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The SportsTalk Shop: League Expansions & Super Conference

April 23, 2013 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

There’s been quite a bit of talk over the last few months regarding changes and speculations to our local Lehigh Valley Conference and Colonial League. We greatly appreciated local athletic directors coming on our recent “RCN SportsTalk” show (which you can watch for yourself for free on RCN Video-On-Demand). I have posted a short clip of our recent show below. I try to limit my own opinions on the program as much as I can as I try to focus and devote our time for our guests to give their views; however, there were several points I wanted to address on the show and did not have the opportunity to do so on that particular program.

First, I think the schools are absolutely justified in trying to look at options that would result in the best opportunities for their student athletes. I think the current alignment of teams in both the Lehigh Valley Conference and the Colonial League are overall very fair and make for genuinely good competition in most teams and sports. There are some “size discrepancies” (e.g., Bangor vs. Catasauqua) that sometimes directly affect their team’s abilities to succeed. However, if you look across the board at the different athletic events, a team like the Rough Riders not only defends their honor quite nicely, but in some sports, has held a strong advantage over bigger schools (among them football and softball). Is it perfect system? No . . . nor will it ever be. I think the school administrators must provide due diligence in looking to see if it can better the current alignments.

Secondly, there are some schools that have significant challenges in traveling to away games—especially during the winter sports season. The most obvious examples are Bangor and Northwestern going to Palisades and vice versa, which results in what amounts to a huge expense in travel costs and commuting time for not just the school districts, but also for the parents and family members, who already make sacrifices for their sons and daughters to participate in athletics. Does one trip from one end of the District XI map to the other sabotage one’s budget? Not really…but why make several trips from, say Bangor to Hellertown, Kintersville and Center Valley each season, when you have teams from up north at much closer distances.

Thirdly, I’d like to discuss the “super-conference” that we have discussed on our show and the suggestions proposed by Keith Groller of the Morning Call in a recent column. There are benefits to grouping teams together according to classifications, distances, and program strengths that could involve all the teams currently in the LVC, MVC and Colonial League in one way or another. Several weeks ago on “SportsTalk”, the Express-Times’ Bruce Buratti thought it was possible that a couple schools from the Poconos might want to “go north” and get more involved in teams from District 2, which, of course, would be right to do so if they feel that would be in the best interest of their schools. However, if any more teams leave the MVC— to the Anthracite League, Schuylkill League or wherever—I think you will have to look at assimilating teams from the Poconos into any rebranding of the LVC, even if they themselves have their own section which would limit their long-distance travel to the District’s southern region (most of those schools already schedule Lehigh Valley teams as part of their non-conference schedule).

There are other super-conference rumors that have not been spoken about publicly in recent weeks. As you might imagine, the current athletic directors cannot comment directly on any speculation that a plan could be in the works. That net will not apply for our May 2nd “SportsTalk” show, in which will be talking with former athletic directors from the region that have no obligations (nor a propensity) to limit what they can address.

Here’s some of the recent news and comments about the local leagues’ changes from last week’s show:

What are your thoughts on the changes that have already taken place, and in what direction do you think local administrators should move towards? Feel free to post comments below and email your comments and questions to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and we’ll read and respond to you emails on our live May 2nd show at 6pm on RCN-TV.

The SportsTalk Shop: Local Leaders Keeping Kids First

April 17, 2013 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

I have long admired the local athletic directors in the Eastern Pennsylvania region. From Dick Tracy (who was also my English and Journalism teacher while he was Athletic Director—(which is a story for another blog entry), to Mike Schneider to Bob Shriver, and several other former athletic directors that I’ve always admired, I have always felt (and would frequently hear them say) that they would always want to keep the student-athletes’ best interests in the forefront of any major decision that they would make. Even now that those gentlemen have retired and I have the good fortune of being able to talk with them, they continue to preach that mantra as the directive of all administrators. I also feel that the people who have succeeded them have very much continued with that message in mind.

That point was hammered home once again this week—with some help from other community leaders — as the District XI re-established the pact with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs to have their playoff championship games be played at a first-class facility, Coca-Cola Park. Here are some of the highlights from this week’s press conference (in order): Dylan Dando—LVBA Director of Baseball Operations, Scott Cooperman—District XI Baseball Chair, Kurt Landes, IronPigs General Manager and Terry Schadler from ECTB.

I think it’s so wonderful for the local athletes to continue to play in a Triple-A professional baseball venue. It’s a tribute to the local leaders to get together and work out a deal to continue this tradition. I’ve covered the PIAA Baseball and softball playoffs for several years. While the games are played at very nice facilities at present, there have been some places (sorry Shippensburg) that have not been worthy of playing the ultimate spring season championship game. You could argue the teams in District XI—thanks to this deal—may play in one of the finest facilities in the country for a high school contest. To play in a pro baseball site creates a memory that will last a lifetime, and in an age where many big business men and women are always looking for the best deal financially for themselves, it was refreshing to see these organizational leaders work out a pact that will see future athletes enjoy this rare and incredibly special experience.

Surely, there’s no drawbacks to this move. Other advantages include having a professional grounds keeping crew on hand to battle inclement weather, and the stadium lights allow games to be played later, which allows parents a rare chance to see their kids play without having to sacrifice their work schedule. What do you think of the news, and would there be any local sites that you think would do a better job hosting the playoffs? Feel free to post your comments below. This will be just one of the issues we’ll be discussing on this week’s “RCN SportsTalk” show featuring current ADs, in which we’ll show more video from the press conference.

Speaking of the former athletic directors in this region, they’ll be part of some very special “SportsTalk” shows coming up in May. Here are upcoming show lists for our program, which airs live on RCN-TV on Thursdays at 6pm:

April 25th: College Football Spring Recaps

May 2nd: Local Sports Issues w/Former Athletic Directors Bob Shriver, Dick Tracy, Les Kish

May 9th: “Radio Announcing Legends” featuring Al Raber, Dick Hammer, Tim Cain

May 16th: TBD

May 23rd: Former Major League Catcher Brian Schneider, plus Mike Schneider & Don Harakal

The SportsTalk Shop: Escaping the Winter of Discontent

April 8, 2013 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

With the arrival of the baseball season and the Phillies looking less than stellar to start their season, I wanted to look back at a troublesome winter — sports-wise. The weather is supposed to warm up and there’s no snow in the forecast (not until Halloween anyway), so let’s examine a phrase I heard quite often here in the Eastern Pennsylvania region during the last several months, and decide if this truly was the “winter of discontent” for Philly sports fans. Let’s examine the pro sports happenings this winter & decide which event(s) was the most mentally draining for us:

1. On the NHL side, we first had to endure (yet another!) lockout. After months of arguing … sorry, “negotiating,” and a supposed deal that collapsed, followed by several more weeks of going back-and-forth, an agreement was reached. Then the remaining pieces of last year’s Flyers disappointing season were supposed to mix with alleged upgrades and Ilya Bryzgalov was supposed to have a bounce-back year. Then the teams who you knew were going to be good (Tampa Bay) were even better than expected and shook off the rust with ease. The teams the Flyers were supposed to be better than (New York), lit up the scoreboard on Bryz and the Flyers defense way too often. The Flyers even struggled to beat the mediocre teams or would lose in shootouts to horrific teams like the Florida Panthers. Their chances of making the playoffs are now slim, and they also don’t have the abundance of youth that one could hope for. The fact that they’ll start next season on time may be the biggest bright spot for next season

2. Andrew Bynam. Do we have to say much more when it comes to talking about the 76ers’ woes this season? Everything was built around a player who ended up never playing a game for the team. Add the double-double performances of the dispatched Nik Nucevic and the usual, better-than-average consistent effort by Andre Iguodala, mixed with the less than spectacular additions of Dorell Wright, Kwame Brown, the injury-riddled Jason Richardson and the inconsistent Evan Turner, Swaggy P and the like made for an absolutely abysmal season for the Sixers—and an abyss of questions, unknowns and I-don’t-want-to-think-about-thems on the roster for next year.

3. The Eagles came off their worst season under Andy Reid, and soon afterward dismissed the head coach. Despite a wave of more popular and NFL-proven commodities, Jeff Lurie, in his infinite wisdom went outside of conventional thinking and hired Chip Kelly. His under-the-radar free agents and his seemingly solid assistant coaching staff have given Birds fans reason for optimism, but the unpopular decision to bring back Michael Vick and his completely unknown ability to draft well (something his predecessor struggled mightily with) still have many faithful followers uneasy heading into the spring.

4. Last and maybe, in terms of this blog query, the least — the Phillies. They were coming off their first season since 2006 in which they not only failed to make the playoffs, but barely reached the .500 mark. With the trades of mega-millionaires Shane Victorino, Joe Blanton, and Hunter Pence, the Phightin’s were free to spend boffo-dollars to sign BJ Upton, Michael Borne, Nick Swisher, Annibal Sanchez, et al to fortify the troops and make a grand rush for the playoffs before the potential departures of free agents-to-be Chase Utley, Roy Halladay, and Carlos Ruiz. Instead, we got Michael Young, Delmon Young, John Lannan and Ben Revere (at the expense of Vance Werley and Trevor May). While we have to give due diligence to see if these deals work out, none of the moves were the ‘big splash’ we were all hoping for, and it can certainly be argued that the outfield and starting pitching (pending Halladay’s health) is actually WORSE than it was heading into last year.

Was it the worst winter in recent memory for Philly pro sports? And how would you rank these events in order of your frustration and angst? Post your comments and send us an email to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com to let us know how you feel, and join us on our next “SportsTalk” show on Thursdays, live at 6 pm to discuss your sports opinions.

Phillies’ Prospects – The SportsTalk Shop – April 1st

April 1, 2013 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

“SportsTalk Shop” Looks at Philadelphia Phillies’ Prospects

I recently chatted with the Phillies’ AAA-team’s Director of Media Relations, Matt Provence, (just back from Clearwater) and asked him about some of top Phillies prospects. A number of them could play very important roles with the parent club in the very near future. In fact, with potential free agents like Roy Halladay, Chase Utley, Carlos Ruiz and others all in the last year of their contracts, there could be a quite a few minor leaguers starting the 2014 season with the Philadelphia Phillies. Here are Matt’s comments on some of the top prospects:

A few other items and observations I’ve obtained about the Phillies top prospects:

  • Everyone I’ve spoken with has nothing but praise for third baseman Cody Asche. I’ve pressed some of the Phils reporters for areas of weakness or gaping holes in his swing. Everyone thinks he’s the real deal and “right on track” for taking over the position in 2014 — if not late this year if everything goes well with his play in the Lehigh Valley. A big concern could be that the Phillies would be even more left-handed hitting heavy with Asche in the everyday lineup behind Utley, Howard, Ben Revere, Dom Brown and Jimmy Rollins (who hits better from the left side), but the Phillies are “hoping” to have that problem a year from now. Everyone I’ve talked to said Asche has an excellent glove that will upgrade the team defensively from current third sacker Michael Young. In addition, Asche won’t hurt you offensively, especially if he bats near the bottom of the order to begin his soon-to-start major league career. He should be fun to watch—along with the continued development of Darin Ruff and his continued learning process of playing left field at Triple-A this year.
  • B.J. Rosenberg may have been an early exit from the Phillies spring training, but don’t be surprised if he shows up on the Phils’ radar at some point – especially if Roy Halladay struggles. He’s been inserted into the IronPigs’ starting rotation and is one of the few Triple-A starters that has experience in the big leagues. His lively right-arm that scouts really like might just be the first option if the Phils don’t want to rely on the untested arms of Jonathan Pettibone, Ethan Martin, and Adam Morgan. The latter has continued to pitch well in the minor league camp—so much so that the organization has jettisoned all the veteran free agent pitchers who were brought in to provide insurance to the Phillies starting rotation.
  • Be careful of “Player of the Future” labels. This time in 2012, Cesar Hernandez and Sebastian Valle were projected to be the replacements for Utley and Carlos Ruiz, respectively, yet neither is assured of even starting at those respective positions in Triple-A. Hernandez has been seeing time at shortstop as he looks more to try to tailor his game to a “utility guy” to give himself a better shot at advancing to the Bigs. Valle may go to Double-A just to get some regular reps as he has fallen behind Tommy Joseph (who looked solid offensively and defensively in both the major league and minor league spring training sessions) on the organization’s depth chart. Joseph has also gotten a big “thumbs up” in terms of the all important role of handling the pitching staff thus far. One caveat, there’s a rumor that Valle, who’s has the reputation of a big bat, could also see time in Reading learning left field and could be a back-up plan down the road if Darin Ruff can’t cut it defensively as an outfielder and/or is traded away.
  • Tyson Gillies and JC Ramierez, both part of the Cliff Lee trade, continue to struggle to give the Phils any semblance of hope when trying to defend their acquisitions. Gillies, once hoped to be a top-of-the-order/solid defensive center fielder regular, seems to be on a path similar to Hernandez—that of a utility outfielder as he has seen time at all three outfield positions this spring, and looks to be too inconsistent at the plate to be a major league regular. Ramirez has continued to struggle with his control. Coming off a year at Triple-A in which he ended the season as an IronPig mop-up man, he finds himself once again buried in the pen behind Jake Diekman, Justin DeFratus and others.

What do you think of our Phillies prospects opinions and which players do you think will make an impact in the near future? We’ll be discussing the Phillies and more on our next “RCN SportsTalk” show (Thursdays at 6 pm). Post a comment on our blog or email us at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and we’ll read and respond to your questions and comments on our next show!

SportsTalk Shop Salutes a Coaching Legend – March 25th

March 25, 2013 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

Recently, we had the opportunity to visit with the Notre Dame Boys & Girls track teams – a program that is led by one of the few high school coaches to earn over 500 wins with two DIFFERENT teams, and is closing in on becoming the all-time winningest track coach in Pennsylvania high school sports history. The athletes were great in sharing all the wonderful stories of Art Corrigan, and had so many great compliments about their legendary head coach, that we wanted to show you their thoughts, uncut and unedited, to pay tribute to one of the greatest coaches ever in Lehigh Valley sports. We could not fit all the interviews in our recent “SportsTalk” feature on Coach Corrigan and the Crusaders track team, so here’s the “raw video” of their conversations. Enjoy!

Giving Real Prognosticators Their Due – The SportsTalk Shop – March 22nd

March 22, 2013 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

With the madness getting underway and all the variations people have in taking their best guesses at bracketology, I think it’s appropriate and to give some real prognosticators credit where credit is due!

In March, there’s countless hours of sports programming and planning and studying and educated guessing for the NCAA tournament. People love to pick teams in the “Field of 68” and there’s all sorts of ways you can play your picks (none of them for any financial rewards, of course), but there’s all sorts of ways that the “experts” can accurately tell us how we should play the NCAA basketball tournament.

Yet each year, my non-sports family and friends around me come up with new ways of “strategically” putting forth their college basketball playoff picks. Among them, is choosing teams with uniform or logo colors they like, picking animal-related mascots to beat non-animal mascots (or, if two animals, picking the cuter animal), or even picking teams because the team name reminds them of their favorite cartoon characters. I’ve heard just about every possible way you could pick teams in the NCAA tourney, and every time I hear one more ridiculous than years past … that person usually come closer than many experts in ending up with the correct teams.

I recently had an example a bit closer to home on our own “RCN SportsTalk” show. Our weekly poll question a few shows ago dealt with picking the District XI 4A Girls & Boys champions. Pocono Mountain-West Girls were the #1 ranked team, yet the unanimous selection was Nazareth. This wasn’t a surprise since the Eagles have a loyal fan base and, even though they didn’t have as good a record as the Panthers, Nazareth played some very strong teams this year.

The other part of the poll was on the men’s side, where our audience (with three exceptions), unanimously picked Parkland to beat Freedom. While Parkland was a very strong team, on paper the match-up seemed to favor the Patriots. Joe Stellato, who has done a tremendous job as Freedom’s head coach, has become a Lehigh Valley sports fan’s favorite and I couldn’t find a person who didn’t WANT him to win a title. In the previous three matches, Parkland had one two, but by small margins, and it appeared that Freedom had some things working against them in the two losses and were at full strength for the district title game. Most of our guest panelists on our district preview show — all very knowledgeable basketball minds — had picked Freedom as well. It seems on paper, that the Patriots were the team to get the nod…and yet our audience disagreed.

But there’s more! I always have said that we have a very intelligent audience, but the “SportsTalk” viewers outdid themselves not just with the Parkland pick—but with the
score as well! When I looked back at some of our pollsters’ predictions, I saw the following insights:

  • Andy W.’s (from Nazareth) prediction 55-45
  • Shannon Z.’s (from Catty) prediction 60-50
  • Aaron’s (no town given) prediction 64-50.
  • The final score? Parkland 65, Freedom 50.

And the game didn’t seem close at all as Parkland jumped out to a big second quarter lead, and never looked back. I, and a number of us on the on-air staff, were shocked at how easily the Trojans appeared to win…but our audience never had a doubt, and I salute the great response we received and tip my cap that so many of you nailed both predictions.

We ask for the audience’s thoughts, questions, comments and poll predictions each week on our “RCN SportsTalk” show and would welcome you to participate at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com. We also invite you to tune in every Thursday, live at 6pm on RCN-TV, to talk sports & participate in those poll questions on our program.

One additional note regarding “William’s” comments replying to my most recent post—we will be providing HS baseball coverage on our “SportsTalk” show (the snow and school’s closings the past few days precluded us from going out to two local schools this past week) through interviews of local coaches and players. RCN-TV will also be providing coverage of baseball playoff games. Thanks for your comment and I will pass along your request for more full-game baseball coverage to the appropriate persons

Reflections on the 2012-13 Basketball Season – The SportsTalk Shop

March 12, 2013 By Chris Michael 2 Replies

High School Basketball Thoughts: Reflections on the 2012/2013 Season

First of all, this is for amusement purposes only.  It is simply based on my memory of the games that I saw in person this year, and not a collective decision of all games in our coverage area this season. There were some tremendous accomplishments by young people in the Lehigh & Delaware Valley areas, and some moments that will stick with me for quite a while.  I’m glad to have the opportunity to share some of these experiences with you—and you’re more than welcome to add your own on our “comments” section to highlight the young men and women’s outstanding achievements this winter!

In no particular order, some of my “honors” for this year’s HS boys and girls basketball seasons include:

BEST GROUP OF SOPHOMORES –Constitution High School. These guys practiced against the State Single-A champs as freshmen a year ago, and looked impressive enough to defend their titles when I saw them play.  They can not only play up-tempo basketball with the best of them, but they seem like a very smart group and have a really quality head coach in Rob Moore. Don’t be surprised if they make a regular appearance in PIAA championship games for the next several years.

BEST DYNAMIC DUO — CCHS’s Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman & Jean Lee Baez. They were not only two of the most talented players in the Eastern PA region coming into this season, but they actually got BETTER as the year went along.  MAAR started the season as the single-biggest scoring threat in the Lehigh Valley Conference, and as the year unfolded, developed the challenging skill of making his teammates better, while still being one of the most dynamic scoring machines in the region. Baez also improved in all facets of his game (which includes adding 30-percentage points to his free throw average) and should become the most dominate post player in the area for next year. They have solid role players around them — all of whom will get better with a year of experience with their new system and by having these two players on their team. As of this writing, Central’s final chapter hasn’t been completed yet for this season, but I have no doubt that they will win titles again in 2014 and go deep into the state playoffs in the senior seasons for both Abdur-Rahkman and Baez.

BEST BASKETBALL IQ – Nazareth Girls team. They showed on RCN SportsTalk that they can have some fun (although I couldn’t get them to sing like the boys team did a few years ago), but when the whistle blows, they are a no-nonsense team that is very focused and always seems to make the smart play, on offense or on defense. On highlights after making a basket, when our cameras get a “reaction shot,” they’re always looking at the opponent’s defense, pointing out opponents making adjustments or cuts down-court, or sniffing out an outlet pass to make a play on it.  They can play “junk” defenses with the best of them, and had a perfect balance of talent (one of the most prolific 3-point shooting teams of all time) and smarts (knowing WHEN to shoot the 3) to become the first-ever Nazareth team to win two major titles in one school year.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT – Freedom’s loss in the state playoffs.  If I heard it once, I heard it a hundred times this year,  “Joe Stellato is such a nice guy.”  And he absolutely is. But I also don’t know of another coach who works harder or is better prepared or has a better understanding of his team.  I thought (and many people were rooting for) his team to earn some semblance of a post-season honor this year; either a title or a state playoff win. They lost to two quality teams in the league & district playoffs.  I don’t want to take anything away from Upper Darby, but the Patriots had the lead several times in their opening round state playoff game and just took some mind-numbing bad shots when they didn’t have to.  I know that loss will stick with me until next season … and I can’t imagine how tough it’ll be for Coach Joe and the absolutely fabulous “Riot Squad” fan base to bounce back from (hey guys, don’t forget to put my face on a poster for next year—if you can find enough trees for all the paper you’ll need).

NICEST “EVENT” – Bangor Boys basketball team. I’m identifying them for a few reasons. One, their ‘almost win’ over a streaking Wilson team up at the Pensyl Gym in mid-January. They were without four regulars for the game and had the potential to be blown-out in one of the biggest regular season matchups of the year (I had thought so anyway). But Bron Holland’s team battled and was down by two possessions late in the game (they did get a bad break late as well) before Wilson won the game and continued their tremendous regular season run. The team also got a chance to witness a major Top 25 NCAA upset in person at Gola Arena. Then, of course, they battled back to win a thrilling Colonial League Championship (their first in 25 years) in OT and avenge the Wilson loss.

MOST OVERACHIEVING TEAM (although they shouldn’t have been) – Parkland Boys basketball. I’m giving them the nod for this because I was shocked at how many pre-season prognosticators didn’t expect this team to do as well as they did. Sure, they were picked to win the North Division in the LVC this year, but I was amazed by some of my announcing colleagues who labeled some of the Trojans’ early season wins as “upsets.”  Even late in the year, a number of our local experts thought the way they matched up against Freedom would be too much for the Trojans to overcome—and those predictions ended up looking disastrous, with Parkland making the district championship victory look seemingly easy. They had a solid all-around player in Austin Beidleman (and I do have to give credit as always to Mr. Keith Groller who continued to have a solid “Stone-Cold Lock” by making Austin THE player to watch this year on our “SportsTalk” HS Basketball Preview show in December), a very heady point guard in Jimmy Hahn, a inside and outside threat in Justin Zajko, a player I had touted last year in Nick Rindock (insert my “see-I-told-you-so” line here), and some nice “role” performances by the likes of Austin Jones, Nick Selvaggi (boy did he come up looking solid in the playoffs) and others. Most of these players are back next year, so be on alert and don’t try to underestimate this team again in 2014.

BIGGEST INDIVIDUAL MATCH-UP FOR NEXT YEAR – Vincent Eze vs. Phil Pierfy.  Both of these underclassmen have made great strides over the last two years. Both have the potential to be major players at the college level—although each one has their own, very different style. The Notre Dame/Wilson match-up is always a fierce rivalry and is competitive at least twice a year regardless of the team’s records and standings position, but I’m hoping I can see these two players do battle at least once next year.  I’d hate to be one of the people that might have to choose between one or the other for the best center in the Colonial League next year.

PLAYER MOST SORRY TO SEE LEAVE –Liberty’s Greg Noack. No player came over to the announcers’ table more often in 2013 and say “hey how you doing,” or “thanks for doing our game” than Mr. Noack this year and no one had more pressure put on him to do well this season. The Canes season ended a bit earlier than I had thought this year (they got a TOUGH matchup with Williamsport in the “Chester” bracket), but through all the ups-and-downs, this year, Greg helped his team earn an LVC title this year and made for some great memories for the loyal-Liberty fan base.

PLAYER(S) MOST GLAD TO SEE RETURNING –Liberty’s DeShawn Oyeniyi & K J Williams. No player made more of a difference for his team nor improved from last year more than the guy whose last name no one can correctly pronounce (except of course for the RCN announcers). Oyeniyi proved to be a solid double-double threat on nearly every night, and should become one of the premiere LVC players next year—ifLiberty can find another player to take some of the post-presence heat off of him (this will not be an easy task).

Also, Tom Stoudt called K J Williams the most athletic player in the league this year, and I cannot disagree with him. He’s one of the premiere players to watch in both football and basketball (seriously, think about how many players we’ve seen as good as Williams in two different sports the last few years!), and I’m looking forward to seeing him racing down the sidelines & making unbelievable catches in the fall.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY A FRESHMAN — Allen’s Zay Jennings. No team went through more ups-and-downs this year than the William Allen Boys Basketball team. Through it all (and one of the ‘benefits’ of the off-the-court issues), there were several outstanding contributions by the Canaries underclassmen, who made the most of the earlier-than-expected increase in playing time.Jennings quickly established himself as a premiere perimeter jump shooter and a very heady player—his ninth grade status notwithstanding. Expect Allen to made a bigger splash in the post-season in 2014 and don’t be surprised to see Zay’s name on an All-LVC team or two in the future.

“STONE-COLD LOCK” FOR BASKETBALL IN 2014 –Southern Lehigh’s Girls team will be in the Colonial League Championship. A very smart, versatile and athletic team, with many returning parts from this year’s league title squad will definitely be playing for a chance to defend its title — again. They play a very tough schedule and gave the District Champion Golden Hawks all they could handle in the district championship game, and I have no doubt we will see them again doing great things in the post-season next year.

TEAM THAT COULD SURPRISE YOU IN 2014 — Emmaus Boys team.  They gave us some great moments in 2013 and they are absolutely LOADED with talent in the underclass levels.  The JV team looked impressive the two times I saw them this year against opponents with traditionally strong programs.  I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see the Hornets advancing further in the playoffs a year from now.

OK, who did I miss? And what teams and players stick out in YOUR mind as the high school basketball season winds down? Post a comment here and email me at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com. We’ll be wrapping up the winter sports season on our next show, Thursday at 6pm on RCN-TV.

One other note:  in response to a blog follower’s comments in a previous post regarding the Phillies broadcasts and our channel lineup, I wanted to thank you for your opinions and I can assure you that I passed your comments along to my supervisor and alerted the appropriate persons of your views.  Please feel free to email me your concerns and questions and I’ll do my best to give you the best response I can.

 

Is this the best time of sports year? – The SportsTalk Shop – March 4th

March 4, 2013 By Chris Michael 1 Reply

Is this the best time of sports year? Andy Williams (ask your parents about him if you don’t know who that is) may disagree, but if your sports-interests cross over many different areas, it’s hard to find a better several weeks of the calendar year than the time period we’re currently in – especially in the Eastern PA region. Consider:

  • If you’re a Flyers fan, this is traditionally the time of year in which you start to get your line rotations down and start looking forward to potential matchups for the post-season. The Flyers are also quick to try to tweak-and-improve heading down the stretch run. Things are never dull when you’re talking hockey this time of year in the Delaware Valley region.
  • Spring training is a time when hope springs eternal. Whether the Phillies are looking to return to the post-season, or hoping for a miraculous turnaround, the exhibition season is a time when you’re technically in first place for a month, you have younger and/or journeymen players hitting .400, mop-up men with ERA’s under 3, and areas where the “what ifs” of an organization show glimmers of hope that your team could actually be in the hunt for the playoffs. Even when the current core of all-time Phillies greats succumb to Father Time, and a World Series appearance is not a realistic outlook, spring training, at the very least, gives us a look at what’s to come—even if it’s just to grow envious of the people in short-sleeve shirts and shorts.
  • We may not have a perennial #1 team in the NCAA men’s or women’s basketball tournament, but the Big 5 is still one of the greatest city battles in the country. We’ve been blessed by having some great teams offer us some exciting runs in March Madness, from Mark Macon’s Temple team getting to the Sweet 16, to the outstanding guard play of St. Joe’s in the Big Dance a few years ago, to the hard working Liberty HS grad Darrun Hilliard, now establishing himself as a force to be reckoned with at Villanova, as the Wildcats look to continue knocking off some of the top teams in the nation. And let’s not forget the efforts of a team from Bethlehem just about this time a year ago making some national news by slaying the mighty goliaths of Duke. The beauty of the structure of league tournaments & March Madness gives even passive basketball fans a rush of excitement by seeing your local teams, whether you’re from that school or not, beat a couple teams this time of year.
  • Unless you covered the 76ers in the 1990s (like I did) and used this time to hope for horrible play (and often got your wish) for a chance at more ping pong balls in the lottery, this is also an interesting time of year. If the team has had any kind of success, you’re looking to make a push for the playoffs and maybe surprise some people with some upset series victories (as the Sixers did last year and again in 2001). Even when the team has hovered around or slightly below .500, there’s usually a few interesting storylines, young players to watch, et al to keep your interest and give us some semblance of hope for the following season.

So what do you say? Is this the greatest time of the sports year or not? Hey, even football fans have those involuntary “voluntary” camps sprinkled in and also previews of potential draft choices to chomp on right now. Let us know via email at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and/or post a comment below, and we’ll see what is YOUR favorite sports season.

The SportsTalk Shop – February 19th

February 19, 2013 By Chris Michael 1 Reply

BOYS & GIRLS DISTRICT PREVIEWS

Last week we talked about the teams that made or just missed qualifying for the LVC and Colonial League HS Boys’ Basketball Playoffs (see our February 11th entry). Today we look at some of the Boys’ and Girls’ District XI pairing match-ups, and also “update” some of the team’s information based on last week’s events.

Class 4-A Boys

Whitehall is riding a momentum upswing after a last-second come-from-behind win over Allen and has really come together as a team at the perfect time.  I had talked earlier about how the Zephyrs had some very good individual athletes on the team, headlined by Tony Belluccci, but the team has strung together some impressive wins.  Stroudsburg is a challenging opponent and I expect this to be one of the best opening round games of the tournament.  Both of these teams are capable of beating their next round opponent Pocono Mountain West, who has experienced some tough losses to Lehigh Valley teams in the second half of the year, but still is the top ranked 4A team in the district.

The Easton/Allen matchup is the game RCN has selected to broadcast Wednesday, and is also an intriguing match-up.  Allen has the height advantage inside and every time you count them out, they’ve surprised us this year (including winning 4 of its last 6 in beating some of the top teams in the area to make the play-offs).  Easton has excellent guards in DeVante Queen, Xavier Jenkins & Company.  The Allen guards will have their work cut out for them trying to slow them down, but if they can control the tempo and deny the Canaries’ ‘bigs,’ they look to have the advantage.

Parkland looks to bounce back from their LVC Championship loss and would love to cruise past East Stroudsburg-South and Bangor to get some revenge against league champion Liberty.   The Hurricanes looked like the dominant team we were expecting during the league play-offs, with 6 or 7 of their players capable of starting on most other team’s squads.  DeShawn Oyeniyi might have the dubious distinction of being the most pivotal player in the success of any state-bound team, yet not be a member of his all-league team (and there were justified mitigating circumstances).  Freedom was one of our panelist’s “dark horse” teams to watch on last week’s “RCN SportsTalk” show, and will play the winner of the Rovers/Canaries in the second round.  Congratulations again to the Slaters for their first league title in 25 years.  However, it’s going to be hard again for them to win a district play-off game as they will most probably open against the Trojans.

Class 3-A Boys

Gary Laubach made my day by reminding me that there will be three 3-A teams that qualify for the state playoffs this year.  This is great news for Wilson fans, who lost a tough game to Bangor in the Colonial League championship and may have a tough time beating Central Catholic in the semifinal round, as the Vikings looked to re-bound from their league semi-final loss to Liberty.  The Warriors, who have lost just two games this year, had opportunities late against the Slaters, but Jeremy Ringland hit a dramatic shot at the end of regulation to send the game to overtime for Bangor to win.  Salisbury, I think, has a very tough match-up in facing Wilson, who has beaten the Falcons three times in a row.  Matchup-wise, Salisbury needs to run to have success and would have an easier time being bracketed with a team like Tamaqua, Northern Lehigh or Lehighton.
The team to watch could be Bethlehem Catholic, who’s making its first appearance in districts in some time, after having to defeat Easton to qualify.  Matt Husek is a hidden talent and I think they are fully capable of winning their opening round contest versus Blue Mountain.  Plus, the Hawks have an interesting bracket path could lead to state qualification or even the championship game—a HUGE accomplishment for a nice guy in Mike Frew, who took over the program this year.

I haven’t seen Southern Lehigh this year, expect for watching their league-opening win over Wilson on RCN’s video-on-demand, but it’s Bob Shaffer and Kurt Zellner’s last run together.  Knowing those Spartans’ basketball players of the past, I wouldn’t be surprised and hope that they can put a run together for their coaches so we can see Bob & Kurt coach another game on RCN-TV.

Class 2-A & A Boys

I “think” things have worked out well for both Catty & Notre Dame so that they should make it to the championship game and subsequently earn a trip to States.  I have no idea about Williams Valley and North Schuylkill (no yet, anyway), but I talked in an earlier blog about the positives of both the Rough Riders and the Crusaders.  I’d love to see them advance and try to win a PIAA game.  We also talked quite a bit about Pius on the Feb. 14th edition of “SportsTalk” (check it out on VOD) and about their strengths and chances to advance in the postseason.
Class 4-A Girls

Nazareth looked impressive in defeating Parkland for a second time in three tries (they came within a point of sending the game they lost into overtime).  However, they have to get past a gritty Liberty, who is very well-coached.  Speaking of, how about the job Jeff Jacksits is doing once again at Northampton, who started the year off dreadfully, only to come back and make districts?  Don’t know how they’ll fare against Stroudsburg or Pocono Mountain West, but what a huge accomplishment it would be for the K-Kids to get to a semifinal game against defending district champ Bangor, one of a quartet of impressive Colonial League teams again this year.

Class 3-A
I was very impressed with Southern Lehigh again this year!  Madelene McDonald, Mady Campbell and their whole team are fundamentally sound, and I was awed by their basketball smarts and ability to drive and score/draw fouls … and then convert at the line.  Melann Amory is a very underrated player and Brianna Prince has very quick hands and is an excellent “undersized” post presence.
The Spartans will probably have to battle Northwestern for a third time in the 2nd round. The cliché mentions how tough it is to be a quality team three times, and the third battle will be an all-out war.  League MVP Sara Jones and her back court mates were not-too-happy about watching the final minutes of the championship from the sidelines, and they will be looking for revenge big-time.
On the other side of the bracket, you will see (once Bethlehem Catholic trumps Palmerton) another rematch between the Hawks and Central Catholic.  Both were upset in the league semi-finals and there’s still no indication that Janelle Robinson can make a remarkable recovery; however, Bethlehem Catholic still has LVC League MVP Kalista Walters and a very talented group of players that were the top girls team in the Valley during the regular season.  I keep hearing people saying Central is “down” this year (how good is their program in which 4 losses is considered “down” by some), but I think the inevitable meeting between these two teams in districts could be another barn-burner.

Class 2-A

One of my favorite teams from outside the area to cover is Pine Grove — not only do they always have an outstanding team (either the boys or the girls seemed to win a title every year), but they send me NCAA Division One-like information about their program.   Notre Dame Head Coach Josh Kopp is also one of the most prepared coaches in the Valley and his team that just fell sort of a Colonial League championship appearance this year.  This should make for an interesting District XI title game with Pine Grove.

Well … that’s my take on the District XI play-off picture.  Tell me where I made mistakes and where I’m completely off-base via email to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com as we’ll be talking about the district basketball play-offs for the next couple weeks (the show airs live on Thursdays at 6pm on RCN-TV).  You can also post your comments here on our blog!  Best of luck to all the teams!

 

The SportsTalk Shop – February 12th

February 12, 2013 By Chris Michael 3 Replies

Phils Spring Training’s “Other Things”

With Spring Training underway for the Phillies, there’s been quite a bit of talk on what are the BIG things to be concerned about: the health of Roy Halladay and Chase Utley, the recovery of Ryan Howard, the starting lineup, et al. Unfortunately, though, for die-hard fans who watch all the reports out of Clearwater daily hoping for some news on these developments, the answers (unless resoundingly negative) probably won’t be revealed until the last week of camp, at the very earliest. Therefore, here’s a few “other things” you can focus on during the pre-season that might have a large bearing on the overall success or failure of the 2013 Phillies.

1. LATE-INNING DEFENSE.
While this isn’t as sexy as who’s leading off or who’ll bat behind Howard, the Phils figure to play in a bunch of close games again this season, and improving on protecting those late inning leads will be key. Last year, the Phightins’ were 13th in the league in defense, and you could argue that they took a step back from last year’s squad in that regard. Assuming Delmon Young is healthy for Opening Day, Ruben Amaro, Jr. had said after signing Young that he felt he would be serviceable in right field. But “serviceable” may not cut it defensively, especially given the age and declining range of a number of other positions. Left field also could be a black hole of bloop-hits and singles-misplaced-into-extra-base-hits given the proven lack of defense in Laynce Nix, the unproven and unknown commodity of first baseman-turned-outfielder Darin Ruff, and the proven magical mystery ability that Dom Brown displayed frequently in chasing down balls in the gap. Ben Revere will need more than a speedy horse to cover all that extra open terrain, and while there’s always “defensive replacement options,” those might not always be available. Assuming John Mayberry, Jr. isn’t used as a pinch-hitter, he can replace one spot, but your other “best defensive option” is probably Rule 5 pick Ender Inciarte, who, because of a numbers crunch in the outfield, isn’t even likely to stay on the team, barring injuries.

There’s also Michael Young’s “D,” which, undoubtedly, will be a step back from former multiple Gold Glove winner Placido Polanco, which means Freddy Galvis’ learning a new position for the second straight spring becomes another key to watch as he looks to provide late-inning insurance at third base.

2. THE YOUNG RELIEVERS.
Everyone agrees that the bullpen is much more fortified than a year ago, and I agree. But how much improved is the big question. Last year in front of Jonathan Papelbon, the Phils had the oft-injured Jose Contreras and the low-risk, high-reward Chad Qualls, who signed for just over $1 million on a one year deal. This year, the Phils have a younger and more pedigreed Mike Adams, who is also coming off an injury and may not be ready for Opening Day. In Chad Durbin, they have a former pitcher they let go, who passed through three other cities, and who signed a Qualls-like contract for just over a million dollars, later in the off-season than did Qualls. Any delay in Adams return and a hiccup by Durbin and the Phils must resort to the same options they had a year ago, in Antonio Bastardo, Mike Stutes (who’s also coming off an injury), B. J. Rosenberg and Co. as the primary setup men. Granted, these pitchers have an extra year of maturity under their belt and were starting to improve as the 2012 season waned, but their continued progress this spring could go a long way in seeing if the team has in fact improved on one of its biggest weaknesses from a year ago.

3. THE BENCH.
This time last year, the Phillies were looking at Jim Thome and Nix as your left-handed power options, off the pine and the proven bat (but no defense) of Ty Wiggington and Mayberry, Jr., who impressed everyone with a solid 2nd half of 2011, as their right-handed options. Assuming—and there’s some major questions here—that Young, Brown & Ruff are your everyday options in the corner outfield, you have Nix (coming off an injured year) and Mayberry, coming off a very lackluster performance, as your main options, which is certainly a step back. If D. Young isn’t ready to go, and either Brown or Ruff lacks the ability to show that he can play every day and gets shipped back to the minors (a succinct possibility, especially in the case of Mr. Ruff), you now have to use Mayberry and perhaps even Nix in regular roles. This is not just a cataclysmic disaster offensively, but it leaves you with … gulp, Freddy Galvis, Kevin Frandsen and/or Pete Orr as your late-inning power guys? Clearly, some of these corner outfielders HAVE to step-up to avoid the doomsday scenario listed here, but it’s something you definitely have to keep your eyes on as spring training unfolds.

What concerns you most about the Phillies, and what “plan B” players are you focusing in on? Post a comment here and email us at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and we’ll discuss it on our upcoming shows, live on Thursdays at 6pm on RCN-TV.

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