Taney Dragons: Rise to Stardom

Addison Hunsicker

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Williamsport, Pennsylvania is the dream destination for every kid playing Little League Baseball. For very few kids, the dream becomes a reality, and they find themselves playing on Volunteer or Howard J. Lamade Stadium, representing their region in the Little League World Series. The kids from Taney Youth Baseball Association in Philadelphia, representing the Mid-Atlantic Region, have taken the nation by storm thanks to star pitcher Mo’Ne Davis.

Watching the kids from Taney march along their journey to Williamsport has been truly remarkable. I was fortunate enough to see the Dragons play in the Pennsylvania Little League State Championship, before they became known at the national stage. When walking over to Palmer Park in Skippack, Pennsylvania, home of Lower Perkiomen Little League, and hearing about this team from the city, who had a girl that pitched pretty good, was very intruiging. Of course, at that time, no one gathered to watch the top Little League teams in Pennsylvania knew, or ever heard about the Taney Dragons.

Throughout the entire week, sitting next to Taney parents in the bleachers, watching Zion Spearman hit missiles over the fence, seeing Kai Cummings hit a line drive in the gap and reach second base in the blink of an eye, noticing Jared Sprague-Lott doing his thing at shortstop, and spectating the talents of Mo’Ne Davis, the only girl in the state championship, play every infield position, and not even thinking about these kids possibly playing on national television.

Taney was so good, they made it to the state championship game against Collier Township without two of their better players. After dropping the first game to Collier 7-2, three Taney parents drove all the way up to New Hampshire to fetch Scott Bandura and Jahli Hendricks, who had missed the games previously played in the state tournament because they were on a well-established camp scholarship. Bandura and Hendricks arrived back in Pennsylvania four hours before the final game, which Taney went onto to win 6-4 after trailing 4-0 thanks to home runs from Jared Sprague-Lott and Zion Spearman.

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(Taney during the Pennsylvania State Tournament – Michael S. Wirtz/Philly.com)

As the Taney Dragons won the Pennsylvania Little League State Championship and moved onto the Mid-Atlantic Regional in Bristol, Connecticut, they still remained unknown to the national eye, and then the Mid-Atlantic Regional Final happened.

Mo’Ne Davis and the Taney Dragons boomed into fame as they defeated Newark, Delaware 8-0 to advance to Williamsport. The sudden national attention was centered around star pitcher Mo’Ne Davis, who threw a complete game shutout in the Mid-Atlantic Regional final win, striking out six in her six innings of work. Once the complete game shutout was finished and Taney advanced to the Little League World Series, Mo’Ne Davis began getting all kinds of mentions on social media, from Magic Johnson and Lil’ Wayne to name the few. Taney would head to Williamsport as a fan favorite, representing the Mid-Atlantic Region.

The youngsters from Nashville, Tennessee were the first United States team to have the pleasure of facing Taney in the Little League World Series. Taney was already gaining national attention before the game had even started, but once Mo’Ne Davis threw another complete game shutout with her 70 mile per hour fastball, and the Dragons won 4-0 on Friday, Taney soared into stardom. Mo’Ne Davis’s well-deserved popularity kept rising with more mentions on social media, this time from the likes of Kevin Durant, Mike Trout, and Andrew McCutchen, and she has handled the national attention with perfection. With an interview on ESPN’s Mike & Mike, along with being the focus of the weekly Sunday Conversation on Sportscenter, Mo’Ne Davis was everywhere as she saw herself go from 2,000 to 24,000 Instagram followers, and reach 15,000 Twitter followers in a week’s span.

The magic of the Taney Dragons continued into their second Little League World Series game on Sunday night against the kids from Pearland, Texas. Taney trailed 6-5 entering the bottom of the sixth inning, and put together an unforgettable two-out rally. Zion Spearman hit a hard ground ball to the fence in left-center field for a triple, scoring Scott Bandura to the game at six all. The next batter Tai Shanahan hit a grounder to short, but Texas shortstop Matt Adams had a throwing error and Zion Spearman trotted home from third for the Taney win.

Taney has become beloved in the Philadelphia area this past week, especially with the Philadelphia Phillies once again buried in the standings, and people are even calling for a parade down Broad Street should the Dragons bring home the Little League World Series Championship. Yet one month ago during the Pennsylvania Little League Championship tournament, Mo’Ne Davis was known as “the girl on the city team that can pitch”, Kai Cummings was “the tall kid that runs really fast”, and the Taney Dragons were just another team playing for the chance to potentially head to Williamsport. But now, the Taney Dragons are national stars, and have gained the support and attention from people across the world.

Taney plays again on Wednesday night against the kids from Nevada. Oh, and Mo’Ne Davis will be the starting pitcher.

Image Source: Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo

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The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: First 2 Weeks of Eagles Preseason

Billy Kelso

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Good:

Nick Foles looked a little shaky coming out in Week 1 of the preseason against the Chicago Bears throwing two interceptions. Even though the Eagles got off to another slow star against the Patriots, Foles was able to lead the team to a touchdown and finished the night 8 for 10 passing with a touchdown. Foles seems to have settled in and will be ready for another stellar regular season. 

Mark Sanchez has looked awesome this preseason with strong statistics including 18/22 passing with 2 touchdowns. Also he is showing great leadership in the back-up role and gives Eagle fans confidence in him in case Foles were to go down.

Jordan Matthews got the rookie jitters out of his system. After a disappointing week 1 performance against the Chicago Bears in which he had 3 drops and no catches, Matthews settled in against the Patriots and became the guy everyone has been hearing about in preseason with 9 catches for 104 yards.

Special Teams for the Eagles has been very impressive with a kickoff return by Rookie Wide Out Josh Huff, a blocked field goal, and a blocked punt all in two weeks of preseason. This is very exciting for the fans to see, after special teams knocked us out of the playoffs last year.

Michael Kendricks has looked hungry this preseason as the man that’s going to plug up the running lanes against opposing offences. Both games he has been working up field, fighting off blockers, and stopping runners in the backfield.

Bad:

Both games for the Eagles pass defense was very similar to last year. They are weak and giving talented wide outs such as Alshon Jeffery and Danny Amendola way too much space. This space gave both the Patriots and Bears easy third down conversions, which could be the Achilles heel for this bird’s defense in the regular season.

The Eagles have had far too many turnovers this preseason. With interceptions from the top 3 quarterbacks and problems fumbling the ball it could spell problems especially with their weak pass defense.

The offensive line has been called for too many holding penalties and has gotten beaten way too easily by defenses. Even their top linemen such as Jason Peters and Evan Mathis have missed key blocks. Hopefully they get this fixed in the next two weeks or the offense could be in trouble.

Ugly:

The referees were quick to throw the flag in both preseason games. The Eagles were called for holding several times on both offense and defense. I understand they are trying to adhere to the rules, but there have been flags thrown almost every other play, which make the games hard to watch. The referees should do nothing different than last season, and just let some calls go rather than throwing a flag at every possible chance.

The 25-yard extra point is just not a good idea. Why change something that wasn’t broken? Almost no kicker has missed a 25 yard extra point yet this preseason, so how does backing it up improve the game? Although this is only being used in this year’s preseason, it just does nothing to improve the game. Backing it up solely does nothing different for the game, and unless the NFL moves the extra point further than 25 yards, they should keep the extra point the same.

Overall Grade for Eagles First 2 Weeks of Preseason: B+

Picture Source: http://www.patriots.com/photo-gallery

2014 College Football Preview: Penn State Nittany Lions

Addison Hunsicker

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Two years ago after wins were vacated, scholarships removed, and bowl bans set into place upon the historic Penn State football program by the NCAA, Bill O’Brien was brought in to keep the football team together through the NCAA’s sanctions to rebuild the Penn State brand. Bill O’Brien certainly did an excellent job of starting to rebuild Penn State in the time he spent in Happy Valley, leading the Nittany Lions to consecutive winning seasons. As Bill O’Brien leaves to begin his head coaching career in the NFL with the Houston Texans, in comes former Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin to pick up where O’Brien left off. Let’s take a look back at how the Nittany Lions finished in O’Brien’s last season.

2013 Penn State Nittany Lions Season

The storyline entering 2013 for Penn State was freshman quarterback and top recruit Christian Hackenberg getting the keys to offense with Matt McGloin in the NFL. Bill O’Brien’s offense was set around utilizing the tight end position, packing two and even three tight ends in set plays. Early in games, Penn State would establish their running game to open up the play-action pass for Hackenberg, allowing the freshman to hit All-Big Ten wide out Allen Robinson. The Hackenberg-Robinson connection was definitely one of the major highlights for the 2013 Nittany Lions, as the duo connected on 97 occasions for 1,432 yards and six touchdowns. In Hackenberg’s first season, Penn State would finish a respectable 7-5, leaving Nittany Lion fans lots to look forward to in 2014. Two of Penn State’s biggest wins came against Michigan and Wisconsin. On homecoming weekend in Happy Valley, the Nittany Lions defeated the Michigan Wolverines in a four overtime thriller, and ended their season with a huge road win at Wisconsin.

Offense

Christian Hackenberg will miss his favorite target in Allen Robinson, who forwent his senior season to enter the NFL Draft, eventually landing in Jacksonville at the 61st overall pick. The sophomore quarterback also found out on Monday that one of his tight ends, Adam Breneman, will be “out indefintely” with an injury to his left knee that will likely require surgery. Before a football is even snapped in 2014 for Penn State, Hackenberg will already be without two targets who accounted for 112 receptions, 1,618 yards, and nine touchdowns in 2013.

Even though the Nittany Lion offense will be without two key pieces from 2013 in 2014, all four of their top recruits consist of potential replacements in wide receivers Saeed Blacknall, Chris Goodwin, and De’Andre Thompkins along with tight end Mike Gesicki. To go along with their top recruits, Penn State will also be returning tight ends Jesse James and Kyle Carter, and wide receiver Geno Lewis. Despite the losses of Robinson and Breneman, Christian Hackenberg will still have a plentiful amount of weapons to orchestrate another successful passing game in his sophomore season at Penn State.

Even with youth molding most of Penn State’s air attack, James Franklin will have experience in the backfield in seniors Zach Zwinak and Bill Belton to establish and maintain an effective running game. In 2013, Belton and Zwinak combined for 1,792 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns on 367 carries. One of the biggest challenges facing Penn State’s rushing attack is the offensive line having to replace three starters from 2013. The two returning starters are Donovan Smith and George Dieffenbach, while Angelo Mangiro, Brian Gaia, and Brendan Mahon look to round out the new Nittany Lion front line. If the offensive line comes together, Penn State will have a balanced, efficient offense that can control the clock and put up points.

Defense

In 2013, Penn State allowed 381 yards and 26.2 points per game. With nine out of the 11 starters from last year’s Nittany Lion defense returning, Penn State should see better numbers from their defense in Franklin’s first season. The two positions that will see new starters are in the interior defensive line. Austin Johnson and Anthony Zettel will seek to replace the defensive tackles on 2013′s defensive unit in Kyle Baublitz and DaQuan Jones. On the edge of Penn State’s defensive line are veterans C.J. Olaniyan and Deion Barnes who excel at rushing the quarterback and causing havoc for opposing teams behind the line of scrimmage.

Brandon Bell, Mike Hull, and Nyeem Wartman return to make up the Nittany Lion line backing core, while Jordan Lucas, Trevor Williams, Ryan Keiser, and Adrian Amos come together for another year in the defensive backfield. Experience is essential for a successful defense, and Penn State does have any problems when it comes to leadership and communication on the defensive side of the football for the upcoming season. With James Franklin not having to worry about his defense’s chemistry and ability to execute game plans, opponents will have a tough time putting up big numbers against Penn State.

Special Teams

Sam Ficken is the only returning starter on the special teams unit at the kicking position. The senior kicker will look to improve his accuracy and range on field goal attempts in order to post better numbers over his mediocre 2013 season. Freshmen Chris Gulla and DeAndre Thompkins take over starting roles in the special teams as Gulla begins his Penn State career at punter, and Thompkins heads back on fourth downs to return punts. Although Akeel Lynch was on the team last season, 2014 will be his first year as a starter as he embraces the role as Penn State’s kick returner.

2014 Season Outlook

James Franklin begins his Penn State head coaching career with plenty of veteran pieces to work with in order to put together a successful season. Even though Penn State cannot advance to postseason play, the Nittany Lions still look to be a formidable opponent for fellow Big 10 oppositions.

Notable games for Penn State include their season opener in Dublin, Ireland against Central Florida, along with road games against Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois. The Nittany Lions also have two huge home games where they will face two preseason top-10 teams in Ohio State and Michigan State. James Franklin’s first year in charge will certainly be an exciting one for Penn State fans, as a new era in Happy Valley begins.

Image Source: Chris Dunn/AP Photo

Cary Williams Apologizes for Calling New England Patriots ‘Cheaters’

Addison Hunsicker

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When training camp concluded for the Philadelphia Eagles two weeks ago, corner Cary Williams called the New England Patriots “cheaters”. Williams said, “I give them all the credit in the world, but one fact remains: They haven’t won a Super Bowl since they got caught.” Entering the joint practices and preseason game the Eagles were set to have with the Patriots in Foxborough this past week, Williams knew he was going to be targeted by New England and did not care.

During Friday night’s preseason game between the Eagles and Patriots, Williams picked off a Tom Brady pass and returned it 77 yards for a touchdown, giving Williams all of the leverage in the world to boast about his comments and disdain for the Patriots. However, after the game concluded, Patriots’ head coach Bill Belichick approached Williams on the field, and the Eagles’ corner took the opportunity to apologize for his comments and shook Belichick’s hand.

When asked by several media outlets what he said to the Patriots’ head coach, Williams responded, “I told him that I was sorry. I told him I respect him as a man, I respect him as a coach, I respect him as a GM. And I respect the organization. I told him I said something out of emotions, and I didn’t mean that. You try to use anything to fire yourself up. I let my emotions get the best of me. I said some things I kind of regret.”

He continued by telling reporters, “That was a situation where, playing these guys in the playoffs (Williams referring to his time in Baltimore), you kind of develop a a hate for them and you try to use anything to get your mind going and get going. In that situation, I could have chosen my words a little bit wiser. But it is mutual respect and we were able to come together and tell him I was sorry.“

Cary Williams and Bill Belichick have moved on from the incident.

Image Source: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Can Rookie Matthews fill the Shoes of Desean Jackson?

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Billy Kelso

Matthews was an All American Wide Out under coach James Franklin at Vanderbilt University where he rewrote Vanderbilt’s receiving records and has SEC records for career receptions and receiving yards. Jordan is a big NFL Receiver at the height of 6’3” and weighing 212 pounds, but behind that size is some speed in which he showed off at this years NFL combine running a surprising 4.46-second 40-yard dash. The second round draft pick might just be what the Eagles need to replace Desean Jackson. He could be the Eagles big play threat playing in the slot of Chip Kelly’s offense. Matthews had 10 receptions for 178 yards receiving in a memorable college season opener in a game in which he missed majority of the 3rd quarter with an injury. Another game that stood out for Matthews last season was a SEC Conference game against Tennessee in which he had 13 receptions for 133 yards receiving. Games like that in the SEC could prove that Matthews transition to Sundays to be easier than most rookie wide receivers. So far in Eagles training camp number 81 is making a name for himself by always going full speed and has been effective by working the middle of the field and getting open. Matthews has been great at getting yards after the catch and has easily become back-up Quarterback Mark Sanchez’s favorite target so far in training camp. Even Cowboys Hall of Fame Wide Receiver who was at Eagles training camp last week praised Matthews by saying “I like what I see physically as to body type, body size and everything. And then I like what I see internally as far as work ethic and most importantly, a strong desire to be the best (Comcast Sports-net Philadelphia). Eagles fans will watch him step into the shoes of Desean Jackson, and pick up where the troubled receiver left off.

Image Source: http://www.CSNPhilly.com

 

Ruben Amaro Jr. Fails to Complete Deal at Trade Deadline

Addison Hunsicker

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The Philadelphia Phillies currently sit in last-place in the N.L. East with an abysmal 47-61 record, and are on pace to miss the postseason for the third consecutive year. With evident decline in the team’s performance while aging by the day, it was clear around the baseball world that Phillies’ general manager, Ruben Amaro Jr., had to make moves before the trade deadline hit in order to quicken the rebuidling process that awaits the Phillies. Even with several trade rumors swriling around players such as Marlon Byrd, A.J. Burnett, Antonio Bastardo, Jonathan Papelbon, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels these past two weeks as the trade deadline was approaching, Amaro Jr. failed to close deals with interested teams by today’s deadline. Veterans Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins names did come up, but both said they would be hesistant to waive their no-trade clause.

With boatloads of money and vesting options wrapped around players the Phillies were looking to deal to interested teams, trade progress came to a screaching hault. The Kansas City Royals were interested in acquiring pitcher A.J. Burnett but did want to pick up his option for next season. Progress was made with the Seattle Mariners regarding Marlon Byrd, but once again talks diminished once Byrd revealed he would not waive his no-trade clause to Seattle unless they picked up his 2016 option. As it pertained to Cliff Lee, the Phillies told teams looking to land the left-hander that they would be willing to eat a hefty portion of Lee’s contract in order to move him, but talks once again died down due to the Phillies asking price of prospects in order to pay Lee’s contract and deal him at the same time. Relief pitcher Antonio Bastardo’s name was mentioned with rumors circulating around the Detroit Tigers, as was Jonathan Papelbon’s. Once the Tigers acquired Joakim Soria from the Texas Rangers, Bastardo and Papelbon rumors became silent as not much was said about those two as the trade deadline neared.

Cole Hamels is the Phillies player with the most value, and Amaro Jr. made it clear to teams who wanted Hamels that the Phillies would need three-to-four top prospects in return for the lefty to be traded. The Los Angeles Dodgers were the team that showed the most interest in Hamels, and had the prospects to complete a deal with Philadelphia. It was reported Amaro Jr. had offered Hamels to the Dodgers for their top three prospects (Corey Seager, Julio Urias, and Joc Pederson), but Los Angeles did not bite. With Hamels signing a long-term deal with the Phillies last season, it was expected for him to remain in Philadelphia unless the Phillies were blown away with prospects in a deal, which they were not.

Once the trade deadline hit, Ruben Amaro Jr. held a press conference where he mentioned the returns in trades from opposing teams not being good enough to make any moves. He also said that player contracts were not a factor in failing to complete a deal, and was astonished at teams not being more aggressive. In the end, Amaro Jr. believed that players being offered to the Phillies in return for current Phillies players would not help the franchise progress this year and years to follow. The press conference concluded with Amaro Jr. telling reporters that he expects to be active in August with a few solid starts from Cliff Lee reassuring his position.

Another trade deadline is in the books for the struggling Philadelphia Phillies, and no veterans have been moved. Should outraged Philly fans trust their current general manager to blow this team up and start the rebuilding process? After all, Amaro Jr. did tell closer Jonathan Papelbon that the Phillies will push towards placing a contender on the field next year which seems obvious for every Major League team. Although Amaro Jr. remains confident that he will be with the Phillies to make moves in the winter, it is in the Phillies best interest to hold off on moves for the remainder of the season and to part ways with Amaro Jr., bringing in a fresh mind as the team’s new general manager to help rebuild the team.

Image Source: Yong Kim/Philly.com