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Fisher welcomes most hyped Aztecs squad ever

Fisher welcomes most hyped Aztecs squad ever

SAN DIEGO (AP) Expectations have never been higher for a San Diego State basketball team than the one Steve Fisher will unveil during Friday night's Madness on the Mesa.

After reaching the NCAA tournament for the third straight season, the Aztecs return four of their five starters and welcome a highly touted recruiting class that includes three Division I transfers and three freshmen.

Fisher hasn't been a big fan of Midnight Madness and will save the serious stuff for practice on Saturday, which will be closed to the public.

But the hoops team is now the biggest thing going on Montezuma Mesa.

``My preference is to do it in a closed setting, and when we have our first game, we open ourselves to the public,'' Fisher said. ``But there has been such an outcry from first our players and then the students and everybody to have a Midnight Madness this year. So we're very excited about it. A lot of people have put in a lot of work, and I'm hoping I don't fall asleep before it's over.

``It will be smoke and mirrors and all kinds of stuff that will have no relevance on our team, but it's going to be fun. ...Then we'll start practice on Saturday to get ourselves ready for the season.''

The good news for the 67-year-old Fisher is that it's not a true Midnight Madness, but one that starts at 9 p.m.

The Aztecs have a tough opener, both in opponent and atmosphere. They'll play Syracuse on Nov. 9 in the inaugural Battle on the Midway on the flight deck of the decommissioned USS Midway on San Diego Bay.

After that, the Aztecs can look forward to beginning a home schedule that's already sold out.

``The anticipation and excitement that everybody's talked about, a sellout arena, an atmosphere that most in the country would die to have in their building, we have. We want to continue to have that,'' Fisher said.

The Aztecs had their best season ever two years ago, going 34-3 and earning the first two NCAA tournament victories in school history. They reached the regional semifinals before losing to eventual national champion UConn.

After losing four starters off that team, including Kawhi Leonard to the NBA, last season was supposed to be a transition year to this season's recruiting class. Instead, the Aztecs shared the Mountain West Conference regular-season title with New Mexico and reached the tournament title game before losing to the Lobos. They returned to the NCAAs for the third straight year, this time as a No. 6 seed, before a lack of height and inside bulk cost them in a second-round loss to North Carolina State.

Thus the buildup to this season.

``I would say it's probably the most talked about team that we've had,'' Fisher said. ``To be honest with you, right now it's not the best team we've had. I'll harken back to the first time we ever got ranked two years ago. I knew how good that team was because they had all those guys at a very high level that had done it the year before and were returning. You might say, `Well you had guys returning from last year.' We do, but not to that degree in terms of the numbers that we had then, and they were all going to be seniors, too, with the exception of Kawhi, who played like a senior.

``Yeah, it's the most hyped-up team. We won't match the record we had two years ago. 34-3. There is nobody in the country that's going to do that, but we're going to have a good team.''

Junior guard Jamaal Franklin, the Mountain West Conference Player of the Year, leads four returning starters. The others are senior guard James Rahon, senior guard Chase Tapley and junior guard Xavier Thames.

The Division I transfers who sat out last season but practiced with the team are all sophomore forwards: Dwayne Polee from St. John's, JJ O'Brien from Utah and James Johnson from Virginia. Johnson will be eligible mid-year. He is 6-foot-9 while Polee and O'Brien are 6-7.

The freshmen are forwards Winston Shepard, Matt Shrigley and Skylar Spencer. The 6-9 Shepard was cited for marijuana possession on campus in late June.

The challenge for Fisher will be finding minutes for everybody.

``We have 11 guys that all think they're positively going to start, so it will be competitive,'' he said. ``That will be everybody's challenge to earn your opportunity, and I'm not going to pick the starting lineup. Our players will help me decide who is going to be out there, and our starting lineup in all probability will vary, especially early.''

Fisher said playing time for Franklin, Tapley and Rahon will probably drop some.

``We'll have more players that will play. Last year we had a limited squad to choose from. This year we've got a lot of guys and they can all play. So that will be part of what we try to kind of find out about as we move forward. We've got to say, `How can we play more people?' That is part of my job, too.

``They'll be a fun team to watch, and hopefully a successful team as we move forward,'' Fisher said.

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Dmitrij Jaskin's year goes from bad to worse as his former team prepares to play in Stanley Cup Final

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Dmitrij Jaskin's year goes from bad to worse as his former team prepares to play in Stanley Cup Final

Dmitrij Jaskin had a tough year. He played in only 37 games for the Capitals and scored only two goals and six assists. He seemed to struggle to earn the trust of head coach Todd Reirden and did not play a single game in the playoffs.

A tough year just got a little bit worse for Jaskin as now he will watch his former team, the St. Louis Blues, play in the Stanley Cup Final starting Monday.

Jaskin was a member of the Blues through training camp, but was surprise addition to the Caps’ roster just one day before the start of the regular season. Frustrated with his lack of opportunities in St. Louis, Jaskin requested a trade and the Blues placed him on waivers. With Tom Wilson still awaiting word on how long his suspension would be for his hit to Oskar Sundqvist in the preseason, Washington claimed Jaskin off waivers for more forward depth.

Though Jaskin was an established NHL player with over 250 games of experience and 25 goals, he was used sparingly by Reirden. Jaskin seemed to play well when given the opportunity, but showed a lack of finish offensively that earned him the ire of the coaches. Any mistakes would see him taken out of the lineup completely.

“Obviously it was disappointing,” Jaskin said of his season. “I thought it would be better, but you always gain some experience from another season. It's over with and there's nothing I can do about it, just can get ready for next season and look forward to it.”

Though his individual situation was challenging, Jaskin looked like he was in a much better position for a deep playoff run than his former squad. The Caps were the defending Stanley Cup champions and would go on to win the Metropolitan Division while the Blues were in last place in the entire NHL as late in the season as Jan. 3. The two teams suffered a reversal in fortune in the postseason as Washington was bounced out of the first round by the Carolina Hurricanes. St. Louis eliminated the Winnipeg Jets in six games, won a Game 7 thriller in double overtime against the Dallas Stars and closed out the San Jose Sharks with three straight wins in the conference finals.

“I wish them all the best,” Jaskin said following the first round. “I think it's pretty impressive that they won against Winnipeg. Now, as you see, everybody's got the same chances. A lot of upsets this year and I think they have a pretty good chance to go far.”

Luckily for Jaskin, he did manage to find some playing time this summer in the World Championship tournament playing with the Czech Republic.  He has scored two goals and two assists in nine games and will play for the bronze medal on Sunday.

After that, his future remains unclear. Jaskin is a restricted free agent meaning the Caps will have a chance to retain his rights and his playing in Worlds seems to indicate he is secure in his position. At the same time, he was used sparingly enough throughout the season that whether the team will offer him a qualifying offer remains a question.

“I'll love to stay,” Jaskin said. “I love it here, guys are great and the organization and the city, everything's good. I would like to stay, but we'll see.”

For now, however, Jaskin will have to sit and watch to see whether his old team, the team he requested a trade from, will hoist the Stanley Cup.

“Obviously it's frustrating to not keep on playing and watch them play,” Jaskin said, “But as I said I wish them all the best and I think they have a pretty good chance.”

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Patrick Corbin shuts out the Marlins, Nationals win second straight

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Patrick Corbin shuts out the Marlins, Nationals win second straight

WASHINGTON -- The Washington Nationals beat the Miami Marlins, 5-0, Saturday to raise their record to 21-31. Here are five observations from the game...

1. Good defense Saturday.

A simplistic thing, yet perversely elusive this season for the Nationals.

Washington committed no errors. It turned three double-plays, allowing the bullpen to be used for just three outs. Brian Dozier made two quality plays -- including snagging a line . Trea Turner charged a ground and used his jump throw to gain an out. Anthony Rendon charged a ground and used his smoothness to throw to first for another. Adam Eaton made a nice sliding catch.

Friday was nasty in the field. The Nationals committed three errors, should have been charged with four. Turner committed two (and would have been the recipient of a third if not for generous scoring). Manager Davey Martinez was not pleased with what he called “sloppy” play Friday. They clean it up Saturday.

2. Corbin was back for the eighth inning, starting with 89 pitches behind him and a run of retiring 16 out of 17.

Miami did not use one left-handed hitter Saturday. The strategy mattered little to Corbin, who picked up three double plays on the day and closed the eighth with a strikeout of Bryan Holaday.

Corbin was removed just five innings into his last start after throwing 98 pitches. Manager Davey Martinez said then the Nationals wanted to keep Corbin under 100 pitches three starts after he threw a career-high 118 pitches and was on a run of throwing at least 107 pitches.

Saturday, he finished the eighth at 103. Corbin hit for himself, despite two runners on base with two out, and came back out for the ninth. A strikeout, flyout and groundout followed.

In all, four hits, no runs, one walk and five strikeouts on 116 pitches.

3. The fourth inning had a little bit of everything Saturday. Adam Eaton committed a major running gaffe. Juan Soto ran from third on a contact play, stopped just short of home plate, then veered left and slid in safe. Victor Robles squared to bunt and leaned in. A 96-mph fastball came up and in, grazed his cheek and sent him to the ground. Team trainer Paul Lessard and manager Davey Martinez immediately ran out at the behest of home plate umpire Tim Timmons. Robles was OK, went to first, then later scored from first base on a single to shallow right.

The Nationals scored five runs in the inning to jolt what was a scoreless game. Eaton’s running mistake -- he made a hard turn at second base, then was hung up in a rundown -- carried the start of the inning. But, Yan Gomes’ squibber to right field redeemed Eaton by scoring three.

4. Sean Doolittle stood at his locker Friday night in case the media wanted to talk to him postgame following his second consecutive rough outing. Reporters took a pass -- no need to talk to a player every time they have a bad night -- and Doolittle went to the back for his postgame maintenance.

His two outings this week vaulted his ERA up almost two runs, from 1.71 to 3.68, before Saturday’s game.

Martinez said Doolittle’s recent bumps are not health-related, despite a downtick in velocity. Doolittle was throwing around 92 mph Friday. He hit 94 mph, but his velocity was down for the most part.

“Credit to Doolittle,” Martinez said. “He knows his stuff wasn’t what he wanted it to be [Friday], but he fought through it. That’s what a good closer does sometimes. I’ve got all the confidence and faith in the world...He knows what he needs to do. When you have a guy like that, and a closer like that, they know how to work out their [issues] when they’re struggling, some of his spin rate stuff he’s going to look at. The biggest thing is I don’t want him to start thinking there’s something wrong with him. I told him that [Friday]: ‘You’re one of the best. You’re an elite closer. It’s OK. Guys go through that.

5. The Nationals called up right-handed reliever James Borque from Double-A Harrisburg on Saturday. Joe Ross, who allowed three earned runs in his Friday appearance and has a 9.22 ERA, was sent to Triple-A Fresno.

Borque arrives after quality work in Harrisburg: a 1.33 ERA, 33 strikeouts in 20 1/3 innings. This is his first time on the major league roster. Borque believes better fastball command led to his success and subsequent call-up.

Ross lost the bite on his slider despite showing flashes of being an effective reliever. He will be "stretched out" in Fresno, though he is unlikely to be ready when the Nationals need a spot start April 29 in Atlanta. Kyle McGowin pitched in place of injured Anibal Sanchez (left hamstring strain) Friday. He allowed five earned runs in four innings and is unlikely to receive another opportunity.

Sanchez threw 41 pitches in a simulated game Friday. He felt well Saturday. Sanchez is expected to throw a bullpen session Sunday and make a rehabilitation start Wednesday.

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