Steel City Football

By S. Samek

Texas is a football state. Even at the youngest levels the sport is dominant. Pennsylvania is another upper tier football state. Western Pennsylvania and the WPIAL highlights this list.

Texas young football player got national exposure on Esquire Networks Friday Night Tykes show. It has lasted four seasons, and can be further reviewed here.

Pennsylvania son followed with a season one based in Beaver County and the Beaver County Youth Football League, or BCYFL. Season one thoughts can be chronicled here.

The main difference between the first and second season of Steel Country was the move to USA from Esquire and the elimination of Monica and Ambridge being covered and replaced with Sto-Rox and more emphasis on Beaver Falls. Central Valley, Aliquippa, and Blackhawk return to the field as well. The age bracket went up to the highest age too.

Blackhawk was a decent team this season after playing in last season’s finals. The Cougars created a team in the highest division to end with a championship and play with each other one more time. Best of intentions, not the best season.

Sto-Rox was the worst team on the show. The newcomers were more into fighting and goofing off than playing football. It showed on the field as the season ended short of the title. Though it was pretty cool to see the players get to do a bit of firefighter training as a team bonding activity.

Beaver Falls impressed me a lot. They clearly knew what they were doing this season. Though a host of star power still couldn’t get them the prize. Also, a plus for their big rivalry with Aliquippa.

Central Valley was the champs from last season. They looked to keep winning this season. A surprise entrant in the finals after playing one of the best games of the season, can CV win it all?

Aliquippa is the defending champ, but in this seasons age bracket. They are going for the undefeated title win this year. Off the field issues in the community threaten the season. Can this team keep it together and rally the community with another championship?

The main action of the show was on the field. Games were close and rivalries are highlighted. Teams play for community pride. It gives it a dimension that the Texas edition doesn’t. In Texas, it’s the organization more than the town that matters. In Pennsylvania, it’s often times the best thing to happen to a town is to play football with all the violence and negativity.  Granted it doesn’t make for a lot of creativity in storyline, but it is real and true. I would say the second season improved a lot on the first season of Steel Country. I recommend checking it out if you’re a local football fan, or fan of the original show.

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Stanley Cup Final 2017

By S. Samek

Here we go. From 16 teams, down to two in the NHL playoffs. It’s the surprise Nashville Predators and the Pittsburgh Penguins. Penguins looking to go back to back in winning Stanley Cups, while the Predators look for their first.

Nashville stunned Chicago in round one, before beating St. Louis and Anaheim. Pittsburgh run to the cup went through Columbus, Washington and Ottawa.

This could be the most interring series yet. During the season, the Pens and Preds have split their two games. The home team took the victory in each game. Nashville outscored Pittsburgh seven five in those two meetings.

 

Though offense may be hard to come by in this series. Nashville is the top team in goals against average in the playoffs with a 1.81 mark. Having only surrendered 29 goals.

 

 Big reason for this is goaltender Pekka Rinne. Rinne has the top playoff marks for save percentage with .941 and wins with 12. Combine that with a 1.70 GAA and you have a brick wall.

The goalie tandem of Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray should also make it difficult for Nashville to score. Fleury has a 2.56 gaa and a .924 save percentage while picking up nine wins. Both Fleury and Rinne have posted two shutouts during the playoffs.

Though Rinne will be tested. The Penguins lead in goals per game with 3.05. This is highlighted by Jake Geuntzal’s nine playoff tallies. Evgeni Malkin is the playoffs leading scorer by points with 24.  Back him up with ESPN ranked number one player in this series Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel and there is no shortage of threats to light the lamp.

Nashville will look to Filip Forsberg to score with his team best eight goals and 15 points during the playoffs.

Though it may be close in goaltending it isn’t close in experience. The Penguins boast 156 games of Stanley Cup Experience, with 19 goals scored and 24 winners of the Stanley Cup. The Predators have no Stanley Cup winners, 2 goals scored and a mere five games played in the cup. Note that doesn’t include the injured Chris Letang for Pittsburgh.

 

This is the third time the Penguins have played in back to bac finals. The first in 1991 and 1992 in which they won both. Then in 2008 and 2009 they split two finals with Detroit, but won the second of the two.  On top of that the Penguins have been the dominant team in the playoffs the past 10 years ranking first or second in Stanley Cup finals appreances, wins and playoff wins.  Throw in the home ice advantage of gold standard mark 481 consecutive sell outs and Nashville is in for a brutal fight.

Nashville will take at least one game, maybe two. You don’t sweep a Chicago team, built very much like Pittsburgh in terms of star power, and not feel confident. I wouldn’t say it was luck as Nashville followed it up by beating St. Louis and Anaheim too, both times presumably as the underdog.

This could be a cause where if Pittsburgh underestimates them and comes out flat it could be in for a surprise. Much like the series against Ottawa that should on paper have been domination. Pittsburgh’s star power and experience has the ability to win this in quick fashion. They just need to play like it.

Bold prediction is Pens in 5. Realistic is Pens in 6. Though I would venture to say a game seven would be incredibly interesting and would be anyone’s to take.  This series is the rubber match from the regular season with so much more on the line. Looking for both teams to come out hungry and have this be an intense final. One that should end with Crosby hoisting his third cup and adding to his legacy.

Not even this viral video with catchy tune will stop Pittsburgh.

 

 

Challenge One

Issued By S. Samek

Deciding to change it up with content. Below are some links to YouTube videos from a channel called TPS, or total pro sports. In these videos, there is a different naming challenge to conquer. I ran through the challenges below and recorded the following scores. I am passing on the challenge to Hammer Down readers and fans. Can you best the Hammer Down Sports Blog Staff?

Here are the rules I followed during the challenge. You have one view per video to attempt the challenge. You can start naming during the commercial break before a video should one occur. The challenge ends when the video has run out. The challenge should occur in writing. The goal is to gain the points by naming the correct teams before they are said in the video. If you get an answer from the video the point will not count. Gather the most points possible. No googling, internet, or phone help allowed either.  Teams of friend are allowed to brainstorm, but are still subject to the same above rules. Some videos also are broken down into segments by league. If you get other team names while working on a different league they count, but after all the leagues teams have been named in the video you can’t count those for points. Again, name the teams before they are mentioned in the video to score the points.

After attempting the challenge post your results by commenting on the post in WordPress, or via Facebook, or Twitter. Good luck on the challenge.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=51Rt2m_me3U. 2 of 6

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hyoGgHICZGk 10 of 11

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X-1z8g4lj2k 9 of 15

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GelG2m6LTjc 10 of 12

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3TKeSQACff8 10 of 12

Total score 41 of 56 73%

Star Wars Night

By S. Samek

On Friday May 19,2017, I went to a galaxy far far away. Well or at least a ball park near me for Star Wars Night at the Altoona Curve. The game turned into a mini prospect scouting trip after the main objective for the evening was met. This report will chronical my prospects and promotional thoughts all in one.

The main objective for the night was to snag one of the night’s giveaway items. This came in the form of much loved fish mascot Al Tuna with a light saber as a bobble head. The top 1,000 entrants would receive this prize. While it may not make for fun reading, thanks to lining up at 4:30 p.m. for a 5:00 p.m. gate time, I was able to add this collectable to my collection. Note was only offered to sell this item once and turned it down. I would say most fans got the item, as the crowd was sparse that day.

Surprisingly that crowd didn’t head for the exits after the seven run first inning the Erie Sea wolves put up. Curve starter Alex McRae, who I saw in an earlier game was rocked and looked the opposite of that earlier game. Try to the tune of just 1/3 of an inning pitched giving up six runs and two home runs, including a grand slam. McRae is would be my pick for a sleeper prospect as he sits outside of the top 30 Pirates prospects, but has pitched consistently well.

Jared Lakind pitched 3.2 innings only allowing a singular run on a singular hit while striking out six. He looked good in his long relief. Montana Durapau looked super as well. The 2016 Altoona fireman of the year lived up to the award with two scoreless innings of 1 hit ball with two stakeouts. Look for this guy to make a run at Pittsburgh, despite also being outside of the top 30 prospects.

Former top 30 prospect Luis Heredia did not impress. In 2/3 of an inning Heredia barley kept the lead intact, from a mess inherited from Buddy Borden. Borden was also lacking his best stuff on the day.

Kevin Kramer impressed me with the bat. The number 17 ranked prospect in the Pirates system went 3-4 with a home run and scored three times.  He was a major player in the Curves 11-10 win over Erie.

 

Now to review the festivities.  I think the Star Wars theme was a bit underdone. There were several costume characters around the park for pictures, score board graphics and walk up music themed to Star Wars. Though it felt weird that the Curve didn’t have a theme jersey on. I also felt that as cool as the bobble head was, the choice of robe makes it look like Harry Potter. If it didn’t say revenge of the fish on it and have a red colored saber it could be confused for another pop culture icon. It also seemed like the music was the same theme over and over and not a ton of varity. Though points added for playing the Saga Begins by Weird Al during the eight inning.

The promotional video work also gets an A grade. Loved the Loco vs. Al Tuna using the force hitting and pitching.

I just think they could have done a better job emerging fans in the theme. Maybe have special themed contests, or have the costume characters participate in the games. Maybe add more video clips from the movie on the score board if doable. Overall I think I give the promotion a B-.

 

 

 

Penguins Round Three 2017

By S. Samek

Better late than never I guess. Series between Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators is already a game in. In surprising fashion the lone Canadian entrant in the tourney is up one to nil on the defending champions with game two coming tonight. I have strong feelings game one is a fluke and the Senators are in big trouble.

It was a quality, if not boring game for a starter. A one nothing Sens lead in till late in the contest when Evgeni Malkin tied it up. Ottawa would score the winner from Bobby Ryan. Ok, but not too exciting to start a championship series. It wasn’t a domination either. The stats were pretty equal except for blocked shots. Nothing to really say Pittsburgh was dominated in the loss.

 

Ottawa has now won three of the four meetings between the teams this season.

 The Pens however got the best of the Senators in the playoffs in 2013 in five games, which was the last edition of this series.

Sounds like a retweet of the last series with Washington. Lose the regular season matchup, but beat them when it counts advantage Penguins. Though the Pens have won both opening games on their way to the conference finals this year.

Second reason to believe in the return trip to the cup finals is offense. Through 13 playoffs games the Penguins led in goals scored with 42. This is a round three goals per game which is the playoffs top mark. The Penguins also own the playoffs leading point scorer in Malkin with 19 and goal scorer in Jake Guentzal and his 9 tallies. Plus, throw in Phil Kessel and Sidney Crosby and their 27 combined points for an offense that can give any team trouble. This is a team that put up eight goals against Ottawa earlier in the year with the possibility to do it again.

The goalies continue to aid Pittsburgh’s title defense. Marc-Andre Fleury had 33 saves in game one on 35 shots. Good performance to follow up the game seven shutout win.  By save percentage Fleury is third in the playoffs with a .928 percentage. Craig Anderson of Ottawa has only a .917 save percentage. Fleury has done it while facing more shots having made 425 save against Anderson’s 365. The other advantage would be Fleury’s playoff experience and two cups against Anderson’s zero.

Competition level has also played in the Pens favor. The Pens were able to beat better teams than Ottawa had. Dispatch the Presidents trophy winner done. Take out the third best team in a strong division in round one, also done. Ottawa played the New York Rangers, a wild card entrant finishing behind Columbus, Pittsburgh and Washington and Boston, third best in their division. Both teams have been tested to get to this point, but the tougher road gives Pittsburgh the advantage here.

Pittsburgh should be back in the Stanly Cup finals. Game one was just a minor setback.

 

 

Ties in Baseball

By S. Samek

Sunday night I turned on the TV to watch. I turned on the usual late night fair ESPN. To my surprise the Yankees and Cubs were still going at it locked in a draw. Deep into extras the game lasted 18 innings. It took six hours and five minutes to complete.

Now Buster Onlney of ESPN is writing that the end of play till you win games are coming. That extra innings depletes lineups and can cause injury. That players hate playing marathon games at the expense of travel and sleep.

Conversely Onlney and the fans like extra-inning games. A twitter poll conducted by Onlney produced a 75 percent in favor rating for keeping current rules based on about 34,500 responses. Who wouldn’t like the extra play though. It gives fans more bang for your buck on super expensive tickets. It gives the opportunity to experience the dramatic walk off win. It can create memories. Memories like the Braves and Pirates 19 inning affair that was the longest in Pirates history and dubious for the Jerry Meals call. Though it was very memorable. It also lasted longer than the Cubs and Yankees game in question.

Yes, many fans do leave the stadium after it gets too late for obligations, and yes it may be tough to play for a dwindling crowd. Though it is a requirement to play the game to conclusion no matter what the number of fans is. Plus, with replay and television people will see what happened even hours later. I would also say teams should love extra innings as it gives them more time to sell food and merchandise to fans. The longer the game goes the more likely fans will get hungry and need to visit the concession stand. Get too cold for an evening game, grab a sweatshirt or blanket from the team store.

Efforts are being made to shorten games. Pitch clocks namely being used to shorten games. Though the not timed game is part of what makes baseball unique.

Looking at a graph from the Onley article I would say the marathon game isn’t the norm. In 2016 34 percent of 185 extra-inning games went 12 or more innings. Only 185 games out of 4,900 or so contests even made extra innings. That’s only 38 percent. In 2015 only 30 percent of extra-inning games went beyond 12 innings. 2014 and 2013 season numbers also average about 35 percent of games entering extras. So even if extras are being played most are ending after 12 and not extending into marathon territory.

The World Baseball Classic, as well as soft ball have a rule placing a runner in scoring position to begin extra innings. This would create more opportunities to conclude the game by driving home that runner. It is an option to be used if things get too bad, but sometimes one swing and its over in the bottom of inning 13. No guarantees that runner scores and the game ends earlier.

As for depleting lineups and injuries that is a concern. The longer you play the more people you have to use and the more stress on player’s bodies. However, players can get injured at any time during any contest. It’s not just an extra innings thing. Having players play longer can also tire them out. However, there is a bench. How the bench is used is a strategy that can make, or break the game. Though both teams are playing equally long and have the same issues to deal with. If tired players are a concern call players up from the minors and give the starters a rest, or use reserves for a day. Breaks are allowed you don’t have to play all 162 games. Maybe schedule a couple minute break in between innings if games get too late.

Though I would say one of the worst things is the idea that a relief corps of specialists can only pitch in certain points isn’t helping. Go your one inning and your toast. Then possibly have to waste a starter in a situation that counts the same as the next day’s game. The idea of having pitchers and firemen may help with this. View my arguments for it here.

Though I would say the biggest supporting issue with ties is close sure. Fans want to know who won and lost. Wins and losses are the front of the standings. Things need to have an ending to satisfy viewers. Wins excite the viewer, losses sadden and ties are ho hum. If baseball doesn’t want to move even more toward ho hum normal rules for extra innings should apply.

 

 

 

 

PBA League Championship Preview

Defending champs battle crowd favorite.

By S. Samek

 

In this post, I introduced you to the PBA league team competition.  Now after two weeks of exciting competition two teams remain. The Dallas Strikers defend their title against the hometown Portland Lumberjacks.

 

Dallas looked good in a semi-final win over Philadelphia. Game one went to the Strikers 239-196 win highlighted by five strikes in the back half of the contest. Game two secured the sweep and berth in the title match by a 201-196 score. This came after a first-round win over the LA X.

 

Portland moved on to round two after a win over the Motown Muscle. There they faced off against two-time PBA league champ Silver Lake Atom Splitters. The Atom Splitters took game one from the host team 221-217. Portland was given some help in avoiding elimination as a mark in the tenth frame would keep them home from the finals. A 3-7 split thrown by anchor bowler Jesper Svensson opened the door for the comeback win 185-182. Enter sudden death roll off.

 

Tom Daugherty and Wes Malott both trade strikes in the first roll off. The Svensson knocked down only nine pins forming a strike to win scenario for Portland. Ryan Ciminelli did just that and sent Portland on to the win.

 

Dallas was a team I liked in the preview. I also thought that Portland was a team to watch out for. Making it not surprising both of these teams made it to the finals.

 

Why Dallas will win is experience. They are the defending champions and have Norm Duke, one of the best ever at the helm as player manager. Their lineup is well rounded and is dangerous.

 

Portland has home ally advantage though and the support of the crowd behind them. They also have a nice mix of veteran and up and coming players like Ciminelli, Malott, Liz Johnson and Kyle Troup.

 

I think I’ll give Portland the edge here. The Lumber jacks are riding high after a lucky come from behind win. That could be all the motivation they need to take out the defending champs from Dallas.

 

The match for the Elias Cup takes place on Sunday May 15, 2017 at 1 p.m. The format for the championship match will include singles, doubles and trio matches to accompany the baker team games.