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In the Zone: Random weekend musings

Some random and varied observations from the weekend in sports.

1) I had Louisville and Syracuse in the NCAA Tournament final Monday night with the Cardinals winning it all.

Saturday, Rick Pitino and his boys took care of business. Their pressure defense was too much for the Wichita State Shockers to handle, especially in the second half when the Cardinals erased a double-digit lead in the second half and pulled out a 72-68 win.

Louisville was down 12 points with 13:35 left on the game clock. Enter guard Luke Hancock.

The junior sharpshooter, who had scored all of 27 points in the first four games of the tournament, ignited the Cardinal comeback with 20 points off the bench.

(Check out this cool story about Hancock and his dad from Yahoo! Sports)

2) Syracuse did not hold up its end of the bargain, however, falling to Michigan 61-56.

If you remember my In the Zone blog from last week previewing the Final Four, I spent a lot of time talking up the Michigan team and all of the weapons they had capable of beating the vaunted 2-3 zone defense of the Orangemen.

Then I (for some reason) picked Syracuse to win the game. Shame on me.

Though Syracuse kept AP National Player of the Year Trey Burke in check — seven points on just 1-of-8 shooting — Michigan got enough from its very deep and talented roster:

Freshman tournament sensation Mitch McGary had 10 points, 12 rebounds and six assists.
Freshman forward Glenn Robinson III had 10 points and six rebounds.
Junior guard Tim Hardaway, Jr. was not efficient shooting the basketball, scoring a team-high 13 points on 4-of-16 shooting, but he did chip in 6 rebounds and five assists.

3) All told, there very well may be 8-10 NBA players on the court inside the Georgia Dome Monday evening. Michigan has easily got four or five. Louisville is the same way.

I picked Louisville to win it all last week and I’m sticking with my guns: Louisville 83, Michigan 75.

4) The St. Louis Cardinals hammered Matt Cain Sunday afternoon to escape San Francisco with a .500 record.

After getting shut out by Barry Zito Friday afternoon, the Redbirds finally figured out how to hit the San Francisco pitching staff. St. Louis pelted AT&T park with 26 hits over the final two games of the series and netted 20 runs.

We’ve seen this before, though.

Too often in 2012, the Cardinals were feast or famine at the plate. This lineup will average five runs a game this year, but they need to have more stretches of 4,6,5,5,7,6,3,5 runs a game than 13,8,1,0,0,2,9,10,1,0.

Through six games, St. Louis’ pitching staff has been effective but just as inconsistent. The staff has a 3.47 ERA, but only two of the six starts were quality starts (six-plus innings while allowing three earned runs or less).

St. Louis’ home opener Monday comes against the NL Central rival Cincinnati Reds, and the lineup should get a boost by the return of third baseman David Freese.

5) The Kansas City Royals also come back to the Show-Me State for their home opener Monday coming off a 3-3 road trip to begin the season. That’s the good news.

The bad news? The Royals bullpen is going to increase hypertension rates in Kansas City by 476% this summer if Ned Yost doesn’t do something; namely, pull Greg Holland from the ninth inning and hand the closer job to Kelvin Herrera.

Sunday in Philadelphia, James Shields and Tim Collins brought a 9-4 Royals lead to the ninth inning. J.C. Gutierrez promptly surrendered a three-run homer to Jimmy Rollins, pulling the Phillies to within one run.

Ned Yost called on Holland.

Holland responded by recording one out, but giving up two hits.

With two outs and two on, desperation sinking in, Yost called on Herrera. Laynce Nix welcomed him by smoking a single up the middle to score Ryan Howard (a run, by the way, that was charged to Holland).

A wild pitch by Herrera put they tying run on third and the winning run on second, but he was able to strike out catcher Erik Kratz with a nasty changeup to end the game.

24 hours earlier, the Royals carried a 3-1 lead into the ninth inning after Luis Mendoza, Aaron Crow (Mizzou), and Herrera combined for two hits, three walks, and 10 strikeouts in eight innings of work.

Yost sent Holland out to the mound to close out the game, but he walked the first three hitters he faced, struck out the next two, and ultimately, allowed a walk-off bases-clearing double to pinch-hitter Kevin Frandsen.

Here’s what’s working in the Royals bullpen:

Tim Collins – 2 G, 4.0 IP, 0.00 ERA, 15.75 K/9
Crow – 3 G, 3.0 IP, 2 HLD, 0.00 ERA
Herrera – 4 G, 3.1 IP, SV, 2 HLD, 0.00 ERA, 18.90 K/9

Here’s what is not working in the Royals bullpen:

Luke Hochevar – 2 G, 2.0 IP, 4.50 ERA, 1 HR allowed, 0 K
Gutierrez – 3 G, 2.1 IP, 11.57 ERA, 1 HR allowed
Holland – 3 G, 2.0 IP, 18.00 ERA, 4.00 WHIP

Do the right thing, Ned Yost. Reshuffle the bullpen before the home opener against the Minnesota Twins and make Herrera the starter. Greg Holland has got to go.

6) By the way, Alex Gordon is still tearing the cover off the ball, hitting .400 so far in 2013.

Billy Butler tied a franchise record with seven RBIs in Sunday’s win, which included a grand slam home run, his first dinger of the season.

7) Big ups to Central Methodist pitcher Drew Greiwe who threw a seven-inning perfect game Saturday in the first of a doubleheader at Graceland.

Greiwe struck out nine batters and retired all 21 hitters he faced without a single player reaching base.

8) Columbia College softball pitcher Taylor Richter threw a five-inning no-hitter Saturday against Lyon as the Cougars swept a doubleheader, as well.

9) Meanwhile, the 7th-ranked Missouri Tiger softball team has a serious problem.

When Bailey Erwin decided to leave the program midway through the season, it left head coach Ehren Earleywine with no viable option behind Chelsea Thomas to start games in the SEC. Sunday afternoon in Tuscaloosa, Thomas and the Tigers paid the price.

Arguably the best pitcher in the game, Thomas was forced to pitch against one of the best offenses in the game for the third day in a row and she got absolutely rocked:

C. Thomas, MIZ: (L, 14-3) 5.2 IP, 11 H, 14 R, 11 ER, 8 BB, 3 K, 156 pitches

Thomas got beat on Friday night, but rebounded to throw 6 1/3 shut out innings Saturday in a Mizzou win. Clearly, she was out of gas by the time game three rolled around Sunday.

If the Tigers want to make it back to the Women’s College World Series, they better get Thomas some help, but from where?

10) It’s going to be very fun to watch the quarterback battle this year between James Franklin and Maty Mauk.

Franklin is finally healthy. Don’t forget what this kid did under center in 2011.

Mauk is finally without a redshirt. He flashed his unique style and potential in the first scrimmage of the spring Saturday afternoon.

(Check highlights from each quarterback by clicking on the link to our web story from Saturday complete with important stats)

I predict Franklin will ultimately win the job, but it won’t be by much. At least Gary Pinkel will have a viable alternative in 2013 at the position should circumstances require he go there once again.

11) Tiger Woods will win his 15th major and fifth green jacket at Augusta this week. This Lindsey Vonn thing is clearly working for him.

12) Carmelo Anthony will edge Kevin Durant for the NBA scoring title. No one, however is beating the Miami Heat — led by league MVP LeBron James — for NBA title.

13) Sure Brian Elliott is hot right now, but the St. Louis Blues still don’t have an established #1 goalie. That won’t fly in the playoffs. The Notes will make the postseason, but they’ll still be looking for their first Stanley Cup next season.

14) A round of applause for former Mizzou wide receiver Jeremy Maclin who came back to Columbia this weekend with all of his fellow NFL friends and put on a fantastic youth camp and celebrity softball game.

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