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  • April 4Girls' track and field wins indoor conference for second year in a row

  • March 16Junior Abby Swanson commits to play soccer at Loyola University

Mondays with Matt

 

Opening Daze: MLB kicks off season in style

Opening Day kicked off yesterday, and the day before that. If the start of the this year is any indicator for the rest of the season, hang on tight, it’s going to be a wild ride. Here are some quick hits from around the league:

Madbum goes deep… twice

What can’t he do? San Francisco Giants’ ace Madison Bumgarner not only started out the game by retiring 16 straight batters in order, but homered twice and walked once in his three at-bats. With those two home runs, he became the first pitcher to hit two on Opening Day, as well as become the Giants’ home run leader among pitchers.

Javi takes his eye off the ball

Well, not really. There was an all white sign behind home plate that prevented him from seeing the ball clearly, and in the process losing a double play ball. This eventually cost the Cubs a run that inning, who went on to lose the game 4-3 on a walk off single.

Harper and Trout at it again

Bryce Harper and Mike Trout are both highly regarded as the best position players in baseball, and they proved it yesterday. Harper homered for the fifth time on Opening Day, while Mike Trout did it for the third time. Both of these guys know how to get a season started.

Bartolo gets an ovation

The Atlanta Braves grabbed fan-favorite Bartolo Colon off of the free agent market this offseason. Yesterday, the Braves made their way to Citi Field to take on the New York Mets. Once Colon’s name was announced, the stadium stood up and cheered. Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.

Pitchers beware

Mets’ Noah Syndergaard and Mariners’ Felix Hernandez both left their respective games early due to problems. Syndergaard because of a blister on the top of his middle finger, and Hernandez because of groin tightness. Both are considered to not be serious, but could pose a problem for the two teams that were on the edge of making the playoffs last year.

Orioles get redemption
Last postseason, during the AL Wild Card game, the Baltimore Orioles faced off against the Toronto Blue Jays. It didn’t end well for the Orioles, as they lost on a walk-off homerun. This year was different. In the bottom of the 11th inning, Mark Trumbo, the reigning home run champion, launched one to give the Orioles the 3-2 win.

Academics, then athletics

For the junior class, this year is the most important year in terms of academics. It’s the latest thing on your transcript that colleges are going to see before deciding to accept you or not. But it’s also the most important year for athletes, as this is the most prevalent recruitment year in their careers.

But it’s not important enough to throw everything else out the window.

Sure, colleges look to scout and recruit students mostly during junior year, and that process has a big effect on chances for playing beyond high school. But in terms of longevity, don’t focus too much on being the best on the field more than being the best in the classroom.

Most of us athletes have dreams of playing in college at our preferred sports, but the reality is that most of us will have to eventually face the music and walk away from what we love doing.

When that time comes, whether it be at the end of junior year or when you’re in your thirties playing professionally, there needs to be a backup plan.

Trying to make it in a professional sport is a tough avenue to pursue. Take baseball for example, there, is a huge amount of risk involved. Minor leaguers have one of the roughest paths to the top. Traveling all over the country in buses, earning money that would be put them below the poverty level, little sleep. It’s a huge career risk, especially for those who sign with teams out of high school.

A fraction of those players will end up on a major league roster and see major league pay. And for other sports like football and basketball, it’s a make-or-break scenario. There needs to be a contingency plan so if and when it ends, you’re covered. Going to college gives a much better chance of success in the work force.

By all means, chase your dreams with all you’ve got, but school is where the money is. Even if it’s a minimum wage job at first, it’s worth it. Focus on the bigger picture of life and what you want to be doing with it when you’re 65. Do you still want to be working, or do you want potentially be able to retire on time and be able to live comfortably?

MLB mulls over rule change for extra innings

Guess what? Pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training for the baseball season today! There’s nothing that’s better than knowing that baseball is right around the corner. What could possibly go wrong?

Rule changes. Drastic ones.

The Major League Baseball Players’ Association is proposing a new rule in regards to extra innings: if the game goes into the 10th inning and beyond, then a runner will be placed on second base for every inning that ensues until a team is declared the winner.

There is a definite appeal to the rule. Baseball is amidst a dilemma with its pace of play. Games in 2016 went just over three hours. It’s hard for people to tune in and pay attention for three hours every single day. The pace of play is affected by numerous factors that come with the evolution of the game: more frequent mound visits by catchers and coaches, more time spent in between pitches, and pitching changes

Mound visits can quickly become one of the biggest nuisances in a game. In this new age of analytics and data that determines how to pitch to a certain batter, there sometimes needs to be some discussion on the strategy. To speed up the pace, limit the number of mound visits catchers and coaches have per game. It’s that simple.

I’m not for a pitch clock, but come on. When Los Angeles Dodgers reliever Pedro Baez was taking 30 seconds to get a pitch off, it was hard not to get frustrated watching the game. There isn’t a solid fix to this, besides at pitch clock, but that’s too restraining and rushes the pitchers.

By putting a runner on second with nobody out, it creates a repetitive process that could be never ending. The batter bunts over the runner on second, there’s now a runner on third with one out. All the batter needs to do is hit a sacrifice flyout and anything after that is whatever it is. Rinse and repeat. The rule

Falcons’ defense

In the words of Falcons’ quarterback Matt Ryan, “there are no words.”

Super Bowl LI was an emotional rollercoaster from start to finish. The New England Patriots pulled off an enormous comeback to topple the Atlanta Falcons 34-28 in the first Super Bowl game to go to overtime.

The first quarter was fairly uneventful. Both defenses were putting up their best, with the first two drives for both teams ending in punts. During the Patriots’ next drive, they got deep into Atlanta territory when Deion Jones stripped running back LaGarette Blount of the football.

The Falcons broke open the scoring in the second quarter with a rushing touchdown by Devonta Freeman, who also rushed for 75 yards on 11 carries. Again the Falcons scored thanks to Austin Hooper hauling in a 19 yard pass from Matt Ryan. But the offense was hardly the heavy lifter of the first half of the game.

The Falcons defense was. Yes, that Falcons defense. The young, inexperienced defense that gave up over 25 points a game during the regular season. They played shutdown defense, with Deion Jones sacking Tom Brady twice in the same drive.

The Falcons scored once more to make the score 21-0 thanks to a pick-six interception by cornerback Robert Alford. Tom Brady could be seen hanging his head, and whether it was in defeat or prayer, the outcome of the game points toward prayer. The Patriots were able to put up a field goal as the half was winding down. No team in Super Bowl history had overcome a two touchdown deficit.

The third quarter was back and forth, and at the end of it, the Falcons led 28-9. In seemed that the Patriots had been toppled by a team that came out of nowhere, especially considering the defense.

Tom Brady owned the fourth quarter. With the Falcons’ defense seemingly out of gas, the Patriots drove downfield with reckless abandon. Brady was hitting all of his wide open receivers, who were always a step ahead.

On the Falcons’ offense, the offensive line just wouldn’t hold. Ryan got sacked twice in the same drive, and possibly their most crucial one. With the Patriots on their heels, and all of the momentum gone, the offense lost all of its steam. Brady and the Pats scored 19 unanswered points to bring the game to a tie at 28-28. This was the first time in Super Bowl history that the game went into overtime. Which all Falcons fans undoubtedly hate now.
The Patriots started off with the ball thanks to special teams expert Matthew Slater calling heads on the coin toss. Again Brady broke down the Falcons’ doors, bringing them to the 2-yard line with a first and goal. A handoff to running back James White was all it took to seal the deal. Tom Brady was again a Super Bowl champion, throwing for a Super Bowl record 466 yards, passing Kurt Warner’s record of 414 by a longshot.

Pro Bowl continues to be pointless

Wait, the Pro Bowl was this weekend? Funny how forgettable things are forgotten, isn’t it? Let’s break down why the Pro Bowl is as bad as it is.

Uniforms

They almost had it this year. But for some reason, there’s an infatuation in sports with neon green. Take the painfully overused, unnecessary color off of the uniforms and they would pass as pretty decent. Pro Bowl jerseys have a history of being bad. Ever since the 1960’s, the uniforms have always come under scrutiny, save for the ones last year in honor of Super Bowl 50, or Super Bowl L for the fanatics. The jerseys try to look new age, but end up looking like a scrawny middle schooler’s athletic wardrobe.

Incentive

There is none. What purpose does the Pro Bowl serve other than to be a convention for football fans? The contests, the game, nothing holds any merit. It all looks like a carnival. If you’d take a look at the All-Star Break for Major League Baseball, you’d know that the Home Run Derby actually means something and is something that someone can get into. Who doesn’t want to see hundreds of dingers rain from the sky all night? People don’t want to see Drew Brees and Philip Rivers throw footballs at moving targets.

 

Competition

Again there is none. Aside from Kirk Cousins having a death wish by diving at a defender in hopes of winning a meaningless game, there wasn’t much action. Wide open receivers, placekickers doing the heavy lifting, it just wasn’t a spectacule. And for good reason. Players don’t want to end up injured because of a meaningless game, but it doesn’t diminish the fact that it makes it hard to watch end a drive of the game without getting distracted by something else. ANYTHING ELSE.

There’s justifiable reasons as to why the Pro Bowl is the way it is though. The Super Bowl is held in different stadiums each year. Most of the time, the team from that stadium won’t make it to the Super Bowl, making home field advantage irrelevant. There’s a prize of $60,000 for each player on the winning team, which isn’t bad money, but it’s different to a football player. There are too many risks and not enough rewards. The only purpose the Pro Bowl serves is to be the precursor to the Super Bowl. That’s it. It’s so the teams competing can rest and recuperate and apply themselves in lieu of the big game coming this Sunday.

Four teams left standing after intense matchups

Now that the divisional rounds are over, and Dallas fans are smashing their televisions in anger and agony, let’s recap the critical events around the weekend.

Falcons soar over Seahawks

There is plenty of evidence in this game alone why Matt Ryan should be MVP of the league. It’s insane that he isn’t part of the discussion more often, but now that he’s under the national spotlight, he’s shining brighter than ever before. Ryan completed 26 of 37 passes downfield for 338 yards and 3 touchdowns en route to a 36-20 win over the Seattle Seahawks.

The Seahawks started off strong, driving the length of the field for a touchdown on their first drive, taking up over half of the first quarter. The Falcons retaliated with a long drive of their own, and the rest was the Falcons’ game. Sharp on defense and offense, they were able to dismantle one of the most well-balanced teams in the NFL.

The Falcons’ defense, which gave up an average of 25.3 points per game during the postseason put plenty of pressure on Russell Wilson and the Seahawks, garnering two interceptions over the course of the game. They held Thomas Rawls to a measly 34 yards on 11 carries, after rushing for a franchise postseason record 161 yards.

The Falcons will face off against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, Jan. 22. Both teams have terrific offenses headed by MVP-candidate quarterbacks, so expect it to be a chess game. The biggest X-factor in this game will be the Packers’ ability to cover Julio Jones.

 

Patriots wrangle Texans

It was the Texans’ fate before the game was even scheduled. Brock Osweiler again underperformed, posting less than 200 yards downfield for the second postseason game in a row. If this keeps up, the Texans will find themselves signing him to a four-year, $64 million contract.

Tom Brady, surprisingly, wasn’t on top of his game. While he did lead his team to the AFC championship, there could be some cause for concern. Sure, everyone has a bad game every once and awhile. Brady threw for 287 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions. Brady had thrown two interceptions TOTAL during the regular season. Now he’s reached that in one game. So he is mortal, but there shouldn’t be much cause for concern.

The Patriots had the game wrapped up by the third quarter. The Texans’ defense wasn’t there on Saturday. The big breakout player of the game, Dion Lewis, scored three touchdowns, rushing, passing, and on kickoff. Based on his previous performances and injury history, he’s a spotty player at best, so don’t expect as big of an impact in later games.

The Patriots go up against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday. The Steelers have only won once in New England’s stadium in the past 18 years, but the way Le’Veon Bell is running, that could change real quick.

 

Packers spur Cowboys

It’s plain and simple: Aaron Rodgers is immortal. That’s the only explanation. He’s time and time again been able to beat the odds. Thanks to him, the Packers is going to the NFC championship game to face the Falcons. Rodgers 356-yard, two touchdown performance brought Cowboys fans to their knees.

The Packers quickly got out to a 21-3 lead by the middle of the second quarter, putting the Cowboys’ hopes of finally reaching the Super Bowl in peril. The Cowboys, led by rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, brought it back to tie the game 28-28 deep into the fourth quarter.

Both teams put together amazing drives that resulted in field goals, but then Aaron Rodgers, being as successful in the clutch as he is, delivered again. A couple of perfectly placed tosses to Jared Cook brought the Packers within field goal range with four seconds left on the clock. Then they handed the fate of the game over to their kicker Mason Crosby.

Hitting a 56-yarder earlier in the fourth quarter, Crosby lined up for what might’ve been his biggest kick of his career. He split the uprights, but the Cowboys called a timeout to ice the kicker, making the kick void. Going for broke again, Crosby narrowly made the 51-yard kick as time expired to send the Packers to a 34-31 victory over the Cowboys.

 

Steelers topple Chiefs

The hero of the day was… Chris Boswell? The second-year kicker hit an unbelievable six field goals during the game, en route to a 18-16 upset over the Kansas City Chiefs.

The only other otherworldly contributor to the Steelers’ marginal win was the 170-yard performance of Le’Veon Bell. He’s tearing it up and shows no signs of slowing down.

The biggest controversy was to come out of this game was the Chiefs’ two-point conversion attempt late in the fourth quarter. They were able to convert, but it was called back on account of a questionable holding call by tackle Eric Fisher. Some think that the referees were making a judgment call based on the fact that Steelers’ linebacker James Harrison was on the ground.
With the Super Bowl within reach, of all four remaining teams, expect one of the most intense days of the season on Sunday.

Favorites rule in Wild Card blowouts

With the wild card round of the NFL playoffs out of sight, there are now some interesting things to look into as the first round commences next Saturday, Jan. 14. 

 

Texans raid the Raiders

Congratulations to the Houston Texans for beating a team that was utilizing their third-string quarterback making his first NFL start. Had Derek Carr been healthy, the outcome would’ve been different.

The Texans went into the game with the No. 1 ranked defense in the league, albeit without three-time Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt. They hauled in three interceptions on the way to a 27-10 victory over an Oakland Raiders team that couldn’t move the ball..

While Brock Osweiler’s stats may look mediocre, throwing for 168 yards and one touchdown, he ran the offense relatively seamlessly. After being benched in Week 15 in favor of career backup Tom Savage, he was able to lead his team to a playoff win only a year after a crushing defeat to the Kansas City Chiefs.

For his first NFL start, Connor Cook wasn’t impressive (161 yards, 1 TD, 3 INT), but that can’t possibly be held against him. To be thrust into a position where your team hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2002. With MVP candidate Derek Carr out of commission due to a broken leg suffered in Week 16, and backup Matt McGloin going down with a shoulder injury in Week 17, the Raiders were out of options.

Though the Texans won the game before it even began, their next opponent could stop them from winning their first divisional round game, as they have to face off with the New England Patriots. The team led by quarterback Tom Brady, who was suspended for the first four weeks because of the Deflategate scandal, will be looking for its fifth Super Bowl title since the turn of the century. Doing so would surely put Roger Goodell in his place (though that’s a discussion for another time).

 

Seahawks put down the Lions

For the first year without all-star wideout Calvin Johnson, the Detroit Lions made it pretty far. They look the contest for the NFC North division winner to Week 17. Tied with records of 9-6 with the Green Bay Packers going into a game with said team, they were tamed by Aaron Rodgers and his prestigious arm. All wasn’t lost, as they gained entry to the playoffs via Wild Card, but then the Seahawks came along.

The Lions couldn’t do much damage to the Seahawks’ solid defense, only garnering 238 total offensive yards and a measly 13 first downs. The combination of the Lions not having a run game and the Seahawks having a shut-down run defense didn’t bode well for them. Zach Zenner, the breakout star during the dwindling weeks of the regular season, was stymied for 34 yards over the course of the game.

The situation was the complete opposite for the Seahawks’ run game, with Thomas Rawls running for a franchise postseason record 161 yards, while tacking on a touchdown as well. While an impressive feat, it just adds to the ongoing inconsistency of Rawls’ career ever since Marshawn Lynch retired.

Matthew Stafford and his sling of an arm fell somewhat quiet, not really controlling the game. He threw for 204 yards with no touchdowns. In fact, the Lions were only able to get two field goals.

The Seahawks will face the Atlanta Falcons (11-5), who are captained by MVP candidate Matt Ryan. If the Seahawks want to win on Saturday, Jan. 14, they need to exploit the Falcons’ defensive downsides.

 

Steelers rout the Dolphins

The Dolphins’ situation was very much like the Raiders’  They lost their starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill, meaning they had to go with longtime backup Matt Moore. During the regular season, Moore was fairly good. He won the game in Week 17, securing a playoff berth for the Dolphins.

The Steelers came into the match well-rested as the team won the AFC North in Week 16, allowing them to rest their starters. Ben Roethlisberger, Le’veon Bell, and Antonio Brown all had impact seasons (again), and they just kept on rolling, taking this game 30-12.

Roethlisberger did his job, throwing for 197 yards alongside two touchdown passes and two interceptions. Most of the yardage was hauled in by Brown, who gained 124 yards while scoring twice. Bell put on a clinic, rushing for 157 yards and two more scores. These three are hard to put down.

The Dolphins, on the other hand, struggled to get the ball moving. The Steelers played shut down defense the entire game, only giving way to a touchdown late in the fourth quarter.

The Steelers have a matchup against the Chiefs (12-4) next weekend. The Chiefs have won two out of the last three games between the two since 2007. Both teams are heralded for their offenses and defenses, so expect a good matchup.

 

Packers win against the Giants

To be serious, the New York Giants really didn’t stand much of a chance. The Packers’ offense was too much for their defense to handle out of the gate, pummeling the Giants 38-13. The fact that the game was held at Lambeau Field wasn’t a help for the Giants either.

Neither team is known for their defenses or their running game, but both have top-tier passing games. Vintage Aaron Rodgers came to play on Sunday, throwing for 362 yards and four touchdowns. This is the level that he’s been playing at since Week 5, and there’s no sign of him slowing down.

Eli Manning couldn’t get it under control, barely completing 50 percent of his passes for 299 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. This is true especially with his star wideout Odell Beckham Jr., who caught four passes on 11 targets for 28 yards. It didn’t help that he dropped a pair of passes, one of which would’ve been a sure touchdown in the first quarter.

Though the Packers aren’t known for their defense, they have been shutting down opposing teams as of late, keeping teams to under 400 total yards on average during their seven game winning streak. Their playoff efforts could come to an end next week against the Dallas Cowboys. The team is as well-rounded as they come, making it hard to favor the Packers.

 

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Mondays with Matt