Nationals

Mount Union to face newbie St. Thomas for D3 title

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Mount Union to face newbie St. Thomas for D3 title

The numbers are staggering, as if there must be a typo.

But there is none.

In 27 years as the head football coach at Mount Union, Larry Kehres' Purple Raiders have played 358 games and won 331. They've lost 24, and tied three. His winning percentage of .929 is easily the best in college football history, and five of his losses have come in the NCAA's Division III national championship game, a game his team has also won 10 times. All the appearances have come since 1993.

On Friday night in Salem, Va., the Purple Raiders (14-0) will play for the title again, meeting St. Thomas of Minnesota (14-0). It will be Mount Union's 15th title appearance in 17 years, and the Tommies' first.

For Mount Union safety Nick Driskill and 24 other seniors on the Purple Raiders, the game is much more than just another trip to Salem Stadium. It's also their last chance to finally win a championship.

For three seasons in a row heading into this one, Driskill's memory has been a long bus ride back to Alliance, Ohio, the Purple Raiders having been beaten by Wisconsin-Whitewater for the championship.

Since the Purple Raiders won their first title in 1993, no class at Mount Union has gone all four years without winning at least one national championship. Driskill's class could be the first.

It's why, he said, for all the awards he has won as an athlete and scholar, this game is the one that will determine whether he looks back on his college career in a positive light, or a negative one.

``This is why I came to Mount Union,'' said Driskill, from Wabash, Ind. ``It's not just to play in national championships. It's to win. As I look back on my career, whether I look back on it on a positive note or a negative note, personally for me, this is make-or-break. I wouldn't have it any other way.''

Kehres knows his players feel like they are supposed to win, and likes it that way. The Purple Raiders, after all, have 21 unbeaten regular seasons in Kehres' career, and have put together winning streaks of 54 and 55 games, which count as the two longest winning streaks in college football history.

``I think they feel that,'' Kehres said of high expectations. ``Call it pressure or (that) they're trying to achieve their goal, which it to make it to the Stagg Bowl and to win the game. It's a goal that they set, but they understand that there's a process that you must go through to get there and I think they've paid their dues this year and they've done the work. They've kind of earned their way to this game.''

The success all points to Kehres, Jacksonville Jaguars receiver Cecil Shorts III said. Shorts arrived at Mount Union as a quarterback in 2007, switched to wide receiver full-time as a sophomore and finished his career with 63 career touchdown catches. He got his Division III national championship ring in 2008.

``He does a good job of adjusting to his players, so he'll have the offense fit to what's best for the players, what fits the personnel best and every year he does that,'' Shorts said about Kehres.

It's also a culture of winning that persists, Washington Redskins receiver Pierre Garcon said. Garcon transferred to Mount Union as a sophomore and was part of two national champion teams, and nearly a third.

``It's the culture he creates, the atmosphere,'' he said. ``The whole school supports the football team and program, and helping the guys in any way needed, and the guys work hard, they believe in coach.''

This season, sophomore quarterback Kevin Burke said, is about getting the seniors their ring.

``It all starts with the seniors because last year didn't end the way we wanted it to,'' Burke said.

``Obviously we would have liked to have won a national championship, but it didn't happen, so these seniors really are hungry and they really want to get this done. These guys have been the leaders out here all summer and really all year long, and I can't see anything happening to not let that happen.''

Standing in the way is an up-and-comer in the Division III ranks. The Tommies have gotten closer in each of their five seasons under Glenn Caruso, and lost to Whitewater in the semifinals last season.

Caruso came to watch anyway.

``If that's where we really want to be, I felt like I needed to see it and feel it,'' he said.

During his stay in Salem, he had an opportunity to sit with Kehres for ``an hour, maybe more,'' in the hotel lobby on game day, talking football and life, a time he calls ``an absolute blessing for me.''

Last year's meeting between the Purple Raiders and Whitewater marked the seventh year in a row that those two teams met for the championship, and Caruso took something else away from the game, too.

``I was looking up at the scoreboard and, if you remember, they have the two helmets on each side, the Mount Union and the Whitewater helmet, and those helmets basically were plastered up there for seven years,'' he said this week. ``I'm just happy we're the team that forced someone to get a new logo.''

Caruso even agreed that it's special to get to face Kehres' team.

Driskill, Burke and the Purple Raiders hope it's not that special.

``The tradition here, it speaks for itself and people know exactly what you're talking about when you talk about Mount Union football,'' Burke, from Westlake, Ohio, said. ``They know that you win here and that's how things are done. People don't expect anything less than winning and national championships.''

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AP Sports Writers Mark Long in Jacksonville, Fla., and Joseph White in Ashburn, Va., contributed to this report.

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Stephen Strasburg dominates Marlins, Nationals salvage a win

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USA TODAY Sports

Stephen Strasburg dominates Marlins, Nationals salvage a win

The Washington Nationals beat the Miami Marlins, 5-0, Sunday afternoon to move back .500 at 10-10.

Here are five observations from the game...

1. Sunday became of a day of salvage for the Nationals.

Washington lost the first two games of its initial series against the Miami Marlins. One of those losses included a subpar Max Scherzer start. Game three provided Miami a surprising chance to sweep. Stephen Strasburg snuffed out that idea with eight scoreless innings. Ryan Zimmerman homered twice, Brian Dozier once.

Kyle Barraclough was on the verge of peacefully pitching the ninth inning to close the game before he walked back-to-back hitters with two outs. Davey Martinez replaced him with closer Sean Doolittle who ended the game in his 10th appearance of the season.

And, guess what? The Nationals are back to even. Again. The upshot for them is how flawed and jam-packed the rest of the National League East remains. The downside is dropping any series against Miami can leave a mark.

Assume the division winner takes 13-15 victories when playing the Marlins 19 times during the season. That idea would force Washington to go between 12-4 and 14-2 the rest of the way against Miami. A run like that -- even against bad teams -- is extremely difficult. Being swept by the worst team in the major leagues would have made it even worse. So, a necessary win was delivered Sunday.

2. Strasburg spent Sunday down in the strike zone, throwing curveballs at his leisure, dominating all afternoon.

Eight innings. Ten strikeouts. Two hits. No runs.

Strasburg threw an astonishing amount of curveballs Sunday: 45 of his 104 pitches were bending toward the plate. He threw 41 fastballs (mostly two-seam fastballs) and 18 changeups. Strasburg came into the game throwing his curveball 21.4 percent of the time this season, just a tick above his career average of 19.7 percent.

The curveballs led to 12 swinging strikes, six called strikes and four foul balls. So, half of them were not put in fair play. That’s a dominating pitch.

Most opposition hitters will mark Strasburg’s changeup as his best pitch -- especially now that his fastball velocity is down to 92-93 mph, generally. Sunday, his curveball commanded the game, an interesting turn with Kurt Suzuki behind the plate a start after Strasburg mentioned he thought predictability was part of the issue when he was knocked around in his last start against the meager San Francisco Giants offense.

3. Anthony Rendon was out of the lineup Sunday because of a bruised left elbow.

X-rays on Rendon’s elbow were negative. Though, he told reporters in Miami on Sunday the elbow remained stiff. Washington played with a three-man bench in the series finale because Rendon has not been placed on the injured list. It also underwent a lineup shuffle.

Victor Robles moved up to the No. 2 spot. Howie Kendrick played third and hit cleanup. Dozier hit seventh and Wilmer Difo was in the eighth spot.

Rendon’s absence is another dig at an offense already without Trea Turner for an unclear amount of time because of a broken right index finger. Both were off to outstanding starts for a team that is not. Rendon’s 1.223 OPS was fourth in the National League coming into play Sunday.

The Nationals are in the midst of a brutal schedule stretch, which means they can’t play with a short bench for long. They have a three-game series starting in Colorado on Monday. If they think Rendon could play Tuesday, they could survive another day with a three-man bench. If they think he won’t play in that series, it makes sense to put him on the 10-day injured list retroactive to Sunday. Thursday is an off day. So, ultimately, Rendon would miss seven games he otherwise would not.

The rub there is potent San Diego and St. Louis are coming to Nationals Park next week. Washington is already laboring. Does it want to deal with those teams without Rendon?

4. Interesting in the sixth inning:

Juan Soto struck out on a changeup. That’s not the interesting -- or surprising -- part. Kendrick was next. He drove a second-pitch changeup from Trevor Richards to deep center field for a sacrifice fly. Only Lewis Brinson’s jump and speed kept Kendrick’s fly ball from being a two-run double.

Kendrick appeared to be sitting on the changeup from Richards, his out pitch and one he used almost as often as his fastball throughout the day. Zimmerman hit a changeup for a home run. Dozier hit a changeup for a home run. Those vetered hitters appeared to adjust in a way Soto did not: instead of trying to push Richards into a fastball count, they sat on the changeup. Big results followed.

5. How about a couple strange things?

Robles bunted against the shift in the sixth inning. It was simultaneously the worst and best bunt in history. Robles bunted the ball so hard, it went almost to the outfield grass...in the air. Marlins first baseman Neil Walker did not get it because he was holding a runner. Second baseman Starlin Castro did not get it because he was shifted toward the middle. Robles was easily safe as a result.

Then a scare from an oddity: an eighth-inning foul ball roared into the Nationals dugout. When Max Scherzer moved to avoid it, he tweaked an intercostal muscle in his left rib cage, according to reporters in Miam. He was in enough pain director of athletic training Paul Lessard came to check on him. Scherzer was all right. That would have been the capper for the Nationals recent run of bad injury luck where balls coming from the opposition are causing fluke injuries.

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Todd Reirden on TJ Oshie's surgery: 'It's a tough situation for our team'

Todd Reirden on TJ Oshie's surgery: 'It's a tough situation for our team'

ARLINGTON — Capitals forward T.J. Oshie had a surgical procedure Friday to repair a broken right collarbone and remains out indefinitely.  

Oshie was not at Capital One Arena for Washington’s 6-0 win in Game 5 of its Stanley Cup playoffs first-round series against the Carolina Hurricanes. He was injured with five minutes to go in Thursday’s Game 4 loss in Raleigh when nudged from behind by Hurricanes forward Warren Foegele and slamming hard into the boards near full speed. 

“There's not one person who can take T.J. Oshie's spot for all that he is as a human being, player on the ice, off the ice all the stuff that he adds,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said at his media availability on Sunday afternoon. “But what I did notice is that everybody picked their level up last night. And that's what we're going to need going into Raleigh for [Monday]."

That’s when Washington, ahead 3-2 in the best-of-seven series, can eliminate Carolina in Game 6. It’s something it has done successfully on the road in recent years in Philadelphia (2016), Toronto (2017), Pittsburgh and Columbus (2018). All series the Capitals were up 3-2. In all four they won Game 6. 

But they won’t have Oshie this time and he is the emotional engine that has helped fuel some of those series-ending performances. There is still no exact timetable for Oshie’s return. The Capitals have avoided ruling him out for the season and Reirden artfully dodged a question about whether he’d be ready for training camp. 

A broken collarbone usually doesn’t take longer than two months to heal barring complications. But that’s almost certainly going to be after the playoffs ends even if the Capitals make a repeat run to the Stanley Cup Final. Last year they won it on June 7 in five games against the Vegas Golden Knights. 

“I do know that T.J. Oshie is going to do everything he can, and we're not willing to put a timetable on it right now with regard to any time,” Reirden said. “Just lots of these things take a different course in terms of how they rehab and don't rehab. I just know that I can tell you about T.J., he's all-in at all times, and that's a great person to have around our room at the very least." 

Oshie had 25 goals and 29 assists in 65 regular-season games. He missed 11 of 13 games with a concussion. He had eight goals and 13 assists in the Stanley Cup playoffs last season. He also plays the “bumper” role on the top power-play unit and kills penalties.

Oshie tweeted thanks to fans both before and after Washington’s 6-0 win on Saturday. In the third period, periodic “T.J. Oshie!” chants rang from the sellout crowd at Capital One Arena. 

“It was nice to see the crowd give [Oshie] a little love,” center Nicklas Backstrom said on Saturday.  

Added Reirden: “That's obviously a tough loss for us, but we're prepared to go without him as we saw last night. It's a tough situation for our team, but I certainly liked our response last night and was proud of our effort in terms of how we played and how we were playing with him in the back of our mind."

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