Sunday, March 31, 2013

A little racing, hockey and baseball

Lots of sports stuff going on lately. So, let's touch base on a few items.

IndyCar is back
The IZOD IndyCar Series returned to action March 24 to kick off the 2013 season. It was James Hinchcliffe who got his first career win on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. It was a pretty good race.

I was impressed with Simona de Silvestro. She started a career-best third and finished sixth. Her car gave out on her in the final few laps, otherwise she was well on her way to a podium finish. Who needs Danica Patrick for a female racing influence? IndyCar has Simona, and also Ana Beatriz. Then there's former driver and now team owner Sarah Fisher.

It was nice to see someone other than the Penske or Target guys come out victorious. I also liked watching Marco Andretti. He was talked about quite a bit during the broadcast; apparently he really worked hard on his driving in the off season. He's a racer that I don't think has lived up to his potential or famous last name yet, but this might be the season.

I was really quite envious watching the race. St. Pete is a race I'd like to get to someday. I was down in that area a few years ago, about a week before the race, so I snapped a few photos of the tires and barriers that were ready for the track.

Minnesota Wild hit a win streak
The Wild have turned things around and are playing some solid hockey as of late. The team just came off a seven-game winning streak before a loss to Dallas the other night. But, they bounced right back Saturday for a home, comeback win in a shootout over the defending Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings.

Earlier in this shortened season, it seemed like the Wild had some of the same old problems of not scoring enough goals. It didn't look too promising for a playoff run, dashing the hopes of the key signings of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter last summer.

Tides have changed though and the Wild have found ways to win. They're scoring more goals and just playing better overall. A couple of the wins during the streak weren't their best games, but as good teams do, they found a way to come from behind and ultimately get the "W."

Baseball season already?
I don't know about you, but baseball season really snuck up on me this year. Maybe it's the NHL's lockout and then starting mid-winter. Maybe it's the fact that there's still snow on the ground and the temperatures are still colder than our refrigerators. Whatever it is, I'm not prepared for the Minnesota Twins to start their 2013 season.

They'll open the season at Target Field. Big mistake. I really don't know why the Twins don't have two or three series on the road to start the season. Then again, the schedule this year doesn't really favor the Twins too much. They have lots of home games in April and September, when the weather may be the most suspect, and only nine home games in July, when some of the nicest summer days and nights should make appearances.

I'll have to do some more reading up on this year's squad, though I'm not sure there's a lot of promise for a trip back to the postseason. All I know is, I must get some of my Austin friends to Target Field this year for their inaugural visits to the outdoor ballpark.

I just know we will not be going Opening Day, when temps are supposed to barely hit the 30s and wind and flurries will be in abundance.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Congrats Austin; high school hoops needs a shot clock

The Austin Packers boys basketball team fell 50-33 to DeLaSalle in the Class 3A championship game Saturday evening. It was the No. 1 seed beating No. 2, and I knew it was going to be a tough game for the "underdog" Packers to come out on top.

Regardless, congratulations to Austin for an amazing season with a final record of 30-1. That's a pretty incredible run that I'm sure the boys - and the Austin community - won't soon forget. How about a cheer for all the Austin fans as well? Word has it they had about 3,500 people as part of the "Red Sea" in the Target Center for the title game. They were part of a 13,000-plus crowd that night, which was the biggest the tournament had seen since 1997.

The game started out pretty close. After watching for a few minutes, I figured that was a good thing for Austin. The longer they could hang with the DeLaSalle team, the better. The defending-champion Islanders moved ahead slightly before the half and went to the locker room with a 28-17 lead.

Comeback falls flat, thanks to 'stall ball'
DeLaSalle came out strong in the second half, and I could tell it was definitely going to be an uphill battle. But Austin didn't give up and they didn't go away. If DeLaSalle wanted another title, it was going to have to earn it. Austin cut the deficit down to 10 with just more than six minutes left in the game. The Packers had the momentum, causing DeLaSalle to take a timeout.

Then things got boring.

DeLaSalle held onto the ball for probably a good minute-and-a-half. They passed. They dribbled. But they stopped playing basketball. It killed any kind of momentum Austin had going and took the game out of reach. What bothered me was that DeLaSalle just sat on its lead. I didn't agree with it. To me, it's the same thing as running up the score or taking a knee to get to overtime instead of going for the win. (1998 Vikings, anyone?)

Is this solely why Austin didn't win the game? Absolutely not. Could Austin have tried to change up their defense or foul during that long stretch of "stall ball" by DeLaSalle? Sure. But there's another solution: A shot clock.

Shot clock? Put it up.
I'll be the first to tell you that basketball is not my go-to favorite sport. It's just not. A big reason (besides the fact that I love baseball and hockey) is all of the fouls, timeouts and slow pace of games that often occurs in the final few minutes. This can be especially true of high school games in Minnesota, where there are no shot clocks.

I know this has been brought up before, and there are various pros and cons, I'm sure. During tourney time, I was involved in a Twitter discussion with Eric Johnson (Austin Daily Herald photographer) and Brendan Burnett-Kurie (Faribault Daily News sports editor) about the shot clock. Brendan even wrote a column about why the state tournament needs one.

As a sports fan, I just think shot clocks need to be there, otherwise it's not very fun to watch. I don't even care how much time you put on it; just get it there. It'll at least put a limit on how long teams can pass the ball around and hopefully cut down on the fouls.

I'm no expert on basketball, but maybe if this one thing changed, I'd enjoy it just a little more. Of course, maybe then there would be something else to make me shake my head. Who knows? But right now, I'm all for giving the shot clock a try at the high school level.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Austin basketball brings good memories

A hearty congratulations to the Austin Packers boys basketball team as they take a 30-0 season into the Class 3A championship game Saturday night against DeLaSalle. It'll be the No. 2 seed (Austin) vs. No. 1 in the tournament.

Austin had a stellar year last season as well, as it made it to the state tournament but lost in the quarterfinals to a tough St. Paul Johnson team. Maybe it's that experience that paid off this time. Or maybe another year playing together gave the Packers some more confidence and ease on the court. Maybe there's some luck involved, too, along with the talent on the floor.

The Packers haven't made their past few games easy on the fans watching. Those with high blood pressure might need medical attention by now. Austin needed overtime to beat Marshall in the state semifinals Thursday, winning 68-65. It was another down-to-the-wire game Wednesday during the quarters as they defeated Blake 59-56.

Things were also close in Section 1 play for the top-seeded Packers. It was an easy quarterfinal game against Kasson-Mantorville, but they were tested in the next game against Winona when they squeaked out the win by a bucket. They needed overtime in order to beat Red Wing in the section final, 52-43.

Packer Pride... and luck
So with all those close games, that's why I think there's some luck running on Austin's side this season. I'm not taking anything away from the skilled players Austin has. It's no easy accomplishment to have an undefeated season. But when you're that talented and that good of a team, you're bound to get some breaks and bounces in your favor to help you out when needed.

Despite the tight outcomes, the bottom line is Austin has found a way to come out on top at the end of the game. Whether it's by 30 points or 1 point.

A bittersweet reminder
On a selfish note, Austin's state tournament run is bittersweet for me. I would love to be there on press row blogging, Tweeting or writing about the games, or at least be a part of the game in some journalistic fashion. Unfortunately, things didn't work out that way.

I recently moved to Fergus Falls and began work as a reporter for the Daily Journal. As I kept up with the tourney games the past couple days, I realized how much I was rooting for Austin. Probably just as much as I would for my hometown Andover Huskies (who also made the state tournament as heavy underdogs). Maybe it was just the adrenaline of the state tournament, but I longed to be in Minneapolis and a part of the experience.

I thought about how the two years I spent living and working in Austin will hold a dear place in my heart. I met so many great people and amazing friends who I grew to love. I joined a church that I already miss. I learned a lot.

And I think watching the Austin Packers reminded me just how much I'll miss it all.