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Struggles Down Stretch Eliminate Forest City, Montrose
Forest City and Montrose stuck with tough opponents into the fourth quarter of second-round Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association girls' basketball state tournament games.
Offensive dry spells at the most inopportune times led to the end of the season for both Susquehanna County teams.
Marian defeated Forest City, 50-43, Wednesday in a Class A game.
Catasauqua defeated Montrose, 46-30, March 11 in a Class AA game.
The two losses, both of which came at Hazleton Area High School, brought an end to the winter sports season for the last county athletes still pursuing state championships.
Forest City and Montrose had each won District 2 championships and followed that up with impressive first-round wins.
Marian (25-5) held Forest City scoreless for more than four minutes to end the game and rallied from a two-point deficit by scoring the final nine points.
Catasauqua (26-5) outscored Montrose, 13-1, over a similar time period to break open what had been a four-point game. Catasauqua scored 12 straight points before each team hit a late free throw.
Amanda Vitzakovitch scored 16 points and Dana Bennett added 13 to lead Forest City, which finished the season 23-6.
The Lady Foresters jumped out to an early lead, fell behind, then rallied with a 12-4 third quarter to send the game into the final eight minutes tied, 37-37.
Alanna Zahora, Marian's top scorer, did not start the game because of an illness. She came in to erase an early deficit and wound up finishing with 17 points.
Coleen Walsh scored 12 points for Montrose (20-10). The Lady Meteors had a three-point lead at half-time.
All of the Lackawanna League boys' basketball teams had already been eliminated by the time Forest City lost Wednesday. The Lady Foresters' loss left North Pocono (Class AAA) as the last surviving girls' basketball team from the league.
WEEK IN REVIEW
The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins scored just two goals while losing two straight home games, yet it was a good week for the Penguins' playoff hopes.
Both the Penguins and the Binghamton Senators were well taken care of by their parent clubs in the series of transactions that led up to American Hockey League playoff rosters being set on Thursday.
Although the Senators are in a much better position in the standings, the Penguins have as much reason to be happy.
In a week that could have decimated the roster as the team prepared for its second playoff appearance in the franchise's four-year history, the Penguins roster was instead fortified.
First, Tuesday's wave of NHL trade deadline moves did not hurt the AHL Penguins. The team lost veteran defenseman Francois Leroux, the team's toughest enforcer but often a liability as the slowest man on the ice. It picked up defenseman Micki DuPont in a trade and center Kris Beech from Pittsburgh in the aftermath of the moves.
"I don't think it really affects their progress in any way, negatively or positively," Pittsburgh general manager Craig Patrick said after the moves. 'The people we brought in are going to step in here for now and fill the roles we need for now."
Pittsburgh was the busiest team on the busiest day of trading in NHL history. The Penguins sent out six players, all 26 or older, and got back seven players, five of which were 25 or younger, and a draft pick.
The Penguins continued to emphasize the youth movement in the days after the trade.
"We're actually looking beyond next year with these deals," Patrick said, with the Penguins set to miss the Stanley Cup playoffs for the second straight year.
That concentration on developing young talent was shown when the Penguins made a series of moves that will allow four of their prospects to come down from Pittsburgh and play with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the AHL's Calder Cup playoffs.
Goalie Sebastien Caron and forwards Tomas Surovy, Eric Meloche and Guillaime Lefebvre technically were loaned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Wednesday night. Once the clear day roster was set, the four players were recalled to Pittsburgh without ever having really left the NHL team.
The moves allow Pittsburgh to place all four prospects here in time for the playoffs.
To fit those players on the 22-man playoff roster, goalie Robbie Tallas and right wing Jason MacDonald had to be left off that roster. Tallas and MacDonald will continue with the team for now, but only "emergency conditions" would allow them to play in the playoffs.
According to an AHL press release Friday, " emergency conditions arise as a result of a recall, injury or suspension."
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton still has not clinched a playoff berth, but appears headed to a spot in the three-game miniseries for teams that finish seventh through 10th in the Western Conference.
"There are expectations for this team to play well in the playoffs," Wilkes-Barre/Scranton coach Glenn Patrick, Craig's brother, said. "The pressure is one. It's on me. And, the players themselves know that if they want to be evaluated for NHL jobs next year, they have to perform very well.
"Craig's looking for winners. You're not considered a winner unless you win."
Binghamton's situation is more dependent on how the parent Ottawa Senators do in their own playoff pursuit.
With the NHL's best record, Ottawa has to concentrate on a real opportunity to win a Stanley Cup playoffs.
Thus, Binghamton's playoff hopes are clearly secondary.
Still, it is encouraging that center Jason Spezza was returned to Binghamton Wednesday and appears on the playoff roster along with defenseman Brian Pothier and right wing Josh Langfeld, two other key Senators who have spent time in Ottawa recently.
Spezza, a number-two pick in the entire NHL draft, appears headed for stardom in his rookie season. Despite missing 23 games with his frequent call-ups to Ottawa, he is second in the AHL among rookie scorers and arguably the most talented player in the league.
Binghamton is second and still has a shot at the East Division title. The Senators are also trying to cling to a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference, which would mean home-ice advantage in the conference quarterfinals. Regardless, they are likely to finish in the top six and avoid the first-round miniseries.
THE WEEK AHEAD
As a high school teammate, it was easy to understand that Bobby Gonzalez saw, digested and reacted to the game of basketball more quickly than most players.
Gonzalez now shares that vision with the Manhattan Jaspers, the team he will be coaching in the NCAA Tournament this week.
Gonzalez, the starting point guard at Binghamton North High School in the 1979-80 season and at Binghamton in 1980-81, is one of two regional connections to March Madness.
Of course, Lackawanna League boys' basketball fans can identify with Syracuse University and starting guard Gerry McNamara from Bishop Hannan.
McNamara is the team's third-leading scorer and its leader in assists and 3-point shooting as a freshman. He ranks among the national leaders in free throw shooting.
At Bishop Hannan, McNamara made four straight state championship game appearances, winning a Class AA title as a senior. His first state final appearance came about by spoiling the longest state tournament run ever by a Susquehanna basketball team when the Golden Lancers beat the Sabers in an all-District 2 Class A state semifinal at the University of Scranton in 1999.
Nicole Zapolski, a 5-8 sophomore forward from Mountain View, was selected as a National Junior College Athletic Association Region 19 first-team all-star for her play at Keystone College.
Zapolski was the leading scorer as Keystone went 22-6 and reached the Region 19 final before losing to Passaic County Community College, 73-68.
In addition to her 13.5 points, Zapolski averaged 10.7 rebounds, 2.8 steals and 1.9 assists.
TOM ROBINSON writes a weekly local sports column for the Susquehanna County Transcript. He can be reached on-line at RobbyTR@aol.com.
CRAVEN By Inches At Darlington, Darlington, S. C. Ricky Craven won a spectacular last-lap duel with Kurt Busch in Sunday's Carolina 400 at Darlington Raceway.
Craven only led one lap, and that was the last one as the nose of his No. 32 Tide Pontiac crossed the finish line less than a foot ahead of Kurt Busch's No. 97 Sharpie Ford.
For fans that saw it, the race was one of the most exciting finishes in NASCAR history. Both cars either rubbed fenders or bumped the entire distance along the front straight-away.
"It's hard to pray and drive," said Craven. "I don't know why we didn't wreck with a couple to go.
"I've done this for over 20 years and you dream of winning a race like this. Being from the northeast and a NASCAR boy, I knew Darlington was going to be tough."
Busch, who had started from the rear after blowing an engine in practice on Saturday, had taken the lead from Jeff Gordon on lap 271 of the 293-lap race. But his Roush Ford lost power steering with 10-laps to go and had to physically wrestle his car for the remaining laps.
Craven had made a pass on Busch one lap earlier, only to lose it. On lap 292, Craven drove hard into turn one, right on Busch's rear bumper. He tried again coming out of turn four as the cars headed to the checkered flag.
Both cars banged against each other, with Craven getting the win by inches.
"With the power steering gone, it was the heaviest thing I've ever had to do," said Busch. "Coming out of four, the wheel popped out of my hand and the car jerked over."
Dave Blaney came in third for his best ever Winston Cup finish.
Jeff Gordon, who led the most laps, saw the handling on his Hendricks Chevrolet go away and he hit the wall with 12 laps to go. He finished 33rd.
Pole-sitter, Elliott Sadler ran up front most of the day, but was no match for the leaders at the end and wound up seventh.
Mark Martin and Michael Waltrip rounded out the top-five.
Bill Elliott, who finished ninth, had the highest finishing Dodge.
Top ten finishing order: 1. Ricky Craven, 2. Kurt Busch, 3. Dave Blaney, 4. Mark Martin, 5. Michael Waltrip, 6. Dale Earnhardt Jr., 7. Elliott Sadler, 8. Matt Kenseth, 9. Bill Elliott, 10. Tony Stewart.
KENSETH Is Still Points Leader The top-10 points leaders after 5 of 36 races: 1. Kenseth-760, 2. Stewart-703, 3. Waltrip-698, 4. Earnhardt-634, 5. Craven-617, 6. Busch-617, 7. Johnson-604, 8. Blaney-603, 9. Nemechek-601, 10. Sadler-575.
Who Will Replace WINSTON The name Winston has become so well known with the NASCAR Series that bears its name that it's hard to imagine the series being called anything else.
R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.'s Winston cigarette brand has been on the circuit since 1971. It is estimated that it costs them $30 million a year.
While the company has said they are willing to honor the new five-year contract, a new sponsor could be in place before the 2007 season.
NASCAR officials have said they feel confident about locating a new sponsor.
Good luck! $30 million, even for NASCAR is a lot of bucks to come up with for a single season.
On the positive side there are racing teams that command up to $16 million, but to land a sponsor willing to sign a long-term contract for $30-40 million is something that isn't done just every day.
While NASCAR is loaded with sponsors many of the teams have seen sponsorship dry up. The economy is a major factor, but the high costs of racing is another.
While we're sure NASCAR will come up with someone to sponsor their premier series, I expect they will have a hard time landing a company as dedicated to the sport as Winston.
DODGES Sweep Truck Race, Darlington, SC Dodges swept five of the top-six spots in Friday's NASCAR Craftsman 250. The win went to Bobby Hamilton. Ted Musgrave, Brendan Gaughan, Travis Kvapil, and Chad Chaffin followed him across the finish line.
Top ten finishing order: 1. Bobby Hamilton, 2. Ted Musgrave, 3. Brendan Gaughan, 4. Travis Kvapil, 5. Chad Chaffin, 6. Jason Leffler, 7. Rick Crawford, 8. Terry Cook, 9. David Starr, 10. Robert Pressley.
HAMILTON Leads In Truck Points The top-10 points leaders after 2 of 25 races: 1. Hamilton: 345, 2. Kvapil-340, 3. Crawford-331, 4. Gaughan-309, 5. Pressley-304, 6. Cook-285, 7. Chaffin-272, 8. Crafton-257, 9. Musgrave-256, 10. A. Houston-255.
The NASCAR Busch Series race scheduled for Saturday, Mar. 15 at Darlington was postponed due to rain and was rescheduled for Monday, Mar. 17.
The Winston Cup and Busch cars are at Bristol, TN, while the Craftsman Trucks go west to Bakersfield, CA.
Saturday, March 22, Busch Series Channellock 250, race 5 of 34, 250 laps/133.25 miles, 12:30 p.m. TV: FX.
Sunday, March 23, Winston Cup Food City 500, race 6 of 36, 500 laps/266.5 miles, 12:30 p.m. TV: Fox. Craftsman Truck Series Lucas Oil 250, race 3 of 25, 250 laps/125 miles, 5 p.m., TV: Speed Channel.
Racing Trivia Question: In which series is Tony Raines running for rookie of the year?
Answer To Last Week's Question: Larry Foyt drives the No. 14 Winston Cup for former Indy racer A.J. Foyt.
Gerald Hodges/the Racing Reporter is a syndicated NASCAR columnist. If you have a racing question that you would like answered send it to The Racing Reporter, P.O. Box 160711, Mobile, AL, 36616, or e-mail it to: email@example.com.
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