Athletics

However, another top seed wasn't so lucky

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However, another top seed wasn't so lucky

From Comcast SportsNet
Michigan State's surprisingly successful season ended with a thud. The Spartans started the season unranked, then accomplished enough to be a top-seeded team in the NCAA tournament. They advanced to the round of 16 for the 10th time in 15 years, but ended with perhaps their poorest performance of the season. Louisville sent Michigan State home with a 57-44 win Thursday night in the West Regional semifinals. "It's hard to feel good and hard to feel bad," Spartans coach Tom Izzo said. "It's hard to feel good because I don't think we had anybody that played at all like they played in the last three weeks. But it's hard to feel bad because Louisville deserved it." Michigan State entered the game on a roll, winning three games to earn the Big Ten tournament title and its first two games in the NCAA tournament. The Spartans saved their worst for last. They made just 29 percent of their shots overall and got outrebounded by the Cardinals, whose zone defense slowed down a previously effective offense. "We thought we was pretty well prepared for it," forward Draymond Green said. "It's not our coaches' fault. I think they gave us a great game plan. At the end of the day, players play, and we didn't, we just didn't execute well." Green, though, did for much of the season. The do-it-all forward was chosen the Big Ten player of the year, the conference tournament's most outstanding player and broke Greg Kelser's school record for career rebounds. Green is graduating this spring, leaving the program with a big void on and off the court. The Spartans also will be without departing seniors Austin Thornton and Brandon Wood. Michigan State returns a solid nucleus of players, including point guard Keith Appling, centers Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne along with guard Branden Dawson, whose freshman season was cut short by a left knee injury. Dawson has had surgery and hopes to be ready to join the team for preseason practices next fall. The Spartans have a highly touted recruiting class, including two of the top in-state players, Bay City's Matt Costello, who won the Mr. Basketball award and runner-up Denzel Valentine of Lansing, along with Gary Harris, who was recognized as the top player in Indiana, and Ohio's Kenny Kaminski. Michigan State won the Big Ten title for the third time in four years, claimed the conference tournament championship for the first time since 2000 and advanced to the NCAA's round of 16 for the 10th time in 15 years. For the first time in four NCAA tournaments as a No. 1 seed, Izzo didn't guide the Spartans to at least four wins to reach the national semifinals. His record fell to 7-3 in the round of 16, and he wasn't happy about preparations for the first regional semifinal with just three days off. The team flew to Arizona on Monday night, a day after beating Saint Louis, to prepare for Louisville. "I think I made some mistakes, too, I really do," Izzo said. "I'd never come out on a Monday again. I think we needed more time (in East Lansing). It was just a weird situation for us. Michigan State started the season in an unusual position, not ranked in The Associated Press preseason poll. The Spartans had just two players -- Green and Appling -- who averaged double digits in minutes last year. After setbacks in showcase games against North Carolina on an aircraft carrier and to Duke in New York, the Spartans won 15 straight, including at Gonzaga, against Indiana and at Wisconsin. They then lost three of five in January and rallied with a seven-game winning streak that gave them a piece of the Big Ten title. They ended up sharing it by closing the regular season with two straight losses. Izzo and his players overcame the loss of standout Dawson at the Big Ten tournament in wins over Ohio State, Wisconsin and Iowa and with two victories in the NCAA tournament. "We had a special year," Thornton said. " We know we did some things at Michigan State that haven't been done in a long time "Our ultimate goal was to make it to New Orleans to the Final Four. We weren't able to accomplish that." Izzo said no one played well, or coached well, in the finale. "We grew together, we won together, we had fun together, we cried together," he said. "You couldn't even look at one guy or blame one guy; collectively we just didn't get it done."

A's rookie Olson stays humble during record-breaking power surge

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USATSI

A's rookie Olson stays humble during record-breaking power surge

OAKLAND — Matt Olson is aware of the company he’s keeping in the A’s record books.

His reaction is a mix of reverence and a shrug-of-the-shoulders type humbleness.

That’s the personality of the A’s rookie first baseman. Even as the conversation about him and his awe-inspiring home run pace grows louder, he remains the same steady, grounded presence.

“I’m happy for him,” A’s hitting coach Darren Bush said. “The guy’s worked his butt off. He’s the same today as was when he first got called up.”

Olson cleared the fences once again Friday night, his two-run homer off Nick Martinez in the second inning helping the A’s to a 4-1 victory over the Texas Rangers. At this point, it’s much more newsworthy when Olson doesn’t homer than when he does.

He’s crammed 24 homers into just 57 games this season. Taking into account his first call-up last September, and Olson’s 24 homers over the first 68 games of his career are the second-most in the history of major league baseball over that span to open a career. The Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger also hit 24 and only the White Sox’s Jose Abreu, with 25, hit more over his first 68.

Olson’s 13 homers in September are the most by any rookie in major league history for the month, and there’s still eight games left in it. But Olson’s hot streak dates back to Aug. 27. He’s hit a major league-best 16 homers in 23 games since then.

Among rookies in A’s history, only Mark McGwire (49) in 1987 and Jose Canseco (33) in 1986 have hit more than Olson’s 24. But neither Bash Brother, nor any other player in Oakland history, ever hit 15 homers in a 21-game span as Olson recently did.

“It’s definitely an honor,” Olson said before Friday’s game. “I grew up with a Mark McGwire poster on my wall. It’s a little surreal.”

Who saw this coming?

Olson went 2-for-21 without a single RBI in his first taste of the bigs last September. Then he shuttled five times between Triple-A and the majors this season before getting called up once again Aug. 8 and being told he’d get a shot as the A’s regular first baseman with Yonder Alonso having been traded. The constant shuttling took its toll, though Olson never let on about that publicly to reporters.

“You could see (the frustration),” said Ryan Christenson, his manager at Triple-A. “When he walks in and you tell him ‘You’re getting sent up,’ and he’s like, ‘Well, how many days is it for this time?’ He wouldn’t voice it necessarily, but you could sense it.”

Olson, with help from Bush and others, made an adjustment coming into this season. He began holding his hands out farther away from his body to begin his swing. With his 6-foot-5 frame, Olson had found himself getting jammed inside. Then in trying to adjust to that, he couldn’t square up pitches on the outer half.

“Now, his hands are firing from where he wants them to,” Bush said. “He doesn’t have to fight. You want your hands to have a clean path. Now he can stay in there, stay behind the ball, let his hands work for him.”

Olson, a 23-year-old from Lilburn, Ga., takes this sudden burst of success — and attention — in stride.

“I’ve been hit with so many stats here in the past week, I can’t even keep track of who’s done what, and honestly what I’ve done,” he said. “I kind of try to ignore all that.”

That’s OK. Others are taking plenty of notice.

 

As Dodgers celebrate, Bochy turns eyes to franchise-altering talent

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As Dodgers celebrate, Bochy turns eyes to franchise-altering talent

LOS ANGELES — The Giants left their dugout quickly after Friday’s loss, escaping a celebration on the mound and a fireworks show in the sky. As Dodger Stadium shook with cheers, Bruce Bochy sat in the visiting clubhouse and smiled. He nodded at his laptop, which earlier had been used to pull up highlights of Japanese two-way star Shohei Otani. 

“He’s good,” Bochy said, laughing. “I absolutely would play him every day.”

Earlier in the week, when it became known that Bobby Evans and Jeremy Shelley were headed to Japan to scout Otani, Bochy said he couldn’t imagine a player pitching and then moving to the outfield between starts. What changed? 

Perhaps it was the tape Bochy saw. Otani throws 100 mph and hits homers with ease. Or perhaps it was the game he watched Friday. The Giants lost for the 94th time, with the big blow coming from a 22-year-old Dodgers star. Cody Bellinger’s blast was the difference in a 4-2 win, and the Giants don’t have a Bellinger, or anything close. Otani, 23, is a long shot for a team that very well could finish with the worst record in baseball. Still, he’s the kind of talent that could help pull the Giants closer in a hurry. He’s the  kind of talent they haven’t developed in years, and Bochy certainly sounded a bit wistful as he talked of the power Bellinger has put on display. 

“You call up a guy and he does that — that just doesn’t happen,” he said. “It’s a rare deal.”

The ninth inning of the Dodgers’ clincher reinforced that point for the Giants. They got a homer from Pablo Sandoval, but he’s playing only because Christian Arroyo — the Giants’ best prospect bet this year — is hurt. Ryder Jones, their 23-year-old prospect, struck out to end the night, dropping his average to .180. 

That set off a celebration for Bellinger and the Dodgers. They have won five straight NL West titles, with three of the last four clinched against the Giants. 

“Congrats to them,” Bochy said. “They’ve had a tremendous year across the board, and they’ve played great baseball. They brought some guys up that really did a great job for them. It’s well deserved.”

Bochy said it was not difficult to watch this one. The division has been wrapped up for months, with only a September slide keeping the Dodgers from clinching earlier. 

“We knew what we were facing here,” Bochy said. 

The Giants have two more against the Dodgers and then six more before a long winter. The Dodgers, on the other hand, will host an NLDS series here at Dodger Stadium. Both Bochy and starter Jeff Samardzija made the same observation, that the Dodgers will have a hard time cutting their deep roster down to 25 postseason players. 

That’s a nice problem to have. It’s a foreign one right now for the Giants, who have a serious talent gap and no clear solutions internally. It’s no wonder, then, that Bochy has all of a sudden become so intrigued by a wondrous talent overseas.