Nationals

Pitt hopes romp over Georgetown ignites turnaround

Pitt hopes romp over Georgetown ignites turnaround

PITTSBURGH (AP) Durand Johnson has only been at Pitt a little over a year. Yet the redshirt freshman forward is a quick study on how the Panthers like to play.

And getting pushed around by the likes of Cincinnati and Rutgers is not part of the brand coach Jamie Dixon has built over the last decade.

That's why Dixon didn't need to give any table-flipping speeches after a stunning 67-62 upset loss to the Scarlet Knights last weekend. The Panthers knew what they needed to do in a pivotal game against No. 19 Georgetown on Tuesday night. They needed to play like Pitt.

``We just feel like enough was enough,'' Johnson said. ``We've got to get back to a normal Pitt team and get after teams and not let teams get after us and put us on our heels.''

Consider it done.

Harassing the Hoyas on defense at one end of the floor and making good decisions at the other, the Panthers crushed Georgetown 73-45. It's the kind of cathartic victory Pitt (13-3, 1-2 Big East) believes could turn the season around.

Center Dante Taylor his team's 40 minutes of dominance to a switch being flipped.

The key now is making sure the light that came on stays on starting Saturday against Marquette (11-3, 2-0).

``We've got to be aggressive and move on,'' Taylor said. ``We've got to get after every team.''

Something the Panthers didn't do during losses to Michigan, Cincinnati and Rutgers. Pitt was too tentative too often for Dixon's liking. To send a message it was time to start toughening up, Dixon swallowed his whistle at practice and told his players to play through contact.

It worked.

The Panthers forced Georgetown into 17 turnovers, outrebounded the Hoyas by seven and shot 55 percent from the floor. The result was the second-biggest Big East road victory of Dixon's tenure.

Typically not one to linger over a win, Dixon let his players enjoy it for a day. Pitt returned from Washington, D.C., at 5 a.m. on Wednesday morning and had the day off. Back in film session on Thursday, Dixon decided to highlight the good things his club did rather than harp on the negative. He believes the positive reinforcement will pay off.

``We've looked at film and why we didn't do things well,'' Dixon said. ``I wanted to show them why we did things well.''

Starting with pace. Pitt appeared baffled when faced with zone defenses early in the season. Not so much anymore. Guards Tray Woodall and James Robinson did a solid job of keeping the tempo up and knew when to get the ball to the right people at the right time. They combined for 11 assists and just two turnovers and were helped by the continued maturation of Johnson.

The athletic 6-foot-6 small forward is starting to get a firm grasp of his role after spending early portions of the season watching his playing time fluctuate wildly. Worrying about defense and rebounding has led to an uptick in his minutes recently, and he's proven he's not afraid to be assertive when he has the ball in his hands.

Johnson shot - and made - a 3-pointer on his first touch against the Hoyas just seconds after entering the game. He knocked down another one later in the game as Pitt took control early and did not let up, something that had been a problem earlier in the year.

``I just try to stay ready,'' Johnson said. ``I feel my role is the energy guy, come in and play defense and on offense I feel like it's going to come, just got to stay patient.''

Something that's a virtue at Pitt. The Panthers have 10 players on the roster, and Dixon likes to play all 10 extensively. That's allowed Taylor to stay fresh and play at a high level more consistently when he's on the floor.

The effort level doesn't always translate into points, but Dixon doesn't think they have to for Taylor to be effective.

``The guys really respect him,'' Dixon said of Taylor. ``They want him to do well and I think he's an unselfish player. I think that transfers to the other teammates ... he brings a lot of things like intensity and enthusiasm.''

The Panthers will need both against the Golden Eagles, who have won four straight including league wins over Connecticut and Georgetown. Both victories were close and Pitt has yet to beat a quality opponent in a tight game.

Consider it the next thing on the Panthers' ``to-do'' list.

``There's not many wins like (Georgetown),'' Dixon said. ``We've got to see how we respond to it.''

---

Follow Will Graves at www.twitter.com/WillGravesAP

Quick Links

Middling Anibal Sanchez and quiet bats do Nationals in against Marlins

anibal-sanchez-nats-marlins-loss-usat.jpg
USA Today Sports Images

Middling Anibal Sanchez and quiet bats do Nationals in against Marlins

The Washington Nationals lost to the Miami Marlins, 3-2, Friday night to drop back to 9-9. Here are five observations from the game...

1. For all the offseason efforts at improvement, winning the National League East could come down to its one member which is trying to lose.

The four spenders each play Miami 19 times. By the end, going 11-8 against the in-the-tank Marlins may become a lamentable part of some team’s 2019 legacy. They either brought in a marquee pitcher, a generational outfielder or a former MVP third baseman. But they didn’t do enough against the Marlins, costing themselves the single, taut playoff spot that emerges from the division. It’s a viable storyline to project.

The Nationals took their first negative step toward that fate Friday in a 3-2 loss to the Marlins.

The situational hitting was poor -- Washington left 10 runners on base. The starting pitching was so-so -- Anibal Sanchez took the loss. The bullpen made one dire mistake -- Matt Grace’s first pitch hit left-hander Curtis Granderson with the bases loaded, forcing in the decisive run. The luck wasn’t great -- Caleb Smith, a quality left-hander marooned in Miami as the staff’s best pitcher, was on turn. Anticipate him representing Miami at the All-Star Game this season.

Brian Dozier homered. Mark that in the positive column. Joe Ross pitched two innings of quality relief. Put him next to Dozier.

Otherwise, the loss was sigh-worthy for a team trying to lurch forward, ending its up-and-down run of the first three weeks.

2. Another day, another hit for Anthony Rendon.

His sixth-inning double extended his hitting streak to 17 games, the longest in Major League Baseball this season. It’s also an extension of a personal best for Rendon.

Rendon’s 15 extra-base hits in 17 games is a Nationals/Expos record.

Who is he chasing for the organization’s hit streak record? Hall-of-Famer Heinie Manush, who hit safely in 33 consecutive games back in 1933.

Manush played for the Senators from 1930-1935. He hit .336 when he set the Washington record for consecutive game with a hit. He led the league in triples (17) and hits (221) that season.

Manush won a batting title in 1925 when he hit .378 for Detroit. Rendon is currently hitting .377 in the opening weeks of the season.

3. Sanchez was ok. Not great, not terrible. Just ok.

He lasted 5 ⅓ innings, allowed five hits, three earned runs, walked four and struck out six. His ERA is 4.91.

Regression for Sanchez this season was expected. His 2.83 ERA in Atlanta last season came strongly against the current of his previous pitching. Sanchez had a 5.67 ERA over the three prior seasons.

However, this has been a leap back, a full two runs in arrears of last season’s ERA. More troubling than the ERA is Sanchez’s path through lineups. His walk rate is up, his strikeout rate down.

As the season moves along, a comparison point for Sanchez will be the results of left-hander Wade Miley in Houston. The Nationals made a multi-year offer to Miley which was better than the offer he eventually settled on with the Astros, according to a source. Miley ended up signing for just one year in Houston because the free agent market went south, and Washington quickly pivoted to Sanchez. Keeping track of the two via ERA-plus (which accounts for park factors) during the season will be a fun exercise. Coming into Friday, Miley was by far the better pitcher in that department, 129 to 95. Another bloated outing from Sanchez only increased that gap.

4. The Nationals hoped to play a different brand of offense this season. They wanted to deploy more athleticism, using speed and contact to produce runs.

They took the idea to the extreme Friday. Adam Eaton and Victor Robles both bunted for hits. Eaton scored Washington’s first run after reaching base via his drag bunt up the first base line.

Robles stole second and ended up on third following his bunt in the same direction in the third inning.

Creative work at the plate for both.

5. Another bullpen twist hit Friday. Austen Williams was placed on the 10-day injured list because of a sprained right AC joint. Austin Adams was called up to replace him.

Williams had a disastrous outing Wednesday in the Nationals’ 9-6 win over the Giants. He allowed four earned runs -- on two home runs -- after the Nationals entered the ninth inning with a 9-2 lead. Williams’ inability to get an out in the ninth eventually forced closer Sean Doolittle into a game he never should have entered.

Doolittle’s entrance also complicated the current series in Miami. He pitched back-to-back games to close the series against San Francisco. His Friday availability was in question because of that, though the Nationals didn’t end up needing him.

The right-handed Adams, 27, joins the team from Triple-A Fresno. He struck out 12, allowed a hit and didn’t give up an earned run in his six innings with the Grizzlies.

MORE NATIONALS NEWS: 

4.19.19: Minor league baseball makes big improvements to fan stadium experience

usatsi_12556619.jpg
USA TODAY Sports

4.19.19: Minor league baseball makes big improvements to fan stadium experience

By Rick Horrow

Podcast edited by Tanner Simkins

 

TO LISTEN TO THE FULL PODCAST, CLICK HERE

 

  • Heads up! This year, Minor League Baseball fans might notice new digital screens and displays at their favorite stadiums. Together with ISM Connect, over 25 MiLB teams will be adding new smart displays to their ballparks. But beyond delivering unique stories and creative ads to fans during each game, these displays are also equipped with smart cameras to measure audience engagement. These smart cameras will help keep ads and content fresh. The cameras record anonymous interactions – how long someone watches the screen or their age range – not individual images of specific people. By measuring foot traffic and engagement, MiLB teams and ad sponsors can better understand who their fans are, what resonates with them, and how they’re experiencing each game. The result is a better, more engaging experience for fans, and a better way for teams and partners to learn how to best serve their loyal audience.
  • The Boston Marathon passes $200 million in economic impact, and welcomes seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson to its field. This year’s Boston Marathon, held Monday April 15 and carried on NBCSports Network, will be the 123rd running of the race that winds its way 26.2 miles from the town of Hopkinton to the finish line at Copley Square. It is the world’s oldest annual marathon, starting in 1897 after the successful debut of the marathon at the first modern Olympics in 1896. The Boston Marathon is traditionally held on Patriots Day, the third Monday in April. The Boston Red Sox also have a traditional home game on Patriots Day with an 11:05 a.m. first pitch against the Orioles this year. Boston is among the six largest marathons, along with Tokyo, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York City. A special prize purse is given to runners who accumulate the most points in the majors. Here’s a bit of trivia: Just five national sporting events were held during the two World Wars, and the Boston Marathon was one. The others? The Kentucky Derby, Penn Relays, Rose Parade, and Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.
  • La Liga, Spanish soccer’s top-flight league, has been named the eighth biggest brand domestically, according to a report by valuation and strategy consultancy Brand Finance. The report places La Liga above major Spanish brands such as the insurance provider Mapfre and telecommunications company Movistar. Using its brand strength score metric, a figure based on calculations regarding emotional connection, financial performance and sustainability, Brand Finance gave La Liga a score of 80.7 out of 100. Fashion retailer Zara topped the Brand Finance list overall, with the likes of Santander and Iberdrola also featuring inside its top ten. The new 2019 report marks the first time a sports league has appeared in Brand Finance’s top ten, highlighting the continued growth of La Liga. Brand Finance values the league body at $548 million. Based on monetary value along it occupies 50th place on the list, a considerable drop. However, taking into account the value of participating league clubs – which includes the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid – La Liga’s overall value jumps to $4.5 billion, which would place it sixth on that list.