Archive for April, 2007

Sunday Wrap-up
Monday, April 23, 2007

Huskers struggle, Jays roll, and so much more.

Maybe They’re Just Not That Good

Husker reliever Luke Wertz even admitted that after Friday’s win, Nebraska was already thinking sweep. Turns out, that win prevented a sweep from taking place.

The Huskers were overmatched on Saturday and Sunday, losing a once-promising series 2-games-to-1. Johnny Dorn couldn’t deliver on Saturday, while Matt Foust struggled on Sunday. Meanwhile, the Longhorns showed why they’re a favorite to get to Omaha.

And what about Nebraska?

The Big Red is now 8-10 in the Big Twelve, all alone in fifth place in the conference. This team doesn’t have much of an identity. I think Mike Anderson put it best on Sunday when he said this team has too much of an “individualistic approach.” It doesn’t have the feel of a “team”. That’s a fairly intangible thought — but you get this feeling that each guy is doing his own thing. Anderson wants his guys to have more discipline at the plate.

He also says that he believes the Huskers are still alive and well, with a chance to move up in the conference standings. He added that he hopes his players feel the same way.

With the way his players are carrying themselves, it doesn’t look like it.
Familiar Feeling?

This Husker baseball season feels a lot like 2004. That year, Nebraska (36-23 11-16 Big 12 in 2004) started struggling in April and never found its conference stride. Coincidentally, that was also the last year that Creighton beat Nebraska at Haymarket Park (the Huskers also dropped two of three from Texas that same week).

This year the Huskers have dropped four of their first six conference series. In 2004? Same thing.

If history repeats itself, the Huskers will be on the outside of the NCAA Tournament looking in.

Creighton Cruising Along

Meanwhile, the Creighton Bluejays can’t lose. They’ve won eight consecutive games and have gotten some stellar starting pitching. The Jays aren’t going to out-slug many teams. Before the weekend series at Indiana State, Creighton went eight straight games without scoring more than four runs (they went 6-2 during that stretch). Creighton is getting the pitching, and just enough hitting to win consistently.

As predicted/expected, the Jays swept Indiana State, outscoring the Sycamores 34-7 in the three games.

Too bad the Jays can’t spread some of those runs out over the next couple of weeks.

Gooch Struggles on Sunday

Omaha’s Scott Gutschewski entered the final round of the Zurich Classic of New Orleans just three strokes behind the leaders, firing a 5-under 67 on Saturday.

Sunday, playing in the final group for the first time in his PGA career, Gooch misstepped with a 4-over 76, finishing at 5-under for the tournament, ten strokes behind the winner, Nick Watney.

One of these days, Gooch is gonna come through.
Knights Split Town, Need a Split

The Omaha Aksarben Knights are headed to Des Moines for games three and four of the West Division Semifinals. After dropping game two in Omaha, the Knights have to win at least one game at Wells Fargo Arena to take back home ice advantage.

Said Warren Peters, “That’s why it’s a seven game series.”

Oh… so this is Nebraska Baseball…
Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Huskers pounded 13 hits, scoring seven runs… crushing Texas 7-0 Friday Night at Haymarket Park.

Elementary Watson

I said earlier this week that the keys would be Watson and Dorn. If Watson could limit Texas’ offensive production (and not go to the bullpen early) Nebraska would have a chance. Allowing only two hits in a complete game shutout will do the trick. It’s Watson’s second complete game in his last three starts.

Welcome Back, Wehrle

After struggling through most of the season, Ryan Wehrle played baseball Friday night, going 4-for-5 including a 3-run homerun. This is what Mike Anderson had hoped would heppen more often — Having the two MLB draftees who returned to Nebraska rather than go pro produce consistently. Watson has held up his end of the bargain. Maybe Wehrle is turning the corner.

Bats Stay Hot

Save for last Saturday’s 3-0 loss at Oklahoma, the Husker bats have been alive and well for the most part, pounding out hits and scoring runs. Tuesday’s loss to Creighton (which saw the Huskers with only six hits, all of them singles, and only one run) appears to have been a minor hiccup.

Nebraska Needs Two

After a win like Friday’s, it’s easy to say that the Huskers could/should get a sweep. Let’s not get crazy. At this point, they just need to find a way to win one more game. Taking two-out-of-three against the 4th-ranked team in the country would be a huge weekend. A sweep would just be gravy. I still think Texas comes back and takes the next two. We’ll see if the Huskers can prove me wrong. I’m just not sold on Nebraska.

Props to Texas

The Longhorns showed their support for the Hokies by wearing Virginia Tech baseball caps. Classy.

Text-Book Ban
Thursday, April 19, 2007

The NCAA Division I management council has recommended a ban on all electronically transmitted correspondence, including text messages, between coaches and recruits. E-mails and faxes would be exempt from the new rule but would be limited by current NCAA guidelines.

Unlike restrictions on phone calls and in-person visits, there are no coach limits on text messaging.

Until now.

After the bill is passed and approved, it should take effect by August.

I always wondered why the NCAA never did anything about text messaging. You’d think the parents of prospective college athletes would’ve petitioned the NCAA to put a stop to text messaging when they received the $600 cell phone bills.

It makes you wonder, though: without text messaging, how would quarterback Josh Freeman have told Nebraska coaches that he wasn’t coming to Lincoln?

Would he have sent a fax?

Dear Coaches,
We’re not coming.

Please don’t call.

Or fax.
Or email.
Or text (that’s against the rules, and I will report you).

Josh Freeman

Jays Even the Series
Thursday, April 19, 2007

In what is arguably the best rivalry in the state of Nebraska, Creighton knocked off the Huskers 2-1 Tuesday night at Haymarket Park, snapping a six-game losing streak to their Division I brethren.

Another Matchup, Another Weird Play (or two)

Whenever these two teams get together, there’s always a weird sequence of events. From Andy Gerch getting hit in the helmet with Chris Gradoville’s throw after a wild pitch, then Craig Corriston getting thrown out at the plate just moments later… then in the 8th inning, with Chad Ogden taking an extra base on a sacrifice, then racing home on a safety squeeze, each time getting beat by the throw but having the ball hit the dirt… well, that’s just Creighton/Nebraska.

On the play at third, Nebraska pitcher Matt Foust raced over to receive the throw from Andrew Brown. His tag on Ogden was in time, but he lost the baseball. Husker fans booed the call, believing that Foust had control of the ball long enough to secure the out. Watching the play with the naked eye it was clear that Foust lost the ball. Watching it on our video replay you could see that Foust never had control of the ball at any point during that play.

Same goes on the ensuing safety squeeze. Andrew Brown’s throw to catcher Mitch Abeita was in time, but Abeita never had the baseball. Chad Ogden didn’t knock the ball out of Abeita’s glove… Abeita just flat-out never had control of it, even before the tag.

Those didn’t show up as Husker errors in the scorebook, but they may have cost Nebraska that game.

Small Ball Beats Big Brother

Creighton knew going in that it would have to keep the score down in order to win. I think 2-1 does the trick. The Jays played their brand of small ball from the opening inning: lead-off man gets on, he’s sacrificed, he scores.

Nebraska tried to play Creighton ball in the later innings, trying their best to manufacture a run. You know a team (read: a coach) is desperate to score when it has Craig Corriston (the second-best Husker hitter) trying to bunt.

When is the last time you saw a game that had 11 hits… and all of them singles?

Advantage: Creighton.

Casey at the Mound

Casey Schmidt pitched as well as any opposing freshman can pitch at Haymarket Park. Five and a third innings of 3-hit shutout ball? Even Ed Servais was in disbelief after the game. Good pitching beats good hitting? You better believe it.

Role Reversal

Creighton looks like a team heading to an NCAA Regional. Nebraska may just have claw its way into the post-season.

Big Weekend

If the Huskers can manage to take two of three from Texas this weekend, they’ll be right back on track. It’ll be up to Tony Watson and Johnny Dorn, because the Husker bats sure aren’t getting it done. Nebraska may have to try its hand at small-ball.

Creighton heads to bottom-feeding Indiana State for three games. A sweep is in order in Terre Haute.

Playoff Hockey — Nothing Like It
Tuesday, April 17, 2007

As a kid who grew up in Rochester, New York, I have a lot of respect for AHL hockey. I attended a bunch of Amerks games (which were usually sold out) at the War Memorial, watching them clash with rivals Binghamton and Hershey.

With all due respect to the Mavs and the CCHA playoffs, the AHL playoffs should be even more intense. The Calder Cup is the second-most coveted hockey cup in North America, with the guys fighting for their playoff lives every other night. And what better way to indoctrinate fans into AHL playoff hockey than with a series against rival Iowa.

Will the Fans Come Out?

The attendance for Knights games increased slightly once the Creighton basketball season ended. The playoffs will provide a decent barometer as to how successful this organization could be in Omaha.

Are you gonna check it out?

Oddly Enough

The Knights won the west division, and will be the number one seed when they host Iowa in a best-of-seven series beginning on Friday.

The Lancers won the west division, and will be the number one seed when they host Des Moines in a best-of-seven series beginning on Wednesday.
Maybe the Stars and Bucs can split the cost of a bus/hotel…

Huskers Get Lucky
Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Was it me, or did that Marlon Lucky tackle look like a season-ender? I was watching from the crow’s nest at Memorial Stadium (zoomed in with a KETV camera) and was not surprised to see him writhing in pain after the tackle. The only thing that surprised me was that he wasn’t laying on the ground longer.

After seeing Brandon Jackson leave early for the NFL Draft, then having Kenny Wilson sidelined for the year with an injury, it’s understandable that Coach Callahan would be a little concerned about Lucky’s status. After the game, though, he basically shrugged it off, terming it a mild knee sprain.

Turns out, Callahan was right. On Monday’s Spring Coaches’ Teleconference, Callahan said that Lucky will be fine. An MRI revealed nothing serious, and after a little soreness and some rehab he should be up and running.

Same goes for offensive tackle Lydon Murtha, who was helped off the field on the first offensive series on Saturday. He left the stadium on crutches, and Callahan says he’ll be ready as well.

Spring Game Recap
Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Sorry for the delay — here are a few things that stuck out from Saturday’s Red-White Scrimmage.

Funky Motion, But Funky Good

It was the first time I’d seen him in a game in person… the first thing that I noticed with Sam Keller was his odd throwing motion. It has some sort of hitch/quirk in it that just doesn’t look right. He doesn’t have the strongest arm in the world, but he demonstrated his accuracy… and I think you’d agree that his arm is probably stronger than Zac Taylor’s.

Keller took command of the offense, completing 10-of-13 for nearly 200 yards, making smart plays with little risk. And the guy looked pretty cool in that Jim McMahon-esque visor. He’s played in big games before, and without out a doubt will be the starting quarterback this fall.
Sweet Cup of Joe

Joey Ganz also managed the offense well, but seemed to hold onto the ball a little too long. He throws a decent ball, but his decision-making didn’t seem to be as quick as Keller’s. I think Ganz will once again make a solid back-up quarterback, and will be ready when/if called upon.
Please Don’t Dance

It was nice to see the Huskers cut it loose… but cutting a rug isn’t something they should do too often. Following a touchdown, Joe Ganz led a group of players in the Macarena dance. I suppose it was either that or the Electric Slide. What, was the Chicken Dance too modern?
Waiting on Lee

Junior college transfer Zac Lee didn’t get to play… he didn’t practice the entire Spring. That was valuable time lost for a guy who many believe could have an impact at the quarterback position. He injured his knee in his last JUCO game, and has been recovering/rehabbing ever since. It’ll be interesting to see his progress this summer/fall.
Defensive Line Coming Around… Suh-ner or Later

Led by Ndamukong Suh, the defensive line looked pretty salty. But you can’t gauge a lot on a defensive line going up against a bunch of back-up offensive linemen. Suh, though, should once again be a force. The scary part is: he’s only a sophomore.
Rickey Thenarse: Big Hitter

For all the pub that Larry Asante has received, Rickey Thenarse is still my guy at strong safety. How can you keep this guy off the field? He made a bunch of hits with the white team, and seemed to be all over the field. That battle for the strong safety spot could be the most intriguing competition on the defensive side of the field this fall.

Strangest Story Ever Told
Wednesday, April 4, 2007

I’m not a broadcasting veteran. I’ve only been in the business for about eight years. But the going and coming of Creighton/Arkansas/Creighton coach Dana Altman is the strangest story I’ve ever covered, and I don’t know that it will ever be topped.

A Tuesday to Remember

My photographer and I left Fayetteville at 7:30AM Tuesday, knowing that we had to get back as soon as possible for me to anchor the evening sportscasts. We arrived back at KETV at 3:15PM, whereupon I settled into my computer chair to start writing the shows. I was going to be live at Rosenblatt Stadium to preview the Nebraska/Creighton baseball game, while also airing an Alex Gordon soundbite regarding his major league debut, and finally recap Dana Altman’s introduction in Fayetteville.

At 5:15PM, I was just about to pack up my stuff and head out to Rosenblatt. While finishing up with my scripts, I heard some murmurs in the newsroom with people mentioning, “Where did you hear that?” “Fox-Sports-dot-com.” “What does it say?” I continued to type, not even considering that it was anything I needed to be concerned about.

About six minutes later, our assistant news director Vonn walked upstairs to the sports office and asked, “Are you hearing this?”

“What is it?”, I asked.
“Fox-Sports-dot-com is reporting that Dana Altman had a change of heart and is coming back to Creighton,” Vonn said.

At that point, my life and my sportscast flashed before my eyes. After clicking on the article on-line, I realized that my pre-planned sportscast was going down the tubes. It felt eerily similar to Monday, when our story/plans changed from Kansas City to Fayetteville. Only this time, we didn’t have a seven-hour drive during which to gather our thoughts. We had about twenty minutes.

I called a couple of contacts that we have inside the Creighton athletic department, one person in particular who was very close with the team. He wouldn’t tell me much of anything, but his silence was deafening. I left a message with Bluejay guard Nick Bahe. Meanwhile, the rest of the Newsplex was feverishly putting together some semblance of a breaking newscast, calling sources and gathering information. Reporters, photographers and live truck operators were called off of stories and sent to Creighton University. About five minutes before we hit the air we were able to confirm from a high source inside the Arkansas athletic department that it was true.

We hit the air with confirmation, which was the most important thing. We tossed live to Todd Andrews, who had spoken with a few players following a pick-up game at the Vinardi Center, including departing senior Nick Porter. We tossed live to Mike Sigmond, who had spoken to a few administrators inside the athletic office, including athletic director Bruce Rasmussen. Nick Bahe called me back while I was on the air, and a few minutes later we had him live via phone, talking about a team meeting that was scheduled for 9pm at the Jays locker room.

You can watch the first portion of the wild 6pm newscast here:
Unscripted Mayhem (just click on “Altman to Stay in Omaha” on the right-hand side).
It was a total team effort, as you can see.

Thirty minutes later we were off the set, talking to our sister station in Arkansas, getting information about a hastily scheduled press conference in Fayetteville. After mapping out our coverage, that night I headed to the Vinardi Center to get some comments from Coach Altman and his players following the team meeting. It wasn’t until later that we discovered they had met at the Qwest Center. The throng of media and fans who were there in the 20-degree temps got nothing, save for frozen limbs and red noses.

After a live report from the Creighton campus, we finally heard about the press conference scheduled for Wednesday at noon to talk about Dana Altman’s future.

It was quite a day.

While waiting at the Vinardi Center for something to happen, I remarked, “Man, it feels like Altman was gone for only a day.” It was a joke. Actually, with all the travel and unscripted mayhem, it felt a lot longer than that.

Should We Still Check Your References?

Despite being off the clock, I just couldn’t miss the Dana Altman “welcome back” press conference. It was a surreal event, but it provided us with plenty of clarity.

The most surprising words coming from Altman’s first public comments since his return to Omaha were when he spoke of his reasons for taking the Arkansas job in the first place. “My ego and money affected my decision.” I never thought this had anything to do with money. I always felt it had everything to do with a chance to prove himself on the next level (which would explain the “ego” factor). What’s the difference between $1 million and $1.5 million? I suppose a 50% raise is hard to turn your back on.

“This is home… this is where I will finish my coaching career,” said Altman. That was followed by a round of applause by the gathered on-lookers.

After the news conference, we asked Dana if him saying he would finish his career at Creighton was because he loves it in Omaha, or because he knows other schools will now probably shy away from courting the one-day Arkansas coach. “It’s a little bit of both,” said Altman. “A school would be real reluctant to make an offer to someone who’s backed out of one. That’s a reality of life. That’s okay. My wife and I are comfortable in this decision. There are no second thoughts about that at all.”

I would never be surprised if someday another school came along and proposed an opportunity to Altman. At this point, though, you have to take Altman at his word.

Athletic director Bruce Rasmussen gave his friend a reprieve. “Coach and I play golf on a somewhat regular basis and he knows that his boss occasionally needs and takes a mulligan. So it’s easy for me today to say, ‘Coach, I grant you a mulligan.'”

More To it Than Just the Heart?

Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning, reports surfaced of at least one player testing positive for drugs (maybe that’s not just innocent smoke shooting out of the Razorback’s nostrils) and at least one player with academic ineglibility issues. In fact, I received a call on my cell phone from long-time Arkansas sports anchor/radio talk show host Gary Ervin Wednesday morning asking me what I had heard and what I thought about it.

At the press conference, Altman emphatically denied the academic issue as being a sticking point to the job, although he once again added, “Sure, a couple of guys need to go to class.” (He made the same comment on Tuesday in Fayetteville).

Wednesday afternoon, the University of Arkansas released a statement saying that two Razorbacks had in fact tested positive for marijuana, with a third player put on academic suspension.

The release said that the tests were conducted more than a week ago, but the results were not made available until Tuesday… the day that Altman decided to return to Omaha. What a bombshell to drop on a new coach. You go from a place where players consistently get to class and stay out of trouble, to a program where a handful of players are in trouble with the law and/or the school.

Now, do I think that Altman left Arkansas because of the academic/drug issues? No. Do I think it may have played a role? Yes. A source in Arkansas told me that Altman wanted to bring on his own academic adviser and compliance director in order to shore up some of the issues at Arkansas, but was told no, which may have also led to his decision to come back. The loose academic structure in Arkansas may have been too much of a contrast from Creighton. But if you look at the timetable, Altman was already feeling heavy-hearted about his decision to leave Creighton. Monday night he tried phoning Rasmussen, but was unable to reach him (Rasmussen’s phone was dead).

Honestly, from listening to Dana, he felt uneasy the moment he climbed aboard that Arkansas plane. He didn’t put on the Hog-hat. He looked awkward doing the “Pig Sooie” chant. He said the excitement in Fayetteville carried him through the day, but the night of the press conference was en emotional time for he and his family.

I can relate to Altman’s situation. I once made a big life-changing decision, and my heart was heavy and filled with uneasiness. And you know yourself well enough to know the difference between “buyer’s remorse” and something much deeper. It’s a burden you carry, one that may not have gone away for Altman had he stayed at Arkansas. I give him a lot of credit. It was much more difficult for him to say “no” to Arkansas than it was for him to say “yes”. He knew that the media scrutiny/criticism would be heavy. He also knew that his heart was heavy. At a time like that, it’s okay to be selfish. Should he have researched his new job a little bit better before taking it? Sure. Sometimes, though, you have to step into the chaos to see how it feels. Altman did that, and it didn’t feel very good.

It was quite a whirlwind 72 hours.

This situation won’t define who he is. Dana Altman is Creighton basketball.

And once again, Creighton basketball is in good hands.

One Last Thought on “Pig Sooie!”

The chant may be one of the goofiest things I’ve ever seen. They do it when something exciting happens in an Arkansas football game. It can also be used to call a pig.

Watching Altman on the podium in Fayetteville, you could tell he wasn’t that into it. He knew it was coming, but I don’t think he knew he had to do it three times.

Here are Dana’s possible thoughts during the three successive “Pig Sooie” chants.

Chant 1: “Here it is… the pig soooie chant. Boy, that was awkward. Okay, glad that’s over with.”

Chant 2: “Again? Oh my goodness. What have I gotten myself into. This is so stupid.”

Chant 3: “I’m outta here.”

So Much For That Alex Gordon Story
Tuesday, April 3, 2007

What started out as an early morning with baseball on the horizon, soon turned into a long trip south. More on that later.

Dana Altman Now at Arkansas

We reported on the speculation Sunday night. Monday morning it became a reality, as Dana Altman officially became the 12th head coach in the history of the Arkansas basketball program. The Razorbacks got a winner… even if they don’t realize it yet.

Quite a Press Conference

When we arrived at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville at 3:45PM, there were already more than a dozen tripods/cameras set up for Altman’s introduction (there were so many cameras and media personnel, it felt like a Bill Callahan Tuesday news conference.

It felt incredibly uncomfortable seeing Dana Altman introduced as Arkansas’ head coach… especially as he did the “Pig Sooie!” chant at the podium. He spoke of his excitement for Razorbacks, tempered with his sadness for leaving the Bluejays.

A Letdown in Fayetteville?

Altman admitted that he won’t knock the media’s socks off (we knew that), adding that “boring” is oftentimes an appropriate word to describe him.

While Nebraskans have grown to love Altman and his personality, it will take some time (and some wins) for Razorback fans to do the same. The vibe I’m getting is that they’re split… the knowledgeable ones like the hire, while the less basketball savvy souls are wondering how Arkansas could try for a grand slam but come up with a bunt single.

Asked how to re-energize the Razorback faithful, Altman replied, “Win.”

That’s how it worked at Creighton.

Sometimes the Best Laid Plans…

I woke up this morning at 6:15AM, ready for an afternoon of baseball in Kansas City. The original plan was to cover Alex Gordon’s big league debut. At around 9:50AM (about halfway to Kansas City) we heard reports that Altman had taken the job. After calling the newsroom, we came to the conclusion that we should come back to the station and cover the Creighton angle. Schuetz joked with me on the phone that we should just drive to Fayetteville. I relayed said joke to my photographer/driver Mike, who laughed out-loud, saying, “We’d be there in about 6 hours if we went.” We shared a good jovial laugh, then proceded to consume our McDonalds breakfast sandwiches.

Realizing that my knowledge of geography was worse than I had orginally suspected, I batted around the idea in my head… then decided to call the KETV newsroom and say it as a joke, and see how it was received. If I get a, “Nah, that’s dumb. You’re dumb. Come back.” then I respond with, “Yeah, I was just kidding.” If I get a, “Ya know what? Go there.” I say, “That’s what I thought!” The latter was the case.

Five and a half hours later we were at the Fayetteville Red Roof Inn. It’s not as nice as it sounds.

Stories change just like that. Fortunately for us, we were already on our way to Fayetteville Monday morning.

We just didn’t know it at the time.

Monday Morning Notes
Monday, April 2, 2007

Altman and Arkansas?

As of Saturday night, Dana Altman’s name is now in the mix at Arkansas. According to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, athletic director Frank Broyles met with Altman at the Final Four in Atlanta. He also met with Memphis coach John Calipari. Calipari says he was not offered the job, nor was he interested (believe that if you will). Television stations in Arkansas are reporting that Altman is now at or near the top of the list… Broyles is now moving into the second tier of coaching candidates, not necessarily the biggest names but those who have won consistently at the division one level.

From Scott Cain of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette:

“Arkansas Athletic Director Frank Broyles, who is conducting the search, talked to Creigthon’s Dana Altman and Memphis’ John Calipari during a trip to Atlanta where coaches have gathered for a convention and the Final Four. Broyles spent Friday there and returned to Fayetteville around 5 p.m. Saturday. It’s unlikely that Broyles would have returned if h
e did not have an agreement in principle with a coach or was on the verge of finalizing a deal.”

As usual, Creighton is not commenting on this.

Don’t be surprised if there is fire with this smoke.

Opening Debut

Alex Gordon begins his Major League Baseball career Monday afternoon in Kansas City, as the Royals take on the Red Sox. I will be in KC with reports at 5, 6 and 10. Should be a beautiful day for baseball… according to John Campbell, enjoy it while you can.