Nationals

West Virginia may need defense at some point

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West Virginia may need defense at some point

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) West Virginia is off to a blistering start in its first Big 12 season, piling up points behind quarterback Geno Smith.

But if the No. 5 Mountaineers (5-0, 2-0) want to win the league and even challenge for a national title, they may have to eventually start playing some defense.

West Virginia has torched Baylor and Texas for 118 points the last two weeks, but also surrendered 108 in two wild, heart-pounding games.

Smith doesn't seem to care, so long as he can keep pushing the Mountaineers in to the end zone. Smith has 12 touchdown passes the last two weeks, with 24 on the season without an interception.

``We play as a team, we fight as a team. No matter what it takes to win the game, that's what we're going to do,'' Smith said after throwing for 268 yards and four touchdowns in a 48-45 win over No. 15 Texas that wasn't secured until the Mountaineers recovered an onside kick with 14 seconds to play.

Smith may have to be at his best every game the rest of the way. The Mountaineers still have to play No. 13 Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, which has the No. 1 total offense and scoring offense in the country, and No. 6 Kansas State, which has topped 50 points three times this season.

The Mountaineers rank No. 102 in total defense and scoring defense and surrender an average of 35 points per game.

Cornerback Pat Miller said it was difficult for the defense to shake off giving up 63 points to Baylor while preparing for Texas.

``It was a tough week mentally because it's hard to bounce back from a game like that. There were a lot of people criticizing me personally. But you know, we just feed off that,'' Carter said.

West Virginia's defense did make a couple of big plays to help get a huge road win at Texas.

The Longhorns led 28-27 at halftime and opened the third quarter with a 13-play drive that ate up seven minutes. But the Mountaineers got a key third-down stop that forced Texas to kick a field goal instead of scoring a touchdown. That kept Smith and the offense within one possession of taking the lead as the teams traded five more touchdowns.

In the fourth quarter, West Virginia forced a turnover on downs near midfield and didn't surrender any points after Smith lost his second fumble. Trailing 41-38 Texas had the ball on the Mountaineers' 12 with just over seven minutes to play.

Texas gained only four yards on two plays, then lost 16 yards when a shotgun snap sailed past quarterback David Ash as he turned his head to look at the play clock. Texas kicker Anthony Fera then missed a 41-yard field goal, another miscue that proved critical at the end.

``That was the difference in the game because momentum shifted. Defense just had to buckle up and stand up,'' linebacker Isaiah Bruce said.

While that mistake was self-inflicted by Texas, the Mountaineers took it as a break that went their way.

``It was a tremendous team victory. Defense came up with some big stops in key situations,'' West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. ``I thought they showed a lot of improvement.''

Texas left feeling as if it let one get away when that ball sailed past Ash and kept bouncing backward on the turf.

``When we had our opportunity to go ahead and didn't, that really hurt us,'' Texas coach Mack Brown said ``You've got to give (West Virginia) credit. They made the critical plays.''

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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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