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Barlow not losing focus after giving Butler win

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Barlow not losing focus after giving Butler win

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Butler guard Alex Barlow expected Monday morning's practice to be routine.

On the court, it was. Off the court, it was nowhere close.

Three players, including Barlow, were doing phone interviews. A couple of others were being pulled aside to talk to the reporters. Coach Brad Stevens sat patiently in the stands answering questions, all of this indicating that America's NCAA tournament darlings were back on the map.

``To me, it's kind of weird watching yourself on TV,'' said Barlow, the 5-foot-11 walk-on who hit the winning shot in Saturday's 88-86 overtime win over No. 1 Indiana. ``It's kind of crazy to hear how people have misspoken some of our names or call me a former college baseball player.''

There's no mistaking how Barlow and the Bulldogs got back here. The little school from Indianapolis is again beating college basketball's big boys in ways nobody thought possible.

On Saturday, it was Barlow who emerged as the unlikeliest star.

The sophomore from football powerhouse Cincinnati Moeller came to Butler to get a firsthand lesson in Basketball Coaching 101 from Stevens. He turned down multiple scholarship offers to play baseball, what many including his father thought was his best sport, and had scored just 12 points in nine games this season and 18 in his college career.

But with 6 seconds left in overtime, the wispy-looking guard slowly walked toward the lane, backed down Hoosiers guard Jordan Hulls toward the basket, then suddenly spun around and let loose a 6-foot jumper that hit the back of the rim and finally rattled in for the lead with less than 3 seconds to play. Barlow finished with six points, all in overtime. A career high.

What nearly got lost in the celebration, though, was that Barlow also came up with one of the key defensive plays of the game - a steal that led to Chase Stigall's 3-pointer, giving Butler an 86-84 lead that allowed the Bulldogs to dictate the rest of the game.

Those who know Barlow weren't nearly as surprised as the Hoosiers (9-1) or the national television audience.

``He's pretty measured in his words and he won't take any grief. He's a tough guy,'' Stevens said. ``His high school coach (Carl Kremer) said he was similar to another Moeller kid we had, Mike Monserez, in competitiveness and will, and I think he (Monserez) was one of the all-time greats we've had here. So I told Carl if he (Barlow) wants to be here, it's automatic that he can walk on.'''

Barlow did consider two other schools, Clemson and Arizona State, but knew Butler was the right place for him after just one visit.

Now he will go down as the latest little-known Butler star to emerge on the national stage.

The group includes Joel Cornette, who traded shoes with another player after chasing a loose ball and running into a water cooler during Butler's 2003 NCAA tournament run to the regional semifinals; Darnell Archey, the 3-point specialist who set the NCAA record for most consecutive free throws and is on Stevens' staff; A.J. Graves, the MVP of the 2006 NIT Season Tip-Off, who had never been to New York City before that tournament; Gordon Hayward, who led Butler to the 2010 title game and just missed making a buzzer-beating half-court heave that would have beaten Duke for the title; and Matt Howard, the strong inside presence who was the key to Butler's back-to-back runs to the title game.

Now there's Barlow.

``We went out to Applebee's after the game and he was on the phone the whole time. We started calling him big shot,'' shooting guard Rotnei Clarke said, laughing. ``It was fun messing with him because he gets a little sensitive about it.''

The Bulldogs (8-2) should be getting used to this after the two tourney runs in 2010 and 2011 and now they're back at it, winning the Butler Way.

At last month's Maui Invitational, Clarke hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to knock off Marquette. The next night, Butler steamrolled North Carolina. On Dec. 8, they won at Northwestern, and then the Bulldogs pulled the biggest upset of the early season by taking down their fourth BCS-conference school of the season, Indiana, for the first win over a No. 1 team in school history.

``I was praying it would go in because looked like it was coming out to the right,'' said Clarke, who played in some big games at Arkansas but never beat a top-ranked team until transferring to Butler.

The voters have taken notice, too.

Just hours after the Bulldogs wrapped up their morning practice, Butler debuted at No. 19 in this week's Top 25. The only losses this season have to No. 10 Illinois in Maui and at Xavier.

Stevens is not as impressed as some of the outsiders, especially with what he saw against Indiana.

``My biggest thing is that we didn't play perfect,'' he said. ``So we put together a what-if video, a video of about 15 plays that if they had gone the other way, we wouldn't be as happy today.''

Or as busy dealing with all those outside influences that have become more commonplace when the Bulldogs beat the big boys.

Not that Barlow or his teammates mind, since they know it's time to get back to reality.

``It's been crazy, I've gotten a lot of texts and phone messages and social media stuff, but I don't get too caught up in that stuff,'' Barlow said. ``The coaches do tell us all the time that we can beat anyone on any given day, but they also tell us we can get beaten on any given night. I'm not going to say we expected to win (against Indiana), but it was not a surprise to us.''

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5 reasons the Caps beat the Lightning in Game 6

5 reasons the Caps beat the Lightning in Game 6

After losing three straight, the Capitals battled back in Game 6 on Monday. With their 3-0 win, Washington forced the Eastern Conference Final into a decisive Game 7 on Wednesday.

Here is how the Caps did it.

1. Braden Holtby matched Andrei Vasilevskiy save for save

Andrei Vasilevskiy was just as great in this game as he was in the three previous, but one of the major differences in this one was that Holtby was just as good. He may not have been tested as much (Vasilevskiy made 32 saves, Holtby 24), but he was big when the team needed.

In the second period with the scored tied at 0, Holtby made one of the most critical saves perhaps of the entire season when he denied Anthony Cirelli with the toe on a 2-on-1. When the Caps took the lead, Holtby really shut the door in the third period with 10 saves to cap off what was his fifth career playoff shutout and first shutout of the entire season.

2. T.J. Oshie’s timely goal

Over halfway into the game, it looked like it was just going to be one of those nights. Caps fans know it well by now. Washington outplays their opponent, they get chance after chance and develop a whopping advantage in shots, but they run into a hot goalie and a random play suddenly turns into a goal for the other team, game and season over.

Vasilevskiy was on his way to having perhaps his best performance of the series. Considering how he played in the three games prior to Game 6, that’s saying something. The Caps were doing everything right, but he continued to make save after save. Then on the power play in the second period, John Carlson struck the inside of the post, the horn went off and the roar of the crowd gave way to dismay as the referee waved his arms to indicate there was no goal and play continued. Just seconds later, T.J. Oshie gave the Caps the 1-0 lead.

You have to wonder if doubt was starting to creep into the back of the minds of the players when that puck struck the post as they wondered what else they had to do to beat Vasilevskiy. Luckily, that feeling didn’t last long.

3. Special teams

Braydon Coburn’s tripping penalty in the second period gave Washington its only power play of the night and its first since the second period of Game 4. They had to make it count given how well Vasilveskiy was playing and they did.

Washington now has a power play goal in each of their three wins against the Lightning and no power play goals in their three losses. So yeah, it’s significant.

Tampa Bay had two opportunities of their own, but Washington managed to kill off both power plays in the penalty kill’s best performance of the series.

4. Washington’s physical game plan

On paper, the Lightning are better than the Caps in most categories. One area in which Washington has the edge, however, is physical play and it was clear very early that they intended to use that to their advantage in Game 6. Tampa Bay was pushed around and they seemed to struggle to recover.

Ovechkin was a one-man wrecking ball out there hitting everything that moved. The energy he brought with every hit was palpable and both the team and the crowd fed on it.

Washington was credited with 39 hits on the night compared to Tampa Bay’s 19. Ovechkin had four of those as did Nicklas Backstrom while Devante Smith-Pelly contributed five and Tom Wilson and Brooks Orpik each led the team with six.

5. Fourth line dagger

Tampa Bay’s fourth line was the story of Game 5, but Washington’s fourth line sealed the deal on Monday with its third period goal.

Chandler Stephenson beat out an icing call, forcing Braydon Coburn to play the puck along the wall. Jay Beagle picked it up, fed back to Stephenson who backhanded a pass for the perfect setup for Devante Smith-Pelly.

Smith-Pelly scored seven goals in the regular season. He now has four in the playoffs.

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Soto, Harper homer in Nats' win over Padres

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Soto, Harper homer in Nats' win over Padres

WASHINGTON -- Juan Soto, the youngest player in the majors at 19, hit a three-run homer in his first career start as the Washington Nationals defeated the San Diego Padres 10-2 on Monday.

Mark Reynolds had two solo home runs for the Nationals, who snapped a three-game losing streak. Bryce Harper had a homer and an RBI double.

Soto's drive highlighted a five-run second inning for Washington. The promising outfielder, who played for three minor league teams this season, hit the first pitch from Robbie Erlin (1-3) over the Nationals bullpen in left-center field. Soto also singled.

Soto's homer traveled an estimated 442 feet at Nationals Park. He earned a standing ovation from the crowd and the teenager responded by taking a curtain call. Per Baseball-Reference.com, Soto became the first teenager to hit a home run in a major league game since Harper on Sept. 30, 2012.

Called up to Washington on Sunday, Soto became the first 19-year-old to make his major league debut since Dodgers pitcher Julio Urias in 2016. He entered that game in the eighth inning as a pinch-hitter and struck out.

Washington's starting left fielder began the season at Class A Hagerstown. He hit a combined .362 with 14 homers and 52 RBIs in his three minor league stops.

Gio Gonzalez (5-2) allowed two runs and two hits in seven innings.

San Diego's Franmil Reyes, playing in his seventh career game, also hit his first career home run.

Trea Turner hit a pair of RBI doubles for Washington. Reynolds had three hits.

Erlin surrendered six runs and seven hits over four innings in his third start of the season. San Diego had won three in a row.

Reyes connected for a two-run homer in the fourth inning, but the Padres' lineup generated little else against Gonzalez, who allowed one run over six innings in a no-decision at San Diego on May 9.

2018 MLB POWER RANKINGS AND OTHER NATS NEWS:

- Rankings Update: Where does your team fall?
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- Very Persuasive: How Rizzo convinced Reynolds to come to D.C.