Category Archives: Sports

Live By The Three, Die By The Three

Kohl Center

I’ve been attempting to find a silver lining in Wisconsin’s disheartening loss to Purdue on Senior Day at the Kohl Center. I think I may have found one, however it may be a bit pessimistic.

The Badgers’ loss should remind fans and other observers that expectations need to be tempered as we approach the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments. Bo’s bunch is a solid unit, ranked in the AP top 25 and the KenPom top 5. But the Badgers aren’t built for a deep run in March for one reason, they rely too heavily on the three-point shot.

39.3 percent of the Badgers’ field goal attempt (3PA/FGA) come from behind the three-point arc while 34.5 percent of their points are the result of successful three-point field goals.

According to stats from KenPom.com, the average Final Four team of the last 10 years had 30.9 percent of their shots come from behind the three-point line while 25.4 percent of their points came off three-pointers. Only three Final Four teams had a higher 3PA/FGA than the 2013 Badgers (39.3) – 2011 VCU (41.2), 2010 Butler (39.8) and 2005 Louisville (42.1).

Of that trio, only the ’11 Rams (35.5) and ’05 Cardinals (35.7) had a higher percentage of their points come from three-pointers than this year’s Badgers (34.5). 2005 Illinois and 2011 Butler also had similar three-point profiles to 2013 Wisconsin. The ’05 Illini had a 3PA/FGA of 38.8 and 34.4 percent of their points came off three-pointers, while the ’11 Bulldogs had a 3PA/FGA of 38.7 and 32.1 percent of their points came off three-pointers.

So, of the 40 teams that made the Final Four the last 10 years, only 5 (or 12.5 percent) have similar three-point profiles to the 2013 Badgers. That group includes three of the most surprising Final Four teams in the history of the NCAA Tournament, 2010 and 2011 Butler and 2011 VCU. The other two in that group, the 2005 Illini and Cardinals, both needed legendary comebacks in the regional finals to make the Final Four.

These numbers shouldn’t be shocking. It’s hard for a team to string four, five or six wins together while relying on a low-percentage shot for a large portion of their offense. Teams need an option that will provide easy looks at the basket, be it a strong post-up player or quick, slashing guard/forward.

The Badgers have not been able to consistently work either into their offense this season, relying too much on threes or mid-range/long twos. Ryan Evans, who leads the Badgers in possessions used (26.6 percent) and shot percentage (26.2), attempts mostly mid-range and long twos.

When the Boilermakers started their charge on Sunday, the Badgers seemed to panic. When Wisconsin should have been looking for an easy shot to get the offense the going again, it was jacking up quick, guarded threes.

What can the Badgers do to change their offense? Getting more out of Jared Berggren in the post and Sam Dekker in all offensive facets would be a good start.

Berggren is shooting a solid 56.5 percent on twos, so it would be in the Badgers’ best interest to focus more on getting him the ball in the post. The 6-10 senior seems more likely to get the ball at the top of they key, but he’s shooting just 26.7 percent from three this season, a 10 percent decrease from 2011-12.

Sam Dekker could be the slasher the Badgers need, he has an offensive creativity not seen from a Wisconsin player since Alando Tucker left Madison in 2007. Dekker has the quickness and strength to drive to the hoop with consistent success and he also happens to be the Badgers’ best three-point shooter (44.8 percent). Dekker needs to have the ball in his hands at crunch time, period.

I’ll end with a note of (semi) optimism. Before Sunday afternoon, the Badgers’ most recent putrid March performance came in their 36-33 loss to Penn State in the 2011 Big Ten Tournament. That squad, led by Jon Leuer and Jordan Taylor, was able to recover and make the Sweet 16. A two or three win run in the NCAA Tournament is still a distinct possibility for the Badgers in 2013. Just don’t expect more than that.

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Life Update: Where Is Tyler Working?

I recently started a new gig as an assistant scoreboard editor at the Chicago Tribune. I’m basically editing all the agate (stats, box scores, etc.) in the paper. I thought I’d post a couple examples of the stuff I’m doing. Here are two college football preview boxes I did for the Big 12 and Wisconsin Badgers.

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A Trip To Busch Stadium

These pictures were taken at the Cardinals/Dodgers game on July 25. The Cards won 3-2 in 12 innings.

Nachos Grande with Pulled Pork. Mmmmmm.

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North Carolina Vacation – Day Four, Part Two (UNC Chapel Hill)

A light post outside of the Dean Smith Center at UNC Chapel Hill.

Inside of the Dean Dome. We were able to get into the stadium thanks to the Kenny Smith Basketball Camp. We actually caught a glimpse of Smith, who was wearing Carolina blue head-to-toe.

The rafters of the Dean Dome. I’m surprised they have any numbers left to give out with all those jerseys hanging from the roof.

The dome, which allows natural light in to brighten up the stadium.

Kenan Memorial Stadium. I was surprised at how much I liked this stadium. I hadn’t heard much about Kenan, but it has a gorgeous setting, with tall pine trees outlining the stadium.

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North Carolina Vacation – Day Four, Part One (Duke University)

Outside of Cameron Indoor Stadium on the campus of Duke University.

Hopefully they won’t have to re-name this “Blue Devil Ville” some day. Cough, Penn State, Cough.

First glimpse of Coach K Court. A big moment for a college basketball nerd like myself.

Inside of Cameron Indoor. It felt more like a church than a major college basketball arena.

Again, the very church-like interior of Cameron Indoor.

A not-pretentious at all light post outside of the stadium.

Wallace-Wade Stadium. Did you know that Duke had its own football team and stadium?

Duke Chapel.

Inside of the chapel.

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North Carolina Vacation – Day Three

Since we don’t have them at home, I had to go to Waffle House during my time in the South … twice. Had a sausage, egg and cheese sandwich with hash browns smothered (onions) and country (drowned in country gravy). Mmmm, so good and so, so healthy.

Wolf statue on the campus of NC State.

NC State logo seen from behind bars outside of the Wolfpack’s track and soccer stadium.

A quad on NC State’s campus. It’s a beautiful campus, they’re really fond of red brick.

NC State football’s Carter-Finley Stadium. Don’t worry, I made sure to thank them for their wonderful gift of Russell Wilson.

Another disc golf course in Raleigh. This is an average hole. Just ridiculous.

Dinner from Cook Out. Had a burger cook out style (with chili, cole slaw, mustard and onions), cole slaw, hush puppies and a banana pudding shake. So good, and so cheap (six bucks for everything).

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Boys Baseball: Burlington Central Crunches Pretzels For 1st Sectional Title

The Rockets and Pretzels face the flag for the National Anthem.

Burlington Central claimed the Class 3A Sycamore sectional championship on Saturday – the program’s first sectional title – thanks in large part to its not-so-secret weapon, the electrifying base running of Ray Hunnicutt.

The senior center fielder’s lead-off walk and two subsequent stolen bases sparked the Rockets’ three-run rally in the sixth inning of their 4-2 victory over Freeport.

With the Rockets trailing 2-1, Hunnicutt led off the frame with a walk. He quickly stole second base, and then after Blake Alexander flew out to deep center field, the senior successfully took off for third with Michael Scott at the plate. Because of Hunnicutt’s well-timed jumps, neither steal attempt drew a throw from Pretzels catcher Jack Lehnherr.

“I knew I was going the whole time. I knew we had to score one,” Hunnicutt said. “I thought I might as well try, it’s our last game potentially, so might as well go for it. And it worked out.”

The steals put Hunnicutt in position to score the game-tying run one batter later when Riley Jensen hit a ground ball up the middle that was misplayed by Pretzels second baseman Tyler Olson.

Kevin Zasada then put the Rockets up 3-2 with an RBI single to left that drove in Scott. Reed Hunnicutt, Ray’s brother, provided the Rockets’ an insurance run with a sacrifice fly that drove in Jensen and put Burlington Central up 4-2.

Rockets coach Kyle Nelson said that Hunnicutt, who is now a perfect 31-for-31 in steal attempts, possesses more than just great speed.

“He’s a fast kid, but there’s a lot of fast kids who don’t necessarily steal bases they way he does,” Nelson said. “He’s getting good jumps on pitchers, he’s getting good reads. And he’s doing a great job on the base paths.”

The Rockets jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead when Tanner Scott drove in Zach Ranney with a double to left field in the first inning.

The Pretzels were able to capture the lead by taking advantage of Rockets misplays. In the second inning, an infield error allowed Evan Schrader to score and tie the game at 1-1.

Consecutive mistakes by Rockets pitcher Riley Jensen in the fourth inning allowed Adam Werntz to reach home. A balk advanced Werntz to third base, and then a wild pitch allowed the junior first baseman to score.

Other than that, Jensen was very effective in his seven innings on the mound for the Rockets. The senior picked up the victory after giving up one earned run and four hits while striking out seven and walking one.

Burlington Central was able to stop to the underdog run of Freeport (17-20), who was seeded No. 4 out of four teams in the regional it hosted.

The Pretzels pulled off three upsets to earn a chance at playing for a sectional title. Coach Roger Fegan hopes the Pretzels’ first appearance in a sectional championship game in 33 years was a sign of things to come, not an aberration.

“It was a lot of fun. I told our seniors, hopefully ten years from now, you’ll come back and we’ll be winning regionals and sectionals all the time, and it was something you helped develop and helped start,” Fegan said.

Being part of the first team in school history to win a sectional title nearly left Hunnicutt speechless.

“I don’t even know how to talk about it. Nobody’s ever done it, and it feels great,” Hunnicutt said. “All these guys have grown up together, to win this in our last year, it’s fantastic.”

Burlington Central (28-10) will face LaSalle-Peru at 7 p.m. Monday in the Augustana College super-sectional.

I wrote this story for the Chicago Sun-Times, Elgin Courier and yourseason.com. It appears here.

The Pretzels walk off the field after the Rockets ended their underdog run.

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Boys Baseball: Burlington Central Launches Into Sectional Title Game

Zach Ranney faces a Prairie Ridge batter during Saturday morning’s game.

Burlington Central made Prairie Ridge pay for its mistakes in Saturday morning’s 3A Sycamore Sectional semifinal. The Rockets scored four unearned runs on their way to an 8-3 victory.

The Rockets jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the second inning thanks to two Wolves errors. Catcher Matt Krenz’s bad throw on an attempted double play brought home Blake Alexander, while pitcher Mike Reitcheck’s errant pick-off attempt to first base allowed Michael Scott to score. Later in the inning, an RBI single by Zach Ranney scored Riley Jensen, who reached base on Krenz’s error.

“That’s what we’ve done all year. We’ve made mistakes early and but they still keep battling, and they keep fighting,” Prairie Ridge coach Glen Pecoraro said. “There’s been a lot of games this year where we’ve come back and won in those situations. These guys have done a nice job on that this year, today we came up a little bit short.”

The Wolves did show some fight, and were within 4-2 going into the seventh inning, but more mistakes allowed the Rockets to pull away.

The Wolves committed one error and allowed a run to score on a passed ball as the Rockets scored four runs to take an 8-2 lead. Burlington Central (27-10) got a two-run double from Kevin Zasada and an RBI single from Bryan Cynova in the inning.

Ranney picked up the victory after allowing three runs and nine hits while striking out five and walking two over seven innings. The right-handed senior had to work out of a few late inning jams. The Wolves’ had their lead-off men reach base in both the fifth and sixth innings, but were unable score both times.

“I was just trying to keep my composure. Coach always tells us that defense can pick you up, so I’ve always got to think of that,” Ranney said. “I had to push through it, and hoped the defense picked me up”

Prairie Ridge’s attempt at a sixth inning rally was doomed by a failed squeeze attempt. With runners at first and third with one out and Brad Schillinger at the plate with a 2-0 count, Pecoraro called for the squeeze. However, Schillinger’s bunt attempt was thwarted by a high and tight fastball by Ranney. The senior second baseman was unable to make contact, and Bryan Klendworth was easily caught trying to reach home.

“Hits were hard to come by today, and I was just trying to get something going,” Pecoraro said. “The stuff we did today, bunting wise, trying to squeeze, we’ve done it all season long. We’re not going to change now.”

Alexander led the Rockets on offense, going 3-for-4 with two singles and a solo home run in the third inning that cleared the left-center field fence with ease.

I wrote this story for the Chicago Sun-Times, Elgin Courier and yourseason.com. It appears here.

The Rockets congregate in left field after their victory on Saturday.

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Girls Softball: Naperville North Knocks Off Plainfield East To Reach First Sectional Final In School History

Naperville North softball entered uncharted territory by winning Wednesday’s Class 4A East Aurora Sectional semifinal against Plainfield East.

Behind a strong outing from pitcher Kathleen Hahne and a two-run homer by Tara Degl’lnnocenti, the Huskies will make their first appearance in a sectional final after knocking off the Bengals 5-2 at Phillips Park in Aurora.

Naperville North, the No. 6 seed in the East Aurora sectional, will face No. 4 seed Plainfield Central at 11 a.m. Saturday in the sectional final.

“I don’t know what Saturday will be like, it’s going to be brand new for Huskies softball,” Naperville North coach Jerry Kedziora said.

“We’ve got a good pitcher right now, we’ve got a team that’s playing really good defense. And some timely hitting too. It’s pretty exciting — our chances might not set up ever as good as they are right now,” he added.

Hahne picked up the victory after giving up two runs and ten hits and striking out three batters over seven innings.

The senior showed some early-game nerves, giving up two runs on six hits during her first two innings in the circle. However, Hahne settled down from that point forward, surrendering no runs and just four singles the rest of the way.

“I always get really nervous for a game. It takes me a few batters to get into my own and work my pitches,” Hahne said.

Degl’lnnocenti gave the Huskies a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the first inning with a line-drive, two-run homer to left field.

An RBI single by Bengals shortstop Nina Maggio tied the game at 2-2 in the second inning, but the Huskies retook the lead in the third. Caitlyn Warren came home on an RBI groundout by Kailee Budicin, giving Naperville North a 3-2 advantage they wouldn’t relinquish.

The Huskies added two insurance runs in the fifth inning, going up 5-2 on an RBI triple by Warren and a run-scoring fielder’s choice by Budicin.

“We knew that we had to come out and hit. We knew that they were going to be gunning for us, and everyone did a great job,” Degl’lnnocenti said.  “It took a team effort, and we got it done.”

Hahne was assisted by a strong defensive performance from her teammates. The Huskies committed only one error and made a few sterling defensive plays, including a momentum-changing double play in the fourth inning.

With one out and a runner on first base, Degl’lnnocenti cleanly fielded a hard-hit ground ball off the bat of Maggio and threw to shortstop Alexis Solak for the force out. First baseman Rachel Martin barely kept her foot on the bag as she made a fantastic stretch to collect Solak’s throw and complete the double play.

After that play, Hahne gave up just one more hit and the Huskies outscored the Bengals 2-0.

“To be able to turn a 4-6-3 like that, and those girls making every play possible from the third inning on, it’s a tremendous confidence boost,” Kedziora said. “These girls should now know that they can go out and compete against anybody.”

Plainfield East (22-12) was led on offense by No. 9 hitter Jessica Rio, who went 3-for-3 with three singles. Rio attempted to score on a single by Maggio in the second inning, but was thrown out at home by Huskies left fielder Stephanie Tobin.

Naperville North (24-12) will attempt to earn its first sectional title plaque when they face Plainfield Central on Saturday. The Wildcats advanced to the finals by defeating Neuqua Valley 2-1 on Wednesday.

“We know that we’re going to have our hands filled with Plainfield Central,” Kedziora said. “If we just go head out and play our game, maybe we can get something.”

I wrote this story for the Chicago Sun-Times, Naperville Sun and yourseason.com. It appears here.

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Girls Soccer: Benet’s Season Ends in PKs; St. Francis Earns 1st State Trip

Both teams line up for starting lineup introductions before Tuesday’s game.

Benet held its opponents scoreless the first 285 minutes of the playoffs. 15 more minutes and the Redwings would have clinched a spot in 2A state semifinals.

The Redwings outscored their opponents 24-0 in their first three games, and held a 1-0 lead over St. Francis more than halfway through Tuesday’s 2A supersectional game played at Benedictine University.

But with 15:02 left in the second half, Spartans forward Amanda Gaggioli broke through the Redwing defense, scoring a goal to tie the game at 1-1. The game went to penalty kicks after the score remained tied through the duration of regulation and four ten-minute overtime periods. There, St. Francis outscored Benet 4-2 to earn a berth in the state semifinals.

“We’re not the best penalty kick team in the history of mankind,” Benet coach Bob Gros said. “We’ve worked on it. I’ve tried everything under the sun. But there’s so much psychology involved. There’s a little bit of luck too.”

Sydney Fox’s successful penalty kick sent St. Francis (22-3) to its first ever appearance in the state semifinals. Taylor Bucaro, Kaitlin Bucaro and Gaggioli also made penalty kicks for the Spartans.

“It feels great, it really does. I feel like this isn’t really real right now, but it’s great,” said Gaggioli

The Redwings dominated possession in the first half and outshot the Spartans 10-4 over the first 40 minutes. With 8:54 left in the first half, Jessica Smetana scored after receiving a great pass from Amanda Kaiser. The senior’s shot went off the far post and into the back of the net, putting the Redwings up 1-0.

The momentum shifted in the second half. The Spartans started to play more aggressively and dominated possession of the ball. With just over 15 minutes left in the second half, St. Francis snapped Benet’s 285 minute playoff scoreless streak when Gaggioli scored from 10 yards out after receiving a feed from Kaitlin Bucaro.

“I just saw the pass coming in, and my teammate (Fox) just let it go through her legs. I was open and just put it in,” Gaggioli said.

Worn down by temperatures in the mid-80s, both teams had trouble generating anything in the four overtime periods. St. Francis outshot Benet 5-2 over the last 40 minutes, and the Redwings didn’t get off a shot attempt over the last two overtimes.

Despite being outshot, Gros felt the Redwings had the better chances in overtime.

“In terms of more consistent pressure, I think in the last 40 minutes we had a little bit of an advantage there,” Gros said. “We just couldn’t get it in. You just have one of those days, and it doesn’t pay off.”

Benet finishes the season 18-5-3. The Redwings came into Tuesday’s game unbeaten in their previous 17 games.

St. Francis will play St. Viator at 11 a.m. Friday in the first of two 2A semifinals at North Central College in Naperville. Glenwood will face U. High of Normal in the second semifinal.

I wrote this story for the Chicago Sun-Times, Naperville Sun and yourseason.com. It appears here.

St. Francis players celebrate with their friends and family after the game.

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