Nationals

No. 5 Georgia gaining momentum for postseason

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No. 5 Georgia gaining momentum for postseason

ATLANTA (AP) Mark Richt was stunned.

During a break only minutes after Georgia scored its first touchdown early in Saturday night's game, Auburn fans suddenly cheered.

Richt said at first he didn't know what led to the roar from the home fans at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Then he realized the Auburn fans were cheering top-ranked Alabama's loss to Texas A&M.

``After a little bit of thinking, I thought that might have been it,'' Richt said with a smile.

The Alabama loss also could be big for No. 5 Georgia, though Richt said he didn't take time to consider the ramifications for his team.

``I didn't get too caught up in it,'' Richt said of the Alabama loss. ``I really was most concerned about this one.''

Richt's players followed his lead and kept their focus on Auburn. The result was the Bulldogs' most complete effort of the season in a 38-0 win that clinched Georgia's spot in the Southeastern Conference championship game, likely against Alabama, on Dec. 1.

With a little help, Georgia could have more on the line than its third SEC championship under Richt.

Georgia could move into the national championship picture if the Bulldogs keep winning, including in the SEC championship game, and more undefeated teams lose.

Richt said Sunday he hasn't talked with his players about possible national championship hopes.

``Quite frankly we're not doing that right now,'' Richt said. ``We know we're playing in Atlanta. We know that's settled right now. We know there's a lot of work to do in the meantime.''

Georgia (9-1, 7-1 SEC), which plays Georgia Southern on Saturday, is rolling with four straight wins.

Aaron Murray has returned to form after throwing three interceptions in Georgia's key 17-9 win over Florida. Since that game, Murray has passed for seven touchdowns with no interceptions in back-to-back wins over Mississippi and Auburn.

Murray completed 18 of 24 passes for 208 yards and three touchdowns - all in the first half - against Auburn. Georgia led 28-0 at halftime. Murray led two more scoring drives in the third quarter then sat out the final 15 minutes.

``Aaron was very sharp,'' Richt said.

For the season, Murray has 24 touchdowns with seven interceptions.

Murray's play-action passes were set up by the running of freshman tailbacks Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. Gurley ran for 116 yards and a touchdown, including a long run of 49 yards. Marshall added a 62-yard scoring run and had 105 yards on only eight carries.

Georgia's overwhelming balance on offense and strong defense convinced most Auburn fans to leave in the third quarter.

``It was awesome,'' Murray said. ``We looked up midway through the third quarter and I was like, `Man, we've got more fans here than they do right now.'''

Georgia fans celebrated a second straight trip to the SEC championship game, chanting ``SEC! SEC!''

``It's a great feeling,'' said linebacker Jarvis Jones, who had two sacks, giving him 10 1/2 for the season.

Jones, a third-year sophomore in 2011, and other top underclassmen decided to return this season instead of entering the NFL draft. Jones said the players returned for another shot at the SEC title after losing to LSU in last year's conference championship game.

``We've been training all year for it,'' Jones said. ``Everybody decided to come back and focus and put the work in. It started in the spring. The leaders on the team have been at the forefront, making sure everybody takes care of business. We've been reaching our goal every week.''

Georgia qualified for its fifth SEC title game in 12 years under Richt after also making it in 2002-03, 2005 and 2011-12. Richt's teams won SEC championships in 2002 and 2005.

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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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