Nationals

No. 19 Boise St. adjusts to losses on defense

No. 19 Boise St. adjusts to losses on defense

BOISE, Idaho (AP) For the second straight year, Boise State has to adjust to the loss of key players in the secondary of its highly ranked defense.

But this year, the No. 19 Broncos (7-1, 4-0 Mountain West) are confident they have enough senior leaders and seasoned underclassman to avoid the kind of meltdown that contributed to a late-season loss to TCU last year that spoiled an undefeated season and any lofty postseason plans.

Coach Chris Petersen said Bryan Douglas, who started the first three games and the No. 3 cornerback, will miss the rest of the season after tearing an ACL in last week's 45-14 rout at Wyoming. Petersen also said starting safety Lee Hightower's suspension for violating team rules will remain in place at least through Saturday's matchup with San Diego State (6-3, 4-1).

Hightower, who has 31 tackles and one interception, was disciplined last week and didn't travel with the team to Wyoming. Petersen declined to share any details of the decision and was clearly irritated when quizzed about the status of the redshirt sophomore Monday.

``I haven't talked to Lee,'' said Petersen, offering no timetable for Hightower's return. ``He is not back this week.''

Petersen also said Dextrell Simmons, who plays a hybrid linebacker/defensive back position, is day-to-day after leaving the Wyoming game early with an undisclosed injury.

For now, Hightower will be replaced by redshirt freshman Darian Thompson, who has played in all eight games, mostly in nickel and dime packages. Thompson has 24 tackles, two interceptions and the confidence of coaches to step into a starting role.

``At this part of the season, I think everybody's role increases,'' said Petersen. ``If you don't have enough guys with four games left in the season, that's how it goes.''

With the win in Laramie, Wyo., Boise State won its seventh straight and sits alone atop the conference standings, one game ahead of Fresno State, San Diego State and Air Force. The Broncos also edged up to No. 19 in the BCS Standings, and if they can go undefeated the rest of the way, elbow into the top 16 and beat out a champion from one of the automatic qualifying conferences, they would earn an invitation bid to one of the prestigious postseason bowls.

But the setbacks in the secondary at this point in the season are eerily reminiscent of last year when the Broncos suffered a rash of injuries to key players that left the backfield reliant on Hightower and other young, inexperienced defenders down the stretch.

Starting cornerbacks Jamar Taylor and Jerrell Gavins, along with backup cornerback Ebo Makinde, were rehabbing from season-ending injuries when the Broncos - undefeated and ranked No. 5 at the time - met the Horned Frogs on Nov. 12 with the conference title on the line.

TCU and quarterback Casey Pachall wasted little time exploiting the Boise State's youth. Pachall threw for 473 yards and five touchdowns, including scores of 75, 74 and 69 yards in the first half. The Broncos rallied in the second half, but the comeback fell short when kicker Dan Goodale's last-second field goal sailed wide of the uprights, ending Boise State's BCS and conference title dreams.

The good news is the Broncos still have three of its four starters in the secondary. Taylor and Gavins are healthy and anchoring a pass defense that has forced 23 turnovers and ranks in the top ten nationally in scoring, passing yards allowed and passing efficiency defense.

Taylor ranks second on the team with 40 tackles and has two interceptions, while Gavins has one pick and a fumble return for a TD. The duo is also a big reason the Broncos are allowing an average of 165 yards per game through the air.

Taylor says he and Gavins are ready to assume a leadership role with their younger teammates, whether it's extra communication before the snap to spending more time with them during film study.

``I think it just makes us better, to get the young guys in there to learn a little more,'' Taylor said. ``Obviously we want our guys, but we've got to have guys to carry the flag and keep the ball rolling.''

Still, Petersen and his staff are considering filling the void created by Douglas' injury with a freshman pegged to take a redshirt this season. In the past, Petersen has resisted the urge to pull a redshirt late season, but acknowledged the need to add some depth in the backfield.

``We'll keep our fingers crossed that we stay relatively healthy from here on out,'' Petersen said.

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Nationals win despite having to turn to little-known pitcher for pivotal start

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Nationals win despite having to turn to little-known pitcher for pivotal start

WASHINGTON -- If any bump was coming from a return home or Mike Rizzo’s public pregame words or simply being out of New York, it was not apparent Friday.

Three errors committed in the first four innings. The first reliever into the game, Joe Ross, allowed three earned runs before recording a second out. Starter Kyle McGowin barely made it through the fourth inning of an eventual and desperately needed 12-10 win.

The rally kept the Nationals from creeping toward of new level of dubiousness in this muck-filled season. They pushed 2 ½ games in front of the Marlins for the National League’s worst record. Juan Soto hit a three-run homer in the eighth. Matt Adams followed with a solo homer. Sean Doolittle had trouble, but closed the game. Those efforts kept this from being another story about the bullpen (five more runs allowed Friday).

So, here’s a different question to ponder (there are a million or none, depending on point of view) after Friday night: How did the Nationals end up with 27-year-old McGowin starting a surprisingly pivotal game?

The nuts-and-bolts version is because of injuries. Both Anibal Sanchez -- who threw a simulation game Friday -- and Jeremy Hellickson are on the injured list. The deeper answer comes from looking at the recent erosion of pitchers in Washington’s minor-league system.

McGowin made his second career start Friday because there is no one else. No hot minor-league prospect, no early-round pick who has been up and down and received another shot, no veteran stashed in the minor leagues for such situations.

Looming behind all of this is the 2016 trade of three pitching prospects to acquire Adam Eaton. Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning were all sent to Chicago for Eaton’s advanced-stats and cost-friendly contract. The departure of three starting pitchers in one shot reverberated Friday when the Nationals were forced to use McGowin in a spot start as the seventh starter of the season.

This is more a volume than quality issue. Neither Lopez or Giolito were effective in limited chances at the major-league level with Washington before being traded. Once in Chicago, Giolito became arguably the worst pitcher in baseball in 2018. No one allowed more earned runs or walks that season. Lopez had a quality season, finishing with 3.1 WAR.

The two have reversed outcomes in 2019. Giolito has rediscovered his velocity. After throwing 100 mph in the 2015 Futures Game, his velocity caved. Giolito was down to 92-93 mph with the Nationals and, initially, Chicago. Thursday, he hit 97 mph in the ninth inning of a shutout against Houston. The outing drove his ERA down to 2.77.

Lopez is struggling. His 5.14 ERA is venturing toward Giolito’s status of a year ago. His walk total -- always the concern -- is up, as are his homers allowed.

But what Giolito and Lopez have, at age 24 and 25, respectively, is potential. Giolito, who often fussed with his mechanics in Washington, has discovered a delivery to expedite his fastball and an approach to boost the effectiveness of his changeup. Lopez’s 2018 showed he can be a solid back-end rotation member. They were expected to follow behind Erick Fedde and Joe Ross in establishing a future rotation. But, those two are in Chicago, Ross is in the bullpen, where he gave up three runs Friday, and Fedde just returned to the rotation after being moved to the bullpen.

So, it was McGowin on the mound Friday. Four innings, six hits, five runs, one walk, two strikeouts, two home runs allowed. Why? No better choice is available.

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Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic and Nationals grant boys wish to be a player for a day

Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic and Nationals grant boys wish to be a player for a day

The Nationals welcomed 10-year-old cancer patient Parker Staples as the newest addition to their team on Friday, in conjunction with the Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic Foundation.

While battling lymphoma, Staples learned he would receive a wish and didn’t hesitate about what he wanted to choose. After being sidelined for two years during treatment, Parker couldn’t wait to celebrate his remission by becoming part of his favorite baseball team. 

Staples was introduced to his new teammates and got signed autographs from Matt Adams, Juan Soto, Anthony Rendon, and Yan Gomes. He also got to spend time hitting and playing catch with his new teammates, as well as being interviewed as the newest member of the team. It gets even better than that, Staples threw the ceremonial first pitch at Nationals Park leading up to the Marlins-Nationals game Staples 

"My favorite moment was throwing the first pitch. It was really cool," Staples said.

"Probably the biggest day of my life."

The Nationals are hosted the Miami Marlins in the series opener Friday.

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