Saturday, June 24, 2017

Archives: MCLA National Champion, Grand Canyon University

Grand Canyon's Joe Balestrieri (Photo / GCU )
The American Sports Network has ceased operations in its present form, so I'm presenting here for posterity some of the articles that I contributed during my time there, before the site officially shutters. All content is copyright ASN & Tom Flynn

This story was written as a preview of the promising season ahead for the Grand Canyon University Lopes in 2017 and first appeared on January 25, 2017. 

On May 13, the Lopes captured their second national championship in three years when they defeated Chapman University, 12-8.

In the Northeast, the February start to the men’s college lacrosse season is as much a battle against the elements as it is against respective opponents. Once novel, snow-filled games are now so frequent as to draw into annual debate the decision to start the season in the midst of winter.
Not so in Phoenix, where the Grand Canyon University Lopes prepare for their 2017 start beneath typically clear skies.
GCU, under head coach Manny Rapkin, captured the Division I Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association (MCLA) national championship in 2015, going 16-1 and averaging 15 goals per game in the process. Last year, the Lopes bowed out in the national semifinals to Cal Poly.
The combination of lacrosse-friendly weather and GCU’s success is helping draw talent to the Arizona desert as part of the sport’s larger spread away from its traditional power hubs in the East. The same year the Lopes won the MCLA DI title, the Denver Pioneers defeated Maryland to become the first team west of the Mississippi to capture an NCAA lacrosse crown at any level.
Jeff Guy, a Connecticut transplant, is GCU's assistant coach and defensive coordinator. The former midfielder first arrived at GCU in 2007 as an assistant after graduating from the University of Delaware in 2005. By 2012, he was on the staff at Princeton, where the Tigers went undefeated in Ivy League play and made the NCAA tournament.
Even though he was coaching future MLL standouts like Tom Schreiber and Tyler Fiorito, the Southwest hadn’t completely left his mind.
“I still missed living in Arizona, that was one of the main things,” said Guy of his decision to depart the University of Dallas – where he was the head coach for two years following Princeton – for GCU in the summer of 2014. In the Lopes' championship season of 2015, with Guy directing the defense, GCU allowed double-digit goals just five times in their 17 games.
“It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, coming back.”
Rapkin is also an Eastern transplant, spending his undergraduate career playing football and lacrosse at New York’s NCAA Division I Siena College, and also serving as the head coach at New York’s Dominican College before arriving at GCU.
The two coaches, in addition to their work on the Lopes’ sideline, help sow lacrosse seeds in the desert at the youth level as part of Guy’s Accelerated Lacrosse Academy for middle school and high school players in the area.
Another critical part of the 2017 GCU squad arrived from far afield, in his case from the North. Senior Lucas de Jong is a Lopes midfielder hailing from Victoria, British Columbia.
Rapkin spotted de Jong when his club team, the Vancouver Island Seaspray, made trips south to tournaments in Seattle and San Diego. “He came and talked to our team and told us a little about GCU,” said de Jong. “My junior year I kind of shrugged it off because I wanted to keep looking. But the more recruiting letters, emails, and phone calls I received, nothing else was the full package for me."
“I had a lot of good people telling me I had to pick a school based on the school first, lacrosse second. After visiting GCU, there was no question.”
The sports management major is also an RA, the president of the college’s local chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), and served an internship for the Phoenix Suns in 2016 that resulted in a job offer. "It was an amazing experience, something I'll never forget and I learned a ton from," said de Jong of interning for the Suns.
On the lacrosse field, de Jong describes himself as, "A pretty stereotypical Canadian – I grew up playing box lacrosse; I started in the third grade.” He added that like his fellow countrymen, his stick skills are centered on his dominant hand, honed in the tight confines of the indoor game.
"We [Canadians] play field lacrosse the way we play box lacrosse. We dodge hard, we get the ball to the net, and we set lots of picks."
He was recruited as an attackman out of high school. “My first fall semester at attack at GCU, I was just awful," said de Jong, laughing. "Coach called me in one morning and said he was switching me to defensive middie. I had a panic attack, but then I worked hard and got the starting position for my first game against Colorado State." He scored a goal in the game and went on to earn All-Freshman accolades.
“You can really put Lucas anywhere on the field, and he’ll make the team better. You want to be better on face-offs and have your guy’s face-off percentage go up? Put Lucas on the wing," said Guy, referring to one of the two players who – as with hockey draws – man the flanks or "wings" on the center faceoff. “You want a better clearing percentage? Put Lucas in on the clear. He’s a total team player."
Senior attackman Joe Balestrieri began his college lacrosse career in Maryland, although he is a native of the San Diego area. His first stop was with perennial JUCO power CCBC-Essex, where he had 70 regular season points as a freshman, before moving to the state’s Stevenson University. While a Mustang, Balestrieri had 22 goals and four assists in 22 games as part of a 19-3 team.
“I think he’ll be the preseason MCLA Player of the Year,” said Rapkin in describing the senior’s talent. Balestrieri scored 56 goals and added 31 assists to lead the MCLA’s Top 10 Division I ranks in scoring in 2016. He also garnered first team All-American honors.
After deciding not to return to Stevenson, Balestrieri chose to look closer to home, somewhere where his family could watch him play. “I had a couple of buddies at GCU, and they told me it was a great environment, and a great team,” he said.
While he acknowledges GCU’s facilities, proximity, and weather as factors in his decision to come to Phoenix, he emphasizes that it was the coaching staff of Guy and Rapkin that sealed the decision.
“I’m thankful for the opportunity to be part of this team,” said Balestrieri.
His coaches echo the sentiment.
“When he originally came here, we had him slotted as a middie,” said Guy. “Coach Rapkin quickly came to the conclusion, ‘We need this guy on the field all the time.’”
"Joe's a great leader for our offense, another guy who also plays unselfish lacrosse and does a lot of great things for us,” he added. “He can shoot the ball outside, he can get to the goal on his own, and he can create goals. He can also be the finisher on the backside."
Thanks to the influx of talent from across North America, GCU hopes to finish the 2017 campaign as it did 2015, with an MCLA Division I trophy in hand.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Crosby, Penguins Again Prove Stanley Cup Mettle

Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby hoists his third Stanley Cup (Photo / Danny Murphy/Iconsportswire)

Nashville - The Pittsburgh Penguins and their captain Sidney Crosby proved for the second straight year they are the best in the world when they defeated the Predators, 2-0, in Nashville on Sunday to win the Stanley Cup.

Crosby added his third Stanley Cup to the world's best (active) hockey résumé, as well as his second Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The center has also won two Olympic gold medals (2010, 2014) while playing for Canada. He even has an Emmy for his work in the 2016 series There's No Place Like Home With Sidney Crosby.

For Nashville, it was their first Stanley Cup appearance in their 20-season history dating back to 1998.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Analysis: DraftWizard's MLB Top 10 Mock Draft Picks

Vanderbilt's Kyle Wright (Photo / iconsportswire.com)
Baltimore - The Major League Baseball amateur player draft is among sports’ most difficult to predict with precision. DraftWizard is a software application created by former college baseball player and current IT professional Aidan Cain that attempts to do so by letting its user's slot potential draft picks into “player types” and then compare them to historical data for similar types of players drafted since 1965.

DraftWizard defines each player type using an array of attributes such as height, handedness, and position. Each is then assigned a value, and data for previously drafted players is appended to the player type for comparison to prospective draft picks. 

The program next predicts the likelihood of a player making the majors. Each selection in the Top 10 is based on the DraftWizard analysis using player information from the Top 25 draft prospect profiles on MLB.com, as well as team needs for the upcoming draft.

Fieldhouse Journal presents here the top 10 projected picks of  DraftWizard's 2017 mock draft with accompanying narrative from Cain. The draft begins on June 12.

#1  Minnesota Twins
Team Needs = Pitcher, Any
Kyle Wright - RHP - Vanderbilt University

Nine other players with Wright’s exact attributes (6-foot-4, 220 lbs., right-handed, collegiate pitcher) made it to the majors when drafted in the first round. This accounts for 75 percent of all players with Wright's characteristics ever drafted in the first. 

One notable player that shares Wright's attributes - the Washington Nationals' Stephen Stasburg.

The top college righty in the class should follow Dansby Swanson as the next Vanderbilt one-one selection.

#2  Cincinnati Reds
Team Needs = Pitcher, First Baseman
Brendan McKay - LHP/1B - Louisville University

Brendan McKay shows promise in two areas needed by the Reds – he projects well as both a pitcher and first baseman. Reds’ first round draftees have a success rate of 66.7 percent when taken out of college as compared to 43.6 percent out of high school. Additionally, collegiate players taken second overall have an 88 percent chance of making it to the Show.

McKay’s player type as a pitcher has a 100 percent rate of producing a major leaguer. When he moves to first base, his likelihood of success declines. Players of his type drafted in the first round include retired first baseman Carlos Pena.

#3  San Diego Padres
Team Needs = Pitcher, Shortstop
Hunter Greene - RHP/SS - Notre Dame (Calif.) HS

Greene is an excellent selection at third overall for the Padres. As a pitcher, this flamethrower has a player type producing major league players at a 25.9 percent clip. 

He has number one overall potential, however no high school righty pitcher has ever been taken one-one. The numbers are arguably more in favor of selecting Greene as a shortstop. Of first rounders with Greene’s attributes as a shortstop, 100 percent became major league players. 

He has the same player type as both Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. Not only is Greene a perfect fit for the Padres, but he is also a highly projectable pick.

#4  Tampa Bay Rays
Team Needs = Pitcher, Catcher
Alex Faedo - RHP - University of Florida

For quite some time, Faedo was in the hunt to be the first pitcher selected. He's recently been edged out, now sitting as the number six pitching prospect in this year's draft class. Faedo's player type boasts 300 major league players, among them seven first rounders and one first overall selection.

First rounders of Faedo’s characteristics make the majors at a 58.3 percent rate. Righty college pitchers taken at fourth overall are 22 percent more likely to make the majors than high school right-handed arms taken with the same selection.

#5  Atlanta Braves
Team Needs = Outfielder, Any 
Adam Haseley - OF - University of Virginia

Contrary to popular belief, Jeren Kendall may not be the most projectable outfielder this class has to offer. Listed as the number four outfield prospect in the 2017 draft class, Adam Haseley has a player type most similar to Jacoby Ellsbury

The two outfielder-only prospects ahead of him, Kendall and high school prospect Austin Beck, have a player type that has produced only a total of three major leaguers, at a success rate of 10 percent and 2.9 percent respectively. On the other hand, the player type of Haseley has produced 11 major leaguers with those few going in the first round having a success rate of 100 percent.

#6  Oakland Athletics
Team Needs = First Baseman, Outfielder
Royce Lewis - SS/OF - Serra Catholic (Calif.) HS

Lewis is listed as the top high school hitter-only in this year’s draft class. The UC-Irvine commit has a player type which offers the second best success rate for outfielders. As an outfielder, 28.6 percent of players with Lewis’ characteristics that were first round picks ended up making the majors. If outfield does not work out, his player type makes him even better suited as a shortstop.

Statistics show 71.4 percent of shortstops similar to Lewis proved to be major league caliber ballplayers, one of whom was selected first overall. Although the A’s primary need is first base and they may be tempted to take Pavin Smith, it may be too early to take the top first base prospect, whose profile has only ever produced three major league players.

#7  Arizona Diamondbacks
Team Needs = Pitcher, Any
Shane Baz - RHP - Concordia Lutheran (Texas) HS

This high school right-hander proves the second-most promising prep arm. His player type produced an impressive 49 major leaguers at a success rate of 25.9 percent. When the player has been selected in the first round that percentage jumps to 66.7 percent. College rather than high school right-handed pitchers tend to produce slightly better at the number seven overall selection, however, that number is still at a success rate of 66.7 percent. Baz's player type is comparable to current Diamondbacks starter Shelby Miller.

#8  Philadelphia Phillies
Team Needs = Pitcher, Second Baseman
Alex Lange - RHP - Louisiana State University

Lange will seek to follow in the footsteps of former LSU Tiger Aaron Nola, by quickly rising within the ranks of the Phillies’ farm system. This collegiate standout's player type has produced 37 major leaguers. For players with the same attributes as Lange drafted in the first round, 9 players or 56.3 percent made a major league roster. Interestingly enough, Lange’s player type was the only of the top 25 prospects to have had two first overall selections, both of whom were successful and played at the major league level.

#9  Milwaukee Brewers
Team Needs = Pitcher, Outfielder
Jordan Adell - OF - Ballard (Ky.) HS

Ranked 5th of the outfield prospects, Adell is a quality selection at number nine. Having a player type with the exact attributes of former number one prospect and current Minnesota Twin, Byron Buxton, and three-time gold glove winner Mike Cameron, Adell has lots of upside. As a first round eligible player, his profile has been successful in yielding a major league player 60 percent of the time.

#10 Los Angeles Angels
Team Needs = Pitcher, Any
Tanner Houck - RHP - University of Missouri

Houck is a big-bodied pitcher with lots of sinking action on his fastball. Among the players analyzed, Houck has some of the most balanced characteristics statistically. 

His player type has led to 33 major league players at a 23.1 perecent rate. Twelve total players were selected in the first round and of those seven, or 58.3 percent, went on to play in the bigs including one first overall selection. Since 1990, no right-handed collegiate pitcher taken 10th overall has failed to make the major leagues. Houck is comparable to former All-Star, Mark Prior, by player type and should be a solid selection at 10th overall.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Nashville Makes First Stanley Cup Bid Starting Monday


Nashville defenseman P.K. Subban (Photo /Danny Murphy/Icon Sportswire) 
Pittsburgh - The Nashville Predators make their first appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals Monday when they face the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins at 8 pm. The Preds advanced from a #8 seed in the Western Conference to the finals. Pittsburgh represents the Eastern Conference after dispatching the Ottawa Senators in seven games


Friday, May 5, 2017

Hockey: Rangers, Senators Battle Highlights NHL Playoffs

Rangers' goalie Henrik Lunqvist (Photo / David Hahn/ Icon Sportswire)
New York - The Rangers and Senators second-round series, currently tied at two games apiece, is one of the four tightly contested pairings underway in the 2017 NHL Playoffs.

The remaining matchups in the conference semifinal round include St. Louis vs. Nashville (2-3), Washington vs. Pittsburgh (1-3), and Edmonton vs. Anaheim (2-2). As of this writing, the Oilers were leading game five of their series, 3-0, in the second period. [note: the Ducks came back to win, 4-3]

On Saturday the Rangers and Sens return to action at 3 pm in Ottawa. The current incarnation of the Senators dates back to 1992, and they've appeared in the Stanley Cup Finals only once, in 2007.

The Blues staved off elimination on Friday night as Nashville entered the game with a 3-1 series advantage before falling in St. Louis, 2-1.

The Capitals are vying to avoid the fate that seemingly befalls them each spring after a strong regular season  an early playoff exit. The Pens are a game away from advancing to round three, but will likely be without the services of Sidney Crosby for game five due to injury. A final decision on Crosby will be made prior to Saturday's 7:15 pm faceoff.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Turn Two: A Pair of UNC Asheville Baseball Articles

The UNC Asheville Bulldogs and skipper
Scott Friedholm (Photo / UNC Athletics)


Asheville, NC - Since the start of the baseball season I've been fortunate to write about the Big South's UNC Asheville Bulldogs baseball team on two occasions.

Most recently, I covered the team for the Asheville Citizen-Times on the occasion of a cancer awareness/fundraising effort at the city's McCormick Field. It was an inspiring event and for great pictures and video from the evening, as well as the article, click here.

A month earlier, I wrote about the club for the American Sports Network. The article is reproduced here, as ASN is no longer broadcasting. The content is the copyright of ASN.

In Asheville, the Bulldogs arm up for the Big South
February 27, 2017
by Tom Flynn

UNC Asheville plays baseball in the Big South, the same conference that produced last year's national champion, Coastal Carolina. It was nice final moment in the conference for CCU as beginning with 2017 they moved to the Sun Belt Conference. With the departure of the Chanticleers, the Bulldogs are one of ten teams vying to fill the conspicuous absence at the top of the conference. 

"For Coastal, obviously that was an unbelievable achievement and something we're proud of with them being a Big South team," said the Bulldogs' third-year head coach, Scott Friedholm. It also gives credit to the type of league that the Big South is from a baseball standpoint."

Before arriving in the western North Carolina mountains, Friedholm spent four years at Chestnut Hill as Boston College's recruiting coordinator and pitching coach. There, Friedholm had the Eagle's staff consistently throwing strikes, tallying 352 K's in 2014. Prior to his time with BC, he spend five years as the pitching coach at Navy. There he helped hone major league talents Mitch Harris and Oliver Drake.

Both pitchers debuted in the majors in 2015, and when Harris broke through to the bigs he became the first Navy grad to do so since 1921. Friedholm now leads the entire squad in Asheville, and his overall approach is clear. "Our emphasis is always first and foremost on pitching and defense. That's going to give us a chance to win or compete every single time we're on the field."

Offensively, the Bulldogs will turn to center fielder, Joe Tietjen. Tietjen made second team All-Big South last year and looks to improve upon that in 2017. He spent the summer of 2016 developing his skills in the New England Collegiate Baseball League as well as with the Chatham Anglers of the Cape Cod League, widely regarded as the top college summer circuit in the country. 

"The nine-man lineup that coach comes up with - every guy will be ready. Every single guy was prepared this fall, and they've all played summer league ball," said Tietjen.  


Positionally we were pretty good, with guys like Joe, Kyle Carruthers, and Derek Smith. They've bought in and believe in what we're trying to do here," said Friedholm. "When you take over a program – and the same was true when I was at Navy – a lot of times the last thing to come around is the pitching."

Several returning pitchers made significant strides last fall, including 6'8" redshirt sophomore Ryan Taft, junior Nick Boyles, and junior Jesse Juday. The coach also mentioned his freshmen throwing well this past fall. They include left-hander Greg Gasparro of Pennington, New Jersey.

"Obviously you just don't know how these younger guys are going to react when we play another team, but you hope that you get the right guys as far as competitors and athletes so that it doesn't matter when you play, it's still just a game of baseball."

Gasparro started the Bulldogs' opener and was sharp in a losing effort, pitching four scoreless innings before yielding to fellow freshman, Brandon Harris. Harris allowed one hit in two innings of work. The two worked in tandem again on Friday, as the Bulldogs defeated Dayton, 6-2, and moved to 2-3 on the season. Harris earned his first college win in the outing, while Tietjen drove in seven runs in a 12-6 victory. Three of those came on a fourth-inning home run, his first of the season. 

A team premised on defense and pitching must implicitly be able to execute offensively to be successful. The Bulldogs have that covered as well. 


"If we need to bunt, we can bunt. If we need to steal, we can run a little bit," said the head coach. "I know we're going to hit. I know we're going to be able to steal some bases. But when it comes the time, if we had to do a safety [squeeze] or hit and run, or sacrifice bunt, we're going to be able to do those things."

Friday, March 24, 2017

History: Maryland's Nuclear Moment 50 Years Ago




Grantsville, MD - In March, I was fortunate to contribute an article to Blue Ridge Outdoors on a nuclear disaster that nearly played out in the low mountains of Western Maryland.

On January 13, 1964, a B-52 armed with two thermonuclear bombs crashed into Big Savage Mountain near Grantsville, Maryland. The weather was so poor  estimates range from -10 to 10 degrees with three feet of snow accumulating  that the crash for some crew members was just the beginning of an unfolding nightmare.

It's a compelling story of inspiring bravery from the pilots, as well as the courageous efforts of a small town pulling together to do the right thing in the harrowing shadow of an unthinkable outcome.