Friday, May 31, 2013

Mentor in rare air with runs in football, boys hoops, baseball

When Mentor lost to Aurora, 2-1, in a baseball Division I regional final on Friday, it fell just short of an unprecedented feat. It would have been the first time a Division I school advanced to the state final four in football, boys basketball and baseball in the same school year.

By advancing to the state semifinal round in football and winning the state championship in hoops, the Cardinals are still in exclusive company.

Beginning with Canton McKinley in 1930-31, 25 schools have qualified for the state semis in two of those three sports in the same school year, with 20 of those coming since the state football tournament begin in 1972 (boys basketball started in 1923, baseball in 1928).

Here's a look at the list of big-school division, multisport final-four bids in football, boys basketball and baseball in the same school year:

1930-31: Canton McKinley, baseball and basketball

1935-36: Bridgeport, baseball and basketball

1936-37: Canton McKinley, baseball and basketball

1961-62: Lima Senior, baseball and basketball

1969-70: Dayton Chaminade, baseball and basketball

1972-73: Cincinnati Elder, baseball and basketball

1975-76: Findlay, football and baseball

1984-85: North Canton Hoover, football and basketball

1992-93: St. Ignatius, football and baseball

1994-95: St. Ignatius, football and baseball

1996-97: St. Ignatius, football and baseball

1997-98: Canton McKinley, football and basketball

1997-98: St. Edward, baseball and basketball

1997-98: St. Ignatius, football and basketball

1999-2000: St. Ignatius, football and baseball

2001-02: St. Ignatius, football and baseball

2003-04: Toledo St. John’s, basketball and football

2004-05: Canton McKinley, football and basketball

2006-07: Mentor, football and baseball

2007-08: Cincinnati St. Xavier, basketball and football

2007-08: St. Edward, baseball and basketball

2009-10: Cincinnati Elder, football and baseball

2009-10: Cincinnati Moeller, basketball and baseball

2011-12: Toledo Whitmer, football and basketball

2012-13: Mentor, football and basketball

The list could grow by one later tonight. Cincinnati Moeller, which won the Division I state championship in football, was scheduled to play in a baseball regional final.

- Howard Primer

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Three thoughts about USMNT in Cleveland

You have to love those pesky date conflicts.

On Wednesday, for the first time since 2006 and only the third time in history, Cleveland is playing host to the United States men's national soccer team in an international friendly against Belgium.

Also on Wednesday is the first day of the Division I Austintown-Fitch Regional in high school track and field.

It's that time of the year, so south toward Fitch it will be - gladly, mind you, as hopefully some News-Herald area athletes can secure state berths.

That does not mean, however, I won't share a few quick thoughts about a national team match in my own back yard:

1.) The team Belgium is bringing to the North Coast is no joke.

Being ranked 15th in the world, you had a feeling Belgium wasn't exactly going to send a bunch of nobodies. But this side that will be on display in Cleveland on Wednesday - wow. With Vincent Kompany, Thomas Vermaelen, Christian Benteke, Eden Hazard - all very talented English Premier League performers - along with plenty of other talent from across Europe, the U.S. better bring its hard hat, especially in the defensive third.

2.) A great opportunity for local kids to see the USMNT

Memo to area high school players and parents of youngsters involved in youth soccer: The team is hosting an open practice session Tuesday at FirstEnergy Stadium - free to get in, $3 to park and watch some of the very best our country has to offer 24 hours prior to a big friendly. That's not a bad deal at all.

3. The best news of all

If this Ticketmaster page is accurate, there isn't a ticket to be had. Hopefully, unlike some of the other fairly recent international and club matches downtown, this one fills up the seats well and gives U.S. Soccer something to think about with bringing future matches here.*

(* - as long as there isn't a work conflict next time)

- Chris Lillstrung | @CLillstrungNH

Friday, May 24, 2013

Ohio State, Big Ten affecting high school football postseason

In 2006, the Ohio high school football regional finals scheduled for Nov. 18 had to do some quick rescheduling when the Ohio State-Michigan game was pushed to 3:30 p.m. from its normal noon start.

No one dared to get in the way of The Game, which featured Nos. 1 and 2 in the polls. Some prep games were played the night before, a Friday. Others kicked off at noon on Saturday. It wasn't just the fans who wouldn't get to a 7 p.m. prep kickoff on time. The well for volunteers to work the playoff games would have dried up if it meant leaving the TV at halftime of OSU-Michigan to get to the stadiums early.

Don't be surprised if more instances like this pop up in the coming years.

A JJ Huddle report confirmed something I wondered about on Twitter when the OHSAA announced that it wants to move the Division I game to the Friday of state championship weekend: The organization doesn't want its big-school state final going against the Big Ten championship game.

The state finals move to Ohio Stadium in 2014. Could you imagine what an afterthought the biggest game of the year in Ohio high school football would be if the Buckeyes were playing in Indianapolis that night?

It's no exaggeration. With the stakes of the Big Ten title and a berth in the football final four on the line, the prep game would draw an AT&T crowd in Columbus.

Division II will get the job of going against the Big Ten on Saturday night. Adding to the problem, there isn't much the OHSAA can do about it.

If Ohio State is playing that night, maybe the three state finals scheduled for that day could be moved up a half an hour to cut down on the overlap? If one of the games was moved to Sunday, all three would have to be. It costs plenty to run the stadium for one game and one game only, and that's already happening on the Thursday of that weekend.

Moving the state finals up one week isn't an option because that's during Ohio State's regular season. The stadium wouldn't be available every other year, and the years it would be, it's Ohio State-Michigan week.

Moving them back a week isn't a good idea, either. The football playoffs already push into wrestling and boys basketball seasons by a week (two for hockey).

The OHSAA already has a problem with decreased attendance at the state finals. Adding a seventh game will help. But the ever-expanding night-time college football schedule isn't going away.

It's not Ohio State's fault, either. It doesn't have an obligation to the OHSAA other than some courtesy because it's good public relations with the schools it recruits from.

So the OHSAA has to work around it as best it can, and hope some Division II fans don't mind listening to the Big Ten game on the radio in the stands before heading somewhere to watch the end. Good news is, if Ohio State is playing, there won't be much traffic.

-- Howard Primer

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Conte of Chagrin Falls shows true grit at Division II Perry district

One of the reasons I enjoy covering track is because you never know what story you are going to run into.
There is so much going on at one event so there are a lot of options to choose from.
There are field events, individual sprint and distance races and plenty of relays. To me, it's all so exciting.
That's why I was open to pretty much any story idea when I went to cover the first day of the Division II Perry district meet on Tuesday.
It turned out, the first athlete I talked to became the lead to my story.
It was junior Antonio Conte of Chagrin Falls.
I tracked him down on the infield talking to his coaches about the high jump, which he just completed.
Conte's foot was all taped up so I knew right away he had an injury.
He told me he won the event with a jump of 5 feet, eight inches. He said it was his only jump of the day because he was in so much pain.
How many of us feel a slight pain here or there and use it as excuse not to work out, do gardening, cut the grass or clean the house?
Here's a teenage boy who met his pain head on and challenged it.
By doing so, he won a district high jump championship for the second year in a row. A year ago, he set a meet record at 6-8.
Conte believe he possibly tore a tendon in his foot. Doctors told him to rest it as much as possible, ice it and elevate it.
You can bet that's what he'll be doing all the up until the regional meet at Bedford next week.
I admire Conte for conquering his pain.
It proves what kind of person he is.
He's a person who isn't afraid of a challenge. He's a person who takes chances and makes the most of his opportunities.
He is someone to be admired, and I'm happy I was able to share his story in the paper.

-Theresa Neuhoff Audia 

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Friday, May 17, 2013

Captains have had four make it to big leagues so far in 2013

The Captains have already surpassed 2012 when it comes to players debuting in the major leagues.

They have had four ex-players make their first appearance in the majors this season, ahead of three for all of 2012. Here's a look at how they've fared so far (special thanks to the Captains' Craig Deas for his help):

-- Hector Rondon, a Rule 5 draftee of the Cubs, has made 12 relief appearances for Chicago since April 3. He has a 3.68 ERA and 11 strikeouts in 12 appearances. Photo: Rondon, right, and catcher Welington Castillo on May 4.  (Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press)

-- T.J. McFarland, also taken in the Rule 5 draft, has made nine relief appearances for the Orioles since April 6. He has a 2.95 ERA in 18 1/3 innings.

-- Steven Wright debuted with the Red Sox on April 23. The knuckle baller gave up five runs on six hits in 3 2/3 innings before being optioned to Class AAA Pawtucket.

-- Vidal Nuno debuted with Yankees on April 29. Indians fans are more aware of his second start, in which he pitched five scoreless innings in the second game of a doubleheader on May 13 at Progressive Field. He has since been sent to Triple-A Scranton.

The sample size isn't enough for a full-on indictment of the Indians' minor-league system. But it's worth noting the last six Captains to make to the majors have done so with other teams. The last ex-Lake County player to make it with the Tribe was Cody Allen on July 20, 2012.

- Howard Primer

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Sir Alex makes argument for best ever

This past week, the announcement of Sir Alex Ferguson retiring as manager of English soccer powerhouse Manchester United probably went without much reaction from those who aren't immersed in the sport.

Inside the world of the beautiful game, however, it was a huge deal.

Ferguson exits as perhaps the most successful manager club soccer has ever boasted.

The argument about best manager ever doesn't just extend to soccer, though.

It probably extends to all of sports - that is, if you're willing to give the case its due.

Ferguson won 13 Premier League championships in 26 seasons with Manchester United, along with two Champions League crowns.

If the biggest scale on which a manager/coach can be gauged is championships, here is the comparison with the most prolific in that regard in North American sports:

MLB: Joe McCarthy (Yankees) and Casey Stengel (Yankees), 7
NBA: Phil Jackson (Bulls and Lakers), 11
NFL: Chuck Noll (Steelers), 4
NHL: Scotty Bowman (Canadiens, Penguins, Red Wings), 9

It's hard not to argue, based purely on numbers, Ferguson belongs in that discussion.

Say what you will about whether soccer should be included, but winning a championship during 50 percent of your tenure cannot be debated as anything but gaudy.

- Chris Lillstrung | @CLillstrungNH

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Attendance complaints ridiculous

The Indians' Nick Swisher was right on this week when he was asked about low attendance at home games at Progressive Field.

His response (and I'm paraphrasing): "It's not my business how people in Cleveland spend their entertainment dollars."

The radio talking heads should take Swisher's advice and move on to another topic.

How ridiculous would a radio talk show host sound if he went on air complaining not enough people went to see a certain movie? Or went to a concert at Blossom? Or attended a state playoff football game in Canton?

Or what if yours truly wrote a column complaining not enough runners participated in this year's Johnnycake Jog? Or not enough fans attended next month's N-H Senior Bowl?

I'd probably have a number of emails and calls telling me to stop worrying about how people spend their time and their money.

And they would be right.

- Mark Podolski | @mpodo

Friday, May 10, 2013

Stability in area high school football coaching ranks

Heading into the summer, there have been two coaching changes among area high school football teams, with the second a result of the first. At NDCL, Ben Malbasa left Benedictine to take over for Byron Morgan. The Bengals in turn hired Joe Schaefer.

It's a drop in turnover compared with previous years. Here is a look at the number of area schools with new coaches the past five seasons:

2012: 4
2011: 6
2010: 4
2009: 5
2008: 5

The main reason for the stability is simple: The teams are good. In the past two seasons, 17 of 30 schools in the area made at least one playoff appearance, and 24 of the 30 had at least one five-win season in that span.

-- Howard Primer

Sunday, May 5, 2013

"SportsCenter" needs competition

The race to create at least some competition for ESPN juggernaut "SportsCenter" heated up this week as it appears the best chance to do so yet, an entry from the debuting Fox Sports One, is coming into place.

Popular Canadian anchor duo Jay Onrait and Dan O'Toole are leaving TSN's "SportsCentre," and it only makes sense their new opportunity in the United States would be Fox Sports One. Former Fox Sports host and current "SportsNation" host Charissa Thompson also appears headed to Fox Sports One, Awful Announcing reports.

If you haven't seen Onrait and O'Toole at work on YouTube, these clips should help the argument that they could carry a flagship national show:

The problem right now with U.S. sports highlights shows is a monopoly creates complacency. That's why "SportsCenter" can get away with a LeBronathon or Tebowaganza during a live hour of television supposedly dedicated to highlights, and while some segments of the audience will complain it will continue to happen.

With its household clearances, when Fox Sports One debuts later this year it will have the best chance in sports television history to create a viable alternative to the Worldwide Leader with a highlights show. If that could happen, it would naturally cause ESPN to have to up its game for its signature show and beyond its wonderful work with properties such as "30 for 30" and "Outside the Lines."

For the sake of the viewer, here's to hoping a little competition can create an improved experience when all they want is highlights and analysis, not improvised extended debate.

- Chris Lillstrung | @CLillstrungNH

Friday, May 3, 2013

Looking at changes to the 2013 area football schedule

You could say we're enthusiastic about the 2013 football season. How enthusiastic?

After deadline Thursday night, I mentioned to my colleague Chris Lillstrung that I had a head start on this year's schedules, with about two-thirds of them typed in.

To that, Lillstrung said that he, too, had been typing in schedules during some down time earlier in the week and was almost done. Lesson learned: Check the files first next time.

While the staff is busy preparing the 2013 N-H Senior Bowl, we're also keeping one eye toward the 2013 regular season. Here's a look at some noteworthy changes to area teams' schedules this year:

-- The most intriguing matchup in Week 1 will occur in western Lake County, with Kirtland traveling to North on Aug. 30. The Hornets, who have played in the Division V state final the past two seasons (winning one) haven't lost a regular-season game since Week 5 of 2009. Meanwhile, North is coming off a 1-9 showing in 2012. The Rangers have a male enrollment 3.8 times as big as Kirtland's.

-- North's entire nonconference schedule changes for 2013. Out are Brush, Bedford and Midpark. In are Kirtland, Medina and at Garfield Heights.

-- Another new game in Week 1 is Madison playing at Chagrin Falls. The Blue Streaks dropped Lakeview and Brush, and they also added Collinwood for Week 2.

-- Lake Catholic replaced Brunswick with a trip to Massillon on Sept. 20 (Week 4). It will be the Cougars' first game against the Tigers.

-- Solon will be appearing on the area scoreboard several times this season. The Comets play at Kenston in Week 1 (Aug. 30), at South in Week 3 (Sept. 12),  host Mayfield in Week 6 (Oct. 4) and host Mentor in Week 8 (Oct. 18).

-- The Northeast Ohio Conference shuffled divisions and crossover opponents. Mentor, which had played Mayfield the past two seasons, will travel to Brush on Sept. 27 (Week 5).

-- Euclid opens with four straight home games, and has seven overall at Sparky DiBiasio Stadium. The Panthers will face Hudson, Cleveland Central Catholic, Mentor and Shaw before their first road game. 

-- After playing four of its first five on the road last year, Benedictine gets a reprieve, as one of its road games this season is at Bedford, which is where the Bengals play their home games.

-- After playing Chanel and Kirtland in the nonconference last year, Harvey will play newcomer Whitney Young and Fairport.

-- Wickliffe added a trip to Martins Ferry in Week 2.

- Howard Primer

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

NDCL softball team finds find way to pass the time on recent bus ride

This is the way to have fun on a long bus trip.
Check out the video the Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin varsity softball team recently made to Justin Bieber's "Baby."
My only question after watching this video is why didn't longtime NDCL softball coach Jack McParland make an appearance in it?
I say if NDCL wins its first tournament game, McParland should agree to make an appearance in an upcoming video.
What do you think coach?

Click here to check out the video