White Sox

Baylor states its case: Greatest women's team ever?

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Baylor states its case: Greatest women's team ever?

From Comcast SportsNet
DENVER (AP) -- Brittney Griner took the Baylor Lady Bears to new heights. Blocking layups, snagging rebounds, hitting shots over two and three helpless defenders, all season long she towered over the competition. That left Griner with just one more task Tuesday night -- cutting down the nets. Griner had 26 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks to lead Baylor to a dominating 80-61 victory over Notre Dame in the NCAA women's basketball championship, capping an unparalleled 40-0 season for the Lady Bears. "She'll go down as one of the greatest post players in the history of the game," Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. "I'm so glad she got that ring." When the buzzer sounded, Griner finally celebrated, hamming it up as she helped take down the nets and dancing with Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III. Then she lifted coach Mulkey up on her shoulders briefly, just the way she has done for the Lady Bears during this long season. "It meant everything for us to get it for coach," said Griner, referring to Mulkey's struggle with Bell's palsy during the tournament. "She felt like she wasn't there for us, but we told her every second that we could hear here loud and clear, everything she was saying." Baylor became the seventh women's team to run through a season unbeaten and the first in NCAA history to win 40 games. It was the second national championship for Baylor, which also won a title in 2005. "Looking back when we get older, I'm always going to remember this moment, always going to remember confetti falling and being here with my team," Griner said. Baylor did it in a nearly wire-to-wire victory, finishing with a flourish when anything less than bringing a title back to Waco would have been a huge disappointment. The 6-foot-8 Griner was right at the center of the action as the Lady Bears took control. Every time Notre Dame made a run in the second half to cut into the deficit, Griner had an answer. She showed a wide array of post moves, hitting turnaround jumpers and hooks that the Irish had no way to stop -- even when they collapsed around her. "Brittney Griner comes to work every day," Mulkey said. "A lot of great players think they're all that and they half go through drills and they come to practice and they dog it. That child comes to work and brings her work pail every day." Notre Dame fell short in the title game for the second straight season. The Irish lost to Texas A&M by six points last year. Coach Muffet McGraw's senior-heavy crew did finish the season with a decided edge over rival Connecticut -- the Irish won the Big East regular season title and defeated the Huskies in three of four meetings, including the national semifinal. But like every other team this year, Notre Dame couldn't solve Baylor and its superstar. "I think she's one of a kind," McGraw said. "There's so many things she can do. There have been some guards that have had some skill like that. But as a post player, she's the best I've seen." Griner, selected The Associated Press player of the year, also was named most outstanding player of the tournament. "We wouldn't be here without my team," the junior said. "All the awards -- none of that means anything. If I don't have my team here, we can't get this." All-American point guard Skylar Diggins did all she could to keep the Irish (36-4) in the game, scoring 20 points. But senior Natalie Novosel had just five points, going 0-for-11 from the field. Devereaux Peters, also playing in her final game, was saddled with foul trouble because of Griner. She scored seven points. Diggins "played a great game," McGraw said. "She's just a big-time player and she didn't get a lot of help today." Like Griner, Diggins has pledged to return for her senior year -- both could join the WNBA draft -- and will try to make a third run at the title. Notre Dame had an early 9-8 lead before Baylor took over with a 12-2 run. The Irish were down by 14 in the first half before cutting their deficit to 34-28 at the break. They got as close as 42-39 and had the ball, but Griner asserted herself, scoring nine of the next 19 points for Baylor to seal the victory. "They went on a run there," Diggins said. "I just remember we cut it down to three and they went on a run. I saw 10, 12, 14, 16, 19. We couldn't get rebounds when they missed shots." Odyssey Sims added 19 points and Destiny Williams had 12 for the Lady Bears, who outrebounded Notre Dame 46-27 and now have the third unbeaten season in women's basketball in the last four years. UConn, which has gone undefeated four times, did it in back-to-back years in 2009 and 2010. Texas and Tennessee also have unbeaten seasons. Baylor's victory also gave President Barack Obama some bragging rights. He correctly picked Baylor to beat Notre Dame in the title game. With 1:04 left and the game well in hand, Mulkey took out Griner and the two shared a long hug. The fiery coach then went down the bench and hugged each of her players while holding back tears. "I'm just so happy," Mulkey said. "That old saying, you're so happy you cry.' I can't quit crying.'" Mulkey, who did her net cutting with daughter Mackenzie -- who is a freshman on the team -- and son Kramer, has now won a title as a player (at Louisiana Tech), an Olympic gold medal (in 1984) and two titles as a coach. Only five women's coaches have more than one championship at the top level of NCAA competition. Mulkey has downplayed the 40 wins, noting that her former coach and mentor at Louisiana Tech Leon Barmore won 40 games in 1980. That was before women's basketball was governed by the NCAA, which didn't begin keeping records until the 1982 season. It was the second meeting between the teams this season. Baylor also won the first one, by 13 in Waco on Nov. 17. That win gave the Lady Bears the preseason WNIT title. As usual, Griner put on a show in warmups, thrilling the crowd with a series of impressive dunks -- including a one-handed throw down, a double-pump slam and another in which she hung on rim. She dunked twice in the tournament, matching Candace Parker for most dunks by a woman in NCAA tournament play and during a college career (seven). She couldn't catch one against the Irish. The Lady Bears had a strong cheering section that included Griffin -- dancing in his seat at the end of the game -- and country music star Trace Adkins. He was a freshman walk-on football player at Louisiana Tech in the early 1980s when Mulkey was a senior there. Notre Dame had its own star fan in former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who earned a graduate degree at the school. The Irish were wearing their green uniforms for the first time since last season's title loss. It didn't help. But on this night, nothing else could stop Griner, either.

For rebuilding White Sox, Welington Castillo PED suspension is 'a lesson we weren't looking to learn right now'

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USA TODAY

For rebuilding White Sox, Welington Castillo PED suspension is 'a lesson we weren't looking to learn right now'

This rebuilding season is all about “learning experiences,” as Rick Renteria is often quick to remind.

Now the White Sox have been taught a lesson they didn’t want to learn.

Welington Castillo, one of the few veteran leaders on this otherwise young, developing roster, was handed an 80-game suspension Thursday after testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug.

It’s the antithesis of the culture and identity the White Sox are trying hard to create as they attempt to construct a homegrown contender: playing hard, playing the right way, Ricky’s boys don’t quit. Earlier this week, it was Castillo, oddly enough, who was benched by Renteria for not running to first base on a popup. Now Castillo has received another punishment, one far more severe and one that didn’t come from the White Sox organization.

“It’s disappointing. Surprising, disappointing and there’s a little bit of sadness,” general manager Rick Hahn said Thursday. “We know the type of guy he is, and he shows it, too, by standing up and accepting full responsibility for what he puts in his body, regardless of how he got it or why he did it.

“In some ways it’s a lesson for these guys about being diligent, and in some ways it’s a lesson about accountability. But ultimately, it’s a lesson we weren’t looking to learn right now.”

As Hahn mentioned, Castillo has apologized profusely. He talked with Hahn and Renteria after finding out about his suspension Wednesday night. He apologized to his teammates Thursday morning. And he released an apologetic statement through the MLB Player’s Association on Thursday.

“The positive test resulted from an extremely poor decision that I, and I alone, made,” the statement read, in part. “I take full responsibility for my conduct. I have let many people down, including my family, my teammates, the White Sox organization and its fans, and from my heart, I apologize.”

Hahn was quick to point out that Castillo’s transgression will have little to no effect on the organization’s rebuilding effort, and with catching prospects Zack Collins and Seby Zavala looking strong in the minor leagues, that’s not difficult to believe.

But there are several important things that Castillo was brought in this past winter to accomplish that could impact the White Sox situation past the next three months and into coming seasons. Castillo was acquired specifically to help a young pitching staff transition to the major league level. His experience as a veteran backstop was valuable to Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and the team’s other young arms at the major league level.

“One of the first things Welington said to (Renteria) and I last night is how large a part of the disappointment he has in himself, and the root of his regret to us, is that he understood that part of his role in the clubhouse is to be a role model and to help develop some of these players,” Hahn said. “For the next three months, he won’t be available to do that.

“Each player plays a certain role. In terms of what we’re trying to accomplish for the long term, this really is not going to have much of an impact at all. From a short-term standpoint, it’s going to stink. It’s disappointing in terms of the options that we’re running out there and our chances to win each and every night, and for the next three months these players won’t get the benefit of the wisdom that Welington brings.”

Additionally, Castillo’s contract — which includes a team option for the 2020 season — allowed the White Sox a safety net in the developments of Collins and Zavala. If the contention window is supposed to open in 2020, and if Collins and/or Zavala weren’t quite ready to be a major league catcher by then, Castillo could provide the answer at that position.

Should this suspension change the White Sox minds in that department, there’s a possibility of the team having a hole at catcher in the next couple years.

“He’ll be back here in late August after the 80 games are served, and obviously he remains part of our plans for 2019,” Hahn said. “He’ll have an opportunity to make an impact on these young players in a positive way going forward.”

And on top of it all, Castillo is a good player, a good hitter who was helping the White Sox offense. The wins haven’t been frequent, but without Castillo’s bat in the lineup for three months — he hit .333 in his last 15 games, while replacement Omar Narvaez has a .180 batting average this season — a season Hahn has described as “the hardest part of the rebuild” is bout to get harder.

Losing Castillo might not seem like the difference between a win and a loss on most nights, but the White Sox now face a downgrade at the catching position. And now the waiting game gets even more difficult while Collins and Zavala continue to develop in the minors.

“This is another example, as I’ve said from the start of this whole process, guys are not coming to Chicago because there’s a need in Chicago. They’re coming to Chicago because their development, we feel, is essentially complete at the minor league level and it’s time for them to accomplish what they can in Chicago,” Hahn said. “This catching situation is going to be no different, whether it’s Seby or Zack or (Kevan Smith) when he’s healthy. It’s going to be based upon how the long-term development of each of those players is best served, not necessarily by, ‘Hey, we need a catcher tomorrow in Chicago.’”

The White Sox will need a catcher for a lot of tomorrows while Castillo serves his suspension.

White Sox add Dustin Garneau to help thin catching corps in wake of Welington Castillo suspension

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USA TODAY

White Sox add Dustin Garneau to help thin catching corps in wake of Welington Castillo suspension

Is this the White Sox solution at catcher while Welington Castillo serves his 80-game suspension?

The team announced it claimed Dustin Garneau off waivers from the Oakland Athletics just hours after Castillo’s suspension became official. The White Sox simultaneously placed Miguel Gonzalez on the 60-day disabled list, freeing up a spot on the 40-man roster for Garneau, who was optioned to Triple-A Charlotte.

Garneau, 30, has 87 major league games under his belt thanks to stints with A’s and Colorado Rockies. He split time between those two clubs last season and slashed .188/.272/.313 with a pair of homers and nine RBIs in 126 plate appearances.

The White Sox found themselves with few options Thursday morning, when Castillo was suspended for use of a performance-enhancing drug. Alfredo Gonzalez was summoned from Charlotte to take Castillo’s spot, though he wasn’t the team’s first choice. Kevan Smith, who played plenty at the big league level in 2017, is on the disabled list with an ankle injury. Seby Zavala, who is having a terrific offensive season at Double-A Birmingham, is also injured, though he likely wouldn't have been promoted as he continues to develop into a possible catcher of the future alongside Zack Collins.

The lack of internal options sent the White Sox outside the organization, and while Garneau is heading to Charlotte, he could potentially be up soon to help new No. 1 Omar Narvaez behind the plate while Castillo sits out the next three months.