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The SportsTalk Shop: Three Phillies Issues

May 18, 2015 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

Last week we took a look at the Nationals’ first 30 games of the season, analyzing their first six weeks and previewing the road ahead.  Clearly, the Phillies have a different set of priorities and goals for this season.  There has  been some positive news…and the next few months still could be very interesting as we watch the franchise’s “future” unfold.

Here are three observations about the Phillies season:

  • Despite the record, there is reason for optimism, among both young and older players!  First, the play of Freddy Galvis, Cesar Hernandez and Odubel Herrera has given fans hope that examples of a future winning ball club is not years off in the distance in the prospects currently in the lower-to-middle minor league levels.  Galvis, Hernadez and Herrera all found themselves entering spring training in various “play-well-or-go-home” modes.  Galvis struggled mightily offensively last year—even struggling at the plate when he was sent down to Triple-A.  Yet he has not only proved he can hit at the Big League level (currently leading the team by far with a .816 OPS), he’s become one of the most productive shortstops in the league (his batting average and on-base percentage currently lead all National League shortstops).  Hernandez was out of options and was one of the last players assured a spot on the Opening Day roster.  So far, I’m been impressed with his working counts (his .390 OBP is second on the team) and he’s hitting a very respectable .270 despite not getting regular at-bats.  Herrera was a Rule 5 pick who had never played above Double-A and has to remain on the roster all season or be returned.  Even though he’s learning to play a new position at the toughest level, he has a great looking swing and has been able to handle Major League pitching so far.  All three players have made the most of their opportunities and should warrant more playing time for at least the rest of this season.

There’s also been quality performances on the mound by young Ken Giles, Luis Garcia, Justin DeFratus and Elvis Araujo.  All four look to be key pieces of the bullpen going forward and the first three have weathered pitching in higher-pressure situations.  While a slow start by southpaw Jake Diekman has been disappointing, the Phillies feel he can bounce back and strengthen an already strong—and young—core of relievers.

  • The fireworks may not be far off.  The play of veterans Cole Hamels, Aaron Harang, Jonathan Papelbon, Ben Revere and even Ryan Howard have not only helped the Phillies win games this season, but more importantly has enhanced each player’s trade value, which potentially could fetch more young prospects as we move closer to the trade deadline.  We’ve already seen the Phillies make some minor moves, optioning Dom Brown, David Buchanan and Cody Asche (although Cody was sent down to learn a new position) to shake things up a bit.  If Asche transitions successfully to left field—as I believe he will—it will make for an ultra-crowded outfield, and the Phillies will have to start making some more significant decisions.

Their potential outfield would then consist of Asche, Revere, Herrera, Brown, Grady Sizemore, Jeff Francoeur and Darin Ruf.  Clearly, not all of these players will be on the roster throughout the summer, and I’m not sure if more than two or three of these names have a future in the organization.  With one of the few outfield prospects doing well in Double-A (Roman Quinn) and a promotion to Triple-A probably looming before too long, it’s obvious that the team will look to move one of their outfielders before season’s endif not sooner.  Revere is the most likely candidate to go, as he’ll command the most in return.  Between Revere, Hamels, Harang, Papelbon and perhaps one or two others, there could be some trades made over the coming weeks—and a chance for the team to pick up another young piece (or pieces, if you deal Hamels) of the puzzle for future seasons.

  • The “Chase” may be coming to an end.  I truly am not saying this just in passing or to be in vogue with what others are now saying.  In fact, in all my years as a sports journalist, I probably got more angry messages over a minor criticism I made about Chase Utley several years ago, and I’m sure I’ll take a hit again this time.  But unless he starts swinging the bat with more success—and soon—it does NO ONE good to see him continue to play every day…and that includes Utley himself. 

The biggest issue for the current team is that he is blocking the road of young talent.  Is Hernandez the Phillies second basemen of the future? Probably not, but we have no way of knowing until he gets a chance to play at least 75% of the time, something they can’t do with Utley playing five nights a week.  The questions remain about Brown, Ruf and a few other players that right now look like role players but do you really want to give up an extended look at these players, and possibly lose them at season’s end, to have them go somewhere else and have success (and haven’t we seen too much of that over the last several years?).  Furthermore, continuing to play Utley every day with his batting average light-years below the Mendoza line is a disservice to Chase himself.  There is no way he’s going to take himself out of the lineup—he has too much pride.  Heck, he’d probably fight to stay on the roster even with a torn ACL.  But someone – Ryne Sandberg, Ruben Amaro Jr., Pat Gillick – anyone in charge of this franchise, is seriously going to have to take time very soon and have a chat with this greatest second baseman to ever wear a Phillies uniform.  Right now, his legacy is taking a beating, and if things don’t improve over the next few series, his mighty image might be weathered for a longer period than it should be.

Here’s a look at the upcoming schedule for Philadelphia, with a few additional important dates that are really more significant to the team’s future than who their opponents will be.

May 18-21       at Rockies
May 22-24       at Nationals
May 25-27       at Mets
May 29-31       vs. Rockies
June 2 – 4        vs. Reds
June 5-7           vs. Giants
June 8-10         MLB DRAFT*
July 2               International Free-Agent Signing Period Begins
July 31             Non-waiver Trade Deadline
Aug. 31            Final Trade Deadline

*Programming Note: We’ll have a preview of the MLB Draft on the June 4th edition of “RCN SportsTalk” (Thursdays, live, 7-8 pm), which will include an ESPN analyst breaking down the top draftees, along with insights on what both the Phillies and Nationals will do in this year’s draft.

Which Phillies players have you been impressed with so far?  Which do you feel will be the first ones to be traded?  Email you sports opinions to us at rcnsportstalk@rcn.com at any time.  We’ll continue to provide updates on both the Washington and Philadelphia franchises throughout the summer here at the “SportsTalk Shop” and on our weekly “SportsTalk” program.
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A quick reminder, be sure to come out to see “RCN SportsTalk” as we broadcast live from Buffalo Wild Wings on Grape Street in Whitehall, PA, this Thursday from 7-8pm.  This will be the first of several live shows we’ll broadcast from Buffalo Wild Wings this summer.   Keep checking the RCN-TV website for updates on these special programs as SportsTalk “goes wild” this summer!

The SportsTalk Shop: Harry Kalas, Charlie Slowes & the Nationals

May 12, 2015 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

We are right at the 1/5-th mark of the Major League Baseball season.  While that might not seem like an impressive number, it is a key time in a team’s season.  Once you pass the“30-games” mark, the excuse “well, it’s still early” starts to wear thin and teams start having to take some long looks at players’ abilities.  It’s also the time that teams have to start realizing that early season surprises, whether positive or negative, may just be for real.

This week, we’ll take a look at the Nationals season to date (we’ll next look at the Phillies’ issues and question marks in an upcoming blog entry).

To help us break down Washington’s first 30-games, I had a chance to speak with Nationals Play-by-Play Voice Charlie Slowes about their outstanding starting rotation, an extremely wild game against the Braves and their upcoming schedule.  A few weeks back marked six years since the passing of the late, great broadcaster Harry Kalas, and Charlie gave us some unique perspectives on the legendary announcer.

A couple additional notes about the Nats.

All things considered, the team’s slow start (the Nats lost 15 of their first 23 games) hasn’t really hurt the team.  Considering the injuries to hit the bullpen and to their lineups, they’ve survived most of those “bumps” and have bounced back strong.  Both Jayson Werth and Denard Span—two keys on offense and defensively in the outfield—came back earlier than some had expected.  Span has not missed a beat since his return, flirting with an impressive slash line (.305/.354/.525 heading into this past weekend).  While Anthony Rendon’s oblique injury continues to linger, Bryce Harper, with (finally) an injury-free season to date, has blossomed into the star the team expected him to be.

The bullpen, led by closer Drew Storen and his nine saves, is beginning to flesh out its respective roles following the loss of Craig Stammen to a season-ending injury.  Tanner Roark has made a successful transition back to a reliever’s role, with three holds heading into the Atlanta series.  Aaron Barrett has been solid from the right side, holding opponent’s batting averages under .200 (and a WHIP under 1), and southpaw Matt Thornton having success so far against both right and left-handed hitters.  Sammy Solis also looked impressive holding the eighth-inning lead in the series finale against the Braves.

Also, despite an incredibly hot start by the Mets, Washington is still playing in an incredibly weak division this year, and they should be able to beat up on their divisional opponents quite a bit, even if Rendon continues on the disabled list.  When the Nats’ offense—which has shown a propensity to be streaky—goes through another lull, they should be able to avoid any long losing stretches thanks to their starting pitching depth as they look to move up in the standings over the next few weeks.  Here is a look at their upcoming series:

May 11-13 :         at Arizona
May 14 – 17:       at San Diego
May 19-20:          vs. Yankees
May 22-24:          vs. Philadelphia
May 25-27:          at Chicago
May 29-31:         at Cincinnati

The Nationals still have many more games coming up against NL East teams, and I can’t imagine Washington not compiling a better-than-500 record against them going forward.

As the 2011 Phillies found out, it’s not how many you win during the regular season.  The big key is for Washington to continue to play well, stay near or at the top of the division, and try to keep everyone healthy through the summer.  Hopefully Rendon comes back with enough time to find his stroke and the lethargic start to the season becomes a distant, if not forgotten, memory.

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Special programming note.  Mark your calendars and be sure to come out to see “RCN SportsTalk” as we broadcast live from Buffalo Wild Wings on Grape Street in Whitehall, PA.  This will be the first of several shows we’ll be broadcasting on location this summer.   Keep checking back to the RCN-TV website for updates on these special programs as SportsTalk “goes wild” this summer!

The SportsTalk Shop: NFL Draft Recap

May 4, 2015 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

I don’t believe there has been more excitement, angst, anticipation—and anxiety—for an NFL Draft than this year’s selection process for both the Redskins and Eagles communities.  Birds fans wanted new Eagles Czar Chip Kelly to move up and pick Marcus Mariota, and many Skins supporters wanted a move backwards to secure more picks.  While many dyed-in-the-wool football experts really thought the odds were against both of those things happening, it seemed that many, including the entire Delaware Valley, had convinced themselves—emotionally—that a major move would be made…one that would never occur.  After several days of mental withdraw, it’s time to take a step back and take a more pragmatic view of what transpired.

Day One…the first pick

REDSKINS PICK:                B+
EAGLES PICK:                    A-  (However…)

All things considered, I believe both Washington and Philadelphia made the “safe” move.  The Redskins were not able to get the number of quality picks to trade out of the number-five spot overall, and Brandon Scherff is a good choice for a team that needed a major boost on the offensive line.  While it’s normally startling to hear a top-five pick is slated for right tackle (the #5 pick is an awfully high pick for that position), it is an area that had to be addressed, and if he can also play guard, that versatility certainly is a plus.  I had Scherff several spots lower on my draft board, but I don’t think it was a major leap for the Redskins to make to enhance their O-line.

For the Eagles, I’ll first go back to the final game of the regular season.  They had NOTHING to play for, so why didn’t they give Matt Barkley the start at quarterback?  Kelly clearly doesn’t like him (is there another team in the country with more quarterbacks—all of them ahead of Barkley?)  Playing him in the season finale would have benefitted the team no matter what happened.  If Barkley played well, it would have served as a showcase for other teams so that you could have used him as a trade chip.  If he fell flat on his face and lost, the Eagles would have moved up several spots in the draft—perhaps enough to get Marcus Mariota, their prized quarterback.  Clearly Sam Bradford was not enough to enable the Eagles to get Mariota without also surrendering other major talent, but if Bradford is your guy, why haven’t they signed him to a long-term deal—like, yesterday?  If Bradford plays well, he’s going to ask for the farm—and get it.  If he fails (or gets hurt for the third year in a row), you’re starting year-four under Kelly with no definitive quarterback.

So after dropping the ball at several steps, Kelly saved face in the first round by filling one of the three major holes they needed to address.  Of course, if they signed Jeremy Maclin last summer as I had suggested they do, they wouldn’t have had that vacancy in the first place.

Day Two…Rounds 2 & 3

REDSKINS PICK:        C+       
EAGLES PICK:            A-

While I really like the selection of Preston Smith in the second round and think he has great potential, I was not a fan of the third round trade and their subsequent picks.  The Redskins picked up a running back (Matt Jones) that I had questions about and really don’t think will make a major impact with this team.  With the other acquired selections, Washington’s first-year General Manager Scot McCloughan clearly favored selecting players in spots of need over the best available talents, and there were enough players at their initial third-round selection position with more upside that could have made a bigger impact that the collective efforts of the players gained through the trade.  However, whether he’s right or wrong, I’ll give McCloughan credit for adding bodies in the draft (see below).

The Eagles made their best decision of the draft in the second round–trading up to obtain Defensive Back Eric Rowe out of Utah.  He can be an instant starter (that’s something new for a Kelly draftee) and could be a star at either cornerback or safety going forward.  While I question selecting an inside linebacker with their third pick (unless Kelly is planning on trading Mychal Kendricks or is looking ahead to the future), Jordan Hicks is a nice pickup with the 84th overall pick and can help right away on special teams.

Day Three…Rounds 4-7

REDSKINS PICK:   B-        
EAGLES PICK:  C        

With very few big names escaping past the first three rounds (which is why I did not like the decision to trade down), I think Washington did make some good talent additions to their squad overall.  Probably the one most likely to exceed their respective numbered-round expectations is Kyshoen Jarrett, a defensive back out of Virginia Tech.  Despite being undersized (5’10”), I think he can help Washington right away on special teams, and could carve out a nice career as a nickel back or an occasional number-two corner.

In the later stage of the draft, the Eagles added much-needed secondary depth in their back-half of the draft.  However,  I’m still shocked that they didn’t select ANY offensive linemen in the draft–which was one of the three major needs to the team going in. They also didn’t get a “pure” strong safety, so that could be a more minor issue to watch as training camp unfolds.

Final Evaluations/Overall Grades

Despite failing to solidify the quarterback position–which could be a major setback to the future success of the organization–the Eagles’ picks themselves make a lot of sense.  Keep an eye on non-drafted lineman Mike Coccia.  I announced several of his games and visited his workouts at Freedom High School.  He’s an outstanding young blocker who works hard and has always had good technique.  I think Kelly would be foolish not to hold onto him as he can add some much-needed depth along the Birds’ offensive line.  Still, Philadelphia needs a lot to go right to protect an already fragile Bradford under center.

Overall, the Eagles moved forward with this draft, with a couple question marks remaining.  They may have done just enough this past weekend (and, taking advantage of one of the weaker NFL schedules this fall) to propel themselves to a playoff appearance.  How far they’ll go remains a mystery, led by the quarterback combination of Bradford (when/if healthy), Mark Sanchez, Tim Tebow et al, and the team certainly didn’t do anything to help protect their signal callers with their draft choices.

EAGLES OVERALL DRAFT GRADE:  B+

I also think the Redskins made some nice decisions in this year’s draft…but “nice” won’t result in a major improvement in the win total for this season.  Their draft selections should move the team in the right direction, and, with some luck, they could win at least six to seven games this season.  The team made a few weaker selections at some spots in trying to fill needs.  Skins fans hoping for some major moves are left disappointed, as they still look to be AT LEAST one year away from any possible playoff contention, and a subpar year from Robert Griffin III (whose option for 2016 was picked up last week) might just set that plan back even further.  I’ll take into account that it was McCloughan’s first draft with the Skins, and I do believe in him going forward.  But again, we’re analyzing with our head and not with our heart, which results in a…

REDSKINS OVERALL DRAFT GRADE:  B

What are your thoughts on this year’s NFL Draft?  Which picks did you like/hate and what grades would you give the Eagles and the Redskins?  We’ll have plenty of football talk on this Thursday’s “RCN SportsTalk” so email your opinions to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and tune in as we respond to your comments live on air.  Don’t forget our show is now on at a new time, live on Thursdays from 7-8pm.  We’ll also have a phone interview with Washington Nationals broadcaster Charlie Slows to talk about the first month of the baseball season on this week’s program.

The SportsTalk Shop: NFL Draft 2015 Preview

April 27, 2015 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

NFL Draft week is finally here!

After months of speculation (and seeing the name “Marcus Mariota” trending more than just about any other athlete over the last several weeks), it is time for the NFL Draft.  Redskins and Eagles fans know this Thursday is a critical time for both franchises and this week’s draft could determine the future level of success of their favorite team.

I had a chance to speak with NFL Network Analyst and former Pro Offensive Lineman Brian Baldinger and “Footballstories” writers Al Thompson and Rock Hoffman about the latest developments and got their insights and predictions on this year’s draft and other football related topics (the entire “SportsTalk” show is available to watch on RCN On-Demand).

A few more insights ahead of Thursday’s draft:

    • Safety is an area of concern for both the Eagles and the Redskins.  I think there are a number of defensive backs who might be available that would help both teams:

Kevin Johnson, Wake Forest
Alex Carter, Stanford
Eric Rowe, Utah
Josh Shaw, USC
Quinten Rollins, Miami
Trae Waynes, Michigan State
Landon Collins, Alabama
Marcus Peters, Washington
Byron Jones, UConn
Damarious Randall, Arizona St.
Jalen Collins, LSU
Adrian Amos, Penn State

  • Since the first night of last year’s draft, I’ve continued to be very vocal with my displeasure of the Eagles’ selection of Marcus Smith as their number one pick.  I’m hoping I’m wrong and Smith can rebound, making some contributions this fall.  However, this year’s draft class features a number of impressive outside linebackers.  Don’t be surprised if Philadelphia is able to pick up a solid OLB in the middle rounds of the draft.  FYI:  here is a look at all the draft pick selections for both teams:

Eagles 2015 Draft Picks
1st Round  –  No. 20 Overall
2nd Round  –  No. 52 Overall
3rd Round  –  No. 84 Overall
4th Round  –  No. 113 Overall
5th Round  — No. 145 & No. 156 Overall
6th Round  –  No. 196 Overall
7th Round  –  No. 237 Overall

Redskins 2015 Draft Picks
1st Round  –  No. 5 Overall
2nd Round  –  No. 38 Overall
3rd Round  –  No. 69 Overall
4th Round  –  No. 105 Overall
5th Round  — No. 141 Overall
6th Round  –  No. 182 Overall
7th Round  –  No. 222 Overall

  • Thompson also shared an interesting story with us.  He got word that Penn State offensive tackle Donovan Smith is heading to Chicago—the site of this year’s draft.  Players normally only attend the NFL Selection Gala if they suspect they’ll be selected in the first round (it certainly doesn’t look good if you are there and you DON’T get picked in the first round.) However, in most publications, Smith is ranked no higher than 52nd overall, and much further down the list in most other mock draft lists.  Could Smith’s alleged trip to the Windy City be a tip that a “mystery team” is going to jump and take Smith earlier than expected…and would that team be in close proximately to Happy Valley?
  • Hoffman indicated that there could be a number of future, high-quality NFL players available later in this year’s draft, and the 5th and 6th round selections may be especially interesting to watch.  Both Thompson and Hoffman hinted that Delaware Valley College’s Rasheed Bailey has been receiving interest from a number of teams, and could be selected during the middle rounds of the draft.

The draft itself should be another fun event.  The NFL has molded this selection process into a gigantic party, with the anticipation starting shortly after the Super Bowl and building to this week.  It’s true that pro football teams don’t lose games in April or May, but they can certainly put future success on hold for years if things don’t go well this week in Chicago.

The SportsTalk Shop: HS Mid-Spring Sports Update

April 20, 2015 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

With the weather finally becoming more “spring-like,” the high school sports action in the Lehigh Valley finally kicked into high gear the last couple weeks.

Our “RCN SportsTalk” cameras have been busy covering the local sports landscape.  Here we present a sample of some of our high school sports features (more can been seen on “SportsTalk” live at 7pm on Thursdays and through RCN On-Demand)

A few additional highlights from this spring season:

  • Congratulations are in order for the up-and-coming Northampton girls lacrosse program.  The Konkrete Kids just started their program a few years ago.  The Lehigh Valley quickly has become a very talented area for this sport, making it much tougher for newer programs like Northampton to build success quickly.  However, the K-Kids recently won their first ever league contest by defeating Allentown Central Catholic in Eastern Pennsylvania Conference play.  With many underclassmen contributing on the roster, it probably won’t be long before Northampton starts posting league victories on a more regular basis.
  • The Easton baseball team conducted a ceremony celebrating their 50th anniversary of playing on “Richards Field” on 25th Street in Easton.   The team welcomed back members of the first Easton team to play on that field and honored them before the Red Rovers game against Allen this past Wednesday.  Former Easton Assistant Coach Karl Dutt threw out the first pitch and current Easton players wore “throwback uniforms” replicating the same uniforms worn by that 1965 baseball team.  An interesting side note:  we learned on last week’s “SportsTalk” show that John Lennon was in Easton, Pennsylvania around the same time that Richards Field first began hosting games and he purchased an Easton baseball jersey in a local thrift store.  Lennon later wore that same jersey when he sang his iconic “Imagine” ballad nationally on the Mike Douglas Show.
  • Speaking of Allen, it’s great to see both Allentown schools doing well in baseball after several years of struggling.  As mentioned above, it’s tough to rebuild in the EPC (and baseball is among the most competitive sports in the Lehigh Valley) and both the Canaries and Huskies deserve kudos for playing at a much higher level this spring.  Allen already has five wins this spring (as of 4/20/15).   Dieruff also has recorded some impressive victories, and played one of the best teams in the area—Liberty—to a close 2-1 loss the other day.  The Allen and Dieruff kids have never stopped working hard and their perseverance is paying off.

It’s also nice to see area baseball fans recognizing the efforts of the athletes from ASD.  I’ve gone to other schools’ games this spring in which neither Dieruff or Allen is playing, yet baseball fans are talking about these programs and are genuinely happy these schools are moving in the right direction (although they still hope that their team wins in a head-to-head match-up).  Both of these programs have tough issues to overcome that other school districts don’t have to deal with.  One of the great things about this region is the knowledgeable sports fans who recognize great efforts by young student athletes and it’s great to see people acknowledging the Allentown players’ efforts.

What other spring sports accomplishments deserve recognition?  Which spring sports athletes have stood out from the pack?  Email your opinions to us at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and tune in to “RCN SportsTalk” at our new time, Thursdays at 7pm, on RCN-TV.  On April 30th, we’ll be talking in more detail about high school sports, with our in-studio guests comprised of athletic directors from the RCN viewing area.  Also, on this Thursday (April 23rd) program, join us as NFL Football Network analyst and former Philadelphia Eagles Lineman Bryan Baldinger is among our guest panelists, breaking down the NFL Draft and predicting what the Eagles, Redskins and other teams will do in the draft.  Al Thompson (Eagles beat writer for “FootballStories” magazine) and Rock Hoffman, who covers college football and has a comprehensive list and analysis on many of the region’s players expected to be drafted, will also be featured on this week’s show.

The SportsTalk Shop: GW’s Jamie Bumgardner

April 14, 2015 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

One of the goals of our “SportsTalk Shop” is to spotlight outstanding female student-athletes in the RCN markets.  I had an opportunity this past week to interview one of the current top athletes in RCN’s coverage area—for both our Pennsylvania and Washington, DC audiences.

Senior girls lacrosse player Jamie Bumgardner, after having an outstanding high school career in Pennsylvania, has gone on to play—and excel—at the Division-I level at George Washington University.  In high school, Jamie totaled 123 goals and 45 assists in three scholastic seasons at Gwynedd Mercy Academy.  She was also a two-time Athletic Association of Catholic Academies (AACA) selection.  She also become an all-AACA performer and two-time District qualifier on the Monarchs’ golf team.

Following graduation and after making the challenging adjustment to playing collegiate lacrosse at its highest level, Jamie has gone on to put herself in the record books at GW.  This past Friday in a game against Richmond, she registered four more assists, which not only pushed her over 100 for her career, but also tied her for the top spot, all-time in GW history (with at least four more games for her to establish—and add to—a new university record).  Here are more of Jamie’s outstanding athletic accomplishments in college (as of April 9th):

  • Ranks 5th all-time at GW with 156 career points
  • Current Season numbers: 13 goals, 19 assists, 32 points, 13 ground balls, 14 draw controls
  • In 2013, tallied 18 goals and tied GW’s single-season record with 39 assists, which led the A-10 and tied for 14th in NCAA Division
  • Became 3rd player in program history to record at least one point in every game for two consecutive seasons (2013, 2014)
  • Set Colonials’ single-game assists and points records with 12 points on six goals and six assists against Liberty (Feb. 26, 2014

George Washington participates in the very competitive Atlantic-10 conference.  Jamie’s squad has not only had success in the league, but she continues to find herself ranked among the best individually in both the A-10 and the NCAA.  Her rankings as of 4/9/15:

  • Ranks 3rd in Atlantic 10 with 19 assists this season
  • Ranks 5th in Atlantic 10 with 32 total points this season
  • Two-time A-10 All-Conference Second Team selection (2013, 2014)
  • Ended 2014 season as A-10 leader and fifth in NCAA Division I with 38 assists and 2.38 assists per game
  • What really impressed me about this senior “attack” player was not just her ability to maintain an exceptional academic standing, but Jamie is a terrific representative of both her college, the conference and the sport of lacrosse.  This sport, for both the boys and girls teams, has seen great growth in interest in many areas of the country…but in others, it’s still in its infancy stages.  Here’s a portion of my conversation with Jamie discussing her career, the quality of play at George Washington, and her thoughts on the advancement of girls lacrosse.

    Bumgardner has two regular season home games remaining (4/17 vs. Duquesne and 4/19 vs. St. Bonaventura; both games are at the GW Lacrosse Field) before the Atlantic-10 playoffs commence. Regardless of Jamie’s final individual numbers that end up being logged into the record books, she’ll have the recognition of being regarded as a great ambassador for her sport and her collegiate program.

    We are always on the lookout for outstanding accomplishments by athletes, both on and off the athletic fields.  If you have a suggestion for an athlete for us to feature, send us an email at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and join us for “RCN SportsTalk” at our new time, now broadcasting live from 7-8 pm, Thursday evenings on RCN-TV.

The SportsTalk Shop: Phillies Prospects & Nationals Predictions

April 7, 2015 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

With the pomp and circumstance of Major League Baseball’s Opening Day now behind us, we can take a look at two teams in the RCN viewing area with completely different focuses for the 2015 season. The Nationals are in a “World Series or bust” state of mind, while the Phillies are clearly looking to groom young talent and play for the future.

Here we look at some predictions, projections and thoughts on Washington’s key players to watch, as well as interview clips from some of the Phillies top minor leaguers, reflecting on their spring training performances and discussing their summertime goals.

A couple of other key points for both teams…

• I think the Nationals are clearly the favorites in the division and my pick to win the pennant. I think the Marlins are, at best, a wild card possibility. However, it is imperative that Washington does not flounder for the first month of the season. They have a favorable schedule (they play the Phillies seven times) the first month of the season. Despite being without three key pieces to their lineup and a bullpen still defining roles, they cannot afford to finish April under .500. It’s not likely to happen, but a rough start makes it tougher to work their way back into the race. With all the potential free agents on Washington’s roster, they don’t want to have guys worried about improving their free agency status and more concerned over their individual statistics than the team’s overall success. A rough start could send this negative attitude (or “Natitude” in this case) in motion, and make for a horrifically disappointing year. Again, not likely to happen, but something to keep an eye on.

• The Phillies are not the 76ers. They don’t NEED to trade all their big name players…at least not right away. They don’t get any real benefit by being overly bad, and they’re not going to get much in return right now for unloading guys like Ryan Howard, Carlos Ruiz or Jonathan Papelbon. The best thing to do is hope these older veterans play well, and another team gets desperate enough to give up something of value for them. Someone on last week’s “SportsTalk” show suggested throwing in Cole Hamels in a trade so that the team could rid themselves of Howard’s weighty contract. That’s not wise either, as you lose the only player who can (and should) give you a healthy return of prospects…and for what? To give Darin Ruf—a player the Phillies clearly don’t like—more at-bats? It’s not imperative Philadelphia cuts everyone loose, and only as we near the trading deadline would it even begin to make sense to look for some serious trade rumors to start simmering.

It should be an exciting season overall for the Nationals, hopefully culminating with a record-setting postseason win total for the organization. To get excited about the Phillies, you’ll have to look more closely at the younger members of the organization and try to imagine a bright future that awaits a few summers from now. As the baseball season unfolds, don’t forget to email us your sports comments and opinions to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and join us for “RCN SportsTalk” at our new time, now broadcasting live from 7-8 pm, Thursday evenings on RCN-TV.

The SportsTalk Shop: The “Crossover” Season

March 30, 2015 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

‘Tis the season.

There is a well-known sports term perfectly describing this time of year for many involved in athletics.  It’s the time of year when all the winter sports are climaxing to an exhilarating finish.  “March Madness,” state tournaments and final swimming and diving meets…all with their elaborate playoff systems formed to create an exciting and balanced formula, pitting the best teams, and individuals squaring off against each other and building in intensity until reaching their conclusions.  With any luck, the results are memorable and thrilling finales.  As we approach the end, everyone involved can enjoy the memories created by this fiercely competitive segment of the calendar, while we all sit back, relax and reflect during a slower, more peaceful time of year….

For some of us.

While there is a perception that the end of winter sports season induces a slower time-period in the sports world, students, parents, athletic directors…and even some of us in the media, have a different story.  A “crossover” exists when one sports season begins winding down following a flurry of playoff action, while the spring sports teams are quietly trying (as best as Mother Nature allows) to put together a winning formula for what every coach hopes will be a successful campaign.  But a heavy snow late in the winter keeps athletes from getting much needed playing time out on their respective athletic fields.  Little to no snowfall but extreme cold temperatures also keeps athletes inside preventing them from much needed practice time out on their fields.  A couple days of rain on surfaces that are still frozen or a low snowfall amount with quickly rising temperatures on hardened surfaces create swampy and/or flooded conditions which…well, you get the idea.

For athletes who participate in both winter and spring athletics, it’s rather challenging to be going full-steam ahead in one sport, then quickly don a brand new uniform and begin competing at a high level instantly in a whole new activity.

And those of us in the media also are doing our best covering the final games of the basketball season while simultaneously attempting to interview as many spring sports coaches and players as we can, without the benefits of cloning.  All this must be accomplished before the looming and unforgiving deadline of the first game/match of the spring season which, ironically and painfully enough, usually gets postponed the day of, due to… (snow, rain, the cold, field conditions, electrical issues, or fill in your own reason here).

Keeping this theme in mind, this week at the “Shop” we look at one of our final winter sports interviews of the year, while also giving you a sampling of several of our spring high school sports previews (you can see more of them on “SportsTalk” live on Thursday evenings or on RCN On-Demand).

First, we check in with Mike Jones to get his thoughts on the final games in the NCAA tournament, the success of the nationally ranked DeMatha basketball program once again this winter, and the outstanding basketball tradition in the Washington, DC area.

Now, here are a few insights into several spring sports teams in the RCN coverage area.

So whether you’re spending the next several days enjoying what promises to be a exciting finish between the last four teams in the NCAA tournament (for the record, I did have Wisconsin and Kentucky in “my” Final Four, but missed with Duke and Michigan State).  Or, if you’re coaching, playing, or supporting one of the outstanding scholastic sports programs this weekend, I tip my cap to everyone who doesn’t take it easy over the next week, continuing to participate in the efforts of our young athletes in action during this special time of year.

‘Tis the season.

 

The SportsTalk Shop: State Basketball Recap

March 23, 2015 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

After shoveling snow out of my driveway for the final time this winter (even if we get more of the white stuff, I’m just plowing through with my car from now on), I had a chance to witness some of the PIAA state playoff games.  Unfortunately, none of the teams in our RCN-TV coverage area made it all the way through the state tournament, but that didn’t stop us from seeing some tremendous efforts from our local teams in the postseason on RCN-TV.

Here’s a look at our final set of basketball highlight packages from our state playoff game broadcasts; then, a few of my own observations on the final weeks of the PIAA basketball season.

Now a few thoughts as we close out the high school basketball season for our Pennsylvania sports fans.

    • Becahi’s Head Coach is a Stand-Up Guy

First of all, Jose Medina took over the Becahi girls basketball team very late (November) before this season started.  There’s no question this team had talent, but to keep all the pieces together and still win 27 straight games, an Eastern Pennsylvania Conference Championship, a District XI 3A title, advance to the 2nd round of the state tournament and to be ranked in the top four statewide throughout the entire season, all were tremendous accomplishments.
Once more, following a disappointing loss to Conrad Weiser and the controversial decision in which his star player, Kalista Walters, was left in the game with three fouls in the second quarter, he responded to my request to be on our “SportsTalk” show and address this and other issues with this year’s team (this show is available through RCN On Demand).  I cannot offer enough respect and support going forward for Coach Medina for tackling these topics head-on with me on our live show, and admire how he and his players have conducted themselves following their surprising, upset loss in the state tournament.  I heard from a good source that their up-and-coming players like Tessa Zamolyi and Rebekah Recchio were quality, hard-working players even before this season started, and the way they addressed the ending of their season makes me think the future of this program is as bright as ever.

    • Speaking of Conrad Weiser…

The Scouts from the Conrad Weiser girls basketball team made for one of the best stories in the entire state.  While some did not count on Weiser to be a force entering the league playoffs—let alone districts and states—the Scouts fought their way into the Final Four in the Berks County playoffs, then followed that up with a trip to the district championship game.  Then, after a mild upset win in the first round of states, they won back-to-back games against the best teams in the state to reach the PIAA quarterfinals.  Head Coach Mark Owens called his team “The Little Engine,” referencing the childhood story of the train that wouldn’t give up.  Despite being discounted multiple times, Owens’ group of undersized players (their tallest player is 5-8, shorter than about a half-dozen players they faced in states) made for an exciting post-season experience and showed what hard work, dedication and determination can do on the scholastic level’s biggest stage.

    • The “Final Pairs”

Here’s a look at the final two teams in each classification of the PIAA tournament.  See if something jumps out at you as readily as it did for many high school sports fans (this weekend’s winning teams in BOLD).

State Basketball Finalists
Class 4A Boys – Roman Catholic, Martin Luther King (Both District 12)
Class 4A Girls – CB West (District 1), Cumberland Valley (Dist. 3)
Class 3A Boys – Newmann-Goretti, Archbishop Carroll (Both District 12)
Class 3A Girls – Archbishop Wood (District 12), Black Hawk (Dist. 7)
Class 2A Boys – Conwell Egan (District 12), Aliquippa (Dist. 7)
Class 2A Girls – Newmann-Goretti (District 12), Seton LaSalle (Dist. 7)
Class 1A Boys – Constitution (Dist. 12), Farrell (Dist. 10)
Class 1A Girls – Old Forge (Dist. 2), Vicentian Academy (Dist. 7)

If you noticed most of the teams reaching the state championship games were from the Philadelphia region (Districts 1 and 12) and that ALL the boys winners were from District 12 (first time that has EVER happened in Pennsylvania), give yourself a gold medal.  It was common knowledge that once the District 12 schools were granted access to the PIAA tournament, the teams from the Delaware Valley would often be favorites in playoff match-ups.  However,  I don’t think many basketball fans not from the southeastern corner of the state anticipated just how dominate these programs are.   I’ve had the opportunity to see teams like Roman Catholic, Martin Luther King, Conwell Egan, Newmann-Goretti and Archbishop Carroll play at a high level for several years.  Their successes is not a fluke, nor do I anticipate their quality of play dropping off any time soon.

Is it right that most championship participants of a statewide tournament come from one area?  I cannot argue against it and believe there are opportunities with this tourney for a team to have a chance—although not a great one—to compete for a crown.  Whether it’s envy, sour grapes or an unjust system, the debate will rage on until more teams from other parts of Pennsylvania start making it to the title games—and for the boys teams, it’ll mean winning championships on a more regular basis.  One thing that cannot be disputed is that the success of high school basketball in Philadelphia is as strong as ever, and any sports fans left to watch the last three rounds of the PIAAs will continue to watch Philly’s brand of basketball for years to come.

The SportsTalk Shop: Phillies and the PIAA

March 16, 2015 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

We had the opportunity to speak with several important guests on last week’s “RCN SportsTalk,” discussing a number of issues relevant to sports fans in the RCN viewing area.  For this week’s entry in the “SportsTalk Shop,” I’d like to share some of my opinions on these topics and add a few more bits of information that we didn’t have a chance to address.

The first topic of conversation with the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Jake Kaplan focused on spring training for the Phillies and also the comparisons between the current Nationals’ starting rotation and the “4 Aces” that the Phillies featured a few seasons ago.

Now, there are several other issues regarding the Phillies exhibition season.  As we close in on the final two weeks of spring training, the Phillies roster is starting to come into focus—and there’s actually some good competition for the remaining roster spots.  The most competitive battle is for the three remaining bullpen spots, with several southpaws standing out.   Andy Oliver, Elvis Araujo, Mario Hollands, Adam Morgan, and Joely Rodriguez all have been throwing well with most of these pitchers not allowing a run so far this preseason.  Oliver (a Rule 5 player who the Phillies risk losing if not on the MLB roster this season) and Hollands (who pitched last year) probably have the edge, but the fact that so many of the young pitchers have looked impressive is an encouraging sign for the future.

The potential starting lineup is also intriguing.  If this team was battling for a playoff spot, the overabundance of left-handed bats would be a definite concern.  Since the Phillies are more in “talent retrieval mode,” the fact that the lefty-hitters are all making contact and squaring the ball up the last few days is worth noting.  Here’s my view of what an Opening Day lineup—especially if an opposing right-handed pitcher is throwing—might look like as of now:

CF – Ben Revere (L)
LF – Odubel Herrera or Grady Sizemore (both L)
2B – Chase Utley (L)
1B – Ryan Howard (L)
C – Carlos Ruiz (R)
3B – Cody Asche (L)
RF – Dom Brown (L)
SS –Freddy Galvis (S)

Also, with Ruiz getting older and coming off another season with an injury, he probably will only start three to four games per week.  This means his backup, unless they do add a significant name, will bat lower in the lineup, and will make the upper half of the lineup even more left-handed.

* * *
The other big subject on last week’s show dealt with the ongoing talk that the PIAA (the governing body for high school sports in Pennsylvania) could realign the classifications for high school football in the Keystone state.  The biggest issue with the new proposal is that it would change the current four classes format (based on male student enrollment numbers) to six classifications.

Here are a few thoughts on the proposal and how it could affect the football landscape in Pennsylvania.

As for District XI fans in the RCN viewing area, here’s a look at the current alignment and the potential breakdown—as of now—for what a six classification format would look like:

Class 4A— over 493 male students
Allen, Dieruff, Easton, East Stroudsburg South, Emmaus, Freedom, Liberty, Nazareth, Northampton, Parkland, Pleasant Valley, Pocono Mountain East, Pocono Mountain West, Stroudsburg, Whitehall.

Class 3A—300-49
Bangor, Bethlehem Catholic, Blue Mountain, Central Catholic, East Stroudsburg North, Jim Thorpe, Lehighton, Pottsville, Saucon Valley, Southern Lehigh.

Class 2A—175-299
Catasauqua, North Schuylkill, Northern Lehigh, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Palisades, Palmerton, Panther Valley, Pen Argyl, Pine Grove, Salisbury, Tamaqua, Wilson.

Class A—1-174
Mahanoy Area, Marian Catholic, Minersville, Nativity, Pius X, Schuylkill Haven, Shenandoah Valley, Tri-Valley, Williams Valley.

Six-class proposal
Class 6A—608 male students and above
Dieruff, Easton, Emmaus, Freedom, Liberty, Northampton, Parkland, Pleasant Valley, Pocono Mountain East, Pocono Mountain West, Stroudsburg, William Allen.

Class 5A—410-607
Bangor, East Stroudsburg North, East Stroudsburg South, Nazareth, Southern Lehigh, Whitehall.

Class 4A—301-409
Blue Mountain, Central Catholic, Jim Thorpe, Lehighton, Pottsville, Saucon Valley.

Class 3A—210-300
Bethlehem Catholic, North Schuylkill, Northern Lehigh, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Palisades, Palmerton, Pen Argyl, Pine Grove, Salisbury, Tamaqua, Wilson.

Class 2A—148-209
Catasauqua, Mahanoy Area, Minersville, Panther Valley, Schuylkill Haven.

Class A—1-147
Marian Catholic, Nativity, Pius X, Shenandoah Valley, Tri-Valley, Williams Valley

My thoughts on this…I’m honestly not so sure it’s a good idea.  I think there are some positives (I’m all for shortening the season) along with some concerns.  There are some major hurdles that different sections of Pennsylvania would have to overcome (the biggest would be scheduling) in order for this to happen.  I also think it would put a strain on some of the newspapers and website outlets that cover high school football, to make the leap from covering (at most) two championships per night to potentially four or more—especially with newspaper staff numbers dwindling.

However, I have known District XI Football Chair Jason Zimmerman and several other proponents of this proposal for quite some time. I believe that Jason and the people he is working with genuinely care about the scholar athletes’ best interests and believe in doing what’s right for the kids in Pennsylvania.  If he feels strongly enough to invest his and other administrators and coaches’ time and energy into exploring this proposal, then I think we should all take a serious look at the ideas presented.

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