The rites of springtime

Baylor’s Bears completely dominated Gonzaga Monday night in winning the men’s NCAA basketball tournament, ending the ‘Zags dream of becoming the first team since the ‘76 Indiana Hoosiers to go through a season undefeated. The Bears (the alma mater of Chip and Joanna Gaines of HGTV fame as my wife Kathy will readily tell you) were quick, aggressive, shot lights out, and played tough pressure defense in easily defeating first Houston and then Gonzaga over the weekend. You have to wonder if Gonzaga was physically and emotionally drained after their dramatic overtime win over UCLA Saturday night in the semi-finals, one of the better games in recent tournament history. Hats off to Baylor, they’re deserving champions. Also, congratulations to all schools and the NCAA for completing a strange COVID-19 season by adapting and being flexible throughout the year.

On the women’s side, Stanford’s Lady Cardinal pulled off two one-point wins over South Carolina and then Arizona to capture their third crown, their first since 1992. Arizona thoroughly outplayed perennial power UConn in Friday’s semi-final only to come up short in Sunday’s final. Was anyone else besides myself surprised by the final play of the game? Having your star guard go 1-on-3 and being forced (by great Stanford defense) to take an off balance three-point shot at the buzzer while two teammates were wide open on the wings wasn’t what I expected from a coaching staff which had done a tremendous job throughout not only the tournament but also the entire season.

After losing their home opener, the Reds have won 5 straight games in decimating the Cards and Pirates pitching staffs. Newly acquired outfielder Tyler Naquin along with Nick Castellanos and rookie Jonathan India have fueled a Reds’ offense which through 6 games leads the majors with 57 runs and 14 homers and is second in the NL with a .316 team batting average. It’s way too early to even begin being optimistic about the rest of the season but after the first week the team has brought smiles to the faces of long-suffering Reds fans.

The Washington Nationals finally played a baseball game Tuesday defeating the Braves. The Nats had to postpone their first four games of the year, with a total of 10 players sidelined due to COVID-related test results and contact tracing along with an injury. Talk about a tough way to kick off the season; looks like quite a few doubleheaders later in the campaign! Also, fewer than 5,000 fans were allowed to attend the game because of D.C. Health Department demands — compare that to the Rangers’ opening day crowd of over 38,000. It looks like another strange baseball summer, at least for the first few months; hopefully “herd immunity” will be achieved through vaccinations by mid-July!

The Masters’ golf tournament teed off yesterday, an annual rite of springtime, much like the sighting of the first robin. After being delayed last year until mid-November, only five months ago, the tradition surrounding the first major event of the golfing year returns along with azaleas, pimento cheese sandwiches, an immaculately groomed course, and a green jacket. It’s one of the few events in the sports world that can cause fans to stay indoors on a beautiful spring day and watch every shot for over six hours!

Hasn’t it been great to see spring sports at the high school level return after last year’s suspension of play? I had a chance to watch the Green Wave baseball team take on Troy last week and you could sense the joy and enthusiasm of not only the players but also the fans (even the umpires!) on being back in action on the diamond. Boys tennis, boys and girls track and field, and, of course, Lady Wave softball as well as all of the county teams need your support over the next two months — get out in the fresh air and enjoy watching our young athletes compete!

Finally, this year’s NFL draft takes place from April 29 through May 1. There’s not much suspense concerning the first overall selection as the Urban Meyer led Jaguars will pick Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Most analysts predict five QBs including THE Buckeyes’ Justin Fields will be among the first to come off the boards. The Bengals, at the number five spot, could possibly select tight end Kyle Pitts from Florida or offensive tackle Penei Sewell of Oregon. It’s always an entertaining few days, particularly the first round, for not only die-hard fans but also casual observers, another annual rite of springtime! Until next time, stay healthy and active!

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Dr. Alex Warner

Shots in the Darke

Dr. Alex Warner is a contributing columnist for the Daily Advocate