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No. 6 Ducks await their bowl fate

No. 6 Ducks await their bowl fate

Oregon is taking a break this week while the team awaits formal word on where it will be headed this postseason.

There is a general consensus that the No. 6 Ducks are headed as an at-large bid to the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 3 in Arizona, but it won't be cemented until Sunday when the bowl bids are announced.

The bigger mystery surrounds who Oregon will face in the game. Many were pining for a matchup with No. 7 Kansas State, to spotlight Oregon freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota and Wildcats senior QB Collin Klein.

Kansas State hosts No. 23 Texas in its regular-season finale on Saturday. The Wildcats can wrap up the Big 12 title and earn the league's automatic BCS bowl berth with a win, or if No. 12 Oklahoma loses to TCU earlier in the day.

Like Oregon, Kansas State was derailed in its quest for a national championship bid by a lone loss, to Baylor. On the same day, the Ducks got knocked out of the race with a loss to Stanford.

Following Oregon's 48-24 victory over intrastate rival Oregon State in the 116th Civil War, the Ducks (11-1, 8-1 Pac-12) went into postseason limbo, where they await their fate. Players got the week off from practice, except for strength and conditioning. Many of the coaches departed for recruiting trips.

``11-1's a pretty good record the last time I checked, no matter what happens,'' defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti said following the Civil War win.

While the Ducks finished with just one conference loss, it was to Stanford, so the No. 8 Cardinal (10-2, 8-1) claimed the head-to-head matchup for a spot in the Pac-12 championship game Friday night against No. 17 UCLA (9-3, 6-3). The winner of the conference title heads to the Rose Bowl.

The Ducks also played in the Fiesta Bowl following their 11-win season in 2001, beating Colorado 38-16 on Joey Harrington's four touchdown passes. Oregon's lone loss that year also was to Stanford.

While they waited this week, many Oregon players collected honors.

On Sunday, the team held its own award reception. In a vote among teammates, Mariota and senior linebacker Michael Clay both were named the team's most outstanding players, while senior linebacker Dion Jordan was named most inspirational.

Mariota was also chosen as the Pac-12's freshman of the year on offense.

He set the conference record with 30 touchdown passes. He is the first Oregon freshman to throw for 300 yards in a game, doing it three times this season. He also matched the Oregon record with six touchdown passes against California.

And he's still got a game to go.

Mariota and Jordan also were selected to the Pac-12's all-league first team by the conference coaches, along with senior running back Kenjon Barner, sophomore center Hroniss Grasu and sophomore cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.

On Wednesday, Barner was named among the finalists for the Walter Camp award for the nation's best player, along with Klein, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o and USC receiver Marqise Lee.

Barner is averaging 135.5 yards rushing a game, fourth in the nation. He has rushed for 1,624 total yards and 21 touchdowns this season.

Rumors continued to swirl around the future of Oregon coach Chip Kelly and whether the 17-14 loss to Stanford in overtime was his last game at Autzen Stadium.

Kelly's name surfaces when there are NFL openings since he acknowledged talking to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers about their vacancy last season. At the time, he said he had ``unfinished business'' left at Oregon.

Kelly was asked before the Civil War whether he'd like to address this season's NFL talk.

The coach simply said: ``No.''

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5 reasons the Caps beat the Lightning in Game 6

5 reasons the Caps beat the Lightning in Game 6

After losing three straight, the Capitals battled back in Game 6 on Monday. With their 3-0 win, Washington forced the Eastern Conference Final into a decisive Game 7 on Wednesday.

Here is how the Caps did it.

1. Braden Holtby matched Andrei Vasilevskiy save for save

Andrei Vasilevskiy was just as great in this game as he was in the three previous, but one of the major differences in this one was that Holtby was just as good. He may not have been tested as much (Vasilevskiy made 32 saves, Holtby 24), but he was big when the team needed.

In the second period with the scored tied at 0, Holtby made one of the most critical saves perhaps of the entire season when he denied Anthony Cirelli with the toe on a 2-on-1. When the Caps took the lead, Holtby really shut the door in the third period with 10 saves to cap off what was his fifth career playoff shutout and first shutout of the entire season.

2. T.J. Oshie’s timely goal

Over halfway into the game, it looked like it was just going to be one of those nights. Caps fans know it well by now. Washington outplays their opponent, they get chance after chance and develop a whopping advantage in shots, but they run into a hot goalie and a random play suddenly turns into a goal for the other team, game and season over.

Vasilevskiy was on his way to having perhaps his best performance of the series. Considering how he played in the three games prior to Game 6, that’s saying something. The Caps were doing everything right, but he continued to make save after save. Then on the power play in the second period, John Carlson struck the inside of the post, the horn went off and the roar of the crowd gave way to dismay as the referee waved his arms to indicate there was no goal and play continued. Just seconds later, T.J. Oshie gave the Caps the 1-0 lead.

You have to wonder if doubt was starting to creep into the back of the minds of the players when that puck struck the post as they wondered what else they had to do to beat Vasilevskiy. Luckily, that feeling didn’t last long.

3. Special teams

Braydon Coburn’s tripping penalty in the second period gave Washington its only power play of the night and its first since the second period of Game 4. They had to make it count given how well Vasilveskiy was playing and they did.

Washington now has a power play goal in each of their three wins against the Lightning and no power play goals in their three losses. So yeah, it’s significant.

Tampa Bay had two opportunities of their own, but Washington managed to kill off both power plays in the penalty kill’s best performance of the series.

4. Washington’s physical game plan

On paper, the Lightning are better than the Caps in most categories. One area in which Washington has the edge, however, is physical play and it was clear very early that they intended to use that to their advantage in Game 6. Tampa Bay was pushed around and they seemed to struggle to recover.

Ovechkin was a one-man wrecking ball out there hitting everything that moved. The energy he brought with every hit was palpable and both the team and the crowd fed on it.

Washington was credited with 39 hits on the night compared to Tampa Bay’s 19. Ovechkin had four of those as did Nicklas Backstrom while Devante Smith-Pelly contributed five and Tom Wilson and Brooks Orpik each led the team with six.

5. Fourth line dagger

Tampa Bay’s fourth line was the story of Game 5, but Washington’s fourth line sealed the deal on Monday with its third period goal.

Chandler Stephenson beat out an icing call, forcing Braydon Coburn to play the puck along the wall. Jay Beagle picked it up, fed back to Stephenson who backhanded a pass for the perfect setup for Devante Smith-Pelly.

Smith-Pelly scored seven goals in the regular season. He now has four in the playoffs.

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Soto, Harper homer in Nats' win over Padres

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Soto, Harper homer in Nats' win over Padres

WASHINGTON -- Juan Soto, the youngest player in the majors at 19, hit a three-run homer in his first career start as the Washington Nationals defeated the San Diego Padres 10-2 on Monday.

Mark Reynolds had two solo home runs for the Nationals, who snapped a three-game losing streak. Bryce Harper had a homer and an RBI double.

Soto's drive highlighted a five-run second inning for Washington. The promising outfielder, who played for three minor league teams this season, hit the first pitch from Robbie Erlin (1-3) over the Nationals bullpen in left-center field. Soto also singled.

Soto's homer traveled an estimated 442 feet at Nationals Park. He earned a standing ovation from the crowd and the teenager responded by taking a curtain call. Per Baseball-Reference.com, Soto became the first teenager to hit a home run in a major league game since Harper on Sept. 30, 2012.

Called up to Washington on Sunday, Soto became the first 19-year-old to make his major league debut since Dodgers pitcher Julio Urias in 2016. He entered that game in the eighth inning as a pinch-hitter and struck out.

Washington's starting left fielder began the season at Class A Hagerstown. He hit a combined .362 with 14 homers and 52 RBIs in his three minor league stops.

Gio Gonzalez (5-2) allowed two runs and two hits in seven innings.

San Diego's Franmil Reyes, playing in his seventh career game, also hit his first career home run.

Trea Turner hit a pair of RBI doubles for Washington. Reynolds had three hits.

Erlin surrendered six runs and seven hits over four innings in his third start of the season. San Diego had won three in a row.

Reyes connected for a two-run homer in the fourth inning, but the Padres' lineup generated little else against Gonzalez, who allowed one run over six innings in a no-decision at San Diego on May 9.

2018 MLB POWER RANKINGS AND OTHER NATS NEWS:

- Rankings Update: Where does your team fall?
- Cause For Concern?: How worried should Nats fans be?
- Very Persuasive: How Rizzo convinced Reynolds to come to D.C.