I’m going to take my man from Vanderbilt University. He finished T-5 last week at the Players 3 shots back of Rory, who finished -16. The 38 year old shot 69, 72, 65, 69 for -13. I like the way he’s trending.
After months of exhaustive research and development, multiple hikes coupled with deep thinking at Oak Mountain State Park, interviews with sports psychologists throughout the U.S., Canada and Mexico, transcendental meditation for total relaxation and focus, and conferences with my pastor about these tremendously difficult decisions, here is my 2019 NCAA tournament bracket.
Will the Blue Bloods prevail or will a team like that nun team last year, Loyola-Chicago, pull off a Cinderella Story and bust up brackets.
Enclosed are White’s World’s predictions for this spectacle in March called March Madness.
The Players Championship
TPC Sawgrass, Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida (7,189 yards, Par 72)
Architect, Pete Dye
Defending champion; Webb Simpson. Shot 18 under to win be 4 shots over Charl Schwartzel, Xander Schauffele and Jimmy Walker. Doubled the 72nd hole to shoot 73, but shot 66, 63, 68 to have a commanding lead heading into the back 9 on Sunday.
Last week: Francesco Molinari shot 64 on Sunday at the Arnie Invitational to win it. Molinari was 5 shots behind Matthew Fitzpatrick heading into Sunday, but posted a 64 early, and the lead held. Molinari finished -12 and won by 2 shots over Fitzpatrick. He has now won 3 times in his last 12 starts on the PGA Tour including winning the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie last year by 2 shots over Kevin Kisner, Rory, Justin Rose and Schauffele.
No.9, Par 5, 583 yards
This hole is considered by many to be one of the finest par 5’s in the country. A large lake and bunker to the right of the fairway collect wayward drives while woods to the left hinder second shots. Second shots are critical here as a long iron or fairway wood are required to go to the right side of the fairway.. To the left, a fairway bunker and large oak trees crowd the small second shot landing area. The green is narrow and slopes severely from the front to the back right. A severely steep bunker guards the left side and the backside of the green. This can make or break an outward 9.
No. 12, Par 4, 302 yards
Redesigned in 2017. players can go for this hole, but it’s not without its perils. A lake guards the left front of the hole, so a player going for the green has to contend with that. An overcooked drive will be in the water. There is a large bunker the players will need to clear on the left side of the fairway. There is a landing area that stretches 100 yards to the green over the bunker. The green slopes severely towards the water, so good approaches and chips will be at a premium
No.16, Par 5, 523
This short par 5 will give many players the opportunity to reach the green in 2. A fairway wood or long iron will be required for the second shot. There is water on the right, a bunker front right and a challenging landing area with trees on the left where up and down can be tough. The pin on Sunday is usually in the front right portion of the green inviting players to go at it but with the fear factor of going in the water or the sand, though the sand can be managed for the most part, but the players could be short sided in the bunker making for a difficult up and down. A birdie here will be necessary for a player leading the tournament or in contention. An eagle would be exceptional as danger lurks on the next hole.
No. 17, Par 3, 137 yards
This is arguably the most famous hole in golf. The island hole requires the player using anywhere from an 7 to 8 iron to a sand wedge depending on the wind. It’s March, so it’s more windy with winds at 10-15 all weekend, but good weather overall. But the wind WILL be a factor and with the pressure ramped up to the max, this will test the player’s nerves and fortitude. Should be a fantastic watch on Sunday.
No.18, Par 4, 462
An awesome finishing hole, the most exciting in golf besides the majors. If the leader or contender survives the island hole, this hole presents another massive challenge off the tee. Water runs all along the left side of the hole, and with wind gusting right to left that could be problematic. There’s an oak tree 280 yards out on the right and if the player hits it right, he’s going to have to contend with the trees where a bogey is certainly in the cards. You’ve just got to hit it straight or hit it right to left without contending with the water. Players might try to cut it over the lake, but that could turn out to be costly. The second shot will be highly pressurized, and is critical to winning the tournament. If the leader gets it on, and he’s not close, he’ll have to 2 putt to win, and that’s no guarantee, as 2 putts from distance are challenging. After the elite and treacherous 17th, the 18th leads to spectacular drama.
Pretty nice. Sunny most days with a chance of showers Saturday. Highs in the mid to high 70’s Thursday and Friday, a little cooler on Saturday and Sunday with temperatures in the mid 60’s. That could impact shots on 17 with the cooler March air. Winds at 10-16 will be a factor.
Thursday-Friday: 12-6 PM CT, Golf Channel
Saturday: 1-6 PM CT, NBC
Sunday: 12-5 PM, NBC
This is maybe the most unpredictable tournament in golf. This stat is pretty telling. Dustin Johnson, 10 starts, 0 top 10’s. Justin Rose, 15 starts, 1 Top 10. Brooks Koepka, 4 starts, 0 Top 10’s. Justin Thomas, 4 starts, 1 top 10.
It doesn’t favor the power hitter. It’s more about accuracy and the short game.
All those guys will be in the hunt. I don’t like Tiger’s chances. His neck kept him out of the Arnie and he struggles physically these days. His putting has been pretty lousy too lately. He had 66 putts in the last 2 rounds at the WGC Mexico Championship. He’s working with a putting coach now, Matt Killen, who’s worked with guys like JT and J.B. Holmes and has had reasonable success with them. I don’t see that being enough for Tiger this week. I don’t see Phil in the hunt either.
While it’s an unpredictable tournament, I’ve got to predict it, so I’ll go with the hottest player in the world right now, and, as my man Walter Pittman says, I’m going to take a big bowl of-
College basketball conference championship predictions
Semifinals, Noon and 2:30 PM CT Saturday, ESPN
In the semis, I like the Auburn Tigers to defeat the LSU Bengal Tigers, 76-74. The Auburn Tigers are hot going 3-0 in March with victories over State and UT at home and a road victory over the Crimson Tide, and the upheaval at LSU with the Will Wade suspension will be too much for the Bengal Tigers to overcome.
In the other semi, I like the Kentucky Wildcats to reach the finals again defeating the Tennessee Vols, 70-67.
Sunday, Noon CT, ESPN, Bridgestone Arena, Nashville
I think it’ll be great to be an Auburn Tiger on Sunday. Pearly and the Tigers defeat Kentucky after losing twice to them during the regular season. It’s really hard to beat a team 3 times. Just ask No.1 Gonzaga, which had crushed Saint Mary’s in the regular season both times only to lose last night in the West Coast Conference Championship game, 60-47. Like Pearl and the Tigers.
Auburn 78, Kentucky 76
Saturday, 7:30 PM CT, ESPN,
Spectrum Center, Charlotte
Virginia 72, Duke 70
BIG Ten Championship, United Center, Chicago.
Sunday, 2:30 PM CT, CBS
Michigan 72, Michigan State 68
BIg 12 Championship
Saturday, 5 PM CT, ESPN, Sprint Center, Kansas City
Texas Tech 62, Kansas State 58
Saturday, 9:30 PM CT ESPN T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas
Arizona State 82, Washington 80
Coach Tim Corbin secured his 800th career victory Sunday in our 9-1 victory over Illinois State in the first game of a doubleheader. We were defeated in the second game, 7-3, breaking a 7 game winning streak, but went 4-1 for the week with some impressive hitting and pitching and solid defense once again.
Corbs has now won 694 games at Vanderbilt and won 106 games at Presbyterian. What a coach.
The team had a very impressive week with a 24-2 win over Davidson, a 12-4 victory over East Tennessee State, and took 2 of 3 from Illinois State, 10-4 on Friday Night, 9-1 in the first game Sunday, as Saturday was washed out, before falling 7-3 in the nightcap. We are now 13-3 and D1 Baseball.com, Baseball America, and the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) all have us ranked No.1. Collegiate Baseball News has us at No.4 with Florida State at No.1.
Right fielder J.J. Bleday is hitting a sizzling .415 with 6 homers and 20 Ribeyes, both team leading stats. Shortstop Ethan Paul had a super week last week hitting .388, 7 for 18, and is now hitting .413 with 2 homers and 19 Ribbies and playing terrific at short. Left fielder Cooper Davis is hitting .379 and is 3 for 4 in the stolen base department. Stephen Scott is hitting .345 with a homer and 17 Ribbies. Harrison Ray and Jayson Gonzalez are now starting at 2nd and 3rd respectively as 2nd baseman Austin Martin has been suspended indefinitely for an internal team discipline matter. They are taking advantage of their opportunities. Jayson is hitting .333 with a homer and 6 RBIs, while Harrison, who had taken over 3rd base, but was moved to 2nd when Martin was suspended this past Sunday, has hit .294 and is 5 for 5 in stolen bases. Harrison’s also been excellent in the field. Jayson played well with the glove on Sunday. He’s had his issues at times, but he’s got the ability to be a strong 3rd baseman.
Patrick Raby is still on fire. After going 6 innings, giving up 4 hits, with one earned run, a walk and 5 K’s, Rabes moved to 3-0 on the season with an 0.87 ERA. Rabes has walked 9 and K’d 20. He’s been superb. Drake Fellows is also 3-0 but has a 5,32 ERA. He’s walked 10 and K’d 36. Drake needs to get that ERA down, but he and Rabes are serious strike throwers and that’s where effective pitching starts. Like where we’re at on Friday and Saturday with Drake and Rabes respectively. Sunday, we’re still working to figure out. Zach King strikes out a lot of people, but he can’t seem to get through the 3rd inning without being hit. So we’ll need to find a solution there. I’d give Kumar Rocker another shot or even Tyler Brown. Both are hard throwing and accurate. Like either one of those guys as options.
The defense has been very good recently. We have committed only 7 errors in 16 games and we’re fielding at a .988 clip, while our opponents are fielding at .958. Would like to see us turn the double play a little better, but overall solid stuff on defense.
We play 12-3 Samford today at 6:30 PM CT on SEC Network+ which can be streamed on the ESPN app or Watch ESPN on the computer. Samford has won 10 in a row so they will be a formidable opponent. Right hander Chance Huff takes the hill for us. Chance is 2-0 with a 5.87 ERA. He will face right hander Gene Hurst for the Bulldogs who is 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA.
This weekend we head to College Station to open the SEC season facing the 19th ranked Aggies of Texas A&M. Friday’s first pitch is at 6:30 PM CT, Saturday’s middle game is set for 2 PM CT, and Sunday’s game is scheduled for a 1 PM CT first pitch. All 3 games will be streamed on SEC Network+.
McDonald earns 500th Career victory at Vanderbilt
The awesome Geoff McDonald secured his 500th career victory at Vanderbilt with 4-0 victory over Alabama Sunday in Tuscaloosa. Geoff has been an incredible ambassador for the university in his 25 years at the helm of VU women’s tennis, and the tennis victories just keep piling up with the superb McDonald in charge. Fernanda Contreras, Georgia Drummy, and Amanda Meyer were all victorious in singles Sunday and we also took the doubles point. We had defeated Auburn last Friday at Auburn, 4-1. We are ranked No.5 in the country and Fernanda is ranked 3rd nationally in singles. The new ITA rankings come out today, so will update if there is any change in our’s and Fernanda’s ranking. Geoff just keeps on cookin. We’ve got an awesome team that just keeps getting better and better. Next up we play at No.21 Texas A&M this Friday at 5 PM CT, and then we’re @ No.15 LSU on Sunday at Noon CT. They can be streamed if you go to the VU Women’s Tennis twitter handle and go to the link to the matches. Or you can probably find it on vucommodores.com. The Vanderbilt Women’s Tennis twitter handle is that if you type it in the search bar on Twitter. I’ll have a report Monday.
We’re very fortunate to have Corbs, Geoff, Scott Limbaugh, Bryce Drew, Derek Mason and all of our stellar coaches.
Astra claims singles and doubles titles in Mexico
The phenomenal Astra Sharma won both the singles and doubles titles at the International Tennis Federation tournament in Irapuato, Mexico. Astra defeated former world No.73 Veronica Cepede Royg, 6-7, 6-3, 6-3 to capture the singles championship. Astra improved her singles record to 9-3 this year. She and her doubles partner Paige Hourigan defeated Cepede Royg and Renata Voracova to capture the doubles title.
Astra sits at No.160 in the world and is projected to move up to No.143 as she keeps cookin in her attempt to play in the second major of the year, the French Open, May 26th through June 9th and then the Championships at Wimbledon in late June, early July. Astra wants to capture more titles. Her journey has been extraordinary so far with her qualifying to play in the Australian Open by winning 3 matches, winning a singles match at the Australian Open and making it to the finals at Melbourne in the mixed doubles.
Awesome stuff from Astra.
Men’s Golf in a loaded tournament starting this Sunday
Scott Limbaugh takes his No.3 ranked Men’s Golf Team (Golfstat rankings) down to Palm City, Florida to compete in the Valspar Collegiate Championship. Coach Limbaugh and assistant Gator Todd will have their team squaring off against No.1 Oklahoma State, No.2 Duke, No.6 Wake Forest, No.8 Texas, No.9 Georgia Tech, No.12 LSU, No.15 Auburn, and No.23 Texas A&M among others. Wow. Hoping for a great result from our team though. We know we’ll get a good performance from the nation’s No.6 ranked player, Will Gordon, and probably from studs Patrick Martin and John Augenstein. We just need some of the younger guys to step up like Harrison Ott, Mason Greenberg and Reid Davenport among others. Good test for the team.
The tournament starts this Sunday, 3-17, and runs through next Tuesday, 3-19. Will keep you posted on the men’s progress.
Men’s Basketball vs Texas A&M
Our team takes the floor tomorrow (Wed) at 8 to 8:30 PM CT versus Texas A&M in Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena. The game will be televised by the SEC Network. It’s been a tough season, but the future looks bright and we’ve got a new season starting tomorrow night. Excited to see the guys compete. Will give a report Thursday if we’re successful.
The Mountain Brook Spartans completed a phenomenal season finishing off a 3rd straight state championship last Saturday Night with a 61-42 victory over Baker of Mobile. The Spartans compiled a 31-3 record and are the first team in the state’s highest classification to win 3 state championships in a row. That dates back to 1950. Not only that, the Spartans also finished their season ranked 5th in the country by USA Today’s Super 25 rankings with victories over No.1 IMG Academy out of Bradenton, Florida, 72-67, in the City of Palms Tournament in Fort Myers Florida on December 28th. IMG featured 3, 5 stars and 2, 4 stars who are attending blue chip college programs. It was a phenomenal victory for the team. The great Trendon Watford outplayed all 5 of the IMG players scoring 38 points. It was a tremendous individual performance from the 5 star.
The Spartans also defeated Memphis East, 51-47, on January 26th in the Hot Bed Classic in Mississippi. Memphis East featured the No.1 player in country, James Wiseman, who is 7’0”, 210, and will be playing at Memphis under Penny Hardaway. Also on that team was 4 star Malcolm Dandridge, 6’8”, 245, who will also be playing for Memphis. Another key victory for the Spartans on a national level was the 56-53 victory over Olive Branch of Mississippi at the Lighthouse Classic in Mississippi on November 24th, a team which featured 98, 4 star D. J. Jeffries, a 6’4”, 218 pound shooting guard, who is also going to Memphis.
Then the Spartans navigated the state and came through in the clutch, particularly in the semifinal game of the state championships last Thursday when Alex Washington drained four 3 pointers in a row to bring the Spartans back from a 6 point deficit in the 3rd quarter and lead them to a 59-48 victory.
I spoke with Coach McMillan along with 3 of his star seniors, Trendon Watford, Alex Washington and Lior Berman and got their insights on the season and the magnitude of being the first team ever in the state to win 3 state championships in a row.
Here’s what they all had to say.
DW: What did you guys do after you won the state for the third time in a row?
Bucky: We went up to Mafioso’s in Crestline Village, we had a big party up there, it was fun. We do it every time.
DW: What is it like to win 3 in a row now and 5 in the last 7 years?
Bucky: I was telling someone this. When you look at it now, this team was such a great team. We were top 5 in the country. This was how good this team was. We didn’t play our best basketball in the last 2 games. Watching the last half of the last game, compare it to where it started (11 years ago) and we were happy to get out of the area tournament. We won the state championship by 19, and I thought we could have played a lot better than that. That’s just how good this team was. We found a way to get it done in the last game. Baker pulled a couple of upsets to get there. It was a great run by those guys. We were probably having too much fun when we got up by 20. When you play in these games, Lee Montgomery is just so athletic, they get you to play ugly and you just got to get through it. There have been a lot of teams with players like Trendon Watford. DeMarcus Cousins (LeFlore, Mobile) Eric Bledsoe (Parker) Robert Horry, (Andalusia) Charles Barkley (Leeds), Gerald Wallace (Childersburg), and all of these guys they never won a state championship. All these guys went on to the NBA. It’s just not a given because you have a great player and very good players that you’ll do it, and particularly to win it 3 times in a row, those players have to have something special about them. When they do face adversity, they play well. When they aren’t playing their best, they continue to play defense and guard. That was the strength of our team, no one in the playoffs could get to 50 on us. You hold teams under 50 and sometimes under 40, and the teams can’t get to 50 and I’m pretty sure our guys are going to get to 50 somehow, and you can win even when you’re shooting poorly. We were 1 for 16 from 3 (versus Baker) and finally sank a 3 in the last minute against to go 2 for 17. That’s the great part about it. When they’re not playing their best offensively, they guard and grind and look good doing it. You’re playing Vestavia for the fourth time and James Clemsons, you can slip up, and our guys wouldn’t let that happen. In 2017, we’re playing Gadsen City and it’s a tie game with under a minute left and they have the ball and we have to get the ball back and score, and we score and we make a free throw and we win by 1 in that game. That was in 2017, the regional semifinals, the Sweet 16. And then the Elite 8 we’re down 6 or 7 to Huffman with 3 minutes left in the game and we come back and we win that. And the next one, we’re down 1 to McGill Toolen (in the Final Four) with about 2 minutes left to go in the game and we win that game and come back to win the championship. In 2018, we’re playing Huffman in the regional finals, Elite Eight game, and the lead changes or is tied 32 different times and we never had more than a 4 point lead, neither team did. And in the last 2 minutes of the game we pulled it out and won 78-71. We went on to the Civic Center and played really well. Then this year, we had to face some adversity against Lee. We were down 6 points with 2 minutes left in the third quarter. We didn’t have much rhythm, they were doing a great job defensively and we had to have something different so Alex Washington makes five 3’s, 4 to end the game when we just had to have it. And so we win that game. We went against Baker who we could usually beat. People forget all those other games where it could have gone the other way and you looked dead to rights, and our guys came through and won it. So we found a way. You don’t hear much about guys 3-peating because they have an off game and slip up, they don’t win those 50-50 games, they don’t come back from 6 or 7 down with 3 minutes left. So it’s more about the culmination of all 3 of those years and being in those tough games and coming out on top.
DW: It’s hard to beat Vestavia 4 times in a year like you did this year.
Bucky: Yes, there was a lot of pressure in the regional finals because we had already beaten them 3 times. We got up on’em 32-11 at halftime. We came out making every shot, playing well, and just getting it done.
DW: What is Trendon’s legacy at Mountain Brook and what does his future look like in the college game and in professional basketball?
Bucky: He has such a legacy at Mountain Brook because of the great success he had here. He is a 2 time Mr Basketball right now and you gotta assume he’s got a great chance to be that guy again. Gatorade player of the year 2 years in a row and he’ll be that again this year. He’s a McDonald’s All American, my goodness, Mountain Brook has a McDonald’s All American and he’s been offered by about every school in the country and he’s been talking to Coach K a lot in the past few days. So his legacy as a player is just phenomenal. He wasn’t just a good player, he also did a lot for this school by not only being successful himself on the floor, but also by helping the team be successful. It wasn’t like he was player of the year, McDonald’s All American and won a lot of awards but the team didn’t do great. He was part of a great team and made the team great. One thing people forget, we’ve played 6 state championships in the last 7 years and Trendon’s played in 3 of them. Trendon didn’t play in the other 3. We played in 3 before Trendon got here. The culture has done a lot for Trendon Trendon’s first year on the team in 2016 as a ninth grader, we lose in a Sweet 16 game. I remember he and I walked off the court and he told me I never want to feel this again. And he made sure he didn’t.
DW: How do you see his college future and beyond that?
Bucky: I just think the sky’s the limit. He’s got the size. He’s a prototype. He can play a guard position, he’s 6’9”, with a 7’2”, wingspan. And he can dribble it and he can shoot it. He didn’t shoot it great from 3 at the Civic Center, but he’s become a really good 3 point shooter. And he’s got great handles and he’s a great passer. He can guard the perimeter, he can guard down low. It’s not like he’s a great high school player whose size will not translate. Sometimes you have a great high school player who’s a 6’4” center and he’s a bulldog, But the problem is how many 6’4” centers are in the NBA? He’s never going to be outsized. He’s going to be a 6’9”, 2, 3 or 4. So he’s going to be able to always be the biggest guy at his position.
DW: How much does he weigh?
Bucky: People ask me that all the time, I don’t know weights, I don’t know our players’ weights.
DW: Do you care about that, does that matter?
Bucky: I just care about their strength. In basketball it’s not as much about weight as it is strength. That’s been one of his biggest deals, is the weight room. He’s just become a much better athlete. He’s come into his own as an athlete.
DW : Do you feel like Duke is getting real attractive to him?
Bucky: I do. We’ll know if he’ll go for a visit coming up. It’s moving in the right direction.
DW: When will the 7A player of the year be announced?
Bucky: They’ll do it in the next month or so. They’ll do Gatorade player of the year and Mr. Basketball. But Mr. Basketball is the best honor along with the McDonald’s All American Game. (Wednesday, March 27th in Atlanta at 6 PM CT on ESPN2, best high school players in the country competing).
DW: I bet you’re excited to see him play in the McDonald’s?
Bucky: I can’t wait. I get to coach Trendon again on March 15th ( a week from tomorrow ) in the Alabama-Mississippi all star game. I’m coaching the Alabama team. He’s playing obviously. That was my first pick. (***Bucky said that didn’t take much thought). Ten days later he’ll play in the McDonalds game in Atlanta. It’s such a cool thing because they’re practicing, the NBA scouts are there, its’ a great opportunity.
DW: Do you think he’ll be a 1 and done kind of player or do you want to see how he develops?
Bucky: You just never know. I can’t definitely say he won’t be. You can’t ever say definitely. I couldn’t say if LeBron went to college that he’d be a 1 and done. You just never know.
DW: What about the play of Alex in the semifinals and Lior in both games?
Bucky: Alex, for his first couple of years, was not a great shooter. He was an adequate shooter. Sometimes he was so quick they would take their chances with him shooting it because that was the best way to guard him. Well he did everything else, driving it, passing, defending that shooting probably was the weakest part of his game. Well he turned the weakest part of his game into his strength this year. He shot 47% from the 3 point line and that’s up there at the top of the state. We had to have that in the Lee game. They were double and triple teaming Trendon. We were off. Some plays we normally make, we missed a layup. So we had to have it. Nobody was making 3’s and we were missing layups. They were trapping like crazy. It wasn’t about as a coach calling plays. There were 3 minutes left in the third and we called a timeout and I told them don’t look at me to call a play. Somebody is going to have to make a play besides Trendon for us to win this game or we’re not going to win this game. If we’re making plays and we go down swinging we can live with that. But someone has to step up and make some plays. And Alex goes off. He makes four 3’s in the last 10 minutes of the game. We weren’t going to get much at the rim. Alex stepped up there behind the 3 and said I’ll get this done and he did.
Lior Berman came out in the high pressure game and performed. Some of our juniors felt a little pressure and turned the ball over some, and Lior decided, hey, I’m going to the rack. He played against a team that was as athletic as we’ve played. And he kept us up by 4 at halftime. One thing about Lior, he’s not afraid of the big stage. The bigger the game, the better he’s played. That goes all the way back to his 10th grade year. In that Gadsden City game, our senior went out with 4 fouls and Lior stepped up in that game. He did the same thing as an 11th grader. And as a senior. The bigger the stage, the better he’s played.
DW: Finally what does all this mean to you personally?
Bucky: It’s something that can never be taken away no matter what. If I was in an accident and I couldn’t coach another basketball game, I would know that from 2013-19, that was the greatest run in big school high school basketball history. And for that to happen in a place I’m coaching and to happen at the place not only where I’m coaching, but where I grew up going to games, where I played, a place I love and I live in, that means so much to me. It just makes me so proud for the community. When I get texts, it’s not just from the players, I got 300 texts in the past couple of days, and it’s not just from players or past players, it’s from random people that I know through someone else. They say I got your number from someone else and I came to the game and lived in this community for 35 years and the community is so proud. And that’s what’s unique to me. It’s not just the team being proud and the school being proud, it’s that the community and past Spartans are so proud of the group and what we’ve accomplished. And that’s remarkable. And there are 2 things I want to say. You know we won it in 2013 and I was very proud of the team. But when I first started coaching in 2008-09, we had a group that came in there and the year before they were 8-18,. My first year we won 18 games. And they would not be remembered for holding up the championship trophy, but they were the team and the group that laid the foundation for what Mountain Brook basketball was going to be the next 10-11 years. Their talent level wasn’t what this group is. But the heart, the fight, the effort that is imprinted in our program started with all the players in that group. And we were good in 2010, we were top 5 in the state. In 2011 and 2012, we were a top 5 team in the state. And we kept getting further and further. We finally figured out how to get out of the area, OK let’s get out of the sub regional game, we got past the subregional. Then we get to the regionals and keep getting beaten in the regionals, and finally we take it a step further, and in 2013 we knock the door down. They would have never knocked the door down without those previous groups that came along. We just kept taking it a little bit further. Now some of those guys won’t get all credit, but 4 guys who will get credit are these 4. In big school basketball no team has never won 3 in a row since the inception of big school basketball. That dates back to 1950. That means that Alex Washington, Trendon Watford, Lior Berman and Paulie Stramaglia were 4 players on all 3 of those teams. Those are the only 4 players in big school history who have won 3 high school championships in a row. But it’s gotta get back to the guys who started in 2009. That’s how we got to where we are today.
DW: What’s next for you, I know you have Alabama-Mississippi, but what about next year how does that look?
Bucky: We’re going to be good next year. We lose a great group but these (juniors) have a big ceiling next year. We’re going to bring back Paulie Stramaglia, who’s coming off a knee injury this season, and he’ll be a Division 1 point guard. We have Colby Jones who’ll be a Division 1 player. Holt Bashinsky will be a college basketball player. Peyton Haley will be a college basketball player. He’ll be back. I’ll have 7 players back. We’ve got Alex Belk, Edward Reed and Carter Sobera. So those 7 will come back and it’ll be a great nucleus of players. I think we’ll be really good. We won’t be as tall, we’ll have to go back to playing like we did in 2013, but there will be a lot more pressing and trapping. It’ll be a lot faster. It’s fun though.
DW: Will you have to shoot it better next year though you shot well this year?
Bucky: We’ll be more reliant on shooting 3’s that’s for sure. We’ll shoot a lot more 3’s in games. We didn’t have to this year.
DW: Will you have a good 3 point shooting team next year?
Bucky: We will. We’ll shoot it at a very high clip. The great thing about this team is that we shot it 2 for 17 from 3 (in the state championship game) and won by 19. That’s a positive. Next year we may not have that luxury.
DW: You’ll definitely be back next year?
Bucky: Yes, I’ve been waiting for this group to come through for a long time.
DW: You must be excited about this group.
Bucky: We’ve got a bunch of guys that play basketball all the time. It’s what they do. Some groups do well at baseball, some groups may be a good football group, some group may be good at all 3. But this group I know they’ve always been good at basketball.
The great Trendon, a consensus 5 star, is down to 5 schools after averaging 24 points, 12 rebounds and 3 1/2 assists this season along with several blocked shots. For his 4 year career, Watford scored 3,579 points, 6th all time and most in the highest classification, he pulled down 1,915 rebounds, the most all time in Alabama high school basketball history. His choices are Duke, Alabama, LSU, Memphis and Indiana. Here’s what Trendon had to say.
DW: I know you guys were tested both on a national and state level, but what does it mean to win 3 state championships?
TW: It meant the world to us. We definitely came in every day and worked hard in practice. We showed them how hard we worked and how hard work pays off.
DW: Do you feel like you played your best in the state championship tournament?
TW: No, definitely not, definitely not.
DW: You and your team accomplished so much. What was your mindset heading into the state championship tournament (The Final Four)?
TW: We wanted to treat it like every other game. We didn’t want to treat it like a state championship game or a Final Four game. We just try to treat every game like it’s the same. And I just feel like we didn’t shoot the ball very well. But I thought we played defense at a top level, and I think that helped us when we weren’t playing that well on offense. We really played some defense.
DW: You got a lot of rebounds in those games, were you happy about that?
TW: I definitely had to do everything the team needed me to do especially in the Final Four game because it was hard keeping Lee Montgomery off the glass. So I just had to step up and rebound.
DW: Do you feel like when your shot’s not falling you try to do other things well?
TW: My shot wasn’t falling and a lot of the other shots weren’t falling. We definitely had to guard and board and we did that well.
DW: Where do you think your game is headed into the next chapter of your career?
TW: I definitely need to get better at things. I’m going to work a lot this summer and get ready for the next level.
DW: Trendon, that IMG game was quite a victory for your team. How did that game go and what did it mean to you and your team to come out victorious?
TW: It meant a lot to us and a lot to me. I was going against some guys who were ranked ahead of me and ranked below me. I definitely looked forward to that game and my team did also. We played pretty well that game. It was a win and a good win for our team.
DW: Those guys were all highly ranked players , like you said, a couple above you, a couple below you. What did you all think going into that game was there an intimidation factor or where you guys pretty confident?
TW: We were pretty confident. We came out there with a nothing to lose mentality, and we just went out there and played hard. That’s how we treated it.
DW: What was you guys’ reaction when you won that game? That had to be an incredible feeling.
TW: We definitely were excited. We knocked off the No.1 team in the country. They hadn’t lost a game and they still haven’t lost a game since that game. We definitely had fun afterwards.
DW: I know there’s a national tournament in California that can decide the national champion in high school basketball. Do you wish you guys were there?
TW: Yeah, I definitely wish we were there. We were invited, but can’t play (***note: due to an Alabama High School Association rule that protects Alabama athletes academically). I haven’t though about it that much, but I definitely wish we could play in it.
DW: Now you have the Alabama-Mississippi game (next week). How much are you looking forward to that one?
TW: I haven’t thought a lot about it, but my head coach is coaching in it, so I look forward to it.
DW: Then you play in the McDonald’s All American game (Wednesday, March 27th, 6 PM CT ESPN2, in Atlanta). How big of a deal is that for you?
TW: That’s a really big deal to me. It means a lot from my high school career. A lot of guys i know are playing in that game.
DW: What players are you looking forward to facing in that game?
TW: I’ve faced a lot of those guys, so I’m very excited about it, playing on that stage in the State Farm Arena. Yeah, I’m very excited about it.
DW: Do you think you’ll announce your college decision in that game?
TW: I might. I haven’t really thought about it, but I might.
DW: I know Coach K has called you a couple of times, how does that feel?
TW: It feels good to hear from the Duke staff and Duke in general feels good.
DW: What are they telling you? Have they offered?
TW: They haven’t officially offered, but they talked about me playing in the future. They’re getting ready to play in a conference tournament, but it’s good to be hearing from them some.
DW: You have a final 5, Alabama, LSU, Indiana, Duke and Memphis. Tell me about each one. 'First of all lets go with Alabama, what do you like about them?
TW: They’ve been recruiting me since the 8th grade. They were the first school to recruit me and offer me a scholarship. I like Coach Avery Johnson and the staff there.
DW: What about LSU?
TW: I like Coach Will Wade. I like what he’s doing. He’s got his team in the top 15, top 10 of the country, and he knows what he’s doing.
DW: What about Memphis.
TW: I have a strong relationship with Coach Penny (Hardaway) and Coach Mike Miller. I enjoyed my visit there and I like that school a lot.
DW: What about Duke.
TW: I haven’t really been able to visit up there but I like the way they play. Coach K is one of the greatest coaches ever.
DW: And what about Indiana
TW: My brother played there (Christian) and I have a lot of family ties up there. Really like it up there.
DW: What’s your brother up to now. What’s Christian doing?
TW: He’s playing with the Raptors 905 team, their G League team.
***Note: Christian was a standout at Shades Valley High School in the first decade of the 2000’s. He played for Tom Crean at Indiana and fell one game short of going to the Final Four his senior season. He had a stellar college career, and now, at 28, is still trying to make it in the NBA playing in the triple A of the Toronto Raptors organization.***
DW: Do you have a timeline when you’ll make a decision for college?
TW: No, I do not.
DW: How do you feel about it, do you feel pressure or do you feel kind of relaxed about it?
TW: I feel relaxed about it. I wanted to finish my high school career, and now I can take it in my own time.
DW: Have you enjoyed the process of recruiting?
TW: Yeah, I’ve definitely enjoyed it.
DW: Finally, what are you doing now? How much are you and your team enjoying this accomplishment of a 3 peat?
TW: A lot of our guys are excited about it. We’re definitely enjoying it. It was a heckuva season.
DW: Alex, tell me what does it mean to you to win 3 in a row?
AW: It just means the world. Coming back from all the adversity, it means a lot for sure.
DW: What kind of adversity did you and your team have to go through?
AW: My first year we were here, we went out in the first round (2016). At Mountain Brook, we’re used to going to the BJCC every year. We went over there and we lost, and everybody’s asking us what happened. So that motivated us even more to go on and win 3 more.
DW: Did you feel pressure with that?
AW: There’s always pressure with that, but inside the community everybody supported us.. So mostly it was internal pressure.
DW: How do you respond to those expectations?
AW: I kind of like it because it pushes us. We’re going to be the best we can be, so that definitely pushes us.
DW: Alex, tell me about yourself. You got hot in the semifinal game making four 3’s in a row and 5 for 5 from 3 for the game. What was going on there, was the basket looking pretty big?
AW: Yeah, I just noticed they were doubling Trendon, so I kept getting open and let’er rip. I made 2 and then I thought, all right I’ve got to keep shooting, I think I’m hot.
DW: You guys played an amazing schedule and the IMG win was memorable with Trendon’s 38. Tell me about that game and how it went.
AW: Coach Bucky did a great job game planning all week. All before the game, he was telling us, we’ve got to get’em to play our game not their game. We all had faith that we could win. It was kind of a surprise, but not really because we all knew what we could do in that game.
DW: So you guys felt good going into that game?
AW: Yes sir. We followed the game plan to a T. And made them play a game they weren’t used to playing and it worked out great.
DW: What did you all do exactly?
AW: They’re really talented, and they’re a real transition team. But when they have to guard for long periods of time, they don’t like that. So we just spread them out and made them come out and guard us. They had a big dude who couldn’t really guard Trendon, so we spread them out made them come guard us, we slowed down their transition game, and closed on their shooters, So that did it.
DW: So you guys played more of a half court game in that game?
AW: Yes sir.
DW: Tell me how’s it been playing with Alex, Lior and your senior class?
AW: I love it. We are so close in our senior class. We’re close as a team but especially with our seniors. I just feel like it’s been a blessing playing with them, and seeing us grow into something is pretty cool.
DW: How has it been playing for Coach McMillan?
AW: It’s been great. He brings the best out of us on the court and off the court. He’s going to stay on you no matter if you get 38 or whatever. You’re still going to have to play defense. He’s a genius coach.
DW: What game did you think, well we have a special team, any time in the season?
AW: It was really the City of Palms (where the Spartans defeated IMG in December) because we went there for a week and everybody on the team just bonded. So after that, we had a special group that cared about each other and knew we could win some games.
DW: You played McEachern (of Georgia, No.2 team in the country, 50-29 loss) the next night. What happened in that game?
AW: We had tired legs. We played the night before (against IMG) at 9 and then the next night at 7, so we really didn’t have time to recover. But everybody was just gassed, so it wasn’t our best performance.
DW: Do you think this is the best Mountain Brook team you’ve played on?
AW: Oh yeah, for sure.
DW: What’s made this team so good?
AW: I feel like everybody can play. If you take out Trendon, somebody else can play. We had so much depth. Everybody is really good. We also love playing together. Our chemistry is amazing.
DW: Well tell me about going to Harvard (on a football scholarship) what’s that like?
AW: I’m excited. It’s definitely a dream come true. I’ve been wanting to go to the Ivy League for a long time. I know it’s going to prepare me for the future, so I’m really excited.
DW: Are you going to play both football and basketball there?
AW: I’m still thinking about it. It would be a lot to keep up my school work and play both sports, so I’m still debating it.
DW: Will you play one sport for sure.
AW: i’m going to play football for sure.
DW: And you’re a cornerback aren’t you?
AW: Yes sir.
DW: I saw you, you were quite a cornerback. Your grades must be fantastic, you must have done well in the classroom. How are your grades.
AW: My parents did a good job of making me do my best. And I’ve tried my best to do well in school.
***Alex carries a 3.9 GPA and scored a 28 on his ACT. He also just won a state art award.***
DW: What’s next for you, what do you have cookin?
AW: I’m taking a week off then I’m going to start working on my skills, my footwork and stuff and get ready for football.
DW: What’s it like to be a state champion 3 years in a row?
LB: It’s pretty awesome. Winning it the 3rd year was just as exciting as winning it the first year.
DW: Was any year more special or were they all pretty cool?
LB: I don’t think so. The first year was more special because it was the first one. But every year has had its own specialness to it.
DW: Tell me, you played well in the semis and the finals, but your team didn’t play as well. Were there nervousness or what was happening?
LB: I think it was just one of those games where our team wasn’t playing like we usually do. We still got the job done, but it wasn’t as good as we usually are. It just shows you even when we aren’t playing as well, we find a way to win.
DW: You guys had some amazing wins this year. You beat IMG, you beat Memphis East, you beat Olive Branch. Talk about those games.
LB: If we were assigned the game with IMG tomorrow and we didn’t have any preparation, IMG would just destroy us. But we prepared for them a couple of days before. Going over their players, who can shoot, who can drive, who can do both, and just getting a general game plan for how to beat those teams. When we executed perfectly we were able to be successful in those games. It was a great feeling.
DW: The execution must have been something else in those games.
LB: Yes sir. We knew we had to follow the game plan our coaches had for us perfectly to be successful.
DW: Alex said you guys ran the half court game against IMG. Is that what you all did?
LB: Yes sir. So with IMG, we wanted to make them come outside the 3 point line to come out and guard us, so we had our motion offense and all the action at half court allowed us to drive.
DW: Tell me how Trendon played.
LB: It was incredible. He had 38 and took over. That’s the best basketball I’ve ever seen him play. Defensively and offensively he was at the top of his game.
DW: Does that tell you what kind of college player he’ll be?
LB: Yes sir. If he can do that against all those highly ranked players, then he can do that against a lot of people.
DW: You looking forward to seeing him in the McDonald’s?
LB: I can’t wait.
DW: Tell me about your plans. What have you got cookin now?
LB: I have an offer from Spring Hill in Mobile. But I also have several offers from several D3 high academic schools. I’m not sure what I’m going to do now, but hopefully soon, I’ll be able to say.
DW: What D3 schools are you looking at?
LB: Rhodes (in Memphis), Berry (in Rome, GA.), Birmingham Southern, Sewanee, a couple more.
DW: When do you think you’ll decide?
LB: Probably in the next 2 weeks I imagine.
DW: Are you waiting on something to happen before that?
LB: No, I’m just taking my time, it’s a big decision.
DW: Lior, tell me how’s it been playing with Trendon, Alex and all the seniors.
LB: Well, I love the senior class. We’ve been together a long time. I remember how good I thought Trendon was my first year, and to see him get even better than that this year. The growth of all the players from our first year to now has been pretty incredible. Everyone has grown so much.
DW: What do you attribute that to?
LB: I attribute that to just after the season, we get a month off and get to the offseason grind of conditioning and the early morning hard practices. And all the guys love basketball so much. We might not even have practice and we’ll be in the gym shooting, just trying to get better.
DW: What has Coach McMillan done for you?
LB: He’s done a lot for me. He’s made me a lot tougher person. if you’re tired he’s going to get the best out of you no matter what. He’s always pushing you to be the best you can be.
DW: Did you kind of get conditioned with that?
LB: Yes sir. My first year of varsity it was really rough. I wasn’t used to all that running, pressing. In year 2 it was a little easier. Then I learned what spots to go to and it was pretty awesome.
DW: Talk about the leadership of your class for the younger guys
LB:. We led them in ways on the court, what to run. Our coach expects us to do the little things so the juniors and sophomores will know what to do to win.
DW: You think these guys will keep it up next year?
LB: Definitely. We’ve gotten a lot better this year, and they’ll keep it going next year.
DW: Has doing what you guys have done this season with the national victories and the third straight state championship, has it sunk in yet?
LB: Not really. I haven’t really had the chance to encompass everything we’ve done.
DW: How much have you enjoyed the experience of playing for Mountain Brook?
LB: Growing up my cousin, Jeremy Berman, was on the team when I was little. I went to all the basketball games and knew it was something I wanted to do. When I finally got into the Mountain Brook system I felt like I was recreating what the guys before me did.
DW: Your dad was a player at Mountain Brook?
LB: Yes sir. His name is Elan.
DW; Has he supported you a lot in this experience?
LB: Yes sir, all the time. He made sure I woke up for those early AM practices.
DW: When do you guys practice in the morning?
LB: We start going at 6 (AM), get an hour and a half in, so we have time to shower and get to school. We can get our legs back in the afternoon.
DW: You’ve had a great career and excited to hear about your future. What does winning 3 in a row mean to you? That’s tremendous.
LB: It just shows that if you do the small things and keep working hard, it’ll pay off. We have to buy into the system. If everyone on the team is buying into the system, there are no weak links, and I feel like there’s no weak link on our team. Everyone wanted to be great and follow the system. It shows you how hard work pays off.
DW: Let me know by text when you decide what to do.
LB: I will. Thank you so much for reaching out to me.
Winner at the Arnie
Our baseball team completed a 3 game sweep of Dayton over the weekend behind some timely hitting and terrific pitching.
Drake Fellows pitched a masterpiece on Friday going 6, giving up 5 hits with 3 earned, 2 walks and 13 ring ups in an 11-3 Commodore victory.
On Saturday in game 1, as the Commodores played a doubleheader Saturday due to weather concerns on Sunday, Patrick Raby pitched another gem. Rabes went 6, gave up 2 hits, 0 runs, with 2 walks and 8 K’s. Rabes’ fastball was hitting its spots and his curve and changeup were superb. Love what I’m seeing out of Rabes. He looks very much like the Patrick Raby we saw 2 years ago, even better really. His performance on the hill is a big key to our success this season among other factors. Hugh Fisher pitched 2/3 of an in inning and didn’t have great success, but Tyler Brown came in with his 93-94 fastball and was tremendous. In 2.1 innings, Tyler gave up no hits, 0 runs with no walks and 4 K’s. Tyler was phenomenal.
J.J. Bleday was 2 for 3 with his fourth homer of the season and his 11th RBI. He is now hitting .442. Austin Martin is still leading us in hitting at .476. Ethan Paul is hitting .422, awesome leadoff hitter Cooper Davis is hitting .383, and Philip Clarke is hitting .283 but has belted out 4 homers and leads the team in Ribeyes with 14. We are hitting .325 as a team and holding our opponents to a .227 average. Love the way our pitching is developing.
In game 2, Zach King, Ethan Smith and Jake Eder combined to pitch a 4 hit shutout as we blanked Dayton, 2-0. Zach went 4.1 innings, gave up 3 hits, 0 runs, with 2 walks and 7 K’s. Ethan came in for the 4th and pitched 3.2 innings of 1 hit shutout ball, with 3 walks and 5 K’s. The freshman was fantastic. Jake came in for the 9th and allowed a hit batsmen before ending the game on a 6-4-3 double play.
I thought our defense was pretty solid once again. We are now fielding at a .985 clip and our opponents are fielding at .971. We have only committed 6 errors in 11 games. We started out a little slowly, but we keep improving. Harrison Ray looks like he might be taking over at third for Jayson Gonzalez and he played some awesome third and got a couple of hits. Harrison was really good on Saturday.
We are now 9-2 on the season and D-1 Baseball and the National Collegiate Baseball Sportswriters Association (NCBWA) still have us at No.1 in the country. Collegiate Baseball and Baseball America haven’t released their polls this week. Collegiate Baseball had us at #2 behind LSU last week, and BA had us at No.1.
So some really good stuff going on for this baseball program. Like what this team is right now, it’s development, and what it can be. Pitching is looking stronger and stronger and we’ve got really good hitting and some pretty solid defense. Austin Martin is making some sensational plays up the middle at second, going to his right and jumping and throwing across his body for outs. Austin is a heckuva’n athlete.
Today, we’ll play Davidson at 1 PM CT at the Hawk. The game will be broadcast by SEC Network+. Freshman right hander Chance Huff will take the hill. Chance is 1-0 with a 7.71 ERA, but has plenty of talent. It will be good to see Chance get a start and see how he fares. Tomorrow, we’ll host East Tennessee State with a 2 PM CT first pitch. That game will also be broadcast by SEC Network+. No announcement on pitchers yet.
This weekend we’ll host Illinois State Friday at 4:30 PM CT (SEC Network+) with Drake, in all likelihood, on the hill, Saturday at 2 PM CT (SEC Network+) with Rabes on the mound, and Sunday at 1 PM CT (SEC Network+) with our starter to be determined.
So, we’re cookin pretty well right now. Will keep you posted on our progress today and the rest of this week.
Fernanda Contreras won her 127th career singles match breaking Taka Bertrand’s single season career singles record at VU. The third ranked Contreras won 6-2, 6-3 at No.1 singles. Awesome stuff from Fernanda. She’s been a phenomenal player for our team for 4 years now, and is a first class young woman. And we’ve got Fernanda for a good while longer this season. She’s an amazing leader on this team as well. Such a fiery competitor. It rubs off on the rest of the team. Our No. 6 women (ITA rankings) defeated Arkansas @ the Currey Tennis Center, 6-1, on Sunday to move to 7-3 and complete a weekend sweep as we defeated Missouri, 7-0, on Friday.
Christina Rosca, Georgia Drummy, Amanda Meyer, and Carolyn Campana were also singles victors. Emma Kurtz/Emily Smith and Summer Dvorak/Amanda Meyer won in doubles to clinch the doubles point. Teams play 3 doubles matches and if a team wins 2, it clinches the doubles point. We’re a really good doubles playing team. Geoff is big on doubles and knows the importance of it.
We are on the road this weekend playing @ No.34 Auburn at 2 PM Friday and then @Alabama on Sunday at 11 AM CT. Alabama is not in the top 50 of the ITA rankings, but they’re a dangerous SEC team and it’s on the road which will make it tougher. So big weekend for Geoff and the team.
The men, after losing a tough one @ No.8 Mississippi State last Friday, defeated No.30 Ole Miss on Sunday @ Ole Miss in a huge victory for our team, 4-1.. Our 27th ranked men moved to 10-3 on the season. George Harwell, Macsen Sisam, Billy Rowe, and Panu Virtenen were all victors in singles. Ole Miss defeated us in the doubles, but our singles performance got us over the top.
We now face Auburn at home this Friday @ the Currey Tennis Center at 2 PM CT.
Sunday, we’ll face No.20 Alabama at noon CT. Both matches will be streamed on vucommodores.com. The women’s matches will probably be available for streaming too on the vucommodores site.
Our No.3 Men’s golf team is presently tied for 4th at +3 in the Querencia Cabo Collegiate in Los Cabos, Mexico. No.1 Oklahoma State is leading at -26. No.9 Arizona State is 2nd at -17 and No. 36 Baylor is 3rd at -3. We are tied with No.50 Arizona in 4th.
We are through holes 6-8 today, the final day of the tournament. Maybe we can get hot and get to third before the day is over. Will Gordon is tied for 11th at -1, Reid Davenport is tied 23rd at +1, John Augenstein is tied for 26th at +3, and Patrick Martin and Harrison Ott are tied for 29th at +4. Not our best showing in this event, but maybe w can improve here on the final stretch of holes.
Will let you know what transpired tomorrow.
Bucky McMillan, Trendon Watford and the Mountain Brook Spartans defeated Baker of Mobile convincingly, 61-42, to capture their third straight state championship and 5th in 7 years with the other 4 coming in 2013, ‘14, ‘17 and ‘18.
Watford, the tournament MVP along with the Gatorade Player of the year for the 2nd year in a row, Mr. Basketball for the 3rd year in a row and potential Duke Blue Devil, LSU Tiger Alabama Crimson Tider or Memphis Tiger, scored 22 points, pulled down 11 rebounds, blocked 4 shots, set his team up for key baskets with pinpoint passing, and was 11 of 12 from the free throw line to help lead his team to victory.
Senior Lior Berman was just as important scoring 19 points and pulling down 8 boards. Junior Colby Jones added 10. Alex Washington was the key guy in the semis in a 59-48 victory over R.E. Lee of Montgomery as he sank 5-for-5 3’s including 4 straight in the last 10 minutes of the game scoring 19 points and assuring the Spartans played for a third straight state championship.
While Watford is a superstar, this year was all about the team for the 31-3 Spartans. They made history, becoming the only team in state history to ever win 3 straight state championships. It was a spectacular feat for a community that has always strived for greatness in its sports teams.
Bucky and Mountain Brook don’t look to be slowing down next season either with some key juniors returning and a national powerhouse schedule that will challenge a talented team.
For Watford, it’s on to the Alabama-Mississippi all star game, which McMillan will coach in the next 2 weeks, then, on Wednesday, March 27th at 6 PM CT on ESPN2, Watford will play in the McDonald’s All American game with the best players in the country, guys who are going to the blue chip college basketball programs. It will be quite a showcase of talent and a great challenge for the awesome Watford to test his skills against the nation’s best players. He could announce his college decision then during the game, either before the game or at halftime. Coach K has talked to him twice now.
I will have more from Bucky, Trendon, Alex and Lior on Wednesday. This Spartans powerhouse shows no signs of slowing down, and these 3 players are history makers in this state, along with junior point guard Paulie Stramaglia who was hurt earlier this season but will be back next year and is a Division 1 prospect along with Colby Jones.
More on Wednesday.
Now in his 8th season, Vanderbilt Men’s head golf coach Scott Limbaugh has taken his program to greater and greater heights. Under Limbaugh’s leadership, the Commodore program has won 22 tournaments, has been to 6 NCAA Tournaments, 3 Elite Eights and a Final Four in 2017. But Limbaugh and his team want more in 2019. We have won 2 tournaments in a row, the Tavistock Collegiate Invitational at Windemere,, Florida in late October defeating No.7 LSU, No.15 Arizona State, No.16 Auburn, and No.22 Texas Tech among others. Will Gordon was the individual winner or low medalist in that event. And just 2 weeks ago, we were victorious again capturing the Gator Invitational in Gainesville defeating a solid field with Gordo again capturing low medalist honors. so quite a start for our team.
But Scott knows that this team has a lot of work ahead of it if they want to achieve their goals of becoming an elite team come May. First off, we play in the Querencia Cabo Intercollegiate tomorrow t(Sunday) through Tuesday in Los Cabos, Mexico against a loaded field. No.1 and defending national champion Oklahoma State is in the event, along with No.7 LSU, No. 11 Alabama, No. 15 Arizona State, and No.19 Texas A&M among others in the 12 team field. So a major but super challenge for our team to see where we stack up nationally at this point in the season. Then we’ll travel to Palm City, FL. Sunday, March 17th-Tuesday March 19th to play in an equally loaded Valspar Collegiate Championship tournament. April 5th-7th, we’ll host the Mason Rudolph Championship at our home course, the Legacy in Franklin, TN. We’ll then play in the Old Waverly Collegiate Championship in West Point, Mississippi April 15th-16th. The SEC Championship will be held at Sea Island, Georgia, Wednesday, April 24th-Sunday, April 28th. The NCAA Regionals start Monday, May 13th. The NCAA Championship will be played at the Blessings Golf Club in Fayetteville, Arkansas Friday, May 24th-Wednesday, May 29th.
So a lot of work ahead for our team. But I trust Coach Limbaugh, with his tremendous resume and reputation, to get this team to reach its potential like he has done with all our teams.
We are presently ranked 5th in the country according to Golfweek rankings and Gordo is ranked 6th in the country individually. Gordo is a senior. Senior Patrick “PMart” Martin is ranked 49th and junior John “Clutch” Augenstein is ranked No.50. Those guys are our big 3 and we need some of the younger guys to step up and give us depth to be seriously elite. But there is talent in that group of younger players.
Big tournament tomorrow in Los Cabos. Will be a nice gauge of where our team is presently, but the key is to keep peaking by the time the SEC Tournament starts and then, hopefully, the NCAA’s.
Our No.1 baseball team (D1 and Baseball America polls) defeated Dayton, 11-3, yesterday at Hawkins Field behind some stellar pitching by Drake Fellows and timely hitting. We moved to 7-2 on the season after this victory and the heartbreaking loss against Austin Peay Wednesday where we held a 5-3 lead in the 9th and couldn’t hold it, losing 7-6 in in 10.
Drake went 6, gave up 5 hits, 3 earned, with 2 walks and 13 K’s. Huge performance from Drake. Drake moved to 2-0. Mason Hickman came in for the last 3 innings and pitched well, giving up 3 hits, 0 runs with a walk and 5 K’s. Mason recorded his 2nd save of the season. So excellent pitching from both our guys. Left fielder Cooper Davis had 2 doubles and 3 Ribeyes on the night. J.J. Bleday was 2 for 3, which included his 3rd home run of the season. Philip Clarke also had 2 hits in 4 plate appearances with a double and an RBI. Austin Martin was 1 for 5 with 2 RBIs and is still hitting .500 on the season. Austin is a phenomenal player as are J.J., Cooper and Philip. We’ve got several tremendous players on this team.
We will play a doubleheader against Dayton today with the first game at 1 PM CT at the Hawk on SEC Network+. The second game will be 45 minutes after the completion of the first game. Patrick Raby will get the start for us in game 1. Rabes is 1-0 with an 0.93 ERA. He’s pitching fantastically well. He’ll face right hander Aaron Ernst of Dayton who is 0-1 with a 12.46 ERA. Game 2 pitchers are to be determined. Game 2 will also be broadcast by SEC Network+.
So good stuff from our guys. Will have a recap Monday on our team.
We play at A&M today. Tip-off is at 5 PM CT on the SEC Network. It would be awesome to get a victory today on the road. We’ve got a shot in College Station.
The women’s basketball team defeated Tennessee on Thursday Night, 76-69, in Knoxville. Awesome job by coach Stephanie White and the team. We close out the regular season Sunday at 2 PM CT at home versus Florida. The SEC Women’s Basketball Tournament starts next week. So great stuff from our women. Hopefully, that will get this thing cookin at the right time.
Our No.6 Women’s Tennis team started out the SEC season on a very high note notching a 7-0 victory over No. 39 Missouri. Third ranked (nationally) Fernanda Contreras, Georgia Drummy, Amanda Meyer, Carolyn Campana, Summer Dvorak and Emily Smith all won their respective singles matches. Summer and Amanda and Georgia and Emma Kurtz won their doubles matches to get that all important doubles point to start the match. Super effort by the women.
We’ll face No.41 Arkansas tomorrow at 1 PM CT at the Currey Tennis Center in Nashville. Our women deserve all the support they get because they are terrific representatives of Vanderbilt University with their on court and off court success. The SEC in women’s tennis is one of the most competitive of all sports in the conference. Just so many excellent teams, so we’ll have some exciting home and road matches coming up starting tomorrow. Our women achieved a 3.75 GPA in the fall. Just a highly motivated, successful group of women and competitors. Geoff always grooms his teams to be their best in March and April, and this season most likely will be no exception. We moved to 6-3 on the season.
The No.27 Men’s Tennis team fell to No.8 Mississippi State on the road. Still playing very good tennis at 10-3. We play at No. 30 Ole Miss tomorrow at 1 PM. Key match for out men. I’ll talk to Coach Ian Duvenhage in the next week or two about his potentially special team.
I’ll be talking to Women’s Golf Coach Jeff Allen this week about our No.5 nationally ranked Commodores Women’s Golf team. Abbey Carlson is ranked No.7 in the country and Auston Kim is ranked No.11. We have won 2 tournaments in a row, the UCF Challenge and the Reynolds Lake Oconee Invitational. We play in the Darius Rucker Intercollegiate in Hilton Head Island, S.C. next Friday through Sunday, March 8th-10th. Exciting stuff from Coach Allen and his women.
Just wanted to get back to what the women’s soccer team did in the fall. They finished 16-4-1 and won the SEC regular season championship. We made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. And with many of our players returning next fall, next year’s prognosis looks extremely promising for Coach Darren Ambrose and his team. This is an emerging program nationally and it’s going to be an electric fall for our team.
I’ll have a report on our football team this week including our signing class, the talented players on our team now, the new coaches on our staff and the prospects for 2019. There is a 5 way battle at quarterback with Deuce Wallace, Riley Neal and Allan Walters as the leaders right now. Mo Hassan and freshman early enrollee Jamil Muhammad are competing hard as well. Both are very talented players. A lot of talent competing at that position for the fall. Love our Big Three of running back KeShawn Vaughn, wide receiver Kalija Lipscomb and tight end Jared Pinkney. Huge to get those 3 back. Coach Mason said that was his best recruiting job of 2019 getting those 3 to return for their senior seasons. We will be very explosive on offense this upcoming season if our quarterback can come through and we’ve got talent at that spot. Really like Deuce and Riley has good credentials coming from Ball State. He is a graduate transfer. We really have some playmakers in the backfield and at wide receiver with Kalija, Amir-Abdul Rahman, Cam Johnson, and C.J. Bolar among others. We have some young guys coming in who can help. Tight end with Jared and some young guys will be stout. Along with KeShawn we have talented sophomore Ja’Veon Marlow along with junior Jamauri Wakefield and some highly talented freshmen coming in. And we have an offensive line that looks very promising with great size, athletic ability and strength. The defense will need to reload some and definitely improve from that Texas Bowl performance against Baylor. Our secondary is talented. Our linebackers should even be better this season as should our defensive line. So the defense could be pretty stout by game 1 versus Georgia at home.
The schedule makers didn’t do us any favors scheduling Georgia in game 1, a road game @ Purdue, an open date, and then a home game versus LSU. But they’re on the schedule and we’ll go into each one of those 3 games with the intention of winning. I like what this team can be in Coach Mason’s 6th season. We’ll play @Florida, @South Carolina, @Tennessee and @Ole Miss with Kentucky, Missouri, Northern Illinois, UNLV and East Tennessee State coming to Vanderbilt Stadium. So we have our work cut out for us, but believe in what Coach Mason and the players are doing. We can be a very solid football team in 2019.
The Black and Golf Scrimmage will be held Saturday, March 30th at 11 AM CT at Vanderbilt Stadium. You can watch it on the SEC Network. Great stuff ahead for our program and I like the freshmen we have coming in and the returning players we have coming back. More on the team this coming week.
Geoff McDonald is now in his 25th year as Vanderbilt head women’s tennis coach and has posted a remarkable resume at VU. McDonald has taken all of his previous 24 teams to the NCAA Tournament. He has taken his teams to 19 Sweet 16’s, 5 Elite 8’s and 5 Final Fours with a national championship in 2015. This year’s team is 5-3 presently and is ranked 6th in the country. No.1 singles player, senior Fernanda Contreras, is ranked 3rd in the country. Junior Christina Rosca is ranked 9th. Sophomore Amanda Meyer is ranked 37th.
It’s a team that posted a 3.75 GPA in the fall. This team has all the tools to excel. We defeated No. 16 California on the west coast last Friday before falling to No.4 Stanford in the Bay Area last Saturday. Our 2 other losses, were very hard fought contests to No.1 UNC and No.2 Georgia, matches that could have gone either way. We open SEC play in another highly talented and exceptional conference season facing No.39 Missouri (10-1) at today 3:30 PM at the Currey Tennis Center on campus. Sunday, we square off with No.41 Arkansas (7-4) at 1 PM CT at Currey Tennis Center as well. Both matches will be streamed on vucommodores.com.
The team is once again loaded under McDonald. Like all great coaches, McDonald is not as focused on long term outcomes as he is on the journey, the process of getting there. His teams always peak in March and April and this team looks to have the talent and heart to do that as well.
Geoff told me that Astra Sharma, former Vanderbilt great, who reached the Finals of the Australian Open in mixed doubles before falling in a highly competitive match, is presently working to qualify for the French Open, which she will set her sights on in March and April to qualify for Roland Garros, which will be played May 26th-June 9th. Astra will also work towards qualifying in May and June for the Championships at Wimbledon. Wimbledon will be held July 1st-14th. So exciting stuff from Astra along this year’s team.
Will keep you posted on the women’s progress throughout the spring starting this weekend.
Geoff is excited about this group and their prospects for a possible elite season once again.
Mountain Brook senior guard Alex Washington, who will play football and basketball at Harvard next year, gave Bucky McMillan and his Mountain Brook Spartans just what they needed when it mattered most.
Washington sank 5-of-5 3 pointers, 3 in the fourth quarter, and was 7-for-9 from the field finishing with 19 points to lead the Spartans (30-3) to a 59-48 state semifinal victory over the Robert E. Lee Generals (29-4) at BJCC’s Legacy Arena yesterday.
The Spartans, with Coach McMillan winning his 300th game as a head coach, now move on to the state championship game to face Baker (21-13), a 59-55 semifinal victor over Hoover (22-9) yesterday, at 5:45 PM CT Saturday at Legacy Arena. The game will be televised by Charter in Birmingham on channel 80. You may need to order the channel to get it, if you want to, but it is available.
Washington was electric from 3 point range, Trendon Watford finished with 14 points, 13 rebounds, 4 steals and 2 blocks with Alabama’s Avery Johnson, LSU’s Will Wade, Memphis’s Penny Hardaway and 2 Duke assistants in attendance. Lior Berman also had a terrific day for the Spartans finishing with 17 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 steals.
McMillan said after the game it wasn’t a thing of beauty but any win is a pretty win.
Baker is led by point guard Christian Bedgood, who will be the smallest player on the court tomorrow at 5’7”, but he has tremendous heart. He finished the Hoover game with 20 points and was on target from the line sinking 2 key free throws in the last 40 seconds to spark the Hornets’ victory. Kriston Davis finished with 15 points and 8 boards for the Hornets. He’s a 6’2”, forward.
The Spartans need one more victory to win their 5th state title in 7 years with the other 4 coming in 2013, 20114, 2017 and 2018, and this will be a 3 peat if the Spartans can secure the victory.
The neon shirts will be out in full force tomorrow at Legacy Arena. They’re hopeful their Spartans can bring home the hardware.
The Crimson Tide pulled off a tremendous 68-62 victory over South Carolina last night at Colonial Life Arena in Columbia. It was a huge victory for the Tide as they moved to 17-11 overall and 8-7 in the SEC. That backed up a 68-61 home victory for Avery Johnson’s squad over Vanderbilt last Saturday..
The great 17 year old freshman guard Kyra Lewis poured in 17 and was 3-for-6 from trifecta against the Gamecocks. Awesome big man Donta Hall had another double-double with 15 points and 10 boards. Tevin Mack added 11. And the best player on the floor last night, not the most talented, but the best and most efficient player, was 5th year senior Riley Norris, who had 11 points and a critical steal and score at the end of the game to seal it for the Tide.
Alabama is projected by the great Joey “Brackets” Lunardi as an 11 seed and playing No.6 seed Kansas State at the Midwest Regional in Tulsa. I trust everything Joe says, he’s phenomenal. The committee should just listen to him and use his bracket to make their selections. Joe works tirelessly on his brackets every 3 to 4 days and his predictions make so much sense. He likes the Crimson Tide as a last 4 team to get a bye. I think the Tide matches up favorably with Kansas State. With their defense, and with better shooting , they could knock off K State or any team they play in the first round as long as it’s not a number 1 or 2 seed. K State struggles with their shooting as well at times, so if Bama can keep their excellent defense going and get the ball through the net more, they’re a dangerous squad. I really like what Riley Norris does for this team. He’s the most underrated player in the conference and really one of the most underrated players in the country. Just a terrific basketball player.
The Crimson Tide has a huge game Saturday at home versus LSU which will be televised by ESPN at 11 AM CT. If the Tide can pull that off, they will have a major quadrant 1 victory and will really help their tournament hopes.Quadrant 1 victories are critical for teams and their tournament hopes Those are victories against top 50 teams. Very important to win some of those. That victory Could almost secure their bid. Then they host the Auburn Tigers next Tuesday, 3-5, at 8 PM at Coleman. ESPN will also televise that contest. A week from Saturday, March 9th, the Tide will travel to Arkansas to face the Razorbacks at 5 PM CT on the SEC Network. So a lot of work for the Tide to secure their tournament bid along with a strong showing at the SEC Tournament in Nashville, March 13-17th.
Auburn lost a tough one to UK last Saturday at Rupp, 80-53. I didn’t even recognize that Auburn team. This team is a lot better than that. They are presently 7-7 in the SEC and 18-9 overall and Joe has them as an 8 seed and playing Texas in the South Regional in Columbus, Ohio. AU is still a very good team, and just needs to regain their momentum. The Tigers are @Georgia tonight at 8 CT on ESPNU. Saturday, the Tigers host Mississippi State at 3 PM CT on ESPNu. Next Tuesday, it’s the Crimson Tide at 8 PM CT on ESPN and the Tigers close out the regular season versus Tennessee at home at 11 AM CT, Saturday, March 9th, at Auburn Arena. ESPN or the Deuce will televise. So Auburn could get some quality victories down the stretch and secure an even higher seed in the NCAA Tournament if they can get these quality victories and play well in the SEC Tourney.
With Zion Williamson out for Duke with a sprained knee, the tournament could be much more open. My Final Four is Duke, with Williamson, without him they’re not in, Virginia, Gonzaga and Kentucky. Michigan State, UNC, LSU and Tennessee are knocking on the door. Duke with Williamson is the favorite to win it all. Without Williamson, I don’t see them making the Final Four. I really like Virginia. The great Jay Bilas calls superstar guards Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy, as players, “who look like Boy Scouts, but play like Navy Seals.” DeAndre Hunter is a superstar for the Cavaliers. Gonzaga is a high quality team that defeated Duke with Williamson. They look Final Four worthy, though interestingly, Tennessee defeated them at a neutral site in December. Kentucky is playing very well though they just got by Arkansas at Rupp last night, 70-66. P.J. Washington may be playing the best basketball of any player in the country. Tyler Herro and Ashton Hagans are superb players. The Cats are for real. Michigan State is another defensive juggernaut under Tom Izzo. Point guard Cassius Winston is a phenomenal player. You never count out the Spartans. Excellent team. North Carolina is hitting their stride led by superstar fourth year senior Luke Maye. I said this to my wife last week when UNC defeated Duke last Wednesday, 88-72 at Cameron Indoor, that Maye was not the most talented player on the court by any means, but he was the BEST player on the court. So savvy, huge heart and great skills. LSU is playing well though I’m still trying to figure out how they defeated Tennessee at home last Saturday. Tennessee was the better team that day, but somehow the Bengal Tigers won the game. Tennessee is definitely a factor. I like Texas Tech having a shot. Nevada can maybe get there, but they look like an Elite Eight team to me, which is very good. Maybe not enough to get to Indy though.
And that leads me to this year’s Cinderella.
You might call them a Cinderella but the Terriers are 16-0 in a loaded Southern Conference this season that has potential tournament teams Furman, UNC Greensboro, and East Tennessee State. Wofford 24-4 overall, haven’t lost since December 19th, and are 6-0 against those 3 teams. My man Bama Golf, a Wofford alum, sent me an awesome article by CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander, who compared Wofford to the 2007-2008 Elite Eight Davidson team with a player by the name of Steph Curry. I’d also include last year’s Final Four Loyola-Chicago team, which was an unreal story. As my wife calls’em “That Nun Team.” Looks like Wofford could be the Sister Jean story this season. They are the 3rd best 3 point shooting team in the country and that can win you several NCAA Tournament games if you’re hot from beyond the arc.
Winner at the Honda Classic
I’m going to go back to the well one more time and go with the 3rd time is a charm theory and pick the 25 year old who lost a heartbreaker 2 weeks ago at the Genesis to J.B. Holmes after having a 4 shot lead going into the final round, then shooting a 62 last Sunday to finish 9th at the WGC Mexico. I’m going to try this young gun one more time. He’s the defending champion at PGA National Resort and Spa, Champion Course. The Bear Trap, 15, 16 and 17 is one of the toughest stretches in golf, with 2 highly difficult par 3’s in 15 and 17 and a highly challenging par 4, 17th. A Jack Nicklaus design, and Jack put some serious teeth into this course and particularly that stretch of holes.
TV: Thursday-=Friday, Golf Channel, 1-5 PM CT; Saturday-Sunday, GC, 12-2 PM CT, NBC 2-5 PM CT.
Weather, looks good for the most part, Chances of rain tomorrow and Friday, nothing major though, Pretty sunny Saturday and Sunday. Sunday’s winds are 6-12, the hardest it’s circulating this weekend and that could be problematic for the players on the water filled 15th and 17th holes.
The Mountain Brook Spartans basketball program has written their incredible legacy since Bucky McMillan has been in charge. McMillan, now in his 11th season, has led the Spartans to 4 state championships already in 2013, 2014, 2017 and 2018. This is also the Spartans 6th Final Four in seven years under McMillan as they face the 4th ranked Robert E. Lee Generals in the semifinals of the Alabama High School Athletic Association state championships at the BJCC’s Legacy Arena tomorrow at 10:30 AM CT for the right to play for another state championship. The game will be broadcast by the NHFS network online. Saturday’s championship game is at 5:45 PM pitting the Spartans-Generals winner versus the Baker-Hoover winner The game will be broadcast by channel 80 on Charter Spectrum Cable. The Spartans set their sights on a 3 peat starting tomorrow.
The Spartans at 29-3 are No.1 in the state. But this story is much richer than that. The Spartans are ranked No.5 in the country by the USA Today in its Super 25 rankings. What’s just as impressive, if not more so, is the Spartans’ victories over national powerhouses this season.
The Spartans played in the City of Palms Tournament in Fort Myers, FL. in December and defeated now No.4 IMG Academy, 72-67. It was a phenomenal performance by the team and its superstar, Trendon Watford, who played against 3 5 stars and 2 4 stars on IMG’s starting 5 and poured in 38 points. The 5 star himself, who is being recruited by LSU, Memphis, Alabama and now Duke, was the best player on the court that night. McMillan stresses the magnitude of that victory. IMG power forward Jeremiah Robinson -Earl is a 5 star and is the 10th ranked player in the country by Rivals. He's 6’9, 235. He is going to Villanova. 5 star shooting guard Josh Green for IMG is a 5 star and the 6’6”, 185 pounder is going to Arizona. He is the 12th ranked player in the country. 5 Star center Armando Bacot, 6’10”, 235, is going to a little outfit called the University of North Carolina. He is the 18th ranked player in the country. 4 Star shooting guard Lester Quinones, 6’5”, 200, is the 44th ranked player in the country and undecided but with multiple major offers,. And 4 star small forward Terrence Shannon JR. is 6’7”, 185 and the 57th ranked player in the country and undecided but highly sought after by major programs. So that victory was beyond spectacular by the Spartans. The next day, after an incredibly, powerfully, hard fought, massively amazing victory that took all the perseverance, endurance and energy the Spartans could muster, the Spartans had extremely tired legs and lost to USA Today No.2 McEachern, 50-29. It was impossible for the Spartans, which finished at 10:30 PM the night before, to get the energy back up to play McEachern. It was an overwhelming task, so the result was meaningless. It was like playing the Golden State Warriors and defeating them the night before then having to play LeBron and the Lakers the next day.
The victory over IMG was so special. McMillan believes strongly that IMG will finish the season as the No.1 team in the country. Bucky said that IMG would beat McEachern more times than McEachern would beat them, so the IMG victory was remarkable in so many ways.
The Spartans also had a majorly impressive victory over Memphis East, 51-47, in a game played in Mississippi. Memphis East has the No.3 player in the country in 7’0”, 210 center James Wiseman, who’s going to play for Penny Hardaway at Memphis. 4 star Malcolm Dandridge, a 6’7”, 220 pound power forward who is also going to Memphis, also plays on Memphis East’s team. So another phenomenal victory for the Spartans. The Spartans also defeated Olive Branch, Mississippi, in November, 56-53. Olive Branch features 4 star power forward D.J. Jeffries, who is 6’7”, 200 and playing at Memphis next season as well. The Spartans have plowed through the state with their only in-state loss coming to Wenonah, 52-48, in November, in probably the toughest gym in the state to play in. If the Spartans played them at Mountain Brook they’d probably win by 20. But Wenonah Gym is difficult for any team to win at. Plus Wenonah is No.1 in Class 5A and will most likely win the state. They are 29-5. The Spartans only other loss is to DeLaSalle of Minnesota in Souix Falls South Dakota, 63-62. It was a heartbreaker. After the Spartans had taken a 62-60 lead with 7 seconds left, DeLaSalle hit a 3 at the buzzer.
But this season has been an epic. This team is the highest nationally ranked team ever from Alabama. Trendon Watford numbers are phenomenal. He is 6th all time in the state in points scored with 3,543. He is 1st all time in rebounds with 1,890. He averages 24.2 points per game, 12 rebounds and has dished out 3 1/2 assists. Duke has gotten involved in his recruiting, and when Duke calls, much like Alabama and Clemson in football, you listen. Trendon is shooting 46% from the field, 255 of 418, 41% from 3, 45 of 110, and 138 of 178 from the line, 78%. That’s phenomenal.
Alex Washington is just as impressive. He’s going to Harvard next season to play football and basketball. Junior Colby Jones is averaging 14.6 ppg and is very interested in Yale, which wants him. Lior Berman is averaging 10.7 ppg, and 4.2 rebounds. He has been offered by Springhill and some other schools. He is waiting till the end of the season to decide.
McMillan has created a spectacular culture at Mountain Brook. At a recent pep rally, Bucky told me he asked the senior, junior, sophomore and freshmen classes how many of them were the 2013 and 2014 Final Fours. 90% of each class raised their hands. McMillan’s program is some kind of terrific in this community, throughout the state and now nationally. This is a national powerhouse program that is conducted with integrity and character led by McMillan and the superb players/young men on his team.
There will be opportunities for this superstar coach in the college game, but McMillan is still extremely happy at Mountain Brook and told me, “I will fight for every player and person in this community.”
McMillan has created a culture of honor and integrity in Mountain Brook basketball. And one heckuva high school basketball program that could one day be the best team in the country. The state won’t allow this team to travel to California to be one of the top 8 schools competing for the national championship. That’s too bad because it would be awesome to see this team get its shot. The state is protecting the players academically and that’s honorable. But it would be pretty awesome to see Bucky’s outfit try to win it all. They certainly have the hearts of champions and are championship people. It’s an amazing story and one that will have a lasting legacy throughout this community and this state.
The No.1 Vanderbilt baseball team had a nice Sunday morning/afternoon at Hawkins Field sweeping a doubleheader over Pepperdine, 6-3 in the first game and 6-2 in the nightcap. We are No.1 in the D-1 Baseball Poll and the Baseball American Poll and No.2 in the Collegiate Baseball and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Poll. LSU is No.1 in those polls. We are now 5-1 on the season. LSU is 7-0.
The hitting and pitching were very good Sunday. The defense is still a work in progress. In the first game, Drake Fellows went 6, gave up 5 hits, 1 earned run with 1 walk and 9 K’s. Drake was terrific. Mason Hickman finished it off going the final 3 frames giving up 4 hits, 2 earned with 0 walks and 4 K’s. What I loved about Drake’s and Mason’s performances respectively is that they were throwing strikes. I know that sounds like a simple comment, but accuracy as a pitcher is just as important as accuracy as a quarterback. it’s essential and both Drake and Mason were super accurate, always over the plate. Both pitched extremely well. Austin Martin was 4 for 5 with 2 RBIs. Philip Clarke had 2 hits and 2 ribbies in 4 at bats, and Cooper Davis and J.J. Bleday each had a pair of hits. So did Ty Duvall, who is hard to keep out of the lineup with his play behind the plate and in the batter’s box.
In the second game, Patrick Raby went 4, gave up 2 hits, 2 unearned runs with 3 walks and 5 strikeouts. We’re starting to see the Patrick Raby from 2 years ago so far this year. Like what I’m seeing out of Rabes. Kumar Rocker came in and got the victory going 3, giving up 2 hits, with 0 walks and 5 K’s. Tyler Brown pitched the 8th and did well, giving up no hits or runs with 0 walks and a K. And maybe the standout on our pitching staff so far, sophomore lefty Jake Eder cam in for the 9th and struck out all 3 batters he faced. Jake brings it mid to high 90’s and looks like he could be a heckuva closer for us. Cooper Davis had a 2 run triple and finished with 2 hits. Bleday went 2 for 3 with 2 Ribeyes and Philip Clarke hit a solo shot. We had an error in the first game committed by Drake and Austin Martin and Jayson Gonzalez committed errors in the second game. Need to shore that up. I know Corbs is concerned and working with the guys on that.
We play today at 4:30 vs Southeast Missouri State at 4:30 PM CT at the Hawk. Southpaw Zach King will get the start for us. Zach is 0-0 with a 2.25 ERA. He’ll face lefty Austin Sachse of SEMO. Sachse is 1-0 with a 0.oo ERA. So should be a challenge for our hitters. The game will be broadcast by SEC Network+ on the computer.
We play Austin Peay tomorrow at 4:30 PM CT at the Hawk. Pitchers are to be determined. That game will also be broadcast by SEC Network+.
So, good start to the season. Our defense needs to improve, and it should. Some guys just trying to figure some things out. We’re still making good plays in the field, just need to tighten it up a little bit in the infield. Outfield of Davis,, Pat DeMarco and Bleday are doing well. Very good defensive outfield. With Stephen Scott at first as Julian Infante is out at present, Austin Martin at 2nd, Ethan Paul at short and Gonzalez or Harrison Ray at 3rd, those are great athletes and good fielders typically. It’s early in the season, so they’re just working the kinks out. Need to get better defensively though.
After being down by 23 in Tuscaloosa in the first half to Alabama, our team kept competing hard and only lost 68-61 to the Crimson Tide on Saturday. I thought we outplayed them from the 4 minute mark of the first half through the entire second half. Still trying to get that chemistry, but we really showed signs particularly in the second half on Saturday. Simi definitely showed signs as did Yanni Wetzell. I always like what I see out of Aaron Nesmith. Saben didn’t have his best game, but he always plays hard. That’s the thing about this team; despite the record, they give it everything they’ve got. There is never a lack of effort. They’re going to figure it out soon hopefully tomorrow night versus Florida at home on the SEC Network at 8 PM CT. I enjoy watching our team play. You can tell they’re well coached. Bryce to me is a phenomenal coach despite some of the bad press he’s getting. He’s going to get this thing turned around. Big opportunity tomorrow night at home to get our first SEC victory. It’s incremental steps for this basketball team. I like this group and we’ve got most all of them returning next season except for Joe Toye. But I want to see Joe have some success this season. If we can just get tomorrow night, we’ll see how it feels and maybe get hot the rest of this season. Please hang in there with these guys. Much better times are ahead for this team under Bryce.
Thursday: Geoff McDonald and VU Women’s Tennis
Friday: Scott Limbaugh and VU Men’s Golf
Both teams are very exciting as are women’s golf and men’s tennis. Will have more on those 2 teams as well in the coming days.
Football cranks up for the spring tomorrow. Spring game is Saturday, March 30th at 11 AM CT on the SEC Network. Some exciting players back with Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Kalija Lipscomb, and Jared Pinkney. The quarterback battle will be very interesting with 5 guys competing for QB1. Will have a much more in-depth report next week. Sorry I’m a little late with it, but will have it at some point next week. Thanks.
Club de Golf Chapultepec, on the outskirts of Mexico City, 7,345 yards, par 71
Defending Champion, Philip Alfred Mickelson. Defeated Justin Thomas in a playoff on the first hole, parring 17 while Justin was unable to get up and down for par.
Last week: John Bradley “J.B.” Holmes outlasted JT on a brutal final 9 that was extremely difficult with winds kicking up to 30 MPH at the Genesis Open in Pacific Palisades, California. The golfers started at 6:45 Sunday morning to finish their third rounds. JT had a 4 shot lead, but had putting woes on the back side. A 4 putt, double bogey on 13 was painful. In fairness to Justin, he had a 75 foot birdie putt into the wind on the par 4. He left his putt 6 feet short so he had a reasonable shot at par to maintain a 1 shot lead over J.B, who had just converted a miraculous par from the right side of the green on the par 4. He had a difficult chip shot and put it 15 feet and sank the par putt, which was very clutch. Justin stepped over his putt and was noticeably bothered by the wind which kept gusting during his practice routine. He looked to maybe have sunk the putt, but the wind pushed it to the right. He was left with a 3 footer, and lipped that out on the right hand side leaving himself another 3 footer. He sank that but was now trailing J.B. by a shot. J.B, extended the lead to 2 with a par on the 14th and a JT bogey. Justin looked to be right back in it with a chance to tie it on the par 3 16th when J.B, knocked it in the front right trap, and was left with a very challenging up and down. JT put his tee shot 8 feet away. Holmes hit out of the trap and put it 12 feet above the hole. Still outside of Thomas, Holmes cooly sank his par putt. JT came right back and sank his birdie putt, so the lead was down to a shot. A lot of fist pumping, competitiveness going on by this time. On the par 5 17th, JB hit a terrific drive and JT hit it left near a tree. Justin laid up and then hit it about 8 feet on his third shot. JB got his second shot on the green 30 feet away for eagle. JB rammed it by the hole some 13 feet. The greens were lightning fast stimping at 12-13. JB was still out and missed his birdie putt. Justin had a good look at JB’s line as he was inside of JB’s ball. JT hit what looked like a pure putt, but it broke off to the right and JT settled for par. With a 1 shot lead on the challenging 18th. JB left his second shot about 30 feet short on a green that was very difficult to 2 putt if you left it that short. Justin hit what looked to be a pure city second shot. The ball landed 8 feet from the stick, but rolled out to about 25 feet away. Holmes was first and he stroked his putt 2 feet away. Thomas, faced with a must make, couldn’t convert his birdie putt and Holmes tapped in for the victory. It was a tough one for Justin to take, and pretty sweet for JB.
Weather, sunny tomorrow, partly cloudy Friday, chances of rain on Saturday and Sunday. Rain not expected on the course, but lightning could be in the area and cause a few problems. Temperatures 79 Thursday-Friday, 77 Saturday-Sunday. Winds 8-16 Thursday-Friday, 6-12 Saturday-Sunday, so somewhat of a factor.
Thursday-Friday, 1-6 PM CT, Golf Channel; Saturday 11 AM-1:30 PM CT, GC; 1:30-5 PM CT, NBC; Sunday, 11 AM-12:30 PM CT, GC,; 12:30-5 PM CT, NBC
The lowest elevation at Club de Golf Chapultepac is 7,603 yards and the highest is 7,835, so there will be some bombing going on. Justin Rose said the key though is hitting a high ball and letting it get into the altitude and carry. Does favor the DJ’s, the Rory’s, the JT’s, the Fowler’s, Tiger too, who is still very long and has won 18 WGC titles. Dustin is the only one to win at all 5 venues as he’s won the WGC-HSBC in Shanghai in 2013, the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral in 2015 (why did Trump have to ruin playing at that venue?), the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational n 2016 and the WGC-Mexico in 2017. Tiger’s won everywhere else except for Mexico. This will be his first time teeing it up there.
No.1, 316 yards, par 4. Reachable for the bombers pretty easily unless the wind is into their faces. The green is difficult though, so birdie is not a cinch. But there will be plenty of birdies here.
No. 8 525 yards, par 4. It’s the second longest par 4 on the tour outside of the 17th at the Plantation Course at Kapalua for the Sentry Tournament of Champions. It ranked as the most difficult hole on the course last season. It only yielded 15 birdies over the 4 rounds of stroke play. The stroke average was 4.277.
No. 15, 575 yards, par 5. The last par 5 on the course, it is played entirely uphill with a slight turn to the right. Good birdie opportunity, but the second shot is narrow and there are 4 levels to the green, so the player who goes for it or lays up, needs to hit it on the right tier in order to 1 putt. With the wind, it may be difficult to hit this green in 2.
No. 17, 172 yards, par 3. Players will use a mid to short iron. The green is protected by a lake that covers the entrance and the left side. There is a bunker on the back right and another one on the left bordering the water. Good opportunity for birdie, but players need to not get too greedy or they could be wet or in the sand. Justin lost to Phil on this hole in the playoff last year as he couldn’t get up and down for par from behind the green. Phil 2 putted for the par to win.
No.18 388 yards, par 4. Another uphill hole that curves to the left. The tee shot is very narrow as the players will need to avoid the trees on either side along with a bunker on the right they’ll have to avoid. The second shot it uphill and there are 2 deep bunkers guarding the entrance. JT holed it out here last year on his way to a 64 Sunday. With his hole out eagle on his second shot, he finished with a 64 and took Phil to a playoff.
I’m going back to the well. Second here last year and second last week both in heartbreaking fashion, I like the 25 year old to snap back this week into the winner’s circle. He’s resilient and tough minded. Quite possibly the best player on tour right now. Justin Rose and Dustin Johnson compete, but I like this guy’s overall game the best if his putter is working.
Like the Brit with the interesting hair to play well this week. He finished second to Dustin 2 years ago here, so I like him to be in the hunt with a shot at winning Sunday.
Some awesome stuff from the Dave Matthews Band in Central Park a while back. The fiddler and the sax player are all world. Drummer’s pretty strong , too.
Our baseball team had a nice weekend at Talking Stick, Arizona defeating Virginia, 15-9 on Friday Night, No. 25 Cal State Fullerton on Saturday, 14-9, before falling to No.19 TCU on Sunday, 10-2.
Second baseman Austin Martin was named SEC player of the week yesterday for his terrific performance at Salt River Fields over the weekend. For the weekend, Austin went 6 for 10 at the plate, .600, with a double, a triple and 4 singles. The sophomore from Jacksonville, FL also scored 9 runs. Austin is leading the team in hitting at .600. Shortstop Ethan Paul was also sensational hitting .538, going 7 for 13, with 3 doubles, a homer and 4 Ribeyes. Outfielder and first baseman Stephen Scott hit .455 with 5 hits in 11 plate appearances, with a double and 3 runs scored. Our great right fielder, JJ Bleday, hit .375 over the weekend with 6 hits in 16 at bats including a homer and 3 Ribbies. Third baseman Jayson Gonzalez hit .333 with a double and 2 runs batted in. Our awesome catcher, sophomore Philip Clarke, hit .308 with a homer and 8 RBIs.
As a team, we hit .330. Pitching was somewhat of a different story. Drake Fellows pitched Friday Night and gave up 5 hits, 5 earned runs in 4 innings with 3 walks and 5 K’s. Saturday Night, Patrick Raby pitched pretty well, going 5.2, giving up 4 hits, 1 run with 3 walks and 2 K’s. On Sunday, freshman Kumar Rocker was hit pretty hard, getting through only 1.1 innings, giving up 5 hits, 5 runs, with 2 walks and a K. Our bullpen was OK. Lefty Jake Eder pitched an inning of shutout ball and struck out 2 against TCU on Sunday. But the bullpen needs to improve. Pitching coach Scott Brown needs to get the rotation and all the arms in better form for us to achieve our goals of winning the SEC, winning the SEC Tournament, winning our regional, our super regional and winning it all in Omaha. I know those are lofty goals and they’re mine, but this team certainly has the players to achieve that.
We need to get better pitching and shore up our defense. We committed 3 errors over the weekend. So a lot to work on, though, overall, it was a pretty successful weekend and great experience for our players. We play Evansville tomorrow at 4:30 PM CT at Hawkins Field, so we need good pitching and defense to go along with our stellar hitting. SEC Network+ will broadcast on the computer.
Freshman Aaron Nesmith had a spectacular week of basketball last week for our team. Aaron averaged 25 points, 11 1/2 rebounds, 1 1/2 assists and 1 1/2 steals against Florida and Auburn respectively. Though they were losses, Aaron’s play and the play of the team was encouraging. Against Florida, Aaron poured in 26 points and then scored 24 against Auburn and pulled down 14 boards. Aaron has scored 20 or more points on 4 different occasions in the SEC. He is averaging 15.3 ppg in SEC play.
I know it’s been a tough season for our team. The loss of Darius Garland was devastating. But the effort has been there all season. Bryce said that he’s never had to worry about this team’s effort. I emailed Bryce before the Alabama game a week and a half ago and told him we’re getting better. He got back to me and said the culture is great, the kids are still excited and “better times are ahead!” I believe Bryce. He’s an awesome coach. We just have guys like Aaron, Simi, Matt Ryan and Yanni Wetzell who have never played together. Saben is still a sophomore and he’s played very hard and done some excellent things throughout this season. Senior Joe Toye is fighting and playing well for us. So is junior Clevon Brown. Both have become better players under Bryce. So has sophomore Maxwell Evans filling in at point when Saben needs a break. That’s the sign of good coaching to me, that the players are improving, and there is no doubt that all our guys are. We just need to keep fighting the rest of this season and keep improving and ascending towards the SEC Tournament, which will be at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, March 13th-17th, and just try to win every game from now on starting tonight. Tennessee tonight at 6 on ESPN. Difficult at UT, but we’ll fight. With all these guys coming back next season besides Joe, who we’ll miss and try to get him going out on a positive note the rest of this season, and the 2, 4 star freshman we have coming in along with a high 3 star who could very well be a 4 star by the time the player rankings are complete, we have a shot to have a special season in 2019-2020. With Saben, Aaron, Simi, Matt, Yanni, Ejike Obinna, coming off a redshirt year and 6’10, 234 pounds, Maxwell with another year under his belt, and Clevon getting better and better, good times are definitely ahead for this basketball program. Believe in Bryce completely and the culture he has instilled. I’ve been to a practice, and they are well run, hard working, positive, and highly productive practices. Bryce knows what he’s doing. Really believe the future is very bright for this basketball team. But let’s go ahead and beat Tennessee tonight. The future starts tonight.
Men’s golf wins the Gator Invitational
The VU men’s golf team notched another victory on their impressive resume. winning the Gator Invitational in Gainesville, FL. finishing 1 under par for the tournament and defeating the Florida Gators by a shot. The 7th ranked Dores by Golfweek, and 3rd ranked by Golfstat, were led by individual winner senior Will Gordon, who carded a 7 under par 3 day total. The great Will and our other great senior, Patrick Martin, who finished tied for 4th, were sensational, and junior John “Clutch” Augenstein, sank a birdie putt on 18 to clinch the victory. This victory comes off the heels of our victory over 15 other teams at the Tavistock Collegiate Invitational in October. We’ve got great leadership with Patrick, Will and John. Our younger players need to step up and help for us to be elite. I’m going to talk with our superb coach, Scott Limbaugh, on Thursday and will have Scott’s thoughts on the team next week. Our next competition will be in Los Cabos, Mexico at the Querencia Cabo Intercollegiate with a stacked field including No.1 Oklahoma State and No.4 Alabama. The dates are March 3rd-5th. So it’ll be a great test for out team. Will have Scott next week.
Women’s Golf wins another title
Our 5th ranked women’s golf team won the Reynolds Lake Okone Invitational in Greensboro, GA. for consecutive victories after capturing the UCF Challenge 2 weeks earlier in Orlando. Freshman Auston Kim shot 4 under par 68 on Sunday to capture a tie for second place. Auston, the reigning SEC Freshman of the Year, earned her 4th top 10 finish with an even par 216 for the tournament. Junior Abbey Carlson closed the tournament with a pair of 1 under rounds to finish in 5th place. This team is really exciting just like the men are. Going to speak with Coach Greg Allen in the next week and get his comments on his exciting group. Our next competition is the Darius Rucker Intercollegiate in Hilton Head, S.C., March 8th-10th.
Women’s and Men’s Tennis
Our women’s team is presently ranked No.5 in the country by the ITA rankings. We are 4-2. Our losses have come to No.2 North Carolina and No.1 Georgia. UNC was at home and Georgia was at the ITA National Team Indoors in Seattle, Washington a week and a half ago. We had defeated Washington in the first round match of the Indoors, 4-0. We’ve got an awesome team led by senior star Fernanda Contreras. We are aiming for our 5th straight Final Four and our goal there is to win it all. We have the talent to do that. I’ll be speaking with our great coach, Geoff McDonald, today, and will have Geoff’s comments on his team, along with Astra Sharma’s amazing mixed doubles performance at the Australian Open along with her singles accomplishments and will post Thursday. We have a big weekend on the west coast as we play Cal on Friday at Berkeley, and No.3 Stanford on Saturday at Palo Alto. The Cal match Friday is at 5 PM CT and the Stanford match Saturday is at 2 PM CT. Not sure about broadcast for those matches, but will keep you posted on how we do. Then we’ll open up play with Missouri at home on Friday March 1st at 3:30 PM. You can watch the match on vucommodores.com or you can read my blog on it. Will have my discussion with Geoff on the blog Thursday.
The men’s tennis team is playing very well coming off 5 consecutive match victories over Penn State, Middle Tennessee, Michigan State, Belmont and Rice, respectively. We are now 8-2. We play North Florida and Lipscomb this Friday at home then we open up the SEC schedule on the road @ Mississippi State on Friday, March 1st at 3 PM. You can watch our matches against North Florida and Lipscomb on vucommodores.com. North Florida is at noon CT and Lipscomb is at 4 PM CT. If not, I’ll give you a breakdown over the weekend or Monday. Going to speak with Coach Ian Duvenhage next week and will post that interview ASAP.
Next Monday: Football signees and team breakdown
Another star studded field commences play at the Genesis Open at famed Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, California just outside Los Angeles tomorrow through Sunday. Bubba Watson is the defending champion and is going for his 4th Genesis Trophy in 6 years as he also won in 2014 and 2016. Tiger Woods is playing, and in 12 starts, has yet to win at Riviera, a hole in his resume. Riviera is the place Woods has the most starts without a victory. Dustin Johnson, who won in 2017, is in the field. Rory McIlroy is playing. Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth are also playing. Phil Mickelson, fresh off a phenomenal victory last week at Pebble Beach (more on that later) is also competing. He won here back to back in 2008 and 2009. So it’s an electric lineup of players competing at this historic course.
Weather will be an issue, at least tomorrow along with some saturated grounds. They are expected to get a 1/2 inch of rain today and an inch to an inch and a half tomorrow. The rest of the weekend looks pretty good with minimal chances of rain, but Los Angeles has gotten 12 inches of rain this year already, which is a record, so the conditions could be challenging. Tomorrow is somewhat questionable for play if the forecast of 80% rain is accurate. Hopefully not. The wind will be a factor as well, gusting from 10-20 each day, so maybe not the lower scores that we’re used to. Bubba won at -16 last year, a 2 shot victory over Tony Finau and Kevin Na.
Golf Channel will televise Thursday and Friday from 1-5 PM CT and Saturday and Sunday from 12-1:45 PM CT. CBS will take over Saturday and Sunday afternoon, Saturday’s CBS broadcast will be from 2-5 PM CT, and Sunday’s is 2-5:30 PM CT.
Phil put on a clinic last weekend at Pebble Beach, particularly on Sunday and Monday shooting a 65 with 7 birdies and no bogeys. He made up a 3 shot deficit to Paul Casey on Sunday. Casey shot a 71 Sunday and Monday. Phil birdied 2, 4, 10 putting it 2 feet on his second shot on the long par 4, 13, 14, and 18. The tournament was halted Sunday due to darkness after a hail storm hit Pebble earlier in the day. They called it a day after Phil had finished up on 16. Casey was about to attempt a 3 foot par putt to remain 3 strokes back going into 17 and 18 and the PGA official asked both players what they wanted to do. Phil wanted to keep playing, but Casey, feeling that the conditions would be better Monday morning giving him an outside shot and not wanting to putt a 3 footer in the darkness with the greens in pretty rough shape, elected to wait until Monday. Both players had good reasons for their decisions, but the Tour went along with Casey as both players had to agree to keep playing. Phil made it official on Monday morning winning for the 5th time at Pebble Beach which tied him with Mark O’Meara for most ever there. It was also his 14th victory in California, tied for most ever with Tiger. And it was his 44th overall career PGA Tour victory, He’s now 9th on the all time list of career victories. Pretty sensational stuff from the 48 year old who attributes his renaissance to fitness, club head speed, he’s 13th on tour this year in clubhead speed, and better putting. His putting has been phenomenal.
So that brings up the question. Who’s going to have a better year this year, the 48 year old Phil or the 43 year old Tiger? Phil looks pretty good for the U.S. Open at Pebble in June 13-16th. June 16th, which will be Father’s Day, will be Phil’s 49th birthday, so that would be a compelling thing to see Phil competing for the only major that has eluded him on his birthday and Father’s Day with his wife Amy, and his 2 daughters and son in attendance. Tiger gets to play Pebble also where he won the 2000 U.S. Open by 15 strokes over Ernie Els and Miguel Angel Jimenez. Tiger will have Sam and Charlie there for sure if he’s right there on Sunday. So that’ll be pretty captivating stuff if Tiger and Phil can deliver at Pebble Beach in June.
The PGA Championship is at Bethpage Black (May 16th-19th) where Tiger defeated Phil in 2002 to capture the U.S. Open. Phil and Tiger have had tremendous success at Augusta National with Tiger winning 4 times there in 1997, 2001, 2002 and 2005, and Phil winning in 2004, 2006 and 2010. The Masters will be played April 11th-14th. The Open Championship will be played at Royal Portrush Golf Club in Northern Ireland. The Open has not been held there since 1951, so it’s new to all the players. That’ll be interesting. July 18th-21st.
So who would you take this season? In the last 12 months, Phil has 22 starts and Tiger has 18. Phil has made 19 cuts and Tiger has made 16. Phil has 2 victories, the 2018 WGC Mexico Championship and last week’s AT&T Pebble Beach, and Tiger won the Tour Championship last September. Phil has 5 top 5’s and Tiger has 7.
I’m going to take Philip Alfred here. I like where he’s at with his game even though both of them are pretty stout right now. Phil is just cookin at present. I like him to do a little better than Tiger. Either one might, and I emphasize might, win a major this season, but with the competition so fierce, Dustin, Brooks Koepka, Rory, JT, Spieth if he can finally get it back together, Jason Day, Bryson DeChambeau, Rickie Fowler, Bubba, Justin Rose, the list goes on and on, it’s going to be tough for both of them. They’ll both be at major courses they like so I’ll give Phil a 40% chance of winning a major and Tiger a 35% chance. Like Phil’s game a little more right now. As for the forthcoming years, Phil will be 50 next year and Tiger will still have some good years left though with his back you never know what will happen. A lot of drama for both of them too, usually. If they can eliminate drama from their games, they’ve both got a shot to both do well this season. Going with Phil to have a better year though.
Riviera Country Club is a 7,322 par 71. The 6th hole is a 199 yard par 3 with a bunker right in the middle of the green. If you land your tee shot to the right of the bunker you either have to chip over it or somehow putt around it. Pretty unique setup. The 10th is considered the best short par 4 in golf. It’s 315 yards with bunkers around the green and a decision whether to go for it or hit to the left side of the fairway and get up and down for birdie. No.17 is a 590 yard par 5, the longest hole on the course and pretty brutal with a 2 tier green sloping back to front so if a player hits it beyond the pin on the green he’ll be facing a very difficult downhill putt. No. 18 is a 475 yard par 4 and an extremely classic and difficult finishing hole. The tee shot is blind and uphill. The player needs to play to the left side of the fairway as there are trees on the right side that blocks a player’s second shot if they drive it on that side. There is rough around the left side of the green that is difficult to get up and down from if you hit it there. Some serious drama here on Sunday though it may go into Monday if tomorrow’s round is suspended till Friday.
I was leaning towards Bubba coming into today. He loves the imagination this course offers. It’s a right left, left right shaping course and that’s what gets his attention. But I’ll instead take the guy who’s first in strokes gained off the tee and strokes gained on approach shots. I like 25 year old from Louisville, KY by way of the University of Alabama to finally start putting well this week and capture the Genesis.
Stallings finished 3rd last week at Pebble shooting 66 on Sunday. He also finished tied for 4th here last year. He’s really committed himself to getting in shape and lost a lot of weight and gotten really fit. So he’s a real threat.
Vanderbilt baseball returns 8 of 9 starters from last year’s Super Regional team, a slew of arms for starting pitching and out of the bullpen, and 7 seniors, 4 of whom are major impact players and leaders. It was also quite an offseason for the Commodores as David Price cemented his legacy as one of the greats in Major League Baseball history with a performance for the ages in the 2018 postseason as he defeated Justin Verlander and the Astros, 4-1, leading the Boston Red Sox to the World Series. David went 6 at Minute Maid Park in Houston, gave up 3 hits, 0 runs, with 0 walks and 9 strikeouts. With the victory, the BoSox advanced to the Fall Classic. Then in the Series against the LA Dodgers, David went 6 in game 2, giving up 3 hits, 2 earned with 3 walks and 5 K’s to lead the Sox to the 4-2 victory. In game 5, Price clinched the World Championship for the Sox, going 7 and out-pitching the great Clayton Kershaw in LA, giving up 1 hit, 1 run, with 2 walks and 5 K’s to lead the Sox to the 5-1 victory. It was very important as the Dodgers had won game 4 and looked to have momentum on their side. It was a masterful performance by the 33 year old Southpaw and etched his name in postseason lore with one of the greatest postseason pitching performances of all time.
And not to be lost in that was the game 4 performance by Walker Buehler for the Dodgers. Walk went 7, gave up 2 hits, 0 runs, with 0 walks and 7 K’s. The Dodgers won game 4 in 18 innings, 3-2. Steve Pearce was named MVP of the series for the Sox, and Pearce played a huge role. But David was the star. He’ll forever be remembered in Boston and throughout baseball for his brilliance and there’s more to come from DP. Same with Walker. Sonny Gray is now with the Cincinnati Reds with a fresh start on a talented, exciting youthful and veteran team, so that’s awesome for Sonny to be out of New York and somewhere where he can be appreciated and relax, be himself and shine. Would love to see the man have a huge bounce back year with the Reds.
Dansby Swanson will be entering his third season as the starting shortstop for the Atlanta Braves. Great things ahead for Dans and his team. Mike Minor had a stellar 2018 for the Texas Rangers and he’s back to anchor their pitching staff. They’re an exciting young team that should be on the rise. Pedro Alvarez is back this time with the Miami Marlins. Hoping El Toro can have a big year for the Fish. Ryan Flaherty is now with the Cleveland Indians. Ryan just keeps hanging around in the majors, and keeps producing and he’s such a team player. A lot of teams want him on their roster. Curt Casali is back with the Reds and could be catching Sonny some this upcoming season. The Reds have another catcher they use a lot, but they like Curt. He had a solid year for them last season. Drew Verhagen is pitching for the Detroit Tigers.
And, of course, the great Tony Kemp has made his mark with the Houston Astros. Tony is a highly valued outfielder for the Stros, and should have a big year for them.
Carson Fulmer and a lot of other guys are still battling to make their respective big league squads. Carson is trying to make the White Sox starting rotation.
So a lot to be excited about in the big leagues. And a lot to be excited about for our college team that is ranked No.1 in the D-1, Baseball America and National Collegiate Baseball Sports Writers Association Polls, and No.2 by Collegiate Baseball behind LSU, and No.3 in the Perfect Game poll behind LSU and Oregon State. I like the first 3 polls. Of course, the only polls that matter are at the end of June, and our goal is to be No.1 then. But it’s awesome that the baseball experts think so much of our team.
The goal always for Tim Corbin’s teams is Omaha and this team has the material to make a strong run, get there and win it. Corbs and I discussed this 2019 squad led by stellar seniors Stephen Scott, Ethan Paul, Julian Infante and Patrick Raby along with phenomenal junior J.J. Bleday and super sophomores Austin Martin, Pat DeMarco and Philip Clarke. Our freshman class was ranked first in the country by Perfect Game and second to LSU by Baseball America. We lost a few of our signing class to the MLB draft, but bring in several quality players. Our sophomore class was the No.1 class in the country and all 16 are on the roster and didn’t go MLB. That’s pretty special. Our senior class, the 2015 class, was the top ranked class in the country as well. We have 7 left of the 13 who signed, and they’re quality players. Our junior class was ranked 9th in the country, but there are some quality players in that class as well. In other words, we’re loaded.
We open our season this Friday Night at 6 PM CT against the 2015 College World Series champion Virginia Cavaliers in the MLB4 Collegiate Baseball Tournament. The game will be televised by MLB Network. On Saturday, we’ll play No.25 Cal State Fullerton at 2 PM CT, and Sunday we’ll face No.19 TCU at 12 PM. All 3 games will be played in Talking Stick, Arizona about 20 miles northeast of Phoenix. So should be a superb opening test for our talented squad.
In the D-1 poll, LSU is No.2, Florida is No.6, Georgia is No.9, Ole Miss is No.10, Mississippi State is No.14, Arkansas is No, 16, and Auburn is No.24. So that’s 8 teams in the SEC in the top 25. We’ll play most all of them. The SEC’s as challenging as ever and we’ll also play No.4 Louisville in a non conference game towards the end of the regular season, May 7th at Louisville. That game will be a 6 PM start and will be televised by ESPNU. The other VU games that will be televised are Florida at home, Thursday, March 21st at 6 PM CT on the SEC Network, Tennessee at home Saturday and Sunday, March 30 and 31st, on the SEC Network. Saturday’s game is at 8 PM CT and Sunday’s game is at 2 PM CT. We’re @ Georgia on Sunday, April 7th, at 11 AM on the SEC Network. On Friday, April 12th, and Saturday, April 13th, we play Arkansas at home at 7 PM CT Friday on the SEC Network and at 8 PM CT Saturday on ESPNU. We’re @ Alabama on Saturday, April 20th at 8 PM CT on the SEC Network. On Thursday, April 25th, we’re at Auburn at 6:30 PM CT on ESPNU. On Friday, April 26th, we’ll play the second game of our series @ Auburn at 7 PM CT on the SEC Network. On Saturday, May 4th, we’re @ South Carolina for a 7 PM CT game on ESPNU. And then @ Louisville, May 7th at 6 PM CT on ESPNU. All other games will be broadcast by SEC Network+ and can be seen on Watch ESPN on the computer or on the ESPN app. We could have a game or 2 televised the last weekend of the regular season at Kentucky, May 16th-18th. I’ll alert you if that happens. The SEC Tournament is Tuesday, May 21st through Sunday, May 26th at the Hoover Met In Hoover, AL. The NCAA Regionals commence Friday, May 31st and continue through Monday, June 3rd.
So exciting times ahead for a loaded baseball team that has to prove its value on the field, but certainly possesses the pieces to excel.
Tim Corbin is entering his 17th season as Vanderbilt head baseball coach. He is 681-342-1, 67%, in his 16 previous seasons. He has taken us to 14 Regionals, 13 in a row, 8 Super Regionals, 3 College World Series and has led us to a College World Series Championship in 2014, a magical moment in Vanderbilt sports. We defeated Virginia that year. In 2015, with another ultra talented team, we were runners-up to Virginia in the CWS. Interesting that we square off with UVA on Friday. They have another good team though they’re not ranked. In 2013, we went 54-12 overall and 26-3 in the SEC making the Super Regional that year. That set us up for 2 phenomenal years in a row in ‘14 and ‘15.
Corbs credentials are spectacular. He’s a spectacular coach and a more spectacular man. His 2019 team is potentially phenomenal
Here’s my conversation with the great Tim Corbin.
DW: Corbs, How’s the family?
Corbs: Everyone’s good, can’t complain. Maggie’s great and the girls are both living in Charleston, South Carolina so they’re working, they’re healthy and they’re fine.
DW: After fall drills what are your thoughts on this 2019 team?
Corbs: Well, I always measure it Whitey by socially, athletically and academically and how we are able to operate in those three areas, and they’ve been very consistent in that part. We had a very high team grade point average, if that means anything. The best teams we’ve had ‘07, ‘ ‘11, ‘13, ‘14, ‘15 were our highest grade point averages, so that speaks to people being centered. And we did some good things socially, there were no issues off the field. And I thought we had some good harmony on the field and that probably has to do with older kids. When you have 7 seniors, that helps. Pretty good fall. Got to play Oklahoma State and played reasonably well there. But this is different once you start this. You go through that SEC stuff it’s completely different.
DW: Coach, having a veteran team and 7 seniors, how important is that to you?
Corbs: Mental touches for them. Their ability to be in situations over the last 3 years and 2 years of playing in the Super Regional twice and playing reasonably well. We haven’t had our best Vanderbilt teams, but we still have been games away, runs away and outs away from getting back to Omaha again. They’ve gone through the most devastating thing they can go through as a class and that’s losing a teammate (Donny Everett passed away in 2016). I think from our vantage point it’s good to have these kids, they’re really good people and when you have seniors like this they help the coaches, because on a team like this you have to have the leadership on the field, but my way of thinking Whitey, the best leadership is the 14 or 15 hours you aren’t with’em. And when you have older kids they can create harmony on and off the field and that’s what you need.
DW: Coach, I’m going to get to Donny at the end of our conversation and get your final comments on that. Do you see some strengths in this group besides the fact that they are veteran, good skills?
Corbs: I think we’re pretty well balanced. From a pitching staff, we’re well balanced in terms of rightys and leftys, and we’re balanced in a talent way. We’re not top heavy and we’re not bottom heavy. I think we’re just balance in age and ability. And on the field, I’d say we’re pretty well balanced in the infield. We’re still trying to figure out positions who’s going to play second, short and third, but we’ve got pieces that have been there before so I think we’ll be able to figure that out in time.
DW: Starting with the pitching, I know you have some idea of a weekend rotation and a mid week pitcher or 2 or 3, Can you float those by me, guys you’re looking at who can be some weekend guys and some mid week guys.
Corbs: ( Drake) Fellows certainly because of his consistency as a pitcher. He’s been that type of kid since he’s been here. I imagine that he’ll lead our staff. I would say (Patrick) Raby, too. I’d put him in there. Last year, at the end, we were using him more in relief because we were trying to figure him out a little bit. I think he lost a little bit of confidence. But his health is good and he’s back to who Patrick Raby is, very consistent as you know. I think there’s a chance for him to jump back in that mix, too. After that, we have Tyler Brown, Mason Hickman, certainly they are kids who are capable. (True freshman) Kumar Rocker. He’s one freshman who has a chance to figure his way in there. So that’s 5 guys and maybe Zach King. He would be the other guy right now who has potential, too. They all can’t start. But I think we’ll have more consistency in our starters than we’ve had in our past.
Note: Drake Fellows emerged as our Friday Night guy. He went 7-4, with a 3.92 ERA, 35 walks and 107 K’s. Drake brings it 90-92 and can go higher at times. He was excellent at the end of the season. He’s a competitor. Kumar Rocker is a very intriguing freshman for us. Kumar is 6’5”, 250 from Watkinsville, GA. and brings it 92-94 and can hit 97. He was the 8th ranked player in the 2018 class according to Perfect Game. Kumar was selected in the 38th round by the Colorado Rockies, but chose to come to VU. He struck out 8 batters in a row in a fall scrimmage with Oklahoma State. He is the top ranked freshman in Baseball America’s freshman rankings. He will be fun to watch. He has electric stuff.
DW: Coach, who are our power arms?
Corbs: Tyler Brown could be a power arm, Kumar could be a power arm. Most of them are pretty consistent. Probably more skill than power.
DW: Is that OK with you?
Corbs: I like to get outs. I don’t care how they get’em. It’s just commanding the ball and being able to throw multiple pitches. You got right handers and left handers, executors. I think we’re pretty balanced.
DW: Coach, how about your bullpen? Who are your key bullpen pieces would you say.
Corbs: Jake Eder started for us last year. He’s a big, strong left hander who has one of those big power arms you asked me about. Hugh Fisher has a power arm, he’s a left handed pitcher. (LHP) A. J. Franklin, he’s a great story. It’s his 4th year and he got redshirted and had an injury the year after that. Jackson Gillis, another left hander, he’s got a chance. From a right handed standpoint, you’re going to get one of those starters who don’t start who’ll figure in there. (Freshman) Chance Huff is a righty who I think has a chance. (Freshman) Austin Becker is a righty who I think has a chance to be bullpen arm. Ethan Smith has a chance as a freshman. Justin Willis, as a sophomore lefty, has a chance. (Freshman lefty Joe) Gibillot he’s got a chance. So we’ve got a few arms there.
Comment-A lot of depth in this pitching staff.
DW: I know Ty Duvall had a good year for you last year, without discounting Ty, he’s a very talented player, but he came out of nowhere and had a really good year for you. Will he be your guy behind the plate this year?
Corbs; He and Phil Clarke. Clarke will have a chance to catch. The thing about the catching position is that we have 4 guys, Clarke, Duval, Stephen Scott and (freshman) Dominic Keegan who are all pretty good offensive players. But if they’re all offensive players, we’re not going to be able to get them all on the field. We’ll have to move some guys around, put Scott in the outfield, Duval, Clarke and Keegan catch and DH.
DW: Coach, at your infield you said you have some positions that are pretty wide open, Is Julian (Infante) good at first and how about the rest of the group?
Corbs: I think Julian would be at the top end of that group at first. After that, Austin Martin will figure in somewhere, I don’t know where yet. Ethan Paul will figure in somewhere. Not sure where yet. Then you have Harrison Ray as a possibility and Jayson Gonzales is a possibility. Then after that, you have some young kids who’ll figure into that as well. (Freshman) Justyn-Henry Malloy is a possibility. (Freshman) Tate Kolwyck is a possibility. But I think they’re going to have to be more patient than anything because the older kids are going to get most of the playing time.
DW: How’s Julian’s bat doing?
Corbs: It’s been improved. I think it’s more confidence than anything else. That’s the area where I can see he’s had some pretty good growth, so, yeah, it’s been good. I’m happy for him. He’s a heckuva kid. I would love to see him have a great year.
DW: Coach, I know Austin is a versatile player for you, will he play in the outfield some and who are the outfield possibilities? I know Pat DeMarco, Stephen Scott and J.J, Bleday are key guys. Can you go over those guys a little bit.
Corbs: I don’t know if we’ll use Austin in the outfield right now, but those guys are definitely out there. Austin can play in the outfield fine, but Bleday certainly figures in at a corner outfielder probably right field right now. DeMarco could go left or center. Then it could be Stephen Scott. The guy that has really played well is (Sophomore) Cooper Davis. He’s really played well. Enough to where you’re looking at him in a possible role. With Bleday, Stephen, Cooper Davis, DeMarco, (Junior) Kiambu Fentress has improved, we’ve got a freshman named Isaiah Thomas who’s going to be good. Walker Grisanti is a senior who can help us in some areas though I don’t think he’ll start. Those are our outfielders for right now.
DW: What do you like about Cooper Davis?
Corbs: He broke his arm at the end of last year. I thought he was really starting to play well. So we had to sit him down. He’s more of a Lenny Dykstra-type, he’s fast, he hits left handed, he’s a good hitter. He’s just aggressive. He’s an aggressive kid. We really haven’t had someone like him in a while. He’s pretty good.
DW: A while ago we were talking preseason and you said you had a player named Dansby Swanson who was going to be a really good one. Dansby had injured himself his freshman year when you were saying this, and of course, the rest is history. Is this the same kind of deal with Cooper maybe?
Corbs: A little different player. I hope it happens like that. I don’t know if he’s that type of player, but we’ll see. He’s certainly aggressive. Very aggressive young man. We’ll see if he grows into that type of player. We’ll take another Dansby Swanson.
DW: How about the speed and power on this team?
Corbs: Again, pretty balanced. We have some good runners. I wouldn’t say we have burners, but we have guys who run pretty good. From that point, we have solid runners throughout the lineup. And I would say our power is pretty solid too. It doesn’t stand out, but who knows. I would say that’s to be determined.
DW: Coach, I see all the polls, does that ever bother you as far as expectations, or how do you deal with that?
Corbs: I don’t really pay much attention to it. It’s a group of people making an assessment of your team and what they think you have on your team. At the end of it, it’s like any other poll, it doesn’t come into effect. The only poll I used to our advantage was my first year when a poll picked us last in the SEC. Since that time, if my team hears me talk about a poll, they’ll say, ‘why is he doing this now.’ It’s insignificant to us but it is significant to other people because what it does it makes them circle your team mentally and physically. So no big deal for us. We’ve got to do what we’ve got to do, and that’s not going to have an impact on us.
DW: Do you like your freshmen class?
Corbs: Yeah, I do. I like’em because they’re mature. i like’em because they handle their business well. They follow up on what they’re going to do, they’re very communicative with me academically and athletically. We’ll see in time how they handle their experience this spring because a lot of them aren’t going to be able to play. I told them, you know you’re a pretty good player, but you’re going to have to watch and learn. And I told them that’s going to be a great thing. And that’s a good challenge for them. I think they understand that for sure.
DW: Coach, you start with the MLB4 Collegiate Baseball Tournament (this Friday) what are your thoughts on that?
Corbs: It certainly a lot of good teams. Just to be a part of Major League Baseball showcasing college baseball is always a good thing. So we’re excited about that.
DW: You start with Virginia. Now that’s quite a history there. What do you know about them right now.
Corbs: As we get further into drills (this was 2 weeks ago) we’ll get deeper into them. I know they’re good. I’ve seen their roster and know their players because we recruited some of their players. They’ll be plenty good, that’s for sure. That whole tournament will be really good.
DW: 8 teams in the SEC are predicted in the top 25 in all the polls. What does that say about this conference and the challenge of navigating this conference?
Corbs: The toughest thing about playing in this conference is retaining confidence, because you’re definitely going to get dinged up, there’s no doubt about that. What we did in ‘13 (26-3 in the SEC) maybe it’ll be done again, but I don’t think it’ll ever be done again. Looking back at that, it’s almost hard to fathom that you could play that consistently over that course of time. In saying that, you just have to retain confidence with your team because you’re going to get knocked down and it’s just a matter of surviving more than anything else. But once you’re done with it, it puts you in a position to win a regional and a super. You’ve been battle tested. The cameras in front of you, your skin is hardened. It’s a benefit. But it’s difficult to get through.
DW: I know you’re not an expectations guy, you concentrate on that next day’s practice, like all great coaches do. But have you said anything to them about where we want to be at the end of the season?
Corbs: No, because for young people the best thing I can do for them is to maintain some balance and the goal for them is to center themselves, so they’re not blown away. They’ve got enough on their plates academically. So I try to give them a nice balance, create some harmony, and try to let them have fun, that’s the most important thing. The best thing they can do is enjoy their time and stay relational.
DW: Coach, are you happy with your coaching staff, Scott Brown and Mike Baxter?
Corbs: Yes, I’m so lucky to have friends as coaches. One of the best things about our program is the staff and our wives. It’s a unique group of people. We are very, very fortunate to have these people>
DW: Coach, I know you as much as anybody, were glued on David’s performance in the postseason. What did that mean to you?
Corbs: It meant everything. It was great to see him finish something off because I know how badly he wanted to do that here. And when it didn’t happen, I always have wished he could have that opportunity. The way he handled himself, how he got ready, and how he took the ball, Whitey. It was phenomenal. That’s been the thing that’s been most underrated is how often he took the ball after that start. And then to pitch as well as he did. It was incredible, just amazing.
DW: Have you seen David recently?
Corbs: Yeah, he came to see us last weekend. He’s great.
DW: Is he a pretty happy guy right now?
Corbs: Yeah, he’s happy. I just think he’s fired up to get going again.
DW: What does it mean to you to have so many guys in the majors?
Corbs: I’m happy, but I’m just as happy for the guys who came through our program and are doing other things. But it’s great for them that they’ve reached the pinnacle of the profession and stayed there. Always happy for them, that’s for sure.
DW: Do you think Sonny’s in a good place now in Cincinnati?
Corbs: I think so. DJ is now with him (former VU pitching coach Derek Johnson who is excellent and recently came to the Reds from the Brewers where he was pitching coach) and that’ll give him some comfort. Sonny’s a good pitcher now. He’s going to help them out. It’s a good opportunity for him and them.
DW: And they’ve got a pretty good young nucleus?
Corbs: I think they’ve got a chance to be good. They’ve got an underrated team.
DW: How are Carson (Fulmer) Tyler (Beede) and Pedro doing right now?
Corbs: They’re doing great. I was with Pedro the other day. Walker’s doing great. I think they’re all in good shape. I talk to them occasionally. Pedro is with the Marlins.
DW: Will he play a particular position for them?
Corbs: He’ll play first base.
DW: What about Carson and Tyler will they be coming up this season?
Corbs: I would think that Carson has a chance. Tyler I would say so.
DW: Finally, I wanted to ask you about your seniors. Seven of your guys on your team were classmates with Donny. I know I hurt personally about this for a while, and if I was hurting, I know how powerful and tragic it was for you and the team. What’s the feeling about Donny now. Is it as strong as it ever was?
TC: Well I just think as the years have gone by. It’s been like a wound on the skin. It was really deep and it has taken a while to heal. As we go through life and death in life, it just takes time to process it. And that was such a deep wound to a young group of people and it was very tough to watch, it was tough for them to manage, and when you like and love someone so much and you see their parents, it’s a re-opening of the wound. It takes a lot of time where you can manage your thoughts and look at the positives of his life. And it’s taken the kids a while, but they’ve done that. it’s taken a while now, it’s taken a long time to get to this stage where we can process this where we want to. We’re in a pretty good place now and I feel pretty good about that.
DW: Coach, I know everybody is excited to see you guys play.
Corbs: We’re excited to get going.
Virginia, this Friday at 6 PM CT on MLB Network. Talking Stick Arizona. MLB4 Tournament with No. 25 Cal State Fullerton Saturday at 2 PM CT and No.19 TCU Sunday at 12 PM CT. We’ll play all 3 teams.
Here’s a great memory. I still get emotional hearing Joe Fisher’s memorable, electric call in 2014. Hoping we hear Joe doing another epic call in 2019. Go Dores!
The tour heads to pristine Pebble Beach for the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro Am. Pretty solid field. The weather has been an issue there with 60 MPH winds knocking down structures last Saturday and a lot of rain, up to 5 inches in the area. There is rain expected for Friday, Saturday and Sunday and winds up to 15 MPH which should make it interesting and challenging for the players.
Thursday-Friday, Golf Channel, 2-5 PM CT; Saturday, 12-1:45 PM CT, Golf Channel, 2-5 PM CT CBS; Sunday, 12-1:45 PM CT, Golf Channel, 2-5:30 PM CT CBS
Pebble Beach is 6,816 yards, Par 72. The first 3 rounds will also be played at Spyglass Hills GC (6,953 yards, Par 72) and Monterey Peninsula (6,956, par 72). The key holes at Pebble to me are 6, 7, 8, 9, 14, 17 and 18. No.6 is a 506 yard, par 5 where the second shot is up a very steep hill, it’s a blind shot and there are bunkers surrounding the green. The Pacific is off to the right for any player who cuts it a little too much. No.7 is the signature hole on the course, a 106 yard par 3, that could either be a lob wedge or a 5 iron depending on the wind. The weekend may challenge the players with club selection as there will be strong gusts. There is trouble around and behind the green. No.8 is a 427 yard par 4 with a blind tee shot and a second shot over the Pacific to a green that is severely sloped from back to front and with bunkers surrounding it. No.8 is considered by many to be the toughest hole on the course. No.9 is a difficult, 481 yard par 4 with the Pacific on the right hand side, a long second shot over a bunker in front of the green, and, like most all of Pebble’s greens, a small size green. The greens are poa annua, which can be tricky to putt on. The 14th is the number 1 handicap hole. It’s 572 yards, a par 5. It’s a dogleg right then comes back to the left. Most likely a 3 shot hole this weekend with the wind. The green is elevated with a false front that can be tricky to negotiate . Bunkers are on the front right and front left. No. 17 is a 177 yard par 3 and home to the famous Tom Watson line in the 1982 U.S. Open when, after his caddie, Bruce Edwards, told him to get it close on his chip, Watson responded, “I’m not going to get it close, I’m going to make it.” He sank it and won the ‘82 Open over the great Jack Nicklaus. No. 18 is a 543 yard , par 5 with the Pacific covering the entire left side of the hole, so any player who overcooks it will be in the ocean. There are a couple of trees in the middle of the fairway that make it interesting if a player gets behind one of them off the tee. The green has a trap front right and is a larger green for Pebble Beach. Many magical moments there including Graeme McDowell’s 2 putt on Sunday in 2010 to win the U.S. Open on Father’s Day with his father in attendance from Northern Ireland.. Pebble Beach will once again host the U.S. Open, June 13-16th. So that’s pretty awesome stuff.
Defending champion; Ted Potter Jr. Won by 3 over Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Jason Day and Chez Reavie. Shot 69, -3, to finish the tournament -16.
Last week: Rickie Fowler imploded and almost lost the Waste Management Open after having a 5 shot 54 hole lead going into Sunday. A disastrous triple bogey on Number 11 in which he chipped his 3rd shot over the green into the water, then as he had dropped his ball and was surveying the green, his ball, with the course very wet from hard rain, rolled back into the water costing him another shot. He hit on the green in 6 and sank his 17 footer for triple. He bogeyed No.12 and was a shot behind Brandon Grace. But Grace faltered and Fowler birdied 15 and 17 and survived for a 2 shot victory at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Matt Adams and Geoff Shackelford were discussing on Golf Channel’s Alternate Shot segment whether Fowler is a closer or not after shooting 73 last Sunday to win. Shackelford said he is since he’s won the Players Championship, but Adams didn’t think so pointing to the fact that he has had 7, 54 hole leads and shot over par on Sunday and lost. I side with Adams. Until Fowler can close a deal in a major, and finish stronger on Sundays, I say he’s not a closer at all. Dustin Johnson won the Saudi International last week on the European Tour. He’s got it cookin it looks like.
You’ve got 4 time winner Phil Mickelson, 2017 winner Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed, who has 5 top finishes since his Masters victory and a whole host of others who can win this tournament as evidence of Potter winning last year and Vaughn Taylor winning in 2016. Three weeks ago, Adam Long won the Desert Classic, so it’s roll the dice many weeks on the PGA Tour with all the talent and depth on tour. Dustin Johnson has 2 victories here in 2009 and 2010, though he did implode in the 2010 U.S. Open shooting 82 and losing a major he had a 4 shot lead in going into the final day. He has 7 top 5 finishes in the 11 events he’s played in here. He’s hard to go against, but I will. I’m taking a guy who finished tied second here last year with Day, Mickelson and Johnson and has been so close to winning on tour. He finished tied for 4th last week at the Waste Management. Taking the 37 year old from Wichita, Kansas. Give me William Chesney “Chez” Revie.
Super Bowl 53
New England Patriots (13-5) vs. Los Angeles Rams (15-3)
Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, 71,000
5:30 PM CT
Jim, Tony, Trace, Evan Washburn, Jay Feely, Gene Steratore, Officiating Analyst
Refs: John Parry, After a disastrous NFC Championship, hoping Parry and his crew don’t mess this game up.
Patriots by 2 1/2
Sean McVay, Jared Goff, Todd Gurley and Aaron Donald have had a spectacular season though there is an asterisk by it after the blown pass interference call in the Saints game by Bill Vinovich’s “All Star” crew . Not only did the California side judge and California back judge blow the pass interference penalty, there were also numerous holding and a couple of other interference penalties not called by the Vinovich crew. It was a catastrophe in officiating.
But the Rams are a solid outfit and Gurley, if he shows up this time after not performing in the NFC Divisional or Championship rounds, can be a difference maker.
With that said, I’m not going against Brady, Belichick, Gronk, Sony Michel and Julian Edelman. The offensive line is not talked about, but they’re a stellar group. I see them holding Donald and company in check. I like Brady and Belichick to hoist their 6th Lombardi Trophy Sunday Night.
Patriots 34, Rams 31
The tour makes its annual trip to Phoenix this week for the Waste Management Phoenix Open. The 16th hole at the Waste Management is a spectacle. Like an Alabama-Auburn game, a perfect tourney for Super Bowl Sunday with all the electricity of that hole providing a great precursor to the Patriots-Rams in Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The defending champion is Gary Woodland who shot -18 last year and won in a playoff over Chez Revie. Last week, world number 1 Justin Rose cemented his spot with a huge victory at Torrey Pines in the Farmers Insurance Open, finishing -21, 2 shots clear of Adam Scott. Rose is phenomenal right now. I thought his change in equipment might cause him some issues early, but he looks to be in midseason form. Rose, world number 2 Brooks Koepka, world number 3 Dustin Johnson, and world number 5 Bryson DeChambeau are in Saudi Arabia this week for the first ever Saudi International. Should be a fantastic tournament there as well.
This field is pretty outstanding at Phoenix, too. 3 of the top 7 players in the world, Justin Thomas (4), Jon Rahm (6) and Xander Schauffele (7) are all playing. Rickie Fowler (14) and Phil (29) are both playing as well. Phil has won in Phoenix 3 times.
Also of note, this will be Johnny Miller’s last NBC golf broadcast of his career this weekend. Hate to see Johnny hang it up, he’s been a spectacular voice of the game, but he’s 71 and ready to spend more time with his kids and grandkids. He’ll be missed. Paul Azinger will take over in the booth. Paul is good, too, so it should be a pretty good transition, though it’s hard to replace Johnny. Johnny will finish up on Saturday afternoon as the network will focus on who wins the tournament on Sunday. Saturday should be interesting and pretty moving to watch. Johnny’s has been a legend in the game, both as a player and as a broadcaster. Will never forget his 63 at Oakmont on Sunday at the 1973 U.S. Open. It was historic stuff. His commentating has been just as memorable.
Thursday-Friday, Golf Channel, 2-6 PM CT; Saturday-Sunday, GC, 12-2 PM CT, NBC, 2-5 PM CT.
Weather looks pretty good overall. Sunny tomorrow, 75; Friday and Saturday chances for rain, Sunday, 65 partly sunny. Wind anywhere from 5-8 MPH.
Of course, at TPC Scottsdale (7,261 yards, par 71) the 162 yard par 3 16th hole is a spectacular sports setting. The Stadium hole features 20,000 rowdy patrons cheering on every good shot and booing every not so good shot. Players throw footballs to the crowd, they wear jerseys of their favorite teams and high five, fist bump, shoulder bump, they do it all on the 16th. It’s terrific entertainment. The hole is kind of straight forward. There is a pretty wide green and the player needs to carry the waste area in front. There is sand on the left and a run off on the right. A lot of pressure. Maybe not as much as the 17th at TPC Sawgrass,, but certainly pressure to produce on this hole for the players. Should be classic on Saturday and particularly on Sunday with the tournament on the line. The 17th is a birdie and potential eagle hole. The hole is 332 yards and a par 4. The players need to avoid a waste area and a couple of bunkers when taking a rip at this hole. In 2001, Andrew Magee gained notoriety when, after carding a double on 16, he impatiently teed off on 17. His ball ran up to the green banked off a player, Tom Byrum’s, putter, and rolled 8 feet before going in the hole. So players will be going for this green particularly if their tournament hopes are on the line. The 18th is a par 4, 438 yards and has a lake running from the front of the tee box and consuming the entire left side of the hole. Deciding how much lake to cut off when driving is a critical decision for the players because a draw will put you in the water and a cut that doesn’t cut enough could be wet as well. There are bunkers on each side of the fairway, so playing up the right side can be tricky as well. The sand can save a player if he’s too close to the water on the left side. If the player navigates his drive well, the second shot is a lot less challenging though there’ll be plenty of pressure on Sunday, so that’ll make it compelling.
I’m pretty bullish on Justin Thomas. Jon Rahm, Phil, and Xander Schauffele this week, but I’m going to take the 2016 and 2017 back to back winner. He also shot 67 last Sunday at Torrey Pines to finish tied for 3rd at the Farmers. I’ll take the 26 year old from Matsuayama Ehime, Japan.
Winner at the Saudi International,
Coverage Sunday, 3:30-8 AM CT on the Golf Channel. A little early, but may catch the last 5 or 6 holes.
A friend of mine asked me today who I thought is this year’s and the coming years’ Brooks Koepka, a guy who’ll light it up. It was ironic he asked that because the Golf Channel had just discussed who will be the best player in the next 5 years between Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau. I’ll take the winner of 5 tournaments in the last 2 years (John Deere Classic in 2017, Memorial, Northern Trust, Dell Technologies Championship, and the Shriners Hospitals for ChildrenI in 2018) ’ll go with the 25 year old from Modesto, California by way of SMU, who won last week at the Dubai Desert Classic, and I like him to win again this week in Saudi Arabia.
A while back, I was drug to a Sting concert in Chicago. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Chicago, but was not as keen on seeing Stung perform. Sting’s fine, just not my favorite. But the opening act was Tracy Chapman. She rocked. Here’s the great Tracy with rock icon Eric Clapton jamming in 1999.
Super Bowl LIII
Preview and prediction for the Patriots vs the Rams at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
Kickoff Sunday 5:30 PM CT.