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Cincy facing elimination game vs No. 22 Rutgers

Cincy facing elimination game vs No. 22 Rutgers

CINCINNATI (AP) Bearcats coach Butch Jones has spent the past week doing some heavy-duty recruiting.

No, not for players. For fans.

Jones is trying to get a full house for a change at 35,000-seat Nippert Stadium when Cincinnati (7-2, 3-1 Big East) plays what amounts to an elimination game for the league title on Saturday. The Bearcats need to beat No. 22 Rutgers (8-1, 4-0) to stay among the front-runners with only two games left.

In addition to preparing his team, Jones made the rounds during the week, trying to get fans excited enough to show up. He went on court at halftime of a Cincinnati basketball game on Tuesday night and pleaded with the 5,617 fans to show up on Saturday.

``We need your help, and we need your support,'' Jones said. ``We need you. We need to sell Nippert out. It's time to step up.''

Then, as additional enticement, he said there would be only one ranked team when the day was done, and it would be Cincinnati.

If not, the Bearcats will be in trouble and the Scarlet Knights will be in good shape heading into their final two games. Rutgers plays at Pittsburgh and closes the regular season at home against No. 20 Louisville, which has lost one league game.

If the Scarlet Knights win out, they win the title.

``I think anytime you can get to this point in the season and go into a Saturday game and know that you're playing for a championship, I think that is what you dream about as you're growing up as a football player, as you're coming through this profession as a coach,'' Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said. ``These are the games that I think are really enjoyable not just for the fans and the fan bases, but for the programs and the players as well.''

Jones has been working on that fan base.

Even though the Bearcats have won or shared three of the last four Big East titles, they've managed to fill the league's smallest stadium only once this season. They drew 24,124 fans for the last home game, a win over Syracuse that got them back in the championship race.

``We talk about playing meaningful games in November,'' Jones said. ``I think people around here should be ecstatic.''

A full house would help the Bearcats, who are giving senior Brendon Kay only his second career start - his first at home.

Jones benched struggling Munchie Legaux in the second half of the 35-24 win over Syracuse. Kay completed all three of his passes, one of them for a touchdown, to help the Bearcats pull it out. He made his first career start last week at Temple and went 13 of 21 for 244 yards with touchdowns of 71 and 65 yards, putting the big play back into the league's highest-scoring offense.

Kay was nervous in the first half, but led the Bearcats to scores on four of their last five drives of the first half, setting up a 34-10 win. He felt a lot calmer heading into his second start.

``It's a confidence boost just to get out there and do it,'' Kay said. ``You do it so many times in practice, but you're wondering if it'll be the same in a game.''

He'll be facing a much tougher defense this time. The Scarlet Knights allow only 13.4 points per game, fifth-best in the nation. Linebacker Khaseem Greene, the league's defensive player of the year in 2011, had had 22 tackles in a 28-7 win over Army last week, the fifth-highest total in league history.

Rutgers is unbeaten on the road this season, but has never won at Nippert Stadium, going 0-4 with a tie in 1989.

``Anytime you go on the road, there are unique challenges,'' Flood said. ``But the challenges are, to me, based on the people that you're playing, not really the building. There's always a crowd advantage. There will be a spirited crowd there on Saturday. And those are things we'll have to deal with as an offense more than anything.''

With games left at home against South Florida (3-6, 1-4) and at Connecticut (4-6, 1-4), Cincinnati knows this is its final chance to knock off one of the front-runners and get in position for another title.

``This week could be considered our Big East championship game,'' guard Austen Bujnoch said. ``It's either win or go home. If we don't get the Big East championship, it's a failure for us.''

---

AP Sports Writer Tom Canavan in Piscataway, N.J., contributed to this report.

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3 stars of the game: Caps save their season in physical win over Lightning

3 stars of the game: Caps save their season in physical win over Lightning

This one is going to go the distance.

The Washington Capitals staved off elimination on Monday with a 3-0 Game 6 win to force a Game 7 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Andrei Vasilevskiy looked unbeatable for much of the game, but T.J. Oshie finally got one past the Lightning netminder on the Caps' first power play since the second period of Game 4. Devante Smith-Pelly finished them off with a third-period tally.

Game 7 will be on Wednesday with a spot in the Stanley Cup Final on the line.

Here are the three stars of Game 6.

1.  T.J. Oshie: Oshie scored the goal that saved Washington's season.

The Caps were doing everything right, but they just could not get one past Vasilevskiy. Finally, Oshie struck with a one-timer from the high-slot that just managed to beat Vasilevskiy.

Oshie also added an empty-netter to ice the game away.

We will never know how close frustration came to really wearing down Washington, but it probably came closer than you think. Just seconds before Oshie's goal, John Carlson rang a blistering slap shot off the inside of the post. It was so close, the horn went off briefly, but play continued. Had Washington not been able to finish off the power play, would they have recovered or would Vasilevskiy officially have Halaked them?

2. Andrei Vasilevskiy: Don't let the score fool you, Vasilevskiy was absolutely brilliant. He really stood out in the first period when he denied great chances again and again to keep the score locked at 0-0. You knew he was on his game when he denied a great chance from Alex Ovechkin from the slot with the blocker. His best save, however, was saved for Evgeny Kuznetsov when he was on the ice and desperately extended the arm just in time to deny Kuznetsov.

Vasilevskity made a total of 32 saves in the losing effort.

3. Braden Holtby: Though he was not tested as much as his counterpart, Holtby was equally as brilliant in his 24 save performance for his fifth career playoff shutout.

The Lightning made a real push in the second and third period and some key saves by Holtby ensured the Caps did not give up the first goal or the game-tying one. The most critical save came on Anthony Cirelli in the second period with the game still tied at 0-0. A Lightning 2-on-1 resulted with Cirelli coming in all alone on Holtby, but the Caps' netminder just managed to extend the toe for the save.

Smith-Pelly had seven goals in the regular season. he has four in the playoffs. Smith-Pelly put the exclamation point on the game with his third period goal to extend the Caps' lead to 2-0.  He was set up by a phenomenal pass by Chandler Stephenson.

It was clear from the outset that the Caps wanted to be very physical in this game and Smith-Pelly really took that message to heart with 

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Juan Soto crushes a homer in the first at-bat of his first-ever start

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Juan Soto crushes a homer in the first at-bat of his first-ever start

Juan Soto, the highly-regarded 19-year-old Nationals' prospect, got his first major league start of his career tonight. 

How did it go, you ask? Surely it would take Soto - who was in Single-A less than two weeks ago - some time to adjust? 

What were you doing at 19??

2018 MLB POWER RANKINGS AND OTHER NATS NEWS:

- Rankings Update: Where does your team fall?
- Cause For Concern?: How worried should Nats fans be?
- Very Persuasive: How Rizzo convinced Reynolds to come to D.C.