Nationals

No. 14 Sooners failing to finish in close games

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No. 14 Sooners failing to finish in close games

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) Of all the problems Bob Stoops could have at No. 14 Oklahoma, dealing with the repercussions of too many blowout victories could be right up there with the ones he'd most willingly sign up to handle.

Over the past few seasons, the Sooners' fourth-quarter routine most frequently involves protecting leads or even rolling in backup players to run out the clock when games are out of hand. That was the case throughout their three-game winning streak against Texas Tech, Texas and Kansas over the past month.

But here's the catch: Without the experience of being in many of them, the Sooners (5-2, 3-1 Big 12) keep falling short in close games. Both of their losses this season came down to the fourth quarter, when they were unable to get a stop or a score when they needed it the most.

The opponent in both cases, Kansas State and Notre Dame, came in with a track record of clawing out the close ones.

``Yeah, they know how to win. They've been in them. It wasn't uncomfortable for them. It was probably more uncomfortable for us in that situation,'' Sooners defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said.

``Again, there is something to knowing how to win tight games, and they certainly have a great formula for that.''

Oklahoma is trying to find that formula again. It's been a full five years since his Sooners have come back from a fourth-quarter deficit to win a game, with the last time coming in October 2007 against Missouri. Since then, Oklahoma has lost all 15 games when it trailed in the fourth quarter.

``Well, you want to make a play on either side of the ball. One or two more plays help make a difference, whether it's a third-down conversion, whether it's a third-down stop or to not give up the one big play,'' Bob Stoops said. ``Those are factors,''

There have been three games during that drought that Oklahoma scored to break a fourth-quarter tie and win, including in 2007 at Iowa State - one week after the Missouri win. That was the Sooners' last trip to Ames, Iowa, before they visit the Cyclones (5-3, 2-3) again this Saturday.

``It's frustrating just to know in both of the games we lost this year, we had a chance to win the game,'' said defensive end David King, a team captain. ``It's frustrating more as a defense because we had the opportunity to win the game and we went out there and guys not reading their proper keys or the D-line not getting any rush on the passer, they hit these long runs and these big passes.

``It's not like we lost to just terrible opponents.''

Bob Stoops has been eager to point out that the two losses came against opponents who are currently ranked in the top five, although the Sooners would likely be up there instead if they had won instead of losing 30-13 to the Fighting Irish on Saturday night.

In that game, Oklahoma rallied to tie the game at 13 in the fourth quarter, only to allow 17 points to finish the game.

Against K-State, Oklahoma was trailing by four and had the ball in the fourth quarter, but committed a penalty and then went three-and-out before allowing the Wildcats to tack on another touchdown and win 24-19.

``You've just got to be more precise in things. We played both of those teams that we lost to close up to the fourth quarter,'' cornerback Aaron Colvin said. ``We're working on being more precise and just making plays.''

Despite giving up a 50-yard pass immediately after the offense had tied the game at 13, and then yielding the go-ahead touchdown, Mike Stoops said it was ``one of our best games of the year and they just made more plays than we did.

``We couldn't make a play to save our life,'' he said. ``They just made, it seemed like, every play that mattered throughout the course of the game.''

King said fatigue wasn't a factor. Even though Notre Dame had long, sustained drives, King said the Sooners were able to substitute and keep fresh players on the field because they weren't facing a no-huddle offense.

In return, the offense responded to Notre Dame's go-ahead touchdown with an interception on a diving play by linebacker Manti Te'o.

``You've just got to stay focused for four quarters, not playing a half. We'll do a better job,'' King said. ``That's what we've got to focus on this week, just finishing the game off. We had them but it slipped away from us and they walked out of here with the win.''

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Familiarity makes Matt Adams’ return to the Nationals an easy call

Familiarity makes Matt Adams’ return to the Nationals an easy call

Comfort carries allure for most. That includes Matt Adams.

He knew when traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in August a chance for a return to Washington existed. Adams got along with all levels of staff while operating quietly at his locker and pulverizing right-handed pitching on the field. The hole he filled in 2018 would exist again in 2019, so why couldn’t he return?

It all seems so simple, and it turned out to be. Adams’ one-year deal for $4 million, which includes a mutual option for 2020, was announced Tuesday by the Nationals after first being reported during the weekend. The left-handed bench piece Washington needed is in place for this season. It could well be back in 2020 when the team’s first base personnel could undergo a large change if Ryan Zimmerman’s option is not picked up.

“I don’t follow too much of the media stuff in the offseason,” Adams said on a conference call with reporters Tuesday.

“But the way that everything was left when I was traded, we were on good communication, up until that point. Everything that was said leading up to that trade, if the opportunity presented itself [to return] I would be on their list. I’m kind of lost for words, because I’m excited for this opportunity. But I think the team is definitely going to be better than it was last year, with the acquisitions that [Mike Rizzo] has made so far this offseason.”

Adams is pleased he’s not hunting a job until late into February. More frequently role players are without homes for most of, if not all of, the pre-spring training portion of the offseason. Adams is settled a week before Christmas.

“For me, the way my brain and myself works, the later I sign, the more freaked out I'm going to be,” Adams said. “Because it's the unknown that's out there. Not knowing where you're going to go, how many people you're going to know on that team you're going to sign with...For me, I was lucky and blessed to have the opportunity to sign back with the Nats where I know everybody and I get along with absolutely everybody from front office to coaches and all the players. For me, it felt like the right opportunity and I was just fortunate to get the deal done when we got it done.”

Adams’ value lays in his potency against right-handed pitching. He hit 20 of his 21 home runs last season against right-handers. This is in line with his career arc that includes 83 of his 96 home runs against right-handed throwers. Adams also slugged .538 against right-handed pitchers while with the Nationals last season. 

He’s again positioned to platoon at first base and be summoned to hit late in games. Adams played much more often than anticipated last season following Zimmerman’s languishing oblique injury. 

“I think it’s just coming up with that mindset of being ready whether your name’s called or not,” Adams said. “Whether it’s on an everyday basis or, like you said, sporadic, here and there, pinch-hitting off the bench, filling in and giving Zim a blow when he needs it. But I think going into spring training in the best shape I can possibly be in, going in ready to get better, ready to work. And wherever the season takes me playing-time wise, I’m just excited to be on a winning club with a good chance to get back to the postseason.”

Bringing Adams back reduces the Nationals’ offseason list. They need a fourth starter. They are considering a full-time second baseman. Another bench option is also part of the hunt, though it’s reliant on what happens at second base (Wilmer Difo/Howie Kendrick could fill that spot if an every day second baseman is signed). Left-handed bench bat is spoken for.

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What’s Christmas like in North Pole, Alaska? Cold, says Pheonix Copley of his hometown

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What’s Christmas like in North Pole, Alaska? Cold, says Pheonix Copley of his hometown

Ever wonder what Christmas at the North Pole is like? Just ask someone who’s been there like Capitals goalie Pheonix Copley.

Copley calls the North Pole home. North Pole, Alaska that is.

North Pole is a small town outside of Fairbanks (population of 2,232). Copley wears two candy canes on the bottom of his goalie mask in tribute to his hometown.

As you would expect, Christmas is a big deal back home, not just in December but year round. Santa Claus Lane cuts through the center of town and visitors can see the Santa Claus House located on St. Nicholas Drive.

“They definitely try and make it a theme in the town,” Copley said. “Light poles and stuff are candy canes, Christmas lights year round at places, businesses.”

Christmas itself, however, is more low-key for the people there than you would expect, according to Copley. As fun as the town name may be, there is one big drawback to December in North Pole: the weather.

“It's so cold up there, it's like not much really to do outside [at Christmas],” Copley said. “They do do ice sculptures and stuff so they go a little bit with it, but it's so cold and dark that not a whole lot going on up there.”

According to The Weather Channel, the forecast for Christmas day calls for a high of -8 degrees. That is a veritable heat-wave considering it is not supposed to get above -13 degrees in the five days leading up to Christmas. You can also expect there to be less than four hours of daylight.

That may sound miserable to some, but Copley always enjoyed making the trip home for the holidays.

“Especially growing up when I first started leaving, I was going home at Christmas and it was nice to see the whole family again and get to celebrate the holidays and stuff,” he said. “For myself, Christmas has always been a fun time. Just being from North Pole, I always get a lot of jokes and stuff about it.”

Now on the other side of the country and with only a few days between games, Copley will not make the long trip back home during the team’s Christmas break. Instead, he will remain in D.C. and, as he admitted, will enjoy a warmer Christmas.

But he still wouldn’t mind a little snow.

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