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The SportsTalk Shop: HS Winter Sports ’14 Highlights

February 3, 2014 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

 

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

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

Some other local sports highlights include:

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

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

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

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

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

 

The SportsTalk Shop: HS Hoops Mid-Term Report

January 27, 2014 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, on-the-court. The Warriors boast one of the top centers in the area in Phil Pierfy, who certainly commands a ton of attention from opposing team’s defenses. However, I think they have some nice players around him in Tyler King, Dakota Bogoly, Jeff Cooper, Jonathon Citron, Jahid Beamon and A.J. Raso. At least two of those players must step-up on any given night to help provide some offense, but I liked their tenacity on defense and seemed to have fun playing when I saw them against Bangor. I think they have to work on cutting down on turnovers and continue to be aggressive in taking the ball to the basket, but Wilson can most definitely be a player in the league playoffs.
http://youtu.be/dS5k8YBQ2LE

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

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

The SportsTalk Shop: Eagles Season Recap

January 13, 2014 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

One of my pet peeves in the sports broadcasting industry is commentators who make dozens of ridiculous predictions each sports season for the sole purpose of claiming “victory” once one of his/her inane insights happen to come true. These same people will quietly forget or ignore the other, incorrect guesses they made in an effort to make themselves look smarter than they may actually be.

We made our own predictions on an Eagles preview edition of RCN SportsTalk and, in the interest of full disclosure, I went back to see how we did. Here’s the good…and the bad…predictions we made about the Eagles 2013 season, keeping in mind these were made by our panelists and myself several weeks prior to the start of the season.

Preseason prediction #1: The Eagles will end the year with a .500 record or better.
When the team started the year 1-3 and their defense had more holes than Gruyére Swiss, this prediction wasn’t looking too solid. Even when the Eagles lost to the Giants—giving New York their first win of the season—not many people thought this team would break even record-wise, led alone win the division. Between fate (you couldn’t have ask for more opposing teams’ number-one players to go down with injuries), an improved defensive scheme, and an offense that learned to trust new starting quarterback Nick Foles, the team won seven of its last eight games. Despite a frustrating loss to the Saints in the first round of the playoffs, this year’s 10-7 season was a success and built a solid foundation for 2014.

Preseason prediction #2: Michael Vick will start 10-12 games this year.
WRONG! Not one of us on the panel thought that Vick had the slightest chance to go the entire season without missing at least a few games due to injury and/or ineffectiveness. However, Vick went down with debilitating injuries early and often and Nick Foles took full advantage of the increased playing time, turning in a performance for the record books. For a time, he had the highest quarterback passer rating in the HISTORY of the game. Despite a lackluster finish, he ended the year third on the all-time list sandwiched by future Hall of Famers Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Foles’ rapid ascension to the starting quarterback spot made Vick—even after recovering from injuries–an afterthought by season’s end.

Preseason prediction #3: Nick Foles will finish the year as the starting quarterback.
Correct—but….
Most of our panel believed that Foles would eventually win the job anyway, or he’s be the last QB standing by default. Matt Barkley never did anything to indicate that he would be a signal-caller to run this offense in training camp, and the limited times we saw him during the season suggests he’ll only return next year as a third-stringer at best. I know people don’t want to hear any possibility that Foles DOESN’T return as the starter next year, and I still highly doubt that the team will seriously look to move him. However, there’s a few well-respected Eagles’ journalists that I’ve spoken with that insist the team will at least venture into the possibility of “selling high” and getting a bundle in return for him—or at least, ASKING for a king’s ransom, and keeping Foles if no team bites.

Preseason prediction #4: Mychal Kendricks will emerge as a star.
This prediction came true very early in the season as the second-year, 23-year-old out of California established himself as the top-notch middle linebacker this team has sorely needed since the first departure of Jeremiah Trotter. But what we didn’t foresee back in early August was the way the players around Kendricks would step up their games. Connor Barwin also become a force on defense for the Eagles, disrupting passing lanes and rarely allowing a ball carrier to break free in his territory. By season’s end, Trent Cole looked extremely comfortable after adjusting to his “hybrid” position in the Eagles new 3-4 alignment. Really, there weren’t too many weaknesses in this defense overall—with the exception of depth, especially at outside linebacker and safety. Improving on the core with Kendricks at the center of it all will be the Eagles number one priority this offseason. Adding bigger, taller and stronger players into the fold was a focus of Chip Kelly’s post-season analysis and will be the main mission of the front office this offseason.

Preseason prediction #5: Jeremy Maclin will return next year.
At the time this prediction was made and contrary to many other players like him in the last year of a contract, Maclin had made the classy decision to NOT sit-out of training camp. Perceived as a critical piece of the puzzle in Kelly’s new offense, Maclin participated in preseason drills for the betterment of the team, only to tear his ACL, and lose all negotiating leverage he had when trying to extend his contract.

This will be a key issue for the team to address in the coming months. With the emergence of Riley Cooper as a solid number two receiver (despite that dropped pass over the middle in the Saints game), and another steady season by slot receiver Jason Avant, it appears that Maclin will not have a place on next year’s team. The Eagles have dropped the public relations ball on previous players who gave their heart-and-soul to the team (i.e., Reggie Brown, Brian Dawkins) only to be spurned a respectable offer to return. I know Maclin is not in that group’s class of all-time greats, but if the team is truly looking to embark on a new year, it should bite a small financial bullet and bring Jeremy back. It still remains to be seen if one of the top-skilled position players from a year ago will be back this fall.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the Eagles season and on what steps the team needs to take this offseason to further its playoff drive for next season. Post a comment below or email your sports opinions to us at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and tune in on Thursdays at 6pm for the latest local, regional and national sports conversations.

 

The Sports Talk Shop: 2013 Recap & 2014 Predictions

January 3, 2014 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

First of all, a big thank-you for all the comments, suggestions and feedback we received prior to, during and following our “Year-in-Review” edition of “RCN SportsTalk.”  It takes a good deal of time to go back through all the games, tapes, files, et al, trying to review all of the sports events covered over a twelve-month stretch.  It is extremely rewarding when our viewers call us asking in advance for the show and then let us know afterwards how much they enjoyed looking back at many memories, one last time, at the end of the calendar year.

Since it is a very busy program, we inevitably run out of time before we get through every item we hoped to address.  Here are a few of the year-end topics and my responses that didn’t make it to this year’s show, along with a few predictions for the new year. 

  •  “Most Underrated Coach in 2013.”  Northampton softball head coach Sally Whittaker-Kahan guided her team to winning its first 19 games of the season.  Led by an outstanding pitcher in Marly Laubach (no relation to RCN’s own Gary), they entered the league playoffs as the number-one team.  Despite a semifinal loss in leagues, the K-Kids bounced back to capture the District XI title.  After the season Whittaker-Kahan announced she would be stepping down due to a medical issue, ending a long run of success as a player at Parkland High School and Temple University, and finishing her coaching career on top.
  • “Biggest Challenge Overcome in 2013.”  The Allen girls and boys basketball teams each had major hurdles they had to overcome in 2013.  The girls team found themselves without a coach, and retired head coach Tom Gallagher came on board late in the offseason.  The Lady Canaries did not have high expectations nor returned many players from the previous year.   Gallagher gave the program a huge lift by agreeing to take over in a very tough situation.  Boys’ head coach Doug Snyder had to deal with several players leaving the team for various reasons throughout the 2013 season and still found a way to make the district playoffs.  They lost more players prior to the start of this current season – not all of their losses due to graduation.  But between Snyder’s coaching and the outstanding players that remain with the program, I am sure the Canaries will once again be a force in 2014.
  • “Top Underclassman for a Team We Saw on RCN.”  To be honest, I had a tie between Liberty’s Doug Erney and Nazareth’s Justin Albert.  I think both teams had some off-field issues that may or may not have affected the rest of their teams.  I feel both Erney and Albert grew into their roles as quarterbacks and showed solid decision-making ability combined with strong throwing arms.  I think both the Hurricanes and the Blue Eagles will have better records in 2014 and those two players will be a big reason why.
  • “Worst Decision Made by a Sports Personality.”  Basically every move Phillies General Manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. made during the last few months of the year.  He not only resigned nearly all of the aging core of players who have been underperforming over the last two seasons (with the exception of Roy Halladay, who retired), but also added older, inconsistent players (Marlon Byrd, Roberto Hernandez) via free agency.  The list of question marks for next year’s team has only grown since the season concluded, with a series of head-scratching moves and acquisitions.  Amaro needs nearly all those questions answered very positively in 2014 if the Phillies are going to have any chance at the playoffs — and to save his job.
  • “Best Sports Addition in 2013.”  Eagles head coach Chip Kelly.  I normally wish fans would give head coaches at least one year (at the professional level) to adjust to a new team and implement his/her system.   Birds fans were all over Kelly for his moves early in the season and his 1-3 start, and questions were raised if he was going to be a long-term answer to running the team.  2013 was a huge success for the Eagles and the team will be even better in 2014.  Our co-host Joe Craig’s “Stone-Cold Prediction” for 2014, if time had allowed on the show, was that the Eagles will go to the Super Bowl.
  • “Stone-Cold Lock for 2014.”  There will be much greater interest in the Dieruff football program in 2014.  While most local football experts thought a “good” season for the Huskies in 2013 would have been one or two wins, Dieruff exceeded everyone’s expectations this past year with five victories.  They almost won a sixth game, which would have qualified them for the playoffs.  The team looks to build on the success it developed in ’13 and, for the first time in quite a while, they will head into the this fall season as a team to watch.  I envision Dieruff winning more games in ‘14, thanks, in part, to the new LVC, which will grant a more lenient and stable schedule for the long-term.

We’d love to hear your responses to these topics, along with your sports predictions for 2014.  Please post your comments below and we’ll see if your predictions come true in the new year.

Don’t forget, you can see the entire show for free on RCN On-Demand by going to channel 1 or hitting the VOD button on your remote control, then click on RCN-TV, sports and then “RCN SportsTalk.”  Be sure to check out all of RCN’s local programming, along with the latest movies and special events that are offered on RCN On-Demand. 

Happy New Year everyone!

The SportsTalk Shop: 4 Observations From This HS Football Season

December 31, 2013 By Chris Michael 2 Replies

We recently wrapped up the high school football season by featuring the District XI Champion Parkland football team on “RCN SportsTalk” (the show is available for free on RCN On Demand). As we closed the books on the 2013 campaign, there were a few things that stuck out in my mind, along with an issue or two that might linger into the 2014 season.

1) This was NOT a “down year” for quarterbacks. The Lehigh Valley has been blessed with some awesome signal callers, especially in the last decade. Liberty, Whitehall, Wilson, Nazareth and a couple other schools have had multiple quarterbacks excel and move on to play at the collegiate level. With no clear “player of the year” coming into 2013, many fans thought the skill level of quarterbacks would suffer this fall. On the contrary, I saw a different type of QB quite often. Players like Doug Erney (Liberty), Jeff Charles (Whitehall), Travis Edmond (Southern Lehigh) and Justin Albert (Nazareth) were just some of the quarterbacks who grew into the area’s best in their positions. While they didn’t necessarily put up dominating rushing yards like a Brendan Nosovitch-type of player, the QBs mentioned above would often run to buy time for their receivers to get open. We also saw a slight decrease in the number of interceptions this fall, indicating smart decision-making by local passers this year. Perhaps no quarterback has more of an ‘up-side’ than Parkland’s DeVante Cross. Initially identified more as a rushing-type of back, he began to showcase a cannon of an arm and showed big-time play ability in the team’s district playoff wins over Whitehall and Easton. Most of these names return in 2014, and I’m looking forward to seeing them continue their ascension for the next season.

2) Score one for the “underdogs.” While we had a number of stars coming into this season, some of the players not expected to be in the spotlight are the players that I’ll remember the most. Becahi’s Will Ward, Whitehall’s Ryan Bonshak, Easton’s Cameron Casciole and just about everyone on Catasauqua’s line were some of my favorite players to watch this past season—not for posting gaudy offensive numbers, but for the things they did to set up the big plays. All of these players were forces on solid defensive teams and made key contributions on offense, defense and special teams. You need a key stop, a block or a turnover? These guys were the types of players who made their teams successful in 2013.

3) The Last of the One-Team Colonial League Domination. Over the last twelve seasons or so, we’ve seen one team dominate the Colonial League. First, Wilson was the clear team to beat for seven seasons. Then, Northern Lehigh, Pen Argyl and, most recently, Catasauqua took two-year turns as the clear-cut favorites. Catty was a fun team to watch, and the numbers they posted this season will stand in the record books for years. But with the Rough Riders graduating nearly their entire starting unit, I see a wide-open race for the League title next year. Teams like Palisades and Southern Lehigh took another major stride this year and found themselves in district championship games, with most players on those teams returning. Notre Dame and Northwestern, armed with up-and-coming talent, improved as the season unfolded and will look to increase their win total in ’14. Pen Argyl and Saucon Valley, each led by an outstanding group of coaches, will look to retool and be playoff contenders once again next fall. Northern Lehigh and maybe one other team that struggled this past season will look to shake things up and be much better a year from now.

4) The End of the LVC as we knew it. Regardless of whether or not the new “super-league” will keep the Lehigh Valley Conference name, there will be significant changes for 2014. There will no longer be non-conference games that coaches loved to use as a barometer to see how their team would stack up against squads from outside the area. This was the last season in which everyone in the conference will play each other. I know, in the near future, we’re going to have battles over the scheduling of games. Despite the league officers’ best efforts, it will be impossible to avoid conflicts over the crossover scheduling. For example, if Parkland ties Easton at season’s end, and one team had a more challenging schedule than the other, you know people from the “wronged” school will be unhappy. Teams that have to travel later in the year will feel slighted by other teams who made their long-distance travels during longer, warmer days earlier in the season. And good luck trying to figure out who will be the league champion with so many different variables at play. Eventually, things will work themselves out and the majority of teams will benefit thanks to the new conference. In the short term, it’s going to be an interesting 2014 school year, to say the least.

What are your memories from the past high school football season? Which players stuck out in your mind, and which teams will rise to glory next season? Post your comments on our blog and enjoy debating your points of view.

The SportsTalk Shop: Would Eagles Trade Nick Foles?

December 19, 2013 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

 

Would Eagles Trade Nick Foles?

I have a ton of respect for the Philadelphia Eagles beat writers. From the time I covered the team on a regular basis to the times where we are fortunate to have them on our “RCN SportsTalk” show, they always provide valuable insights on the team and on the NFL. They don’t buy in to starting wild or ridiculous rumors to try to sell their papers, nor do they start controversies just to put themselves in the news. They base their stories and opinions on solid facts and, whether you agree with their commentaries or not, they’re always thought-provoking, using logic and reliable gut instinct.

It is with this in mind that I mention comments raised by the Morning Call’s Eagles beat writer Nick Fierro on last week’s “SportsTalk” show…

At first, I was stunned at the thought of the Eagles trading arguably the most popular personality in Philadelphia right now (for the record, co-host Dennis Laub wholeheartedly agreed with him). When Nick offers his sage wisdom, I’ve learned to consider his observations and think long and hard before disagreeing with him. So let’s consider the upside to trading your starting quarterback:

• Foles’ stock will never be higher than it is right now, and he’s not likely to continue playing at this high a level going forward.

• Trading Foles now would get you two or three other quality pieces (with one being a draft pick that could be packaged in a deal to get you a new starting QB or a stud pick for another position).

• There are some quality signal callers available in the draft that might be closer to Chip Kelly’s “ideal” quarterback to run his spread offense. (Although Kelly has said publicly and repeatedly that Foles is his guy, there are indications that Foles is not the typical back to run this offense).

Would this be enough reasoning for the Eagles to trade Foles after the season? It would open the door for a possible return of Michael Vick, perhaps as a stop-gap starter and mentor to the quarterback you’d select in the draft. Even though most fans and critics have called the 2013 a success on many levels, the next few weeks might just determine what the front office decides to do with Foles and their plans going forward. One would think it’ll be harder from a PR standpoint to trade Foles if he leads the team to multiple playoff victories…or would it only enhance the value Philadelphia could get in return for him?

For the record, Nick did not say he would a proponent of trading Foles, nor did he say it was a done deal once the season concludes. But recent Eagles history indicates they’re not a team that stands pat very often, and if Kelly’s coaching style this year has taught us nothing else, it’s proven that he is not afraid to take risks.

What would you do if you were Eagles GM Howie Roseman? Would you ‘stick-with-Nick’ and make him your quarterback for the future? Or do you sell high and try to solve other issues with more proven players at other positions and take your chances on drafting a young QB? Send your comments to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com or post your views in our comments section. Have fun debating Foles’ fate in Philadelphia as the Birds look to continue Swinning games this winter.

 

The SportsTalk Shop: Calling for “Year-in-Review” Nominations

December 11, 2013 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

 

Calling for “Year-in-Review” Nominations

One of our annual traditions on the “RCN SportsTalk” show is our sports “year-in-review” show. We try to spotlight the people, teams, games, stories and memories, both positive and negative, that highlighted the past calendar year. We try to come up with new topics for this program each December while keeping some of our favorite questions. This year, we’d like to include our RCN-TV website audience and incorporate your opinions in shaping this year’s show, which will be live on RCN-TV on Thursday, December 19th from 6-7 pm.

Here’s a look at some of the potential topics for this year’s program:
• Most Unique Athlete of 2013
• Toughest Challenge Overcome in 2013
• Most Unique HS Game ‘You Saw’ in 2013
• Most Frustrating Thing About 2013
• Best Surprise of 2013
• Biggest Local Story (Lehigh/Delaware Valley) of 2013
• A “Shout out” for one person/group who did something exceptional during the year
• Biggest National Story of 2013
• Best Sports Decision Made in 2013
• Biggest Loss In 2013
• Sports Personality You Saw Too Much Of in 2013
• Sports Personality You’d Have Like to See More Of in 2013
• Best Team You Saw in 2013
• One Thing You’d Like To See in 2014
• Team/Player to Watch in 2014
• Resolution Advice for 2014
• A ‘Guaranteed’ Sports Prediction for 2014

We’d appreciate your feedback! Which topics are your favorites? Do you have a unique athletic, a memorable game or another answer to one or more of these questions that we should include on our year-in-review show? Email us at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.net and tune in for our final live show of 2013 on December 19th at 6pm!

 

The SportsTalk Shop: District XI Football Recaps

December 2, 2013 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

 

District XI Football Recaps

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

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

http://youtu.be/pzvmI7-uILY

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

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

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

http://youtu.be/AR7RH93_GrQ

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

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

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

http://youtu.be/f9FX6BNX3HI

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

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

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

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

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

The SportsTalk Shop: Phillies Pitching Projections

November 18, 2013 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

 

Phillies Pitching Projections

Last week, we examined what I hoped the Phillies’ lineup and position players roster would look like. This week, it’s the pitchers’ turn.

Starting Pitchers
• Cole Hamels
• Cliff Lee
• Matt Garza / Ricky Nolasco / David Price
• M. A. Gonzalez
• Doc Halladay (only on an incentive-laden contract)
• Kyle Kendrick
• Jonathan Pettibone
• Zach Minor (or another free agent “swingman”)

The Bullpen
• Closer — Jonathan Papelbon (if he’s not traded)
• Set-up — Joe Smith
• Lefty Specialists — Antonia Bastardo & Jake Diekman
• Long Men — B.J. Roseberg & Justin DeFratus
• “On the Bubble” Guys — Michael Stutes, Luis Garcia, Ethan Martin, Cesar Jimenez

First of all, you’re probably asking yourself why I listed eight starting pitchers when there’s only five starting slots. When I covered the Phillies back when Larry Bowa was managing, I remember him prophesying that the game was changing, stating teams need to have eight reliable Major League arms entering a season. His words have become commonplace for most teams, as evidence by the ten different starting pitchers (not including their “bullpen games”) used by the Phillies in 2013. The team needs to be proactive in acquiring enough talent going into the season. They must avoid sending out mediocre Triple-A hurlers in (what will hopefully be) meaningful July and August games, as they were forced to do in 2013.

Secondly, Garza is the best available free agent pitcher available, but there are a few other options I would pursue, both via trades and free agency. As stated in my analysis of the position players, I think you listen to offers for Dom Brown. Coming off an All-Star “breakout” season, I think you could package him (and additional prospects not-named Mikael Franco) to get a long-term “number-3” starting pitcher whom you can have under club control for the next couple of years.

Thirdly, for fans calling on Adam Morgan or Jesse Biddle to start the season with the big club… cool your jets. Morgan had injury problems throughout 2013, and each time he came back he pitched less effectively. Biddle also looked stellar at times, but battled with his control, and you simply CANNOT rely on a young, unproven arm in a year in which so much is at stake.

Finally, I would not simply hand Ethan Martin a spot on the roster. I know fans salivated at the mid-90s fastball and knee-bending curve he put on display in Philly this past season. However, I saw him battle the strike zone while with the IronPigs and think he has to develop some consistency in throwing strikes before becoming a later-inning reliever.

What do you think of my ideas for Phillies 2014 pitching staff? What players do you think the team will add before spring training? Post a comment and let us know what you would do if you were the Phillies’ general manager this winter!

The SportsTalk Shop: Phillies Position Player 2014 Projections

November 11, 2013 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

 

Phillies Position Player 2014 Projections

Back in September, I gave my annual suggestions on what moves the Phillies should make for the upcoming winter trading and free agent season. With the World Series completed and offseason moves in the works, I want to give my take on the Phillies’ projected roster for position players, given the latest news, rumors and insights.

CF Jacob Ellsbury / Curtis Granderson
SS Jimmy Rollins
2b Chase Utley
1b Ryan Howard
RF Mike Morse / Nelson Cruz
C Carlos Ruiz / Dioneer Navaro
3b Cody Asche (might alternate with the catcher depending on if a right or left-handed pitcher is starting)
LF Ben Revere
Right-handed PH — Darin Ruff; Kevin Frandsen, Mark Reynolds or Chris Young
Left-handed PH — Cesar Hernandez or a Free Agent—preferably an outfielder and a ‘power bat’
Utility IF — Freddy Galvis
Backup C — Erik Kratz or Cameron Rupp

ANALYSIS:
First of all, I know you are saying: “Wait…where’s Dom Brown?” I think it’s very possible that the Phillies look to trade Brown for a quality starting pitcher (perhaps included in a package for Tampa Bay’s David Price?). The Phillies’ needs include improving their outfield defense, adding a consistent bat and improving both their bullpen and starting rotation, all at the same time. You have to trade somebody and Brown’s stock will never be higher. I saw him play for years in the minors, and he was very inconsistent, both at the plate and in the field. With the Phillies this year, he hit over .270 with 24 HRs the first half of the year, then hit under .250 with 4 HRs the second half. His defense? Spectacular one minute, botching routine plays the next. You can’t improve this team while keeping it the same, and Brown can get you the most among the trade-able players.

Ellsbury is a guy the Phillies have coveted for some time. Although he’ll be EXTREMELY expensive to acquire, he adds power and a consistent bat to your lineup and is less likely to get resigned by his former team than some of the other free agents the Phils are looking at. Granderson is a cheaper option to play center field, and he should require a shorter deal if the Phillies want to go that route. Cruz is a question mark coming off his PED suspension and his offensive numbers in pitcher-friendly parks are dramatically lower. Morse is a quality clubhouse guy and is coming off a down year—meaning he’ll be affordable and allow you to add a right-handed power bat while allowing you to still spend money elsewhere. Young could also be a right-handed addition who is not a liability defensively. Adding any two of these players improves your outfield defense in THREE spots (moving Revere to left field helps solve his “weak arm” issue that he had in center field).

I’ve heard several other media members strongly suggesting the Phillies will trade Revere instead of Brown, but consider this: what did the Phillies give up last season to acquire Revere…and is that what you really want to have back in return? Trading Brown is not a popular move, but one that must be considered for the right value in return.

The Phillies could also kick the tires on free agent outfielders Carlos Beltran (who I suggested on RCN SportsTalk two years ago when he was available) or Corey Hart, but both have injury issues and the Phillies have enough health-questions already on the roster.

I think the Phillies will try to upgrade by adding a better left-handed bat of the bench than Roger Bernadina, although he did add speed and quality defense. The Phillies were hoping that Bernadina could rebound from his sub-Mendoza batting average in September, but weren’t exactly impressed with what they saw. Because of the lack of outfield depth, I kept Cesar Hernandez off my projected Opening Day roster for now. Major League baseball ruled that he can have an extra option and therefore be sent to Triple-A for the upcoming year. The Phillies were impressed by his bat and the way he adjusted to center field. The plan is to send him to winter ball to see if he can play shortstop. If he can adjust to another new position, he might give Galvis a run for the backup infielder spot.

Ruff still needs to learn to better handle breaking pitches at the major league level and will provide insurance at both first base and the corner outfield positions. In extended playing time, Frandsen didn’t exactly have an explosive second-half at the plate. The Phillies could look to add an extra bat if they have money available, but Ryne Sandberg did talk glowingly about Frandsen’s approach at the plate on several occasions, and his double-digit pinch-hits this year were among the best in the Majors this season.

In an upcoming blog entry, we’ll take a look at the projected Phillies pitching staff. In the meantime, send us your thoughts on the Phillies lineup and position players for the 2014 season and post your opinions on what you think of my roster projections.

 

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