Nationals

Senior Morris helps keep Penn State intact

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Senior Morris helps keep Penn State intact

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) The whispers from some younger Penn State defensive backs about transferring started after the 0-2 start, disappeared after the five-game winning streak and resurfaced after a loss to Big Ten rival Ohio State.

Senior cornerback Stephon Morris would have none of it. He gathered his secondary teammates in a room for a heart-to-heart meeting.

The senior class might be playing its last game Saturday for Penn State, but Morris wants others with eligibility to follow his lead and stick with the Nittany Lions through the NCAA sanctions.

``I talked to those guys in front of a room, closed the doors and told them it would be stupid for them to leave here,'' an emotional Morris recounted this week. ``Let's not talk about football. Let's talk about getting a degree, the support you have.''

This isn't the type of problem a big-time college football program such as Penn State (7-4, 5-2 Big Ten) typically has to consider heading into its season finale, when Wisconsin (7-4, 4-3) visits Beaver Stadium.

Then again, this has been anything but a typical season in Happy Valley.

The uncertainty stems from the NCAA's sanctions in July for the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. The harsh penalties included a four-year bowl ban and scholarship cuts. The NCAA gave players an out - they could leave if they wanted without having to worry about transfer rules and play right away.

Defensive tackle Jordan Hill called it the lowest point of the year.

``It was the first time it affected us as players. We were put in a position - yes or no? It was `Are you going to stay or are you going to go?''' Hill said.

In the end, 10 players - including senior receiver Justin Brown (Oklahoma) - transferred, though more than 90 percent of the team stayed. Senior linebacker Michael Mauti and running back Michael Zordich made the impassioned public statement that seemed to rally the players.

Seniors Hill and Morris were influential. Sophomore Allen Robinson, who has emerged as a star at receiver, cites the pair as his biggest mentors.

``Going out and practicing hard ... and playing for each other,'' Robinson said. ``You play for the man next to you. That's something the seniors made us appreciate.''

And made other coaches notice.

``Obviously, very impressed with the way they've handled it,'' Badgers coach Bret Bielema said. ``A really good group of seniors. They have bought into what (Penn State coach Bill O'Brien) is preaching, and more importantly, what they're coaching.''

Morris still talks with reverence about Joe Paterno, the Hall of Fame coach who was ousted in the aftermath of the arrest last year of Sandusky, a retired Penn State defensive coordinator. It was Paterno, after all, who recruited Morris out of Greenbelt, Md.

O'Brien was hired as coach in January. Two weeks later, Paterno died.

``We never could forget about coach Paterno and what he's done. He's the reason why we were all here,'' Morris said. ``I stayed because of him. I stayed because of the team, the adversity we faced.

``You can't run away from adversity. You've got to look at it eye-to-eye. You can't run away from anything.''

O'Brien calls Morris one of the most improved players this season. The defense has had to adjust to the schemes tweaked by O'Brien and defensive coordinator Ted Roof to play more aggressively. That's left Morris more in single coverage this year; he's fourth on the team with 55 tackles.

As successful as this team has been despite the adversity, the future remains uncertain. The NCAA exception to transfer doesn't expire until the start of the 2013 preseason in August, meaning a whole new round of college ``free agency'' could start again for Penn State players in the offseason.

Robinson, who leads Big Ten receivers with 73 catches, 983 yards and 11 touchdowns, may be one of the most attractive Nittany Lions to other schools. Sophomore Adrian Amos, who has combined with Morris to form a good cornerback duo, could be an enticing prospect, too.

But for now, most key underclassmen haven't given any signal that they're thinking about leaving.

``I believe that everybody will be back that's eligible to be back next year, but, again ... I don't have a crystal ball and I'm not a genie,'' O'Brien said. ``But I think they know that they can achieve a lot of their goals here.''

Morris said he expects younger players to stick around, and he constantly speaks with his defensive backfield teammates about the future. According to Morris, Amos has told him he'll be back.

If Amos and junior starting safeties Malcolm Willis and Stephen Obeng-Agyapong return, the secondary should be a position of strength next year.

``Anyone who is leaving, if I was to talk to them,'' Morris said, ``I would tell them to just take a deep breath and think about everything.''

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Follow Genaro Armas athttp://twitter.com/GArmasAP

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With 'Baby Shark' as his new walk-up song, Gerardo Parra broke out of his slump for the Nats

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With 'Baby Shark' as his new walk-up song, Gerardo Parra broke out of his slump for the Nats

WASHINGTON - When Gerardo Parra stepped into the batter’s box for the first time on Wednesday afternoon, everyone in the ballpark knew something was different with the 32-year-old outfielder.

His walk-up song, “Baby Shark”, drew the immediate attention of everyone in attendance. And it would not be the last thing that Washington Nationals fans remembered from Parra on the day.

“I wanted to put on something different,” Parra said postgame. “My [two-year-old daughter Aaliyah Victoria] loves that song. Before the game, I tried merengue, reggaeton, hip-hop, then I said, ‘You know what, I want to put in Baby Shark.’ I'm happy for that.”

After his performance against the Phillies in a 6-2 victory, “Baby Shark” should probably stick around as his walk-up song.

Parra was 0-for-23 when he came to the plate in the fourth inning. Before then his last hit came on June 1 against Cincinnati. Quickly Parra broke that hitless streak and doubled to plate the go-ahead run for the Nationals. He took a first-pitch slider from Zach Eflin and drove home Matt Adams, giving the Nats a 2-1 advantage.

Later in the game, he followed that up with a home run in the eighth inning as the Nats hit back-to-back jacks. It gave Parra, who started in the outfield for Victor Robles, his first multi-hit game since his June 1 appearance and his fourth such game on the Nationals roster.

But paired with his walk-up song, Parra’s sixth-inning assist to get out Bryce Harper is going to make him a fan favorite.  As Harper tried to go from first-to-third on a Scott Kingery single to shallow center, Parra scooped up the ball bare-handed to throw Harper out at third base. Without it there would have been no outs with runners on the corners and Patrick Corbin nearing the end of his start. Instead, the Nats cruised through the rest of the inning to preserve the lead. The Phillies appealed the play but to no avail.

“That's the only chance I had to get Harper,” Parra said. “I know he's an aggressive player and I tried to get everything perfect. Bare-handed, throw the ball as fast as I can. I think that changed the game.”

“It’s 'Mini-me,'” manager Davey Martinez, who played 16 years in the major leagues primarily as an outfielder, said about Parra after the game. “That’s what I tell him too. He came down [to the dugout after the play] and said, ‘You didn’t do that, you never did that.’ I go, ‘Too bad I ain’t got video of it…’ It was a tough play, barehanded, coming up firing. He’s really good, he’s a good outfielder.”  

With “Baby Shark” as his walk-up song Parra went 2-for-4 with a home run and a game-changing assist in a one-run ballgame. It looks like Parra has found his new walk-up song.

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Trey Mancini, the Orioles' lone bright spot, exits game after getting drilled with 92 MPH fastball

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Trey Mancini, the Orioles' lone bright spot, exits game after getting drilled with 92 MPH fastball

Trey Mancini, the Orioles' only hope at an All-Star, exited Baltimore's matinee against Oakland in the top of the first on Wednesday, after he was struck on the left elbow by a 92-mph fastball from the Athletics' starter Chris Bassitt.

Baltimore's Chris Davis pinch-ran for Mancini, who left the game almsot immediately after being hit. 

Baltimore announced on Twitter that Mancini exited the game with a left elbow contusion. 

Mancini, the Orioles' first baseman and outfielder, was a bright spot in a rather lackluster Baltimore lineup.

The only Oriole with a real chance at an All-Star selection, Mancini is batting .304 in 70 games and leads Baltimore with 84 hits, 18 doubles and 16 homers.

The 27 year-old also has one of the highest slugging percentages on the Orioles (.558).

Fans reacted with anguish on Twitter after Mancini exited the game.

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