Ravens hurt by injuries, poor play in secondary

The secondary was considered a weak spot for the Ravens coming into the 2014 season. Now, that weak spot is catching up with them.

Baltimore came into its bye week at 6-4 and in last place in the competitive AFC North, where all four teams have winning records. However, the Ravens currently have a losing record against the division (2-3) after losing both games to Cincinnati and splitting their two games against Pittsburgh. The secondary was badly exposed by Ben Roethlisberger, who threw for six touchdowns for the second straight game to lead the Steelers to a 43-23 win over the Ravens on “Sunday Night Football” on Nov. 2.

The game got nasty, as linebackers Terrell Suggs and Courtney Upshaw were both fined for illegal hits. Suggs was fined $8,262 for a late hit on Steelers running back LeGarrete Blount, and Upshaw was fined $20,000 for a hit in the neck area on Roethlisberger. During the week that followed, top cornerback Jimmy Smith underwent foot surgery, and will be out for the rest of the season. The Ravens also shook up their secondary by releasing cornerback Chykie Brown and Dominique Franks, promoting Tramain Jacobs from the practice squad, and give more playing time to safety Anthony Levine. The moves seemed to work, as the defense shut down the Tennessee offense and help the Ravens go into their bye week with a 21-7 win over the Titans on Nov. 9.

While the secondary is struggling, the outside linebacker duo of Suggs and Elvis Dumervil are causing major problems for offensive lines and quarterbacks. Dumervil is second in the NFL with 10 and a half sacks, while Suggs has five of his own. Rookie linebacker C.J. Mosely has 90 tackles, including four for loss, and also has two interceptions and a fumble recovery. The Ravens are fifth against the run, allowing just under 85 rushing yards per game, but with their problems in the secondary are 21st in pass defense, allowing just over 251 passing yards per game.

Even with those issues in the secondary, the Ravens are still fifth in scoring defense, allowing just 18.1 points per game. Baltimore has struggled with consistency on offense at times, but is 10th in the league in rushing, averaging just over 124 yards per game. Quarterback Joe Flacco has the Ravens squarely in the middle of the league at 16th in passing, averaging just under 241 yards per game. Baltimore is tied for sixth in the league in scoring, averaging 26.1 points per game, even after losing tight end Dennis Pitta to a hip injury for the second straight season.

The Ravens will wrap up November by going to New Orleans for Monday Night Football on Nov. 24, and then will wrap up Thanksgiving weekend by welcoming San Diego on Nov. 30. Baltimore will go to Miami for the second straight season on Dec. 7, and then host Jacksonville on Dec. 14. The Ravens will go to Houston to face J.J. Watt and the Texans on Dec. 21, and then will have a chance to even their record against the division when they wrap up the regular season at home against Cleveland in Week 17. Given how tight the AFC North is, the game is likely to have major playoff implications.

Smotrycz Out 4-6 Weeks With Broken Toe

The Maryland men’s basketball team will feature a lot of freshmen in their first Big Ten season. For the first part of the season, the Terrapins will have to compete without one of their more experienced players.

Head coach Mark Turgeon announced that senior forward Evan Smotrycz sustained a fracture of the pinkie toe on his left foot at the end of practice on Oct. 17, just before “Maryland Madness,” the team’s season-opening celebration. He underwent surgery to repair the fracture about a week later, and is expected to sideline Smotrycz for four to six weeks. That timetable means he should return some time between mid-November and early December.

Turgeon said while the team is disappointed for Smotrycz, everyone’s confident that he’ll be able to come back and have a solid season, thanks to his strong work ethic.He also expressed confidence that his team’s other front-line players will be able to fill the void left behind by Smotrycz’s injury.

“We have confidence that our front-court players will step up in Evan’s absence,” Turgeon said in a release from the Maryland Athletic Department.

Smotrycz, who’s originally from Reading, Mass., transferred from Michigan to Maryland in 2012. In his redshirt junior season last year for the Terps, he averaged 11 points and six rebounds per game in 31 games, including 28 starts. Smotrycz scored was named to the Paradise Jam All-Tournament Team after scoring 19 points against Northern Iowa and putting up 13 points and 11 rebounds against Providence College during the Thanksgiving weekend tournament in the U.S. Virgin Islands. He scored in double figures in 19 games during the season, and his three double-doubles led Maryland.

Maryland begins first Big Ten basketball season

By Andrew R. Koch

The Maryland Terrapins’ first basketball season in the Big Ten is officially underway. The UMD Men’s and Women’s basketball teams hosted a Superman-themed “Super B1G Maryland Madness” rally on Oct. 17 at the XFINITY Center to kick off the 2014-2015 season. Radio Men’s basketball announcer Johnny Holliday served as the Master of Ceremonies. He began the evening by pointing out the new video scoreboard over center court. The two video-boards measure 12-and- a-half foot tall by 33 foot wide each and feature the Under Armour logo at the bottom.

The XFINITY Center in College Park, Maryland
The XFINITY Center in College Park, Maryland

The Women’s team was introduced first, players making their way down to the court from the luxury suites into the lower bowl. The coaching staff, led by Head Coach Brenda Frese, was introduced next. She expressed confidence in both her team and the Maryland fans in her speech to the crowd.

“How are the best fans in the country doing tonight?” Frese asked in her opening remarks.

She told the Terrapin faithful that after falling just short in their Final Four appearance last season, her team is “extremely hungry” and “extremely motived” for the coming season. Keeping in the spirit of the rally she also informed the crowd that she’s been asked what it will be like for Maryland to come to the Big Ten. Her response to them she stated is always, “What will it be like for the Big Ten to come to Maryland,” ending her speech in a round of applause.

Following a performance by the dance team, the Men’s team was introduced next and players rose up one by one onto the stage. As a unit, they walked through red lasers down onto the floor, took a ball provided to them by one of the ball boys, and dribbled down to the basket for either a layup or dunk. After the coaching staff was introduced, Head Coach Mark Turgeon came out of a phone booth, ditched a pair of glasses, and opened up his shirt to reveal a Superman-inspired Maryland logo. His remarks to the crowd were inspired by the slogans of their apparel provider.

“We will play harder. We will play smarter. We will practice like champions, and we will…protect this house,” the fourth-year head coach told the crowd. He added that even though the season is just getting started, this is already one of his favorite teams in 16 years as a college basketball head coach. Emphasizing their position as student athletes, Turgeon praised his player’s for going to their classes, getting good grades, and maintaining a good work ethic in practice.

“They come to practice on time, they work their tails off, and they’re very coachable,” Turgeon said of his team, which was picked to finish 10th in the Big Ten in the preseason coaches’ poll. He praised the strength the conference has showed on the national stage over the last several years.

“The Big Ten is a heck of a league, arguably the best league in the country the last four years; great coaches, great players,” Turgeon said, whose recruiting class has been ranked in the top 10.

Redshirt senior guard Richard Pack will be among the players counted on to direct Maryland’s offense. The Detroit native is a two-time transfer, having played his freshman and sophomore seasons at Florida International University before transferring to North Carolina A&T and then Maryland. He’s tried to impart to the Maryland freshmen how things work in college basketball and how it’s different from high school. Pack feels that the team will perform well this year because of how close the group is. He was asked about how that confidence can be translated into positive results:

“A lot of the confidence has come from how hard we’re working and how together we’re playing, so we lean on each other, so we give each other confidence.” Pack said. “We’re a tight group, and I think that’s how it can translate. Whenever someone is feeling down, someone else picks it up. Someone’s having an off night, another guy picks up that slack. We have that type of team this year where I think we have a lot of guys who can contribute.”

The Maryland women were picked as the preseason favorite to win the Big Ten. Coach Frese says that means her team has already garnered respect from its new league.

“I think people have obviously followed our program and watched our tradition and our past,” Frese said, pointing out that the games during the regular season are more important than a preseason ranking. However, the team will have to move forward without the most successful player in program history, Alyssa Thomas. Frese says it will have to be a group effort to fill the void that Thomas is leaving behind.

“No one’s going to do what Alyssa Thomas did. She’s one of the special players who’s hanging in the rafters for a reason, but I do think it’ll be by committee,” Frese said.

Two of the players Frese singled out to watch are sophomore center Brionna Jones of Havre de Grade, who will provide a presence in the post, and sophomore guard Lexie Brown, who was named to the All ACC Freshman team last season. In the team’s intra-squad scrimmage, Brown connected on a pair of three pointers.

As part of the evening, the teams unveiled new uniforms from Under Armour. Both teams have red, white and yellow uniforms trimmed with the colors of the Maryland flag. The men’s team will also have a black alternate uniform. Each team then performed a dance routine that Brown said took two to three weeks of several hour practices with the dance team to perfect.

November’s schedule for the

Maryland Women features six home games, including South Florida on Nov. 19 and Loyola on Nov. 24.

The Lady Terrapins will play James Madison and Washington State in the San Juan Classic in Puerto Rico during Thanksgiving weekend. The Maryland Men will play seven home games and travel to Kansas City to join Arizona State, Iowa State, and Alabama in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic the week of Thanksgiving.

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O’s Fall to Hot Royals

The Baltimore Orioles’ magical 2014 season, which started in February with a backdrop of sunny skies and palm trees in Sarasota, Florida, has come to a disappointing end after running into one of the hottest teams in baseball.

The Orioles lost to the Kansas City Royals 2-1 in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series, as the Royals capped off a sweep at Kauffman Stadium to reach the World Series for the first time since winning it all in 1985. Kansas City won the series thanks in large part to better play from its bullpen, and highlight-reel defensive plays all over the field.

After jumping out to a 4-1 lead after three innings in Game 1, Baltimore pulled to within 5-4 by scoring three runs in the fifth, highlighted by third baseman Ryan Flaherty’s two-run single. The Orioles tied the game at 5 in the sixth on an infield single by left fielder Alejandro De Aza that fell in front of a diving Alcides Escobar just behind the pitcher’s mound. In the ninth, Zach Britton walked the bases loaded, but got out of the jam by inducing a force-out at home and a double play. He wasn’t so lucky in the 10th, when Royals left fielder Alex Gordon led off with a home run to right. With one out, Mike Moustakas drilled a two-run shot to right-center to put Kansas City up 8-5. In the bottom of the inning, Flaherty singled to right with two out. Pinch-hitter Jimmy Paredes walked, and Delmon Young followed by coming off the bench and hitting a single to center that scored Flaherty. However, Royals closer Greg Holland got Nick Markakis to ground out to second to close out an 8-6 win.

In Game 2, it was the Lorenzo Cain Show. Cain went 4 for 5 with a double and an RBI, and robbed J.J. Hardy of an extra-base hit with a spectacular diving catch to end the seventh. In the ninth, Escobar broke a 4-4 tie with a single to right that scored pinch-runner Terrence Gore. Cain followed with his RBI single to left, scoring Escobar. Holland allowed only a two-out single to Nelson Cruz in the bottom of the ninth before striking out Steve Pearce to end the game and give the Royals a 2-0 series lead heading back to Kansas City.

After being delayed a day by rain, Game 3 saw the Orioles get a lead for the first time in the series, as Pearce and Hardy hit back-to-back doubles to give Baltimore a 1-0 lead. However, after Gordon tied the game with an RBI groundout with the bases loaded, the game featured more stellar defense by the Royals, this time with Moustakas. Adam Jones hit a pop-up in foul territory that was heading towards a group of field-box seats near the Orioles dugout. Moustakas reached over the railing, caught the ball and held on while tumbling over the railing and being caught and helped back onto the field by fans. In the bottom of the inning, Butler hit a sacrifice fly to score pinch-runner Jerrod Dyson to give the Royals a 2-1 lead they wouldn’t give up. The Orioles managed only three hits, and their final 16 batters were retired in order.

The following afternoon brought out a dominantly blue-clad crowd that featured some fans holding brooms looking for the sweep. The home team gave them something to cheer about early, as Escobar singled, and right fielder Nori Aoki was hit by a pitch to start the bottom of the first. Cain laid down a sacrifice bunt to move up both runners, and Eric Hosmer hit a grounder to Pearce. However, catcher Caleb Joseph couldn’t handle Pearce’s throw, and both runners scored to give Kansas City a 2-0 lead.

In the third, Flaherty led off with a long home run that stayed inside the right-field foul pole to make it 2-1, but that was as close as the Orioles would get. Hardy led off the fifth with a long fly ball to deep left, but Gordon tracked it down and held on despite crashing hard into the fence in front of the out-of-town scoreboard. The collision was so hard that Gordon was slow to get up. In the sixth, Jonathan Schoop led off by drawing a walk, and went to third on a two-out single by Jones, but was stranded there when Cruz lined out to second. In the ninth, Jones led off with a walk, but Cruz hit into a fielder’s choice back to Holland. Delmon Young struck out, and Hardy grounded out to third to set off the celebration in Kansas City.

Cain was named the MVP of the series. He went 8 for 15 in addition to his impressive defense. The Royals will face the winner of the National League Championship Series (either San Francisco or cross-state rival St. Louis) in the World Series, and will have home-field advantage.

Orioles to Face Hot Royals in ALCS

The Baltimore Orioles lost five out of six games to the Detroit Tigers during the regular season, including being swept in a three-game series at Camden Yards May 12-14. However, the Orioles have become a different team since the first two months of the season, and it showed against the A.L. Central champions.

Detroit didn’t wrap up their division title until the last day of the regular season on Sept. 28. Four days later, they found themselves facing a raucous standing-room-only crowd of nearly 48,000. It didn’t take long for perhaps the Tigers’ biggest nemesis to land another body blow against them in October.

In the bottom of the first inning of Game 1, right fielder Nick Markakis led off as he did so often during the season: with a single. Left fielder Alejandro De Aza was hit by a pitch, and center fielder Adam Jones hit into a fielder’s choice, getting Markakis to third with one out. Designated hitter Nelson Cruz came up, and drilled a first-pitch fastball over the grounds crew’s shed to give Baltimore a 2-0 lead and launch the crowd into a frenzy. Cruz hit .364 with six home runs and 22 runs batted in during the 2011 American League Championship Series to lead the Texas Rangers to a 4-2 series win and their second straight World Series appearance. Detroit answered in the top of the second with back-to-back homers by Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez. However, the Orioles came right back and retook the lead in the bottom of the inning.

Third baseman Ryan Flaherty drew a walk with one out, and went to third on a two-out single by Jonathan Schoop. That turned the lineup over for Markakis, who singled to right to drive in Flaherty and give the Orioles a 3-2 lead. That score held through the middle innings, which saw starter Chris Tillman leave after throwing 105 pitches in five innings thanks to a lot of pitches that were fouled off. Tigers second baseman Ian Kinsler alone fouled off 16 of the 30 pitches he saw from Tillman. In the bottom of the seventh, the crowd roared to life again when shortstop J.J. Hardy drove a 1-1 change-up into the left-center field bleachers to give Baltimore a 4-2 lead. That home run, along with a line drive double play the Orioles turned in the eighth, would loom large after two-time A.L. Most Valuable Player Miguel Cabrera hit a solo homer to right center to cut the Orioles’ lead to 4-3. That led to a bottom of the eighth that would turn the tide for the rest of the series.

The Orioles sent 12 batters to the plate, and scored eight runs to turn a close game into a blowout. Schoop hit a two-run double, and De Aza capped the outburst by also hitting a two-run double, his second two-bagger of the inning, to make it 12-3.

In Game 2, Markakis opened the scoring with a two-run homer off the top of the grounds crew shed in the third inning. The homer off Justin Verlander was upheld after a Detroit challenge. The Tigers responded by scoring five runs in the fourth to knock Wei-Yin Chen out of the game. J.D. Martinez had the big blow with a three-run homer, and Nick Castellanos followed with a home run of his own. Hardy hit an RBI single in the bottom of the inning to make it 5-3.

In the top of the eighth, Victor Martinez hit an RBI double to make it 6-3 Tigers, but Cabrera was thrown out at the plate. In the bottom of the eighth, Adam Jones was hit by a pitch, and Cruz singled. Jones scored on Steve Pearce’s single. Hardy walked to load the bases, and on the first pitch he saw from Tigers reliever Joakim Soria, pinch-hitter Delmon Young hit a bases-clearing double to the left-field wall, scoring all three runners to give the Orioles a 7-6 lead and sending another standing-room-only crowd into delirium. Zach Britton retired the side in order in the ninth to pick up the save and send the Orioles off to Detroit with a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series.

In Game 3, Cruz once again made his presence felt, hitting a two-run homer off David Price to break a scoreless tie in the sixth inning and send a subdued Detroit crowd into dead silence. In his postseason career, Cruz now has a .353 average with 8 homers and 22 RBI against Detroit. The Tigers didn’t score until the bottom of the ninth, when Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez started the inning with back-to-back doubles. Castellanos was intentionally walked, and then pinch-hitter Hernan Perez hit into a double play to end the game and the series, sending the Orioles into the ALCS for the first time since 1997.

The Orioles will be facing a Royals team that they went 3-4 against during the season. The Royals walked off with a 9-8 win over Oakland in 12 innings on Sept. 30, and then defeated the Angels twice in 11 innings in Anaheim on the way to a three-game sweep. Game 1 of the ALCS will be at 8:07 p.m. on Oct. 10, followed by Game 2 at 4:07 p.m. the next day. The series will shift to Kansas City for Games 3 and 4 at 8 p.m. on Oct. 13 and 14. Game 5, if necessary, will be at 4 p.m. Games 6 and 7 will be at 8 p.m. on Oct. 17 and 18 in Baltimore.

Orioles bring September, October magic back to Baltimore

By Andrew R. Koch

The Baltimore Orioles have been on a run for the ages since the end of May, as what was once a weak spot is now one of their strengths.

photo credit Keith Allison under a Creative Commons License
photo credit Keith Allison under a Creative Commons License

On May 30, the Orioles were 26- 27. They were struggling with consistency both at the plate and from their starting pitching. The starters were struggling to get past the fifth inning on a regular basis, putting a heavy strain on the bullpen. Since then, it’s been the starting pitching that’s been leading the way.

Left-hander WeiYin Chen has only lost twice in his last 24 starts, and ace right-hander Chris Tillman hasn’t lost a start since July 12. That, along with a 3.46 team earned-run average that’s good for third-low- est in the American League, have contributed to Baltimore’s 70-39 record since the end of May. The final homestand of the season was highlighted by Baltimore clinching its first division title since 1997, and the first at home since 1969, with a final division lead of 12.5 games over New York and 13 games over Toronto. Center fielder Adam Jones celebrated the division title by smashing “Victory Pies” in fans’ faces, and dousing the head groundskeeper in beer on the field. The Orioles also once again lead the league in long balls, with 210 home runs this season. The Colorado Rockies are second with 185, followed by A.L. East rival Toronto with 177. Baltimore scores nearly half of its runs on homers.

Baltimore’s bench players are getting some of the limelight due to injuries to key starters. Jimmy Paredes, who was called up from Triple-A Norfolk, has been playing third base with Manny Machado out due to season-ending knee surgery. Paredes is quickly winning his way into the hearts of fans with some power, to the tune of four doubles, two homers and driving in eight runs in 11 games since being called up. With Chris Davis sitting out the rest of the regular season because of a drug suspension, Steve Pearce has gotten regular playing time at first base, and has responded with a career high .293 batting average and 21 home runs. Ryan Flaherty has seen regular playing time at second base and shortstop due to the struggles of rookie Jonathan Schoop at the plate and back spasms for J.J. Hardy. Flaherty has also shifted over to third as manager Buck Showalter works his defensive substitutions and lineup of relievers in the bullpen.

The Orioles finished off the regular season by going 3-4 on the road in the Bronx and in Toronto. The A.L. Division Series will start on Oct. 2.

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