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Friday, April 11, 2008

Friar Briefs

PC softball compressed the leaching April-old wound Friday evening through an 8-inning, 5-4 triumph of Seton Hall at Raymond Field.

Scoreless in Big East play dating back to their March 29 doubleheader with Connecticut, the Friars spaced out their best single-game output since they were last seen on their own turf over three home runs and improved to 2-6 in conference games.

Mustering a mere two runs in the first eleven innings of the day –an accomplishment in of itself given its recent aridness on the scoreboard- Providence broke out in the fourth inning of the nightcap. Her mates freshly trailing 4-1 after a two-run top half, catcher Teresa Bertels leveled her fourth homer of the year, a 3-run, no-out bomb to draw a 4-4 knot.

Pirates’ pitcher Kim Schweitzer was forked out on the spot in favor of Ashley Forsyth –who had concocted a sound complete game in the afternoon. Forsyth went on to retire all but one of the next thirteen batters, but ran out of Friar Restraint tricks in the bottom of the eighth, surrendering a walk-off home run to PC’s cleanup hitter Christy Becker.

Lacking a win in their previous five opportunities and so much as a run in their last four games, the Friars’ futility persisted through Game 1, a 2-1 win for the Pirates that also required a bonus round.

Pirate cleanup Kealan Waldron –whose fifth inning single proved vital in forcing extra innings- pounced again in the top of the afternoon eighth, hustling to second while PC hurler Danielle Bertolette (complete game, 5 Ks, 5 hits) threw out Michelle Reed and then churning home for the decider on Shannon Pease’s subsequent double.

To start the day, the Friars at least cracked the chrysalis that plagued them last weekend at Syracuse and Pittsburgh. Leadoff batter Katelyn Revens promptly completed the roundtrip via a double, a sacrifice by Jenna Garcia, and Mary Rose Sheehy’s single. But afterwards, Forsyth confined her scurvy-riddled hosts to a mere two additional base runners –a sixth inning walk for Revens and a seventh inning double by Becker.

In the meantime, Seton Hall effectively scuffed Bertolette, among other things seducing her to four walks and a hit batsman before the end of the fifth inning, which they left knotted at 1-apiece. Ashley Constantiti supplied the equalizer on Waldron’s one out, base-loaded single, but Friars right fielder Justin Stratton would cut off Leah Manichetti’s attempt to pad on the go-ahead.

For all of their effective, draining dueling in the afternoon game, both Bertolette and Forsyth’s arms needed less than four innings in the evening to thaw out before they were called to duty again. PC had already gone through starter Jennifer Maccio –who authorized all four Seton Hall runs in 3.1 innings- and Kathryn Sullivan (two hits against in one inning) before Bertolette came on in the fifth. She ended up saving her best for last, abolishing all 11 challengers.

The Pirates, meantime, had seen enough of their nightcap starter –Jessica Jones- after two full frames. In that time, the Friars had snapped a quick 1-0 lead through Garcia’s homer and twice gnashed their way to second base, one of those aided by a passed ball.

Schweitzer’s relief endeavor (3 earned runs, 5 hits) survived the third, despite a pair of Providence singles, but caved in quickly in the fourth. Gina Rossi and Stratton leapt on board before Bertels’ four-bagger summoned Forsyth back to the mound. Forsyth, not unlike Bertolette, hushed the Friars once more until the eighth, allowing but one hit while distributing three strikeouts.

Lax Lowdown: PC lacrosse will visit the St. Joseph’s Hawks at 1:00 p.m. Saturday, renewing last year’s MAAC championship matchup.

The reigning also-rans are off to an iffy 2-2 start in their 2008 conference slate, the first three of those games being decided by a single goal before they surrendered a 14-12 earthquake decision at Virginia Military Institute last week.

The 4-0 Friars, conversely, have comfortably thawed out their offense since settling into their league schedule. Save for the epic, 4-3 quad-OT triumph at Siena two weeks back, they have thrice broken double digits (although, those three breezes were all at home).

St. Joseph’s is also respectably battle-tested, having already confronted the Friars’ first place cohabitant from Canisius (4-0) and restricted them to a 7-6 decision at Philadelphia’s Finnesey Field.

Hockey Quick Feeds: Mari Pehkonen’s –team leading two goals and five points through four games- Finns will face Switzerland for bronze at the Women’s World Championship Saturday before Team USA, aided by 2006 alumna Karen Thatcher and the tutelage of 1984 alumna Jackie Barto, conducts its umpteenth championship tilt with Canada...Outgoing senior Jon Rheault joined the East team in Friday’s Frozen Four Skills Challenge…Rheault’s former coach, Paul Pooley, will help Notre Dame vie for its first national title in Saturday’s final versus Boston College. The Irish overthrew top dog Michigan, 5-4, in overtime Thursday after the Eagles throttled North Dakota, 6-1, to set up a hockey version of the “Holy War.”

Monday, April 7, 2008

Bruins Commentary

“Reverse the Curse” On Ice

“I wanna heal, I wanna feel, what I thought was never real

I wanna let go of the pain I’ve felt so long.”

-Linkin Park, Somewhere I Belong

So, Hub hockey fans finally have the opportunity to go Gardening in the prime light of spring. It’s been four years, one lockout, one arena name change (from FleetCenter), umpteen personnel changes (though what’s so new about that?), and a revolution of achievements by all of their athletic neighbors, since the Bruins last played an 83rd game.

Looking for a kicker, are you? Well, vast as the reform of the Boston sports scene has been these last four years, apparently someone still has to play the role of stinker/heartbreaker/other-shoe-dropper. The emphasis of that notion has been emboldened by the assigned match-up for this year’s conference quarter-final.

Here are your fundamental facts: it’s #8 Bruins vs. #1 Canadiens, best-of-seven, and on the heels of a comedic 7-0-1 regular season series in favor of Montreal.

About six months after Boston’s last playoff hockey game, persistent New York Yankee fans were trying to soften the euphoria from the Red Sox drought-splashing World Series by insisting that New England would eventually regret its lost sense of identity.

Reality check: as this series, slated to commence Thursday in Montreal, approaches, Bruins Buffs are likely hearkening back to Patriots Day 2004, when Alexei “Bleeping” Kovalev and Richard “Bleeping” Zednik collaborated to help the Habs to a climactic 2-0 triumph. All that coming after the Bs had sculpted an indulgent 3-1 edge in that series.

Only two years prior, the Bruins this year- snapped a two-year playoff no-show streak –as they have done this season- only to be knocked loose by the fabled French guys in Round 1.

Those two memories, and now the unthinkable imbalance over this year’s regular season, are merely Hershey’s syrup tinged with bitter almond atop the Bruins’ historical French limburger cheesecake.

None other than first-year Boston bench boss Claude Julien was the man of the ice house in Montreal the last time these teams convened in the post-season. Over his first go-around on the other side of the rivalry, he has swallowed an 8-game aggregate scoring deficit of 36-16 when, for some reason, the minds behind the “new NHL” thought more divisional games would accelerate the excitement.

But naturally, when informed that the “CH” was officially lurking after the regular season finale, Julien was quoted as follows: "Everybody seems to want to have a look at the global outlook, I guess, at the fact that it's 11 in a row now that we haven't beaten them. That's the number that keeps coming up to everybody. The number that comes up to me is the last two games that we played them."

At times, when the ice looked choppy in his squad’s quest just to reach this point, Julien had the euphemistic tendencies of your high school parents’ newsletter. But all things considered, he is being nothing short of commonsensical now.

After all, the Bruins are not in the second season, as the cliché goes. They are in their second playoff. And the heat of the first playoff, one could argue, spiked when these teams wrapped up their regular season series less than three weeks ago. After swallowing a 4-2 falter at home on March 20, the Bruins proceeded to at least extract a point by virtue of a shootout loss (the new “regulation tie”) at Bell Centre two nights later.

Leading up to their sleep-skating 3-0 loss to Buffalo in the finale last Saturday, however, they stamped a 4-0-2 sprint and claimed their playoff passports against GM Peter Chiarelli and captain Zdeno Chara’s old chaps in Ottawa.

Some say emotion is overrated. But when there’s nothing to lose –and there really isn’t when you think about it- you might as well mix it in with your Gatorade powder.

Julien is, after all, facing one of the clubs that canned him. His current pupils have, after all, chipped at least a small hole in their Canadien chrysalis at a point where the impression is still plenty fresh. And they are potentially getting back top point-producer Marc Savard sometime for this series.

Savard went down back on March 22 at, you guessed it, Bell Centre, when Steve Begin clipped him from behind to distort his back.

Of course, it’s all trivial when the puck drops. But so is the notion that this is in the bag for the Canadiens.

For them, 2002 and 2004 in of themselves should serve as a couple of caveats. The Bruins had finished 1st and 2nd respectively in those years.

And, while perhaps only this commentator and WBZ play-by-play man Dave Goucher can recall this, the little brother in Providence may have an inspirational inscription in their history books. Back in 1996-97 (with Goucher mastering the mic), the Baby Bs charged up an abysmal 2-8-0 regular season transcript versus the now-defunct Worcester Icecats. It took Providence until the first week of April to finally drape an L around Worcester’s neck.

Two weeks later, the 100-point Cats and 75-point Baby Bs were to lock twigs in a best-of-five first round series. Worcester promptly seized the first two games through a pair of 5-4 earthquakes. But the Bruins subsequently pulled what the Red Sox have long since become the executive producers of: an epic rally. A 4-2 grinder in Game 3, a double-overtime 5-4 walk-off, and a 3-2 nail-biter granted Providence the series.

But again, it’s of no tangible influence on the issue at hand. What it should do, though, is assure Garden goers not to automatically scamper off in nausea just because they see bleu, blanc, et rouge on the visiting bench. If anything, they should be rabidly salivating for a reversal.

Now, if only someone will take care of that overlap between Sunday’s Game 3 (a 7:00 face-off) and the Sox-Yanks 8:05 pitch at Fenway.