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Doesn’t get any better than Alter girls, Trotwood vs. Dunbar boys

Published: Friday, March 17, 2017 @ 10:03 PM
Updated: Friday, March 17, 2017 @ 10:03 PM

Dunbar’s Devon Baker (left) battles Jared Laski for a loose ball. Dunbar defeated Carroll Bloom-Carroll 71-37 in a boys high school basketball D-II regional final at Fairmont’s Trent Arena on Thursday, March 16, 2017. MARC PENDLETON / STAFF
Dunbar’s Devon Baker (left) battles Jared Laski for a loose ball. Dunbar defeated Carroll Bloom-Carroll 71-37 in a boys high school basketball D-II regional final at Fairmont’s Trent Arena on Thursday, March 16, 2017. MARC PENDLETON / STAFF(MARC PENDLETON / STAFF)

There are many contenders for area supremacy every high school basketball season. Sometimes an unforeseen wildcard makes a memorable breakthrough. More often than not, it’s the best of the best that makes a final statement.

That’s what will rapidly play out today. The Alter girls basketball team is looking for one last gem in its unprecedented four-year run, playing in yet another Division II state title game at Columbus.

The boys are up next, and it’s a dandy: Trotwood-Madison vs. Dunbar at Fairmont’s Trent Arena.

All three of those programs have kept area basketball at the highest level over the years, both locally and state-wide.

Alter is a two-time defending D-II state champ. All that stands in Alter’s way is former nemesis Shaker Heights Hathaway Brown (18-10) in a 10:45 a.m. title matchup at Ohio State University’s Schottenstein Center. Brown set a state record with 37 straight postseason wins and five consecutive titles from 2009-14, which included championship defeats of Alter in 2010 and ’14.

Alter beat Brown in the 2008 title game for its first state championship. This will be Alter’s fourth straight state title appearance. Of the 16 participating girls teams at state, just five are private schools, which includes Alter and Brown.

Think Alter (27-2) is on cruise control? Not a chance.

“There’s a lot of emotions that play into it,” Alter senior standout Braxtin Miller said with a nod to teammate Libby Bazelak following a 50-43 overtime defeat of Ottawa-Glandorf in Thursday’s state semifinal. “Obviously, we’re seniors and we have a lot at stake. There’s a lot of pressure to do your best and be your best because this is our last go at it. We definitely have some pressure to deal with.”

Joining Alter in playing for a state title is Versailles (26-3), which is matched against Gates Mills Gilmour Academy (23-5) for the D-III state title at 5:15 p.m. also at the Schott.

This is a rematch for Trotwood (25-2) and Dunbar (24-3) and the one that counts most, because the winner will advance to next week’s state final four. Trotwood outlasted visiting Dunbar 98-89 on Feb. 4. The countdown to a rematch started before the teams left the court that night.

“Both (Dunbar coach Pete Pullen) and I hoped it would be this,” Trotwood coach Rocky Rockhold said after being pushed by Taft in Thursday’s regional semi, 61-56. “We went on the bracket early on and we said if we’re going to have to play each other, let’s make it mean something. And it does.”

The high-end star quality that has defined previous great Trotwood and Dunbar teams is lacking, but both are loaded with next-level talent. It’s fitting that one will represent Dayton-area basketball at state next week. They are the last area boys teams remaining in the postseason in any division.

“We’ve watched them a million times and they’ve watched us a million times,” Rockhold said. “There won’t be any secrets or surprises. They’re going to do what they do and we’re going to do what we do and see who gets that trip to Columbus.”

Ohio State men’s basketball coach Chris Holtmann to throw out first pitch at Cincinnati Reds game

Published: Thursday, September 21, 2017 @ 11:20 AM

He may not be able to help the last-place Cincinnati Reds’ pitching rotation, but Ohio State men’s basketball coach Chris Holtmann will be on the mound on Thursday evening throwing out the first pitch in the Reds game against St. Louis at Great American Ballpark.

The Reds are in last place in the National League Central Division and have the second highest team earned run average at 5.21.

Holtmann was hired by the Buckeyes in early June, taking over just days. after Thad Matta left the program.

Since then, Holtmann has tried his best to make Buckeye hoops more enjoyable and has done his part to upgrade the team’s recruiting woes.

The Reds and Cardinals play at 7:10 p.m. ET, 6:10 p.m. CT.

On the Alabama football beat: Don’t look for Nick Saban to change his early season process due to injuries

Published: Thursday, September 21, 2017 @ 11:15 AM

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — This isn’t meant to be critical, just an observation. But University of Alabama football fans aren’t happy unless they’re concerned about something.

The subjects vary by week, if not by day.

This week it’s the pass rush. The defense giving up 23 points to Colorado State. The Rams being able to sustain drives. The injured linebackers. WHY ISN’T FORMER 5-STAR RECRUIT BEN DAVIS PLAYING YET!?

Last week it was sophomore quarterback Jalen Hurts. Where is the downfield passing game? Why is he running so much? Why hasn’t offensive coordinator Brian Daboll turned him into Tom Brady yet? WHAT IF JALEN GETS HURT?

This, of course, after months of questioning whether freshman Tua Tagovailoa might be better equipped to run the offense than the reigning SEC Offensive Player of the Year.

It’s why you hear Nick Saban publicly say with a 3-0 record it’s not time to panic before playing Vanderbilt, plus some of the things mentioned during television broadcasts like the following on ESPN2 last Saturday:

This is all normal in Tuscaloosa.

Every year there’s a sub-par win or an early loss that causes the fan base to short circuit a little, allows national media a chance to overreact and gives Saban an excuse to crack down on the team.

Crimson Tide fans are spoiled and they know it. If they miss a chance to attend a championship, another might be around the corner. Since 2008, Alabama has played in only three regular-season games that did not have national title implications, and during that time span it’s been ranked No. 1 at some point of every season.

But it keeps them happy to have things to worry about, like how many recruits have committed, why the cornerbacks don’t turn their heads on a fade pass (it’s a feel thing, and you don’t want to turn as the ball goes by) and the grass not being perfect at Bryant-Denny Stadium. It was going on long before Saban arrived and will continue after he’s done coaching.

It’s that deep of a following this program has. They’ve invested, and like the coach wants with the players, have bought in.

This year, though, there’s something additional, an underlying suspicion that new NCAA rules have played a part in Alabama suffering more injuries.

Specifically, the NCAA Division I Council voted in April to ban two-a-day practices during fall camp, a devise that coaches used to toughen up their team before the start of the season. Instead, a single day could include a 3-hour on-field practice session and a walk-through during which protective equipment and hitting are not allowed.

Alabama held only three two-a-days during camp, so changing them to a practice and walk-through weren’t that big of an adjustment. Another rule change required a day off per week during the preseason and vacation periods, which naturally the players like.

“The thing I liked about it was we got the Sundays off,” senior center Bradley Bozeman said. “Your body had some time to recover, you felt fresh and it was kind of like a re-start. Before, camp used to be just a constant grind, there was no let off, there was no backing up. Those Sundays off were huge.”

Yet, the injuries are mounting, something Alabama had largely avoided over the previous decade. They include five linebackers being out, with Terrell Lewis (elbow) and Christian Miller (biceps) expected to be sidelined for the year. So are reserve tight end Miller Forristall and walk-on wide receiver Donnie Lee Jr. with torn ACLs.

Could one be related to the other?

Are the physical demands of playing a team like Florida State in the season opener too much?

Linebackers Terrell Lewis (left) and Christian Miller suffered season-ending injuries against Florida State (Chris Kirschner/SEC Country).

You’d like to think the answer to both is no. For example, Lewis’ injury appeared to occur when he reached out for the quarterback while pass rushing, plus Alabama didn’t have anything like that happen while routing USC in last year’s opener.

One thing that is certain is if somehow these issues are linked, rest assured the first person to know it will be Saban. He has more resources at his disposal than some small countries, and he won’t be quiet about it.

In the meantime, his attitude about making changes to the process, unless necessary, can be summed up with a comment he made during his radio show prior to the Fresno State game. It’s the most telling thing he’s said this season.

On why he uses star players on special teams, Saban said: “I cannot coach football thinking it’s a dangerous game. I cannot believe that. There are injuries in every game, but I don’t coach thinking that way.”

He has a handful of rings backing him up.

South Carolina football: Gamecocks o-line looks to get on track

Published: Thursday, September 21, 2017 @ 11:15 AM

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Deebo Samuel isn’t the only starter from the South Carolina football team’s offense who’s going to miss some time.

Just as he did with Samuel (leg) on Tuesday, Gamecock coach Will Muschamp wouldn’t offer a timeline on the return for right tackle Zack Bailey, who went down against Kentucky with a high-ankle sprain.

Malik Young, a 9-game starter at right tackle in 2016, filled in when Bailey went down late on Saturday and he’ll remain there for the Louisiana Tech game. Young started the first two games at left tackle, before he was replaced by Dennis Daley late in the Missouri game.

The rest of South Carolina’s starting offensive line remains unchanged with Cory Helms, Alan Knott and Donell Stanley at left guard, center and right guard, respectively.

“D.J. Park is a guy that can play across the board,” Muschamp said. “Sadarius Hutcherson can do some different things for us as far as multiple spots [and] Blake Camper as well. We’ve got some guys that have some multiplicity in there.”

With Young at right tackle, this will be the third different starting combination the Gamecocks have used along the offensive line.

Protecting the QB

After Jake Bentley was sacked twice by Kentucky, Muschamp was asked about South Carolina’s pass-protection.

“The other night, I feel like [Kentucky] dropped eight [into coverage] a good bit. They did a nice job in dropping seven when they did and matching some routes pretty well. I think we held onto the ball a little bit longer than we wanted to a couple times,” Muschamp said. “But you got to give it to them. They have scholarships, too.

“When they have brought pressure, we’ve got a hat on a hat. Not always perfect, but we’ve got it on the right guys and we haven’t cut guys loose. I’m pretty pleased with the four-man rush stuff people have used against us.”

Opportunity for production

Nationally, Louisiana Tech is tied for 47th with 7 sacks. Opponents have rushed for over 200 yards per game against the Bulldogs, which is 108th in the country.

Saturday could present an opportunity for South Carolina’s offensive line to get on track.

After 2-3 road record last year, Florida’s Jim McElwain emphasizing business-trip mentality

Published: Thursday, September 21, 2017 @ 11:15 AM

Welcome to Chomp Chat, SEC Country’s  daily Florida podcast with Gators beat writer Zach Abolverdi and UF broadcaster Jeff Cardozo.

Florida is 2-3 in its last five road games and also lost the 2017 season opener against Michigan in Jerry World.

In the latest edition of Chomp Chat, Abolverdi and Cardozo discuss Jim McElwain’s comments Wednesday, his attitude toward away games and the importance he’s placing on this year’s trip to Kentucky.

Also hear an interview with UF assistant Greg Nord. You can listen to the  podcast on iTunes or below on SoundCloud.