Memphis wants to live up to preseason expectations

Memphis wants to live up to preseason expectations

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) Coach Josh Pastner hopes his Memphis Tigers finally figure out how to finish what they start.

Memphis is ranked No. 17 and in the Top 25 for a third straight preseason. The Tigers embark on their farewell tour through Conference USA as the favorite to win the league again.

Pastner now hopes the preseason accolades translate into surpassing two hurdles since he took over - beating a Top 25 team finally and winning an NCAA tournament game because getting there is not enough at Memphis. Fans remind Pastner of both shortcomings regularly since the Tigers 61-54 loss to St. Louis in the last NCAA tournament.

``We've technically won some Top 25 games. They just haven't been Top 25 at the time,'' Pastner said at the team's Media Day. ``We've beaten a team, but maybe at that time, they weren't top 25.

``I get it,'' Pastner said of the fans' frustrations. ``We've got to win some of these early season games. We're going to have opportunities, and we've got to do our job.''

The promise this new season is complete with a returning core of experienced players.

The Tigers do not have Will Barton, last season's leading scorer averaging 18 points a game. He left early for the NBA Draft and was taken by the Portland Trail Blazers in the second round with the 40th overall pick.

Otherwise, Memphis returns key contributors from a team that finished 26-9, winning the conference regular season title and the C-USA tournament. Pastner's motto is ``One Team. One Goal. No Egos'' to stress togetherness. The Tigers talk of maturity and chemistry leading into Pastner's fourth season at Memphis.

The inside-out pairing of point guard Joe Jackson and forward Tarik Black are both entering their third seasons. Guards Chris Crawford and Antonio Barton also are juniors. Pastner also has sophomore Adonis Thomas, who lost significant time last season with an ankle injury, and the coach is looking to him for more leadership.

Jackson averaged 11 points and 3.8 assists last season, while Black managed 10.7 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in earning conference all-defensive team honors. Crawford led the Tigers in 3-point field goals with 51.

Memphis also boasts a formidable pair of newcomers with forward Shaq Goodwin and junior college transfer Geron Johnson.

``Our core every year in college has been young guys,'' Black said. ``We've had a couple of older guys to rely on, but this year, most of us are (more experienced). We have a couple of young freshmen we've added in, but coach can have a little more trust in us. It's going to be an easier game flow for us.''

Memphis, which has dominated Conference USA, will move to the Big East next season. The Tigers expect that to mean an even rougher road through C-USA this season.

``We are going to have to earn every win especially this being the final year of Conference USA,'' Pastner said. ``We're getting everyone's best shot, even more than ever, so we are going to have to be ready to go.''

Pastner is more comfortable in the role he took when John Calipari bolted for Kentucky. He says at times he looks back to his first years coaching and thinks those Tigers won in spite of his inexperience.

He also realizes that it's time to start delivering on those preseason promises. The Tigers will have their chances once the season opens Nov. 12 hosting North Florida. Memphis' non-conference slate includes VCU and either No. 8 Duke or Minnesota in a tournament in the Bahamas with a visit from No. 2 Louisville on Dec. 15. They also make a trip cross the state to play at Tennessee on Jan. 4 and to Xavier on Feb. 26.

``Now we have to take it to the next step,'' Pastner said.

``I'm at ease and at peace knowing we've got our guys in place, and now we've got to do the job on the floor. We've got to win some marquee games and trying to keep advancing in the tournament.''

Quick Links

With 'Baby Shark' as his new walk-up song, Gerardo Parra broke out of his slump for the Nats

USA TODAY Sports Images

With 'Baby Shark' as his new walk-up song, Gerardo Parra broke out of his slump for the Nats

WASHINGTON - When Gerardo Parra stepped into the batter’s box for the first time on Wednesday afternoon, everyone in the ballpark knew something was different with the 32-year-old outfielder.

His walk-up song, “Baby Shark”, drew the immediate attention of everyone in attendance. And it would not be the last thing that Washington Nationals fans remembered from Parra on the day.

“I wanted to put on something different,” Parra said postgame. “My [two-year-old daughter Aaliyah Victoria] loves that song. Before the game, I tried merengue, reggaeton, hip-hop, then I said, ‘You know what, I want to put in Baby Shark.’ I'm happy for that.”

After his performance against the Phillies in a 6-2 victory, “Baby Shark” should probably stick around as his walk-up song.

Parra was 0-for-23 when he came to the plate in the fourth inning. Before then his last hit came on June 1 against Cincinnati. Quickly Parra broke that hitless streak and doubled to plate the go-ahead run for the Nationals. He took a first-pitch slider from Zach Eflin and drove home Matt Adams, giving the Nats a 2-1 advantage.

Later in the game, he followed that up with a home run in the eighth inning as the Nats hit back-to-back jacks. It gave Parra, who started in the outfield for Victor Robles, his first multi-hit game since his June 1 appearance and his fourth such game on the Nationals roster.

But paired with his walk-up song, Parra’s sixth-inning assist to get out Bryce Harper is going to make him a fan favorite.  As Harper tried to go from first-to-third on a Scott Kingery single to shallow center, Parra scooped up the ball bare-handed to throw Harper out at third base. Without it there would have been no outs with runners on the corners and Patrick Corbin nearing the end of his start. Instead, the Nats cruised through the rest of the inning to preserve the lead. The Phillies appealed the play but to no avail.

“That's the only chance I had to get Harper,” Parra said. “I know he's an aggressive player and I tried to get everything perfect. Bare-handed, throw the ball as fast as I can. I think that changed the game.”

“It’s 'Mini-me,'” manager Davey Martinez, who played 16 years in the major leagues primarily as an outfielder, said about Parra after the game. “That’s what I tell him too. He came down [to the dugout after the play] and said, ‘You didn’t do that, you never did that.’ I go, ‘Too bad I ain’t got video of it…’ It was a tough play, barehanded, coming up firing. He’s really good, he’s a good outfielder.”  

With “Baby Shark” as his walk-up song Parra went 2-for-4 with a home run and a game-changing assist in a one-run ballgame. It looks like Parra has found his new walk-up song.


Quick Links

Trey Mancini, the Orioles' lone bright spot, exits game after getting drilled with 92 MPH fastball

USA TODAY Sports Images

Trey Mancini, the Orioles' lone bright spot, exits game after getting drilled with 92 MPH fastball

Trey Mancini, the Orioles' only hope at an All-Star, exited Baltimore's matinee against Oakland in the top of the first on Wednesday, after he was struck on the left elbow by a 92-mph fastball from the Athletics' starter Chris Bassitt.

Baltimore's Chris Davis pinch-ran for Mancini, who left the game almsot immediately after being hit. 

Baltimore announced on Twitter that Mancini exited the game with a left elbow contusion. 

Mancini, the Orioles' first baseman and outfielder, was a bright spot in a rather lackluster Baltimore lineup.

The only Oriole with a real chance at an All-Star selection, Mancini is batting .304 in 70 games and leads Baltimore with 84 hits, 18 doubles and 16 homers.

The 27 year-old also has one of the highest slugging percentages on the Orioles (.558).

Fans reacted with anguish on Twitter after Mancini exited the game.