Baseball enters the last week of the opening month, and perhaps the game's best player shined. The Washington Nationals Bryce Harper lit the National League East on fire, on the way to what might be his second MVP in three seasons. The Nationals marched through Georgia and Queens with a 6-0 record, establishing themselves as the team to beat in the East. Harper led the Nats batting 11-20, with 7 of those 11 hits for extra bases (4 2B, 3 HR). He also scored 10 of his teams 33 runs over the six game span. The Nationals ended the week with the best record in baseball, and it might be time that Bryce is mentioned as the top of MLB elite. For the second time in blog history, he is a worthy Sportsman of the Week!
It was the initial week of Stanley Cup Playoff action, and with eight hotly contested series, the action was plentiful. Seemingly more than any other sport, playoff wins on the road seem more plentiful despite rabid crowds. One way to win on the road is to not allow any goals. And that's exactly what Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators did. Two games, 59 shots on goal, clean slate. And this wasn't against just any team, but the number one seed Chicago Blackhawks, who many had penciled in as a Stanley Cup favorite. Rinne continued his success into Monday with an overtime win with just two goals. The Blackhawks may have played their last game at home in the 2016-17 season, and if they have, there will be bad memories of being stonewalled by the Finnish superstar goalie Rinne.
Look no further than the biggest golf event on the calendar every year. The Masters. A tradition. I won't say it's like no other, because there are a lot of good sports traditions. But what a finish. With a pack of 10-12 golfers within striking distance to start on Sunday, two distanced themselves from the pack for a matchup down the last five holes (plus one playoff) in which each had a chance to win with a good putt. But it was Sergio Garcia who came out on top. Trailing by 1 with 2 to play, he took advantage of sloppy Rose putting to tie it going to 17. Then after a couple of make-able missed putts on the 72nd hole of the tournament, it was the 73rd where Sergio nailed it. Hitting a birdie when Rose faded. Garcia played each of the four rounds under par; five rounds counting the playoff as a round. Both golfers left it all on the course, and it was the fans that won by seeing the Spaniard win his first major in 74 tries. On the 73rd hole. Sergio Garcia is our Sportsman of the Week!
March Madness winds down, with an impressive new champion against the odds. The South Carolina Lady Gamecocks marched right through the brackets for their first title in school history. Despite Connecticut being the prohibitive favorite to win their fifth straight title (and seventh in ten years), it was South Carolina who took home the hardware. Led by star big woman A'ja Wilson, whose play on the offensive end and on the boards was the Final Four's most outstanding player. In the National semifinal, Wilson was held to 13 points, but tallied an astounding 19 rebounds (including 8 offensive) and 3 blocks in a win against a red hot Stanford team. In the National final, she led the Lady Cocks with 23 points, hauling in 10 boards with 4 blocks. The 6'5" junior will lead the Cocks in attempted repeat next year, and is our Sportswoman of the Week!
"The Shot." Or to some (with deference to Christian Laettner) "The Shot Part 2." North Carolina slayed a feisty young Kentucky team on a last second jumper that ended a wild sequence just after Kentucky had tied it up. The shot sent the Tar Heels to the Final Four. Sportsman of the Week Luke Maye did the work in his last second (well, 0.3 left) bucket to slay the Wildcats and break the hearts of the Bluegrass faithful. But really, the entire regional finals, Maye was a portrait of efficiency. Coming off the bench for the two games (first one a win against Butler), the 6'7" sophomore tallied just 45 minutes, one full regulation plus overtime game. In that time, he netted 33 points and 15 boards, more than 0.75 points per minute of action, and 1 rebound every 3 minutes. No other Tar Heel was so efficient in scoring. But make no mistake, his winning Sportsman of the Week is about the clutch. He'll be ready to tangle in the desert in the next round. A round North Carolina may not make without his heroics.
March Madness (c'mon NCAA, sue me) was in full effect this week. For a tournament that features 67 games, 52 are already in the books. And while there weren't any impossible upsets, a lot of favored teams went home. Like the Duke Blue Devils. Duke was a vogue pick for the Final Four until they ran into a buzz saw in South Carolina. Led by Sindarius Thornwell, the Gamecocks took advantage of a partisan home crown (and maybe just a few North Carolina Tarheels fans joining the bandwagon) in Greenville, SC, to oust the favored Devils 88-81. It was never competitive the final 10 minutes. Thornwell 24 points, 6 boards, and 5 assists in the stunner. Combine this with a 29 point, 11 rebound game in a 93-73 demolishing of Marquette in the first round (in what was a pick'em game). Did we mention that the senior Thornwell was the SEC player of the Year (in a league that features pretty good Kentucky players). Playing a full four years and leading your school to their first tournament victory since 1973, that's big. Worthy of our Sportsman of the Week!
Shifting gears a little bit (before March Madness jams our airwaves), our Blog has always loved first time winners. And underdogs. PGA Tour winner Adam Hadwin fits the bill. Yes, PGA Tour winner, in his first Tour victory this week. Hadwin edged Patrick Cantlay, also seeking his first PGA tour win. The Canadian edges Cantlay on the final hole with a birdie, after blowing a two shot lead with a water shot on 16. Never has a golfer been so happy to skip his honeymoon. You see, he had planned it during The Masters, figuring he would need a miracle to make it. Enter miracle. Except this golfer is talented. And he is our Longhorndave Sportsman of the Week!
The Columbus Blue Jackets have the second most points in the Eastern Conference, and are poised to make their third Stanley Cup Playoffs in team history, and only the second in the last eight years. Good hockey starts between the pipes, and Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky has provided that in spades. Bobrovsky is currently in the Top 5 goalies in wins, goals against average, save percentage, and shutouts. This week, he was nothing short of spectacular. In three full games of regulation, he allowed no goals. Unfortunately in one of them, he lost in overtime, but the shutouts in the other two netted his team five total points for his team. His goals against average of 0.33 and save percentage of .989 was tops for the week. A hot Bobrovsky could propel the Blue Jackets to a deep playoff run, and he is a worthy, Sportsman of the Week!
Anytime you reach an "all time scoring leader" status you probably did something good. The University of Washington's Kelsey Plum reached that status, as the all time leading scorer for NCAA women's basketball now at 3,397 points and counting. She surged to the record with a 57 point effort on Saturday against the Utah Utes at the number 11 Huskies last home game (Senior Day). The diminutive guard is averaging over 30 points per game and has over 100 three pointers on the season. She is even shooting 53.7% from the field, unheard of for a guard. Add in over 88% from the free throw line and she can score from anywhere. Plum's future is bright, but her past week is worthy as our Sportswoman of the Week!
If you haven't heard of Patrik Laine yet, you will. A lot. Over the next decade or two. The Winnipeg Jets struck gold with the 2nd overall pick in the 2016 draft and Laine has not disappointed in his rookie season. He has found the net 28 times in 54 games. This week, he scored 5 goals (including a hat trick against Dallas), while leading the Jets to a 3-1 record including a brutal road trip to Ottawa, Montreal, and Pittsburgh, all of which are top playoff contenders. The Jets are on the cusp of a playoff appearance after a last place division finish just a year ago. This week, Laine also chipped in three assists and a staggering +7 plus/minus (greater than 0 in each game). Did I mention the Finn is still 2 months from his 19th birthday? Get on the Laine train now, it's going to be a fun ride! Patrik Laine is our Longhorndave Sportsman of the Week!