and diving—for both the girls and boys teams. This year, there’s an abundance of outstanding athletes from many different schools, including Emmaus, Easton, Liberty and Freedom. Their district championships are usually held on two of the busiest Saturdays—local-sports-wise–in the Lehigh Valley, when district and state wrestling and boys and girls basketball games are scheduled, but if you have a chance to check out the local diving and swimming title events, you should have a number of great races to watch on February 22nd and March 1st.

• Pius X has very quietly had an impressive wrestling season. They do not belong to either the LVC or the Colonial League, nor do they have enough wrestlers to compete for team title. They DO have several impressive young athletes led by state candidates Dante Albanese, Michael Comunale and Vinny Vonelli. The Royals, under first year Head Coach Peter Stoelzl, jumped out to two impressive wins over Palisades and Central Catholic to start the season. Despite injuries, they’re still racking up wins and will look to make an impact in the District XI Wrestling Individuals Tournament, which will be broadcast on RCN-TV on Saturday, February 22.

Which other local sports athletes deserve more attention? Which teams, besides boys basketball and wrestling, do you think can bring home league, district, or even state championships this winter? Post your comments below or email us at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and tune in Thursdays at 6pm as we continue to spotlight local teams and athletes on our show.

 

The SportsTalk Shop: HS Hoops Mid-Term Report

After “thanking” Mother Nature for cancelling so many winter sports activities and wreaking havoc on everyone’s schedule, I want to give my take on the high school basketball teams that I have had a chance to observe so far this season. Despite an erratic schedule (many HS teams are now playing more games per week than the NBA), I have seen some standout performances on the boys side (a look at some of the girls teams coming next week). Here are a few of my comments on the teams that I have seen, along with highlights of teams featured on our RCN game broadcasts.

CENTRAL CATHOLIC
They clearly are the cream of the crop this year in the Lehigh Valley, and are predicted to be one of the top teams in the state. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman continues to improve despite some very intelligent head coaches continuing to try new defenses to slow him down with very little success. The addition of Brendan Wagner at center allows Jean Lee Baez to become as cumbersome a “4-player” as there is to defend, creating matchup problems for just about everyone in the league. Their role players are smart, play solid defense and are capable of stepping up in big moments. I see no reason (and a few of my colleagues outside of the Lehigh Valley agree) that this team can’t play deep in the state playoffs and perhaps win it all.

EASTON
At the midway point, the Rovers are right at the .500 mark this season, which I think is a nice accomplishment for this team. Easton lost several key people to graduation, they had a tremendous athlete in Shane Simpson trying to get back in the mix after a lost-2013 basketball season, and a brand new head coach. Given all the school closing days, which not only creates a backload of games but also cuts into a new team’s practice opportunities, I thought a 7-7 start was a solid opening six weeks for them. I am also very impressed with new Head Coach Ben Childs and believe he can have long-standing success with the Rovers over time. I saw Easton make a tremendous effort against Central Catholic (highlights below) and, if they’d converted a few more opportunities close to the bucket, would have made for a much tighter finish. Assuming Easton qualifies for the district playoffs, they could have scoring potential from both the inside and the perimeter and could advance in the district post-season.

BETHLEHEM CATHOLIC
I met Mike Frew several year ago when he took over the Pen Argyl job and was very impressed by his desire to base his team on defense and really stress its importance to his players. Now, after establishing that philosophy with Becahi, he’s ready to take the program to the next level. The Golden Hawks have some of the most athletic players in the area, headlined by Freddie Simmons Jr. and Jamal Aziz. Becahi, much like its football team, has some incredibly determined upperclassmen looking to make a statement this year. I think Central Catholic is a tough matchup for them, especially if they don’t have everyone healthy. But don’t forget, you don’t have to win the district to advance into the state playoffs, and I think the Hawks have a great chance at winning at least one PIAA game this season.

WHITEHALL
First of all, I have to give props to the Express-Times’ Bruce Buratti for picking the Zephyrs as one of the top ten teams in the area in his preseason poll. Most people—back in early December—what he ranked them too high. However, with talented returning players like Aaron Keglovits, Brett Radocha, Jacob Meyers, Matt Melosky, Chad Rex and Saquon Barkley on the roster, we should have seen Whitehall’s big victories coming this winter. They’ve also lost a couple games I thought they would have a chance to win. I think the Zephyrs’ experience will come up big in the post-season and could make them a team to watch in February.

LIBERTY
One of the great attributes of Liberty Head Coach Chad Landis is that he gets his team to play its best basketball as they enter the postseason. There is no magic formula for this, nor has any coach in my career been able to give me a certified formula to make this happen. The Hurricanes have won more LVC titles than any other team, and, when you add in the talent on this year’s squad, you have to consider them a dangerous playoff team. Last year I identified DeShawn Oyeniyi as my favorite post player in the LVC and he’s done nothing in 2014 to detract from that. I think Darius Jones anchors some solid guard play, and K. J. Williams continues to be one of the best athletes in the area. I don’t think they’ll be too many 4A teams that will WANT to play the Canes in the postseason.

BANGOR
I had a chance to talk with Bangor guard Shane Reider a few months back and was very impressed by him and the “team-first” attitude that permeates through their program. I’ve heard many good reports on how unselfish the players are, with multiple people telling me the Slater kids would probably run through a cement wall if Head Coach Bron Holland ask them to. They have great balance offensively and kids who play smart on defense. I don’t know if this team is as deep nor has the size of their Colonial League championship squad from a year ago. I certainly like the direction the program is going. The players no longer get rattled in key situations, and they seem to excel now when the pressure is on. They will be one of the league favorites come playoff time. It may not be this year, but sometime soon Bangor is going to take the next step—win a district playoff game—despite being one of the smallest 4A schools in the eastern Pennsylvania.

WILSON
Before we talk about the Warriors’ play this winter, a big tip-of-the-cap to Head Coach Bob Frankenfield, his players, the cheerleaders and then entire Wilson community for organizing a fund raiser recently to benefit the American Heart Association and raise over $2100 at an event. They’ll have another charity event coming up soon (please contact Wilson HS for more details). Coach Frankenfield is truly one of the class guys in the area and cares so much about his program and his community.

Now, on-the-court. The Warriors boast one of the top centers in the area in Phil Pierfy, who certainly commands a ton of attention from opposing team’s defenses. However, I think they have some nice players around him in Tyler King, Dakota Bogoly, Jeff Cooper, Jonathon Citron, Jahid Beamon and A.J. Raso. At least two of those players must step-up on any given night to help provide some offense, but I liked their tenacity on defense and seemed to have fun playing when I saw them against Bangor. I think they have to work on cutting down on turnovers and continue to be aggressive in taking the ball to the basket, but Wilson can most definitely be a player in the league playoffs.

Remember, I haven’t seen Parkland, Emmaus, Southern Lehigh, Salisbury and a few other top teams in our viewing area as of yet (although I did give the Falcons a “shout-out” on last week’s “RCN SportsTalk” show for a very underrated first half). I would appreciate your feedback on the teams that you have seen. Who do you feel are the other top teams in the LVC, MVC and the Colonial League? Which teams have the best chance of winning league and district championships this winter?

Post your opinions below, email us (rcnsportstalk@rcn.com) and tune in to RCN-TV each Thursday from 6-7 pm as we continue to breakdown the local winter sports action and preview the Super Bowl on our show the next two weeks.

Behind the Mic: Dream Come True Telethon

 

Dream Come True Telethon

I love my job. Make no mistake about it. In the past few weeks, I have been able to watch our local high school football teams compete for a conference championship, a District title, and make a run for a state championship. In addition, I was able to broadcast the 149th edition of the Lafayette-Lehigh football game and begin the college basketball season with the Lafayette men’s team. Right around the corner is another season of high school and college basketball which will quickly take me through the winter and into March Madness. It’s the best.

There is one night a year, however, that is even better. It is the night that I co-host the Dream Come True Telethon. On Monday, December 9, we will do the Telethon for the 28th year. I have not hosted all of them, but in the early years, I made sure I was a guest on the show. The Dream Come True organization, in case you did not know, was founded in 1984 by Kostas Kalogeropoulous, a local businessman. The goal of the organization is simple – fulfill the dreams of children who are seriously, chronically, and terminally ill and reside in the greater Lehigh Valley area. Children are referred by family, friends, clergy, doctors, social workers, etc. and the dreams usually fall into three categories – trips, contact with celebrities, and special gifts (computers, shopping sprees, for example).

Scott Barr and I have been hosting together for many, many years. He handles the auction area and, boy, is he terrific! If you watch Home Shopping Network or any of the other all-day shopping TV channels, just watch Scott do his thing during the four-hour night. He is as good as, if not better, than the professionals.

There is always a variety of unique items donated by local businesses as well as our friends from the cable TV networks. If you want something really unique and not found in any store, tune us in and bid on the items. You’ll make Scott’s night.

Ann Savkova, our excellent parade announcer, will do many of the interviews with the children who have had their dreams fulfilled. She is a pleasure to have as part of the team.

We will, once again, be at The Outlets at the Sands. They were wonderful hosts last year as we broadcasted for the very first time from this venue. It is an exciting location and we enjoyed the new “digs”. You certainly are invited to stop by, say hello, and, hopefully, make a donation. It is a great place to shop and giving to Dream Come True will certainly get you into the holiday spirit.

The important facts are:
The Date: Monday, December 9
The Time: 6:00 – 10:00 PM
The Location: The Outlets at the Sands
The Television Dial: RCNTV channels 4 and 1004 (HD)
The Purpose: To fulfill as many hopes, dreams and fantasies for seriously, chronically,and terminally ill children as possible.
The Phone Number to Make a Donation: 1-800-749-8099

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)
1. I know that this past Friday is known as Black Friday, but since I would never shop that day, it means very little to me. However, I did suffer through Black Saturday when all of our local football teams went down to defeat – Lafayette lost 45-7 to New Hampshire; Parkland lost 21-10 to St. Joe’s Prep and Catty lost 49-0 to Imhotep Charter. It was a “black” day indeed.

2. There were some amazing college football games on TV this past weekend. Penn State was a 24-point underdog to #15 Wisconsin and beat them 31-24. I watched as #17 LSU needed to go 99 yards in the final minute to beat Arkansas 31-27. Arkansas did not win an SEC game all year. And the best of all was watching Auburn’s Chris Davis return a missed field goal 107 yards with no time left to give #1 Alabama their first loss in 16 games. Can we actually have a BCS championship game without an SEC representative? We can and probably will, but I still think Alabama and Auburn are the two best teams in college football. Again, no true championship decided on the field.

3. Dare I forget that Ohio State beat Michigan 42-41? Michigan coach, Brady Hoke, decided to go for two points in the last few seconds. It failed. Speaking of that rivalry, Sunday Night’s 60 Minutes did a feature on a young boy who is an avid Ohio State fan. He has brain cancer but hates the word “cancer”. He calls his tumor “Michigan”.

4. Speaking, again, of good football, 10 NFL games were decided by seven points or less this past weekend – two went overtime and NOTHING changed in the standings or the Wild Card scenarios.

5. The Lafayette women’s basketball team is off to a very impressive 5-2 start with wins over Rider, Brown, Columbia, Pit, and Loyola of Chicago. RCN-TV will broadcast the first women’s game of the year on Sunday, December 8, LIVE at 2:00pm. Join us.

NFL PICKS FOR THIS WEEK
(Last week – 11-5) (120-71-1 overall – 63%)
HOUSTON
BALTIMORE
CINCINNATI
NEW ENGLAND
JETS
PHILADELPHIA
PITTSBURGH
BUFFALO
KANSAS CITY
ATLANTA
DENVER
ARIZONA
SAN DIEGO
SEATTLE
NEW ORLEANS
CHICAGO

The SportsTalk Shop: District XI Football Recaps

 

District XI Football Recaps

It was our pleasure to cover the District XI football playoffs once again this fall on RCN-TV. While some games were one-sided, there were some great contests with many outstanding individual and team triumphs en route to this year’s championships.

CLASS 2A PLAYOFFS
Catasauqua accomplished what it couldn’t do a year ago–when Pen Argyl defeated the Rough Riders in the District title game.

Like many of the great head coaches in our viewing area, Tom Falzone used this experience as a life-lesson. In speaking with his players before the game, he talked about not always having a second chance in life, being appreciative when you do, and making sure you focus on your priorities when given opportunities. Several of the Catty coaches and administrators have talked about what a special, respectful and fun group of players they have had for the last two years, and it was great for their program to finally have the gold metal placed around their necks.

Palisades, Catty’s opponent in the championship, also had a great year…exceeding everyone’s expectations but their own. Head Coach Kevin Ronalds got an extra special gift this fall, as his son, serving oversees in the military, came home to see his family and got to spend a few weeks in the Lehigh Valley before returning to an “undisclosed location.” Ronalds is one of a handful of coaches in the area who have successfully rebuilt their football programs this fall. In my long-range crystal ball, I see an even more competitive 2014 season in the Colonial League. The Pirates, Southern Lehigh, Saucon Valley, Notre Dame, Northwestern, Pen Argyl, Northern Lehigh and perhaps one other team all have legitimate chances to fight for the league crown.

CLASS 3A PLAYOFFS
In the District XI semifinals, Southern Lehigh dominated in its win over Pottsville with a very balanced attack. While Bethlehem Catholic also won by a significant margin, I was impressed by Lehighton and how they battled the Golden Hawks, especially after sustaining an injury to one of their key players.

The championship was one of the most competitive games all season. Perhaps most impressive to me was the Southern Lehigh secondary. Despite giving up between 5 to 9-inches in height to a quicker group of wide receivers, the Spartans held Becahi to 7 passes for 24 yards–one of their lowest outputs of the season. Likewise, Collin Kendricks and company contain the Hawks’ ground game, but Becahi’s defense was also up to the challenge. Guys like Will Ward, Antwon Keenan, Dante Lonardo, Josh Heron, Searn Moroney, Mike McDanniel and others stepped up in key moments, enabling the Hawks to win the title in overtime:

CLASS 4A PLAYOFFS
In the first round, both Parkland and Whitehall looked solid, although Stroudsburg and Pleasant Valley both played valiantly and did not disappear after the Trojans and Zephrys took early leads. The big story for me was the development of Parkland’s DeVante Cross as a passer in this game:

For Whitehall versus Pleasant Valley—two teams that love to run a hurry-up, fast-tempo offense—it was an entertaining game, with lots of highlights on both sides of the football:

In the district semifinal, Parkland’s defense stepped up big time as I thought they would (see my blog entry from the second week of September) and held the vaunted Whitehall offense in check until the Trojans had built a solid cushion:

Easton, playing without some key players, defeated Wyoming Valley West by one point in their first round playoff game. A week later they dominated its matchup against undefeated East Stroudsburg South, setting up the championship faceoff with Parkland.

For the second straight year, it was Parkland avenging a regular season loss to Easton in the championship. Another irony, the District XI season ended almost identical to the way it began–with the Trojans dominating a team on both sides of the ball. The win over the Rovers was vastly more impressive than their week-one blowout over a rebuilding Del Val team. Easton had looked as the most well-rounded team of all the schools I visited during August double-sessions. Parkland’s offense and defense have been improving all season and was just too strong last Friday as the Trojans made the title game win look easy.

Which team do you feel had the most impressive run during the district playoffs? Which highlights do you think were the best? Send us an email with your opinions to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and join us for our next live show on December 5th at 6pm. Among out topics on that program, we’ll be updating the PIAA playoff pictures and also talking Eagles and NFL news with beat writers Nick Fierro and Al Thompson.

Check back to our blog soon as we’ll be looking for your help in nominating the top teams, athletes, games and more for our sports “year-in-review” program.

The SportsTalk Shop: The Shop’s New Wrinkle

 

The Shop’s New Wrinkle

One of the major driving forces behind the RCN SportsTalk show and this blog is highlighting the tremendous accomplishments of athletes, coaches and administrators in the RCN viewing area. Each season we try to spotlight different teams, schools and sports. We’re always looking for ideas and suggestions to better honor the special people who work so hard at their given talents. So with that said, we’d like to unveil a new dimension to our SportsTalk Shop blog.

Periodically, we’re going to post highlights of our sports productions seen on RCN-TV. By doing this, we hope to reach a new audience in showcasing young men and women’s outstanding efforts in the sports community. Some of these highlights are also shown on our live Thursday show, in which we discuss these teams in more detail.

To launch this new addition, we’re presenting highlights from a few of the “rivalry contests” RCN covered the last couple of weeks. We’ll start with highlights from the Parkland/Emmaus game:

Here’s some of the highlights from the “Christmas City” battle between Liberty and Freedom:

Finally, highlights from the big Easton/Whitehall game—a contest featuring two teams who were tied for first place in the Lehigh Valley Conference when they faced each other at Cottingham Stadium.

What do you think of this newest addition to our blog? Which RCN-TV broadcast playoff games would you like us to focus on for our next set of highlights? Post your votes here and check back soon for more blog entries and highlights!

 

The SportsTalk Shop: FB Anti-Poll: Big School/Playoff Picture

 

FB Anti-Poll: Big School/Playoff Picture

We’re closing in on the home stretch of the high school football “first season”. The regular season wraps on November 2nd with the all-important playoffs on the horizon. Here’s a playoff outlook for the 4-A schools in the Lehigh Valley region.

EASTON — The Rovers have two big ball games coming up: this Friday against Whitehall (broadcast live on RCN TV at 7:00 PM) and Nazareth next week. Both of these teams will need a win to enhance their playoff chances. I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with a number of Easton players this year (including the week after their loss to Emmaus). They seem like a group that does not want to taste defeat anytime soon. They are also smart enough to study film and go the extra mile in the weight room and on the practice field to do what it takes to keep winning. I know they would like another post-season shot at Parkland, the team that ended their 2012 playoff hopes. It’ll be a tough 4-A playoff field. However, it’s very possible we can see a rematch of Week Two between the Rovers and the Trojans in the playoffs.

PARKLAND — The Trojans will also be fueled by revenge and hope to take another crack at Easton in the playoffs. Since their only loss, they are steamrolling the competition and appear to be on track, on both sides of the ball. With all the outstanding backs they have running the football, they should be a very dangerous team in the playoffs if DeVante Cross continues to develop as a passer.

WHITEHALL — To have a long playoff run, the Zephyrs will have to play better offensively than they did against Emmaus last Friday. The question with Whitehall is depth. They hope to have key, two-way player Nick Nejad back in time for the playoffs. If they can avoid any other major injuries, they can contend for a district title. A win over Easton Friday would give them a shot at home-field advantage for the first round of the post-season.

EMMAUS — The Hornets must recover quickly to fight for a district playoff berth. I was impressed by their game-winning/last possession drive against Central Catholic in Week Three, which seemed to propel their five-game winning streak. That said, I was surprised they couldn’t muster more offense against Whitehall, even without their top running back Wyl Miller. Their regular season finale against Parkland looks like a must-win game right now if they want to reach Districts. I still think the future is bright for this team and they could be the team to beat if they have to settle for the Eastern Conference playoffs.

NAZARETH — Two solid wins over Bethlehem Catholic and Central Catholic have the Blue Eagles back in the district conversation. Their offense has found its stride and still boosts a ton of scoring weapons, including Matt Tuerk, Jordan Gray and Max Wasilewski. Right now, they need some of the teams in front of them to lose and would still have to upset Easton to qualify. The Nazareth offense is fun to watch and could also be a dangerous unit in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.

Entering Week Nine, East Stroudsburg South and Wyoming Valley West own the top two playoff positions, with Stroudsburg, Scranton and Pleasant Valley also capturing spots. It seems unlikely E.S. South will lose a game during the regular season. If they capture home-field advantage through Districts, it means the road to the championship, depending on how the teams match up, could run through the Poconos this fall.

Stop by next week for my insight on more schools in my next blog entry. In the meantime, I want to hear from you! Which 4-A teams do you think will make the playoffs, and which team will win the title? We’ll continue to break down the high school football playoff picture on RCN Sports Talk the next few Thursdays at 6:00 PM. Send your comments and questions to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com. We’ll read and respond live on our next program.

Behind the Mic: Valedictorian, Salutatorian, and MVP’s

Valedictorian, Salutatorian, and MVP’s

Academics
This past week, I read that the Parkland School District decided to no longer award the distinction of class valedictorian or salutatorian. The rule was instituted in 2009 for the class of 2013. They are not the only local schools to do this. Moravian Academy and Emmaus High School also do not list the top two students. Instead, they would list all of the students who had achieved honors as a whole. This is easy to do, since the honorees are based on grade point averages, and perhaps, other criteria. It is not subjective. I am sure a computer just simply spits out the names. In other words, the schools (computers) choose their All-Stars, but not their MVP’s.

Athletics
This academic direction is an interesting path for those of us who are, often, a part of choosing athletic all-star teams and most valuable players. And our choices are much more difficult – we do not have grade point averages or computers to make the decisions for us. We have statistics, but we all know they can lie. I have usually been able to take a list of athletes and choose an all-star team from that list. Sure, if you need to select 10, the difference between #9, #10, and #11 (who would be left out) is not always extremely clear. Then, to select an MVP from the 10 may be even more difficult, more subjective, and simply unfair. A local paper is currently attempting to select an Athlete of the Year (one male and one female) and offered up their first two nominees this week – a football player and wrestler (male); a field hockey and softball player (female). The paper will offer 5 choices for each gender and voters will choose the winners. This would seem to diametrically oppose the academic philosophy of the schools mentioned above.

The Question
So the question I pose to you – who is right? Should we honor the absolute best in academics and in athletics or is it good enough for each school just to name their All-Stars and eliminate their MVP’s? Should we get away from Top Ten lists (unless you’re a David Letterman fan) and let high schools, colleges, and employers decide, based on their criteria, who they want?

Let me know your thoughts before the fall – I have an All-Star football ballot to fill out and the last line asks me to list my choice for an MVP!

Behind the Mic: Why not baseball?

This past Saturday night, second-base umpire Mike Estabrook called pinch runner Kyle Kendrick of the Phillies out at second base on a pick-off play in the ninth inning. Replay showed that the Milwaukee Brewer shortstop tagged Kendrick without the ball. No one saw the ball come free and roll into the bare hand of the shortstop. The Phils were down 4-3 at the time and the next Phillies batter doubled, but was left stranded. Right call = tie game; wrong call = lost game.

Baseball only uses replay for home run calls and, within the last two weeks, the umpires even got a home run call wrong. In the American league championship series last year, a Detroit player was called safe at second and TV replay showed the runner was out and the inning would have ended. Detroit scored two runs in the inning and won 3-0. There is a remedy to these bad calls. The NFL, NBA, NHL, major tennis tournaments, and some NCAA sports all use a form of instant replay. Why not baseball?

A subcommittee made up of Joe Torre, Tony LaRussa, and Atlanta Braves president John Schuerholtz will make recommendations for 2014. At first, consideration was to use replay only for a trap play and fair/foul. Now, all plays are being considered.

Baseball Instant Replay Concerns

  1. Do you allow a challenge system by the managers, much like NFL football?
  2. Do you use a replay official in the booth?
  3. Do you use replay for all situations?
  4. How much will replay disrupt the game?
  5. Will it add even more time to a game which most people think takes too long now?

All these questions will be answered soon. Eliminate the arguments, take some of the pressure off the umpires, and get the call right. After all, isn’t that the most important element?

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)

  1. Speaking of baseball, as of May 15, there were 21 weather-related postponements, the same total as all of last year.
  2. Did you know that no other state has hosted more USGA championships than Pennsylvania? The number is 80 entering 2013. Merion golf Club, the venue for the US Open in 2 weeks and Oakmont Country Club in Pittsburgh are the top two. They are the only two to host more USGA events than our own Saucon Valley Country Club which has hosted six. Saucon Valley will host their seventh in 2014 when 264 players converge at the club’s Old Course and the Weyhill course from September 5-11 for the Mid-Amateur Championship. 4,000 golfers attempt to qualify for this event. These are “true amateurs” who are over 25, with handicaps at 3.4 or less and have real jobs like the rest of us. The winner has an exemption for the Masters.
  3. The NHL hockey playoffs are experiencing some good ratings for NBC and, particularly, for the NBC Sports Network. The May 29 Western Conference Semifinal Game 7 between the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings posted a 2.07 rating and averaged 3.354 million viewers, making it the highest-rated NHL game ever on NBC Sports Network, and the most-watched Semifinal game ever on cable.
  4. Congratulations to Parkland, Tamaqua, Salisbury, and Tri-Valley for winning District XI baseball championships this past week. On to states for them and for us. We have the PIAA state championships LIVE on PCN, Friday, June 14, beginning at 10:30 AM.
  5. I am hosting Sportstalk this Thursday (June 6) and the panel will be discussing the best 5 high school football players at various positions. Dick Tracy, Dennis Laub, Jack Logic and Joe Craig will offer their lists. I am putting my list together. There have been some great ones over the years Join us with your opinions. I am sure there will be many.