Skip to content

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.

The SportsTalk Shop: “Districts & Regionals” Video Recaps

March 10, 2015 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

Last week here at the “SportsTalk Shop,” I examined the top stories, teams and individuals involved in this year’s District XI boys and girls basketball tournament.  As always, the RCN crew did their usual outstanding job, bringing all the sights and sounds of the local playoffs to our viewers–their schedules stretched to the limit to cover as many basketball games as possible.  And let’s not forget the District XI and Northeast Individual Wrestling coverage our crew provided for our viewers.  This year’s tournaments certainly had their share of thrilling action, great individual performances and exciting finishes.

Here are video highlights from our District XI boys and girls basketball post-season coverage, as well as highlights from our playoff wrestling coverage.

 

Which highlights were your favorites from this year’s District XI playoffs?  Which teams made for the most exciting finishes?  Send us an email with your thoughts and opinions to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and we’ll read some of your comments on an upcoming show.  Also, here’s a reminder of a special “RCN SportsTalk” program on Thursday, March 12, from 6-7pm.  On this show, we’ll be joined by District XI Football Chair Jason Zimmerman and PIAA President Dr. Robert Lombardi to discuss the new “six football classifications” proposal, which could gather momentum later this month and potentially change the landscape for the sport in both the Lehigh Valley and in Pennsylvania.  We’ll also have a live update from Florida on the Phillies’ spring training news, and thoughts on who’ll make this year’s team.

The SportsTalk Shop: HS Hoops – District XI Recaps

March 4, 2015 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

It was another fun (and extremely hectic) District XI playoff season for us at RCN-TV.  A huge “THANK YOU” to all the representatives of the district, the athletic directors, coaches, statisticians (especially Bob & Pat Whirl!) and everyone involved in the tournament.  The playoffs were not without their share of exciting moments, a few upsets and some great storylines involving the communities within RCN’s Lehigh Valley coverage area.

Here are a few thoughts and observations regarding this year’s tournament.

1)  Parkland and Becahi Delivered
Coming into this season—heck, even over a year ago—the Parkland boys and Bethlehem Catholic girls basketball teams were the definitive teams-to-beat in the 2015 District XI tourney.  On paper, they clearly had the best teams, but that doesn’t always translate to winning a championship.  No matter how dominating their regular season, one bad night could shatter all of their expectations—especially with an early loss in the playoffs.  However, these teams came out and played their best.  What was more impressive was, if one player was having a rare off-night, others stepped up and delivered.  The result?  Neither of these teams needed a late-game, “sweat-it-out” basket to win its game, and entered the state playoffs as #1 seeds.  It’s one thing to appear to be the best team, but there’s something to be said for going out and executing each and every night.  Through many months of hard work and dedication, they made their success “look” easy, and winning every single game against every area opponent is a tremendous accomplishment for both of these schools.

2)  The Nazareth Community
One example of the truly special communities within the RCN area is Nazareth.  From its #1 fan (Andy Weaver) to its classy and professional head coaches (Joe Arndt, Rich Bickert), to its passionate fan base, it’s always fun to broadcast a Blue Eagle game.  Both teams took different routes to advance to the final day of the district playoffs.  The Nazareth girls team has several seniors armed with experience earned during the Blue Eagles’ 2013 championship season, mixed with some of the most talented sophomores in the area.  Many girls basketball experts thought Nazareth’s experience would give them the advantage over the upstart Red Rovers, a team I don’t think got as much attention as they deserved.  Easton has a host of athletic underclassmen and no doubt will be competing for league and district titles for many years to come.  But 2015 belong to the Eagles and I’m looking forward to seeing them in action this Friday in their opening round state game against Mount St. Joseph’s.  Especially with the game conveniently located, I’m expecting the people of Nazareth to take the short trip down Route 191 and continue to support their team as they embark on their playoff run.  (Programming note: Coach Bickert and members of his District Championship team will be guests on the March 19th edition of “RCN SportsTalk” at 6pm).

Speaking of the Eagles’ fan base, the people of Nazareth weren’t the only area basketball fans who were rooting for the Eagles boys team, a unit that embodied the spirit of the ‘Comeback Kids’ over the last few weeks.  Nazareth had to defeat Northampton (who was fighting for its league playoff life) just to qualify for the playoffs, then came back to beat Liberty (a team many pegged to play Parkland in the Championship) in the first round.  Then, they overcame a 12-point fourth quarter deficit to beat a Stroudsburg squad that had come the closest local team to beat the Trojans.  Finally, Nazareth bounced back from a 15-point third quarter deficit to force overtime against Whitehall in the semifinal, making for the most thrilling fourth quarter of the tournament.  Although Nazareth would go on to lose to Allen on the playoff’s final day, the Blue Eagles made for some lasting memories for many local basketball fans.  The fact that the boys athletes showed up at the girls’ games and vice versa was tremendous to see, and the entire town should be proud of its winter sports athletes.

3)  The “Ultimate” Underdogs
I don’t know if there’s a more underrated boys basketball head coach in the area than Salisbury’s Jason Weaver.  Ever since he took over the Falcons basketball program seven year ago, all they’ve done is win games.  Every couple years he’ll lose the entire starting lineup to graduation, and yet, by game one of the following season, the Falcons are right there, playing as well as anyone in the Colonial League…and each February they’re beating teams in the post season.  When Salisbury lost its top scorer Dasheen Reid before districts started, they came back and posted one of the most impressive start-to-finish games I saw all year in their win over Wilson.  They continued on and lost tough ball games to Central Catholic and Tamaqua to finish out their season, but, like Nazareth, I don’t know how many local basketball fans thought they would preserve through some adversity as well as they did, and should be commended for their effort.

And speaking of Salisbury, how about a shout-out to two of the top girls basketball performers in our area—the Falcons’ Meagan Eripret and also Palmerton’s Jade Farquhar.  Although we didn’t broadcast any of their games, I had a chance to watch both of these standout stars in action.  We interviewed Eripret for “SportsTalk” last year when her head coach Joe Mladosich won his 200th game and she was very well-spoken and unselfish when discussing her skills and abilities in relationship to the team’s success during her career at Salisbury.  She became the school’s all-time leading scorer with 1,787 points and has made her Falcons a perennial post-season contender over the last few seasons.

Farquhar was the Colonial League’s MVP and she scored her 1,000th point in a game against Pleasant Valley earlier this season.  I was also told that she contributes countless hours volunteering at local organizations and youth activities.  I heard extremely wonderful things about both of these young ladies, both in terms of the performances on and off the court from people who follow girls basketball on a regular basis.

Another such individual I have had the good fortune of seeing often was Wilson’s Phil Pierfy, who’s tremendous scholastic basketball career came to an end in this year’s district playoffs.  He’s a two-sport standout star in basketball and baseball, and I know a number of college coaches in both sports that would love to add him to their teams.  Warrior’s Head Coach Bob Frankenfield would commonly refer to Phil as a great “STUDENT-athlete,” putting the emphasis on the first part of this term.   The high standard players like Eripret, Farquhar and Pierfy live up to are what true champions are made of, and should be celebrated just as much,  and in many cases more, than the trophy that’s raised at the end of the district tournament.

What other players should be recognized for great work this past winter sports season, and which individuals deserve “Shout-outs” for their efforts?  Send us an email with your thoughts and opinions to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and we’ll read some of your comments on our next show, March 12th from 6-7pm.  On this show, we are happy to be joined by District XI Football Chair Jason Zimmerman and PIAA President Dr. Robert Lombardi, to discuss the new “six football classifications” proposal, which could gather momentum later this month and potentially could change the landscape for the sport in both the Lehigh Valley and in Pennsylvania.

The SportsTalk Shop: HS Basketball Playoffs (Part 2)

February 23, 2015 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

Recently here at the “SportsTalk Shop,” we brought you highlights and insights on the larger Lehigh Valley basketball teams in this winter’s playoffs.  This week we look at some of the smaller schools, and a few of the girls teams that I had a chance to catch-up with over the last few weeks.

Like most basketball seasons, Allentown Central Catholic boys team is a favorite to compete for a District XI 3A title.  The Vikings are in search of their fifth straight championship, and may present the best chance of any team in the RCN area to win it.  The #1 seed is Pottsville–a team that also appears quite regularly in the playoffs.  Some winters, the Crimson Tide come into the playoffs with overwhelmingly impressive records…but that doesn’t always translate to postseason success.  Some years their quality of competition is not nearly what teams in the Lehigh Valley face, and the result is a quick exit from districts.  This is NOT one of those years, as Pottsville not only has played some very good teams, but also boasts some outstanding, multi-talented players.  These players also are great all-around athletes who excel at other sports.  Tamaqua is also having an outstanding year, but is in the “upper bracket,” meaning they’ll have to face the Tide in the district semifinal.  A loss to Pottsville means they would have to fight for the remaining playoff berth in the consolation game (FYI: District XI 3A has three teams that can qualify for the state playoff).

Speaking of “brackets,” it’s a shame that so many quality teams from the Lehigh Valley were all grouped together in the same (lower) 3A bracket, which limits the number of teams in the RCN viewing area teams to advance.  Central Catholic will face Salisbury in this Tuesday’s semifinal matchup.  The loser of that ball game will have to win the consolation game Friday in order to qualify for the PIAAs.

In the girls Colonial League championship, Notre Dame really impressed me with it’s lights-out defense and smart play.

The Crusaders held a very talented Northwestern offense to 15 first half points, while having five different players scoring eight or more points themselves.  Notre Dame featured outstanding balance on this year’s team.  Seniors Gabby Altmire, Sam Cabone and Julie Romich are outstanding leaders on and off the court.  Despite having a very young team (six of their nine regulation rotation players are underclassmen), they have many battle-tested players who’ve played in a number of close games against great competition throughout the past year.

Northwestern is also a very fun team to watch and showed lots of determination in the title game by coming back and not quitting, despite facing a 15-point deficit midway through the third quarter.  Seniors Sabrina Mertz and Sarah Segan are both capable of big scoring nights and leading a team that can also play great defense.  They are part of a 3A group loaded with talent. The Tigers figure to be viewed as underdogs heading into their semifinal game.

This brings us to the two best girls teams in the RCN viewing area–Bethlehem Catholic and Central Catholic–that met in the EPC championship this past Friday.

The Golden Hawks earned a hard-fought title, led by perhaps the best player in the state, Kalista Walters, who has scored 2,202 career points heading into the district playoffs.  Very few teams have been able to contain her in her scholastic career, and when they do she’s been amazing at finding the open teammate on the floor and dishing out assists.  Central Catholic might actually have more high-quality players and feature one of the premiere all-around athletes in the area (Darcy Wolf).  Becahi Head Coach Jose Medina has done a great job keeping the rhythm going after taking over the program very late in the process and Central Head Coach Mike Kopp is as good as it gets.  I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if these teams square-off against each other in districts, and make for another great battle.

You can watch the Becahi/Central championship and all of the local leagues’ girls and boys title games on RCN OnDemand.

Be sure to bookmark our RCN-TV website and check back often for updates on our playoff broadcast schedule as we cover the teams in the RCN viewing area over the next several weeks.  Also, we’d love to hear your comments on our local teams and athletes and want to spotlight great on-the-court performances on our “RCN SportsTalk: District Championship Preview Show” with guests Megan Dellegrotti and Joe Stellato, coming up this Thursday, February 26, from 6-7 pm.  Email your thoughts to rcnsportstalk@rcn.com and we may read and respond to your emails on this program.

The SportsTalk Shop: HS Hoops Playoff Primer

February 9, 2015 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

The Pennsylvania high school boys basketball playoffs have begun, with tons of talented teams ready to square off against each other over the next five weeks.

As we begin the road to state gold in Hershey, here are notes and highlights on some of the 4A teams that I’ve covered this winter for RCN Sports, along with a few predictions on what we might be able to expect from these teams this post-season.

PARKLAND
We’ve spend a few blog entries talking about just how good this year’s Trojan team is, and they have not disappointed, entering the playoffs with an undefeated EPC record. Quite frankly, Parkland was rarely tested in any of their league games and appeared to “turn on the switch” whenever they wanted to, to put games away and win contests by significant margins.

One aspect of the team that we have not addressed in previous blog entries is the Parkland “role” players.  Jack Dreisbach, Kenny Yeboah, Justin Jones and Kevin Dulorie are four players who haven’t gotten much attention in the media this basketball season.  Yet, when opponents try to stop some of the other top players, these four guys have stepped up and led the team to sound wins.  Dreisbach recently scored in double figures when Nazareth tried to double-down on other players.  Yeboah is a force in the paint, averaging seven points and nine rebounds per game.  Jones recently fueled a “put-away” run with seven points in limited action against a very good Emmaus team. Dulorie is a player with moves that would probably make him the go-to-guy if he was on at least half of the other teams’ rosters in the Lehigh Valley area.

It’ll be hard enough for many of the Trojans’ upcoming opponents to try to contain Kyle Stout, Sam Iorio, and DeVante Cross…but when these role players step up, as they have been doing of late, it might just be the icing on Parkland’s cake for a serious run in the state playoffs.

LIBERTY
The Hurricanes are probably one of two teams in the Lehigh Valley that have a legitimate shot at beating the Trojans on a given night.  Armed with an outstanding coaching staff, they have great balance  led by senior wingman Ludwin Gonzalez, and have the depth enabling them to attempt to beat Parkland with an up-tempo game.  They have an outstanding–and incredibly young–backcourt that would make for an exciting challenge for Cross to deal with.  Through no fault of their own, they haven’t been as battle-tested against the elite squads as other teams, thanks to their placement in the “Steel” division and the random selection of their non-division opponents.   However, they’ve proven themselves with dramatic victories over Allen, Freedom and Becahi, to name a few.

ALLEN
The Canaries might be the most athletic team in the area–period.  Although they didn’t face Parkland or Central Catholic, they have recorded more than their share of big wins.  They’ve also lost to Liberty twice, plus Nazareth and a few other teams that don’t have Allen’s solid winning percentage.  They have several scoring options in guards Bryson Walton, Koi Kostic and Talek Williams and from big men Isiah Hinton Gray, Jamiere Myers and Naequan Feliciano.  I don’t know if they have the consistency to be considered the leading candidates to win a league or district title.  That being said, they have the personnel to do it.  If they can channel the way I saw them play in the summer leagues, the Canaries might just win a winter title after all.

EASTON
I have not seen the Rovers in person, but watching them on RCN On-Demand made me think they can definitely win a few playoff games.  They enter the post-season as one of the hottest teams in the EPC.  Following their loss to Wilson in the Rotary Classic over the Christmas holidays, many thought Easton would have trouble making the District XI playoffs, let alone the league’s.  The Rovers have very good balance and nice size up front.  If they can continue the momentum they maintained in January, I think the die-hard Easton fans will be happy with their team in the playoffs.

WHITEHALL
Besides Parkland, no team played better on their home court than the Zephyrs.  They provided just enough offense and showcased a very impressive “match-up” defense to qualify for both the league and district post-season. Brett Radocha is the team’s only player scoring in double figures and Mikey Esquilin is one of the most exciting freshmen in Eastern Pennsylvania this winter.  However, Whitehall didn’t finish the season as strongly as many fans of the maroon-and-gold would have liked, and the Zephs never did seem to have the level of success away from the newly christened “Coach Tracy Court.”  On the positive side, they recorded very impressive wins over Liberty and Emmaus and will need similar efforts to have playoff success.

EMMAUS
The Hornets’ non-conference schedule might have been one of the most challenging of any team in the state.  The hope was that the high quality of competition they faced–and their wins in a few of them–would help Emmaus when they came home to play EPC teams.  They’ve had to withstand injuries to their top two players–twin brothers David and Matt Kachelries–who have both returned and picked up right where they were last season.  Junior center Joe Polczyski is one of the more underrated players in the league, but Emmaus fell short in several big divisional games in the season’s second half.  Head Coach Steve Yoder has done a remarkable job of rebuilding this program, I think, and his bench might be as deep as any in District XI.  I personally have yet to see the consistency in this team to put them in the “favorites” category to win a championship–this year, anyway.  I do think the team’s winning ways will continue even if they don’t win a title this season.

NAZARETH/NORTHAMPTON
Both of these teams’ head coaches, Joe Arndt and Coy Stampone, are two of the nicest guys in the area.  Both the Eagles and the K-Kids posted several big wins during the season.  Northampton is the “feel good” story of the winter with their dramatic turnaround from a sub-.500 season last year.  They could use their disappointment of missing out on the league playoffs (the “power point tiebreaker” kept them out of the playoffs by a couple one-thousands of a percentage point) to use as motivation in districts.  Nazareth defeated Northampton twice during the regular season and scored an impressive win over Allen as one of their highlights during the season.  Nazareth and Northampton both played a thrilling game against each other in the regular season finale and both teams could come back stronger than ever in 2016.  I don’t know if either team will have the firepower to contend this season, but they should be very proud of how well they played and how far they’ve come this winter.

SOUTHERN LEHIGH
Basketball fans may not realize that the Spartans are a 4A team this year, but the way they finished the regular season (wins over Saucon and Salisbury) has certainly given them a ton of momentum heading into the playoffs.  Currently, Southern Lehigh is ranked at the very bottom of the District XI standings, meaning they could face the toughest competition in the playoffs.  However, a Colonial League title win later this week would boost them up to a #2 seed and keep them away from facing Parkland as long as possible.  I like the job that Ben Tannous has done in just his second year, and he told me a few weeks ago that he would not count this season as a “success” until they posted wins over elite teams.  I think with their recent wins that they now have achieved that level and feel that there will be many more reasons to cheer this team going forward.

What are your thoughts on the top EPC teams and which players will shine during the league playoff season?  Join RCN Sports Director Gary Laubach, Joe Craig and myself on this Thursday’s “RCN SportsTalk” show live from 6-7 pm as we preview the EPC and Colonial League girls and boys championship series and preview the next round of the playoffs for all classifications within the RCN viewing area.

The SportsTalk Shop: Three Wrestling Season Surprises

February 4, 2015 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

While many things unfolded the way most Lehigh Valley HS wrestling experts thought the season would, there were still several big surprises during this year’s District XI team wrestling season.  Here are a few of the highlights:

Becahi’s Level of Dominance
The fact that the Golden Hawks ran through its 3A district competitors in this, its first year moving up from being a “Class 2-A”  team, is not really a surprise.  They have been scoring victories over many local wrestlers from larger schools for some time during their competition in the now-defunct Lehigh Valley Conference.  What was shocking was by HOW MUCH Becahi beat up on other Lehigh Valley powers Easton, Parkland, Nazareth & company.  Here’s a look at three of their biggest wins over conference opponents—all by healthy margins – this winter.

Expect the Hawks’ success to continue in the state tournament this weekend and once the “individual” playoffs get underway in a few weeks.

Freedom’s Amazing Season
Last year we had Patriots’ Head Coach Brandon Hall on our “RCN SportsTalk” show and he told us some great stories about what he, his coaches and players have had to overcome in trying to build up the program —a task especially difficult with the high level of competition in the Lehigh Valley.  His team took the next step in a big way—entering the playoffs with an amazing 24-0 record and an impressive win in the “American” Division of the highly competitive Virginia Duals tournament.  Freedom’s next step will be to continue this high level of success for the next few years against the powerhouse teams in the Eastern Pennsylvania region.  However, you have to give a huge congratulations to Coach Hall and his team for all of their success this year—and putting together a season that no one outside of the northern half of Bethlehem saw coming.

Aside from any match involving Becahi, Freedom and most of the other teams in the newly formed Eastern Pennsylvania Conference made for entertaining team competition this winter.  Here are a few of the best matches, including this past weekend’s “Ultimate Qualifier”:

Northern Lehigh’s 2A Championship
Becahi no longer competing in the 2A bracket left a wide-open district tournament for some team to come up and win this year’s crown—a title the Hawks have dominated over the last few seasons.  Saucon Valley headed a field of impressive smaller schools that had multiple talented wrestlers this season.  Head Coach Chad Spirk has done an amazing job over his career of building his program—which sometimes in the past was overshadowed by other teams’ performances from the LVC.  However, it was Northern Lehigh’s Steve Hluschak and his Bulldogs that pulled off the win over the Colonial League Champion Panthers to advance into this weekend’s PIAA tourney as the #1 2A representative from District XI.  Northern Lehigh was one of several teams that made for a great season, along with Northwestern, Notre Dame and Bangor.  Most of these head coaches were on “SportsTalk” recently—you can hear more about their teams and their thoughts on local wrestling by watching the show for free through RCN On-Demand.

Speaking of “SportsTalk,” this Thursday (Feb. 5th) at 6pm, we’ll have our “Ultimate” wrestling panel with local legends Gene Waas and Sam Burgio joining Jack Logic, Joe Craig and myself as we preview this weekend’s State Finals, the upcoming District XI Individual Wrestling Tournament and give our thoughts on some controversial decisions that were made in terms of forming the new playoff system.  We’ll also have wrestling experts Brad Wilson and Scott Barr on our February 19th live show to preview RCN’s coverage of that weekend’s “Individuals Championships” and also give their takes on local wrestling issues.

We’d love to hear your comments & questions about Lehigh Valley HS wrestling!  Who stood out in your mind as the top individual wrestlers…and which other team’s exceeded expectations?  Email us at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and we’ll read and respond to your emails on our upcoming live shows!

 

The SportsTalk Shop: College Basketball Updates

January 27, 2015 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

In the last several blog entries, we’ve examined a plethora of winter sports news in the RCN-TV coverage areas dealing with professional and scholastic sports.  This week, I’d like to highlight some exciting accomplishments among the collegiate teams in action right now.

First, I had a chance to talk with American University’s Head Basketball Coach Mike Brennan about a series of standout moments in his current season—from several last-second, game-winning contests, both in and out of the Patriot League, to his team meeting baseball Hall of Famer Cal Ripken, Jr. as well as other highlights in his current season.

Some of American’s highlights this year include Pee Wee Gardner scoring two last second, game-winning baskets in consecutive games.  Gardner’s late-game heroics earned him Patriot League Player of the Week honors this past week.   The Eagles also posted several non-conference wins including an overtime defeat against La Salle, and nearly beating my alma mater, Temple, in its opening game of the season.  It won’t be an easy week as the defending Patriot League champ has to play four of its next five games on the road, including tough ones against Navy,  Holy Cross, and the team currently in first place in the league, Colgate.   The Raiders jumped out to their best start in decades this season and have been very tough playing at home this winter.

Currently Brennan’s squad finds itself just one game out of first place, and just ahead of two other teams in our viewing area, Lehigh and Lafayette.  Speaking of the Mountain Hawks and Leopards, they also have some impressive wins this year.  Lafayette has posted wins against Princeton, Penn, NJIT, Loyola Maryland and Boston—a team that lost to American in last year’s league championship.  Lehigh barely squeaked by the Leopards when the two teams met last weekend and has tough opponents coming up against Bucknell and Army over the next week.

On the women’s side, Lafayette’s Emily Homan was recently selected as one of 30 women’s basketball candidates for the Senior CLASS Award. The senior forward leads the Leopards and is second in the Patriot League in scoring, averaging nearly 18 points per game.  Lehigh’s Kerry Kinek, who had an outstanding scholastic career at Allentown Central Catholic, continues to have an outstanding junior campaign, and is among her team’s leaders in points, three-points, blocks, three-point and free throw shooting percentages and rebounding.

I had the tremendous honor of watching another player in high school, Darrun Hilliard, who continues to lead a Villanova team that’s currently ranked fourth in the nation.  Hilliard leads the team in points and three-pointers and is second in a bunch of other statistical categories.  Nova is coming off a tough loss to another team in the RCN viewing area, Georgetown, 78-58.  The win puts the Hoyas one win ahead of the Wildcats in the Big East Standings, and should make for an interesting rematch when the two teams square off against each other once again in early February in Philadelphia.

Kara Bonenberger, another outstanding athlete RCN viewers had a chance to see play at Northampton HS, has gone on to a stellar career at Penn (currently 9-5 in the Ivy League).  She’s been part of an “Iron-5” that has started every game so far this year and is among her team’s leaders in points, rebounds and field goal percentage.  Bonenberger, a senior co-captain who has earned many rewards during her collegiate career, leads a team that’s looking to defend its Ivy League title.  Penn’s recent highlights include wins over Temple, NJIT and Richmond but still have more than half its league schedule still to play.

Other Big 5 notes include my Owls pulling off a big win against a Kansas team ranked tenth in the nation at the time they played.  Following three consecutive league losses, Temple has bounced back with a win over USF and has several big contests coming up over the next several weeks if they want to improve their seeding for the American Conference playoffs.  The Owls will face all the teams currently in front of them in the standings, with UConn and Cincinnati coming to the Liacouras Center and Temple having to travel to play SMU and Memphis on the road.

St. Joe’s and LaSalle have struggled to stay above .500 and find themselves several games back of the top spot in the Atlantic-10.  However, another team in our area, George Washington, has jumped out to an amazing start and finds itself with just one league loss entering a big ball game against VCU.   The Colonials are led by Patricio Garino, Kethan Savage and Kevin Larsen—all scoring in double figures for GW this season.

What other college teams in the RCN-TV viewing area would you like to see us highlight here on the “SportsTalk Shop” or on our live Thursday night “SportsTalk” show?  Which players in our coverage area deserve some extra mention or should receive a shout-out?  We always welcome your comments, suggestions and opinions!  Email us at any time at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and check back for more updates on teams and athletes in the RCN viewing area!

The SportsTalk Shop: HS Basketball Mid-Season Report

January 19, 2015 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

As we reach the midpoint in the Lehigh Valley high school winter sports season, it continues to be an interesting season for local boys basketball.  While we have had quite a few close ball games, with a handful going into overtime, a look at the different league standings shows there are a few teams doing very well, and even more teams a couple steps behind–finding themselves battling each other for the remaining playoff berths.

The biggest “non-surprise” is the Parkland boys basketball team, as they continue to dominate everyone they’ve faced in the area.  Even against an Easton team that was coming off a big win, the Trojans eventually wore them down and won the game easily.

DeVante Cross is a player who we talked quite a bit about during the football season, but I have really been impressed by what he has done so far on the hardwood.  The Trojans have more than enough firepower to go around, but I think Cross’s improved play has made for an even more well-rounded ball club that will look to go deep into the PIAA playoffs.

While Parkland has been the area’s best team and has already clinched both an EPC and District XI 4A playoff spot, the Rovers are a team that has been playing well of late.  Easton currently finds themselves a couple games below .500 and are making a push for a post-season spot, following a big win recently over Freedom HS.

Three other teams that I have seen playing well and figure to be in the running for both league and district playoff action include Whitehall, Emmaus and Allen.  The Zephyrs have been playing extremely well after a slow start and have won seven of their last nine games.  While they haven’t been posting explosive offensive numbers, it has been their defense—in particular, the match-up zone defense—that has been very impressive.  Whitehall  held a Liberty team—a squad I feel is as athletic as any in the area—to under 50 points last week.  The Zephyrs did the same to an Emmaus team that has been playing some of the toughest teams from both Pennsylvania and New York in its non-conference schedule.

Speaking of Emmaus, there aren’t many teams that can boast as deep a bench as Steve Yoder’s ballclub, and they can beat you a number of ways.  They’ve had some injury issues to overcome, which, combined with their tough out-of-league schedule, has delayed their clinching of a playoff berth until this point.  But once in the playoffs, they are definitely a team that figures to win a few playoff games.

Allen is another team that has been playing extremely well overall.  It’s unfortunate that the new league schedule does  not feature the Canaries playing some of their traditional basketball rivals—at least for this season.  It is entirely possible they will get a chance to face Parkland and Central Catholic once the  post-season begins.  Allen has clinched a district playoff spot and looked impressive in its recent ball game against Bethlehem Catholic.

Perhaps the story of the EPC this year has been the play of Northampton—a team that had struggled in recent years, but has looked phenomenal in nearly every game they’ve played.  They play in the same division as Parkland, Whitehall, Emmaus, Central Catholic and Nazareth and have done more than hold their own, including posting a strong win recently against Dieruff.

Northampton Head Coach Coy Stampone will be one of several local head basketball coaches who will be on our “RCN SportsTalk” show on Thursday, January 29th from 6-7 pm.  I’m looking forward to speaking with Coach Stampone and getting his thoughts on how he has turned the program around, and what his team’s expectations are for the remainder of the season.

Looking ahead to the first ever Eastern Pennsylvania Conference, the playoffs will feature eight teams vying for their post-season positions.  The eight teams will consist of the three division winners (from the “Mountain,” “Skyline” and “Steel” divisions) and five wild card spots.  Many assume that the five “Skyline” teams not named Parkland will occupy most, if not all, of those wild card spots.  Keep in mind that all those teams will play each other over the next few weeks, so if any one of those teams in the Skyline division go into a funk and lose several in a row, it would open up spots for a couple teams from the other divisions to sneak up and advance to the league playoffs.

One final EPC note about the Vikings—while they may not be the favorite this year in 3A because of the quality play so far by Pottsville, don’t count out Central Catholic from making another district playoff run.  Despite many several quality opponents in their classification, the Vikings have a lot of pride on the line and are looking to win their fifth straight 3A Title and eighth over the last ten seasons.
* * *
In the Colonial League, there are several teams that have continued to play outstanding basketball.  Salisbury has stayed right with the top teams (the others being Bangor, Saucon Valley & Southern Lehigh) and has played a strong non-league schedule once again this winter.

The wild card team—both physically and figuratively–in the Colonial League might be Wilson.  The Warriors ost to Pen Argyl, a team that lost to a struggling Northern Lehigh program and will probably not make the postseason.  They’ve also had some games in which they have struggled shooting from the floor and from the free throw line.  However, Wilson has also posted a number of huge wins,  among them an overtime victory over their rivals from Notre Dame-Green Pond and also played one of its best games of the season against Catasauqua.

Remember, the Colonial League has six berths for its playoffs this year, as opposed to just four teams advancing as in years past.  This could be huge for a team like Wilson, Palisades, Notre Dame or even Northwestern.  In previous years, it would appear to be a lock at this point that the Slaters, Falcons, Panthers and Spartans would be the only teams in the league playoffs.  But with the expansion of two more teams, it’ll make for a very entertaining race over the next few weeks to determine which other teams will qualify for the league playoffs.

Another thing to remember is that the league winners will automatically get top berths for the District XI playoffs.  So if a team that has been struggling during the first half of the year can get hot with a succession of victories over the next few weeks, they can receive a huge bump when it comes to District XI post-season seedings (see Notre Dame last winter).

Which teams have impressed you so far this season and what games have resulted in the biggest surprises?  Send us an email to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and join us on Thursday evenings as we read and respond to your sports questions and opinions on each program.

The SportsTalk Shop: Redskins, Eagles, Nationals & Phillies Off-Season

January 12, 2015 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

It certainly has been an interesting few weeks for these four pro teams in the RCN viewing area—all for different reasons.  The Nationals are heading into, what I believe, is a very critical season for them sustaining their long-term success.  The Redskins are trying to figure out how everything went tragically wrong in 2014 and how to rebound as quickly as possible.  The Phillies are starting a rebuilding process that—if it doesn’t gain traction over the next several months—could produce massive changes to their long-time front office personnel.  And the Eagles…well, even the most seasoned beat writers are still trying to figure out just exactly what happened over the last month, and whether the off-season moves they’ve made so far will make the team dramatically better—or worse.

First, here are some thoughts on all four teams as discussed by a panel of media pundits.

Now, a little more now on the Nationals.  I, too, see 2015 as a huge year for Washington.  They clearly are the best team in the National League East and should have no trouble holding off any “surpassing expectations” type of season the Marlins or Mets might have.  Washington is very similar to what the Phillies were as they were entering their 2008 season, with their core reaching the prime of their careers—and several players about to begin their “contract year”.  In my opinion, the Nats MUST get to the World Series this season.  I’ll explain why in a moment, but first, here are three things that have to happen for the Nats to have success this year.

 1) “Go To” Players Must Step Up

It’s time for the big-money guys to do what they get paid for—win.  It’s not enough to put up big individual numbers.  It’s not enough to say the right things in the media. The “go to” guys have to take it to another level and make the players around them better.  Jayson Werth, a player who has experience doing that with the Phillies, will have to make a successful recovery from his arthroscopic shoulder surgery this week.  He won’t be ready by the start of spring training, but needs to be ready to play by mid-April.  The old adage of “you can’t win a pennant in April but you certainly can lose one” applies.  Highly touted prospect Michael Taylor will probably be patrolling Werth’s left field spot (remember, he’s switching positions with Bryce Harper this season) for a good chunk of spring training.  While I’m very high on Taylor and feel he can be an everyday Major League outfielder at some point, it’s extremely risky to rely on a minor leaguer—no matter how high their pedigree—for anything in a season as critical as this one…which brings us to topic #2…

 2)  Stay Aggressive Adding Role Players.

Signing these guys are not flashy moves.  Some of these acquisitions won’t even register on national sports news programs.  But these types of moves are what help win championships.  Sticking with our parallels to the ’08 Phillies, imagine that team without the following moves:  Pat Gillick taking a chance on Werth as a ‘complement’ to Geoff Jenkins in RF; not having J.C. Romero anchoring the 7th/8th innings; not having Matt Stairs available to pinch hit…

Injuries will occur.  Players will go into slumps.  The Nationals have already added some nice pieces over the last year (and a gritty player like Kevin Frandsen last year was a great example).  However, I’m not expecting much out of Dan Uggla, and continuing to search for diamonds-in-the-rough will be even more imperative as 2015 unfolds.  GM Mike Rizzo must continue to look for even the slightest moves that can improve his team.  The organization must continue to add depth and leave nothing to chance this season.

3) Sign Desmond NOW!

Ian Desmond is one of the best shortstops in the game.  The Nats will have many questions heading into the offseason, resigning free agents-to be that are currently on the roster, regardless of how the team does this season.  The last thing this year’s team needs is added distractions.  You clearly must bring him back for next season, and entering spring training with his future in limbo opens the door for speculation and puts doubt into the minds of other players about the future of the team.  I mentioned earlier how important it is to get off to a quality start.  You don’t want one issue snowballing into an avalanche of ambiguity.  There is no question that Desmond should be the one guy you bring back for next year, and to go into March with him NOT signing a long-term deal would be a colossal mistake.

The Phillies were able to build on what they established in 2007 to capture a World Championship.  A failure by Washington to at least get beyond the NLDS would signal a lateral progression…or worse, a regressive atmosphere around the organization.  This isn’t the type of feeling you want to have lingering as you try to re-sign as many of the current, productive Nationals players as you may need after this season.  Hard decisions will have to be made on both sides, and those decisions get tougher for all involved if there are questions about the direction of the franchise.

Philadelphia—now—is in a full-blown rebuilding process, and many more things need to be done.  It will certainly not be easy to accomplish those things (moving Ryan Howard, Jonathan Papelbon, et al).  While I actually think they have made some good moves—so far—this winter, I’ll wait to talk about them more in detail until we see more of their off-season work.  The Phillies now have the luxury of time to let their plan develop…the element of time is exactly what the Nationals could soon be running out of.

What are your thoughts on the four pro sports teams mentions?  Who makes the biggest noise this offseason and what moves do you see happening?  Email your comments to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and keep checking back to the RCN-TV website as we’ll continue to follow these teams’ storylines and in the coming weeks will have more programs on these franchises on ‘RCN SportsTalk’ (live, Thursdays at 6pm

The SportsTalk Shop: 3 HS Hoops Notes

January 6, 2015 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

We’re about a month into this winter’s high school basketball season in the Lehigh Valley area.  As we embark on the “January” portion of the scholastic schedule, here are three observations of the new hoops season that I feel deserve some extra mention.

1.  Parkland’s extremely good, but…

I’ve been privileged to be surrounded by great minds in many different sports and try to defer to the local sports experts when formulating opinions on who the top teams are expected to be.  It’s for that reason that I rarely see a team play summer league basketball in July and can make “stone-cold” predictions about something that happens in February.  I broke my own rule this past summer when I saw the Parkland boys basketball team dominate in a variety of summer hoops tournaments, and said soon after on “SportsTalk” that I felt the Trojans were unquestionably the team to beat for league and district honors.  I felt good about my statement when I heard much smarter basketball minds proclaiming similar expectations as we got closer to the winter sports season–some even believing Parkland could go undefeated during the regular season.

This year’s Trojans’ team reminds me of the Emmaus boys team led by Aaron Grey, who would go on to play in the NBA.  They blitzed through the league playoffs and entered the District XI playoffs with a 28-0 record.  Their season came to a sudden and amazingly fast conclusion when they lost in the first round of the district playoffs.  This year’s Parkland team, albeit without the size of a Grey-type of player, might actually be deeper than that Emmaus team.  Clearly they continue to be the favorite in this area–there aren’t many Lehigh Valley teams that can play with them.  However, I do believe there are a few teams that could step up and cause Parkland trouble on a given night.

Here’s some of the highlights of several “other” top EPC teams playing during the first month of the season…

2.  A “somewhat” bizarre Colonial League start.

For what it’s worth, the current Colonial League standings are very close to my best guesses to the correct order of the standings.  But what has surprised me is some of the individual game results so far this season.  For example, I thought Bangor would be the number-one team in their division, but Bron Holland’s team has once again raised the bar again this season.  In the past, the Slaters would build a quality team for several years…peak for one or two years…then return to “rebuilding mode” for several more seasons.  But lately, Bangor seems to bounce back despite losing talent to graduation and surpass expectations.  They posted dominating wins over the first few weeks of the season, with many different players stepping up, while playing “lights-out” defense in most of their ball games.

In addition to Bangor, Saucon Valley, Salisbury and Southern Lehigh are also teams jumping out to solid starts.  However, that has not kept other teams from challenging the league’s top squads, as Wilson proved by just falling short in their attempt to beat the Slaters and Panthers before Christmas, and then capturing the annual Easton Rotary Championship just before New Year’s Eve.  Also, common opponents results have not been very revealing.  A repeating trend has team “A” beating team “B” soundly one night, only to lose to team “C” (a team that previously lost to team “B”).  It has made for a very entertaining first month to the season, although clearly the best game that I have seen so far this year is Saucon Valley/Notre Dame’s overtime battle, as seen on RCN-TV (available for free through RCN On-Demand).

Here are some of the highlights from that game.

3. Catty’s Changing Guard.

I thought it was a tremendous decision for Catasauqua to name Dave Troxell as their new athletic director this fall.  The only disappointing aspect about the move was that I would no longer see Dave coaching a girls basketball program that featured some of the school’s greatest athletic moments with him at the helm.  While the program struggled after his first departure from the team a few years back, I was confident that it would return to glory with him in charge.  With his promotion, I felt there were very few people reasonably able of taking over that position who could lead the team’s rebuilding efforts as swiftly as if Coach Trox himself were in charge.  I was happy to see one of those people, Ed Seidick, was chosen as their new head coach.  Ed is a Lehigh Valley guy who’s been a part of one of the top girls’ programs in the area, working under the tutelage of Jeff Jacksits.  He’s worked with some of the top female basketball athletes over the last several seasons, and the Northampton basketball program has been a constant contender at the 4A level for many years.

While the team may not be at playoff-level this year, I am confident it won’t be too long before we see the Rough Riders girls team back in the playoff picture.

What observations have you made about the 2014-15 edition of high school basketball in the Lehigh Valley area?  Which teams and players have stuck out in your mind so far?  Email your      comments to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and join Toomey Anderson, Tom Stoudt, Joe Craig and myself as we look at the first half of the basketball season and preview the second half on the January 15th edition of “RCN SportsTalk” (live at 6pm on RCN-TV).

 

  • Watch Astound TV Network:
    Lehigh Valley – Channel 4, or 1004 in HD
    Delaware Valley – Channel 8, or 608 in HD
    Luzerne County - Channel 4
    Washington, DC - Channel 8, or 678 in HD
    ATVN Valley Connection - Channel 96

    Purchase a DVD copy of an ATVN program.

    Advertise on ATVN.

  • UPCOMING EVENTS

    SPORTS ON ATVN

    🏁Tune into ATVN for the thrill and excitement of stock car racing from Grandview Speedway. See the schedule here.

     

    🎥 LIVE STREAMING ON YOUTUBE 
    You can now watch ATVN live programing, including sports coverage, on the ATVN YouTube Channel! Subscribe and turn on channel notifications.

    Stay up to date with all of the happenings in our community, watch our Community Spotlight, Take 5, and The Halftime Show programs!

    Catch up on the awesome Sports Talk and Classic Video Showplace blogs, too.

  • Visit Astound.com

    Visit Astound.com to shop, select services or reach our 24/7 customer service.