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Super Bowl Match-Ups to Watch

After a convincing 45-7 victory over the Colts in the AFC Championship, the New England Patriots are once again Super Bowl bound. This will be the sixth time in the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era that the team will compete for the Lombardi Trophy, and if they hope to win their fourth title together they will have to beat last year’s champions in the Seattle Seahawks.

This game features many compelling story lines and match-ups. The greatest coach and quarterback combination looking to firmly cement their place in history versus a team looking to become a dynasty. The first meeting of these two teams since the Patriots lost in Seattle back in 2012, which was the first time anyone heard the outspoken Richard Sherman trash talk his opponent after a game. A great Patriots offense versus a great Seahawks defense. The top two corners in football playing against each other in Sherman and Darrelle Revis. How can the Patriots stop “Beast Mode?” How will the Seahawks try to contain Rob Gronkowski? There are so many to get into, but there are a few that stand out above the rest.

For starters, any comparison to this year’s Patriots team and last year’s Bronco team that got annihilated in Super Bowl is unjustified. Despite having the top offense in the NFL, the team’s mental and physical toughness was nowhere near Seattle’s. Denver had never really had any adversity or doubt on their way to the Super Bowl, and right away when it hit they folded big time. This Patriots team is much tougher mentally and physically on both sides of the ball and won’t be intimidated by Seahawks. They have dealt with adversity right from week one, including many questioning whether or not the team could be contenders. They also had a tough six game stretch in which they played several teams atop their respected divisions. To think that what happened to the Broncos last year will happen this year to the Patriots is completely unfounded.

Offensively, Brady and the Patriots will have their hands full with “The Legion of Boom.” This is no doubt the toughest defense the team has played all season, though there were some takeaways from the NFC Championship game that could bode well for the offense. The Patriot offense loves to throw the ball short and quick over the middle of the field and near the sideline. The Seahawks allowed those throws to be successfully completed against the Packers. When targeting their second cornerback Byron Maxwell, Green Bay was able to get four plays of at least 12 yards and five total first downs on such throws. This number could be even higher if the team hadn’t been conservative and tried to run the clock out. The Packers also had success on quick throws over the middle to TE Richard Rodgers, who had three catches for 30 yards on these throws. Replace Rodgers with Gronkowski and this could be a significant advantage for New England.

Many of the yards gained on these plays did not come after catch, so it will be interesting to see if the shifty Patriot receivers can get yards after the catch. Seattle’s defense is tremendous at swarming to the ball and making tackles, so the Patriots will have to adjust to this. One thing to try is challenging Sherman and Earl Thomas. Sherman is dealing with an elbow injury that left him in a lot of pain Sunday and Thomas is coming off a dislocated shoulder. Both will play in the Super Bowl, but if they have trouble tackling or are a step slower because of their injuries, the Patriots can and will take advantage. The Patriots will also need to take advantage of something Green Bay did not, third down and short situations. Several times at key points in the game, the Packers had third down and less than three yards to go on the stingy Seahawk defense and could not convert. Most notably the Packers could not convert these situations in the red zone, settling for field goals inside the Seahawks one yard line. That cannot happen against a team like Seattle.

Moving to the Patriots defense, this unit can be highly effective come Super Sunday if they can contain Marshawn Lynch. With no elite receiver to rely on, the Seattle offense relies heavily on running the ball and using that to set up their passing game. Belichick is known for taking a team’s best player away and in this case that is Lynch. With such depth at cornerback like Revis, Brandon Browner, Kyle Arrington, and Logan Ryan, the Patriots can trust these players with one-on-one match-ups and focus on stopping the ground game. Despite their epic comeback in the NFC Title game, Seattle really isn’t built to comeback. They are a clock management, ground and pound, mistake free offense. As mentioned the team doesn’t have a true number one receiver, so if they are forced into passing situations, the Patriots would consider that a win.

Of course there are the obvious things a team must do to win, such as overall third down conversions, limit penalties, pressure the quarterback and protect yours. That goes without saying. However, if the Patriots are to come away with their fourth Super Bowl Championship, many of these match-ups could give them an edge.

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Providence Persevering

It is no secret that the Boston Bruins have struggled in the first half of this season, mostly due to injuries. As a result, the team has relied on players from Providence being sent up and down to fill the voids. Now add in plenty of injuries of their own and winning games for the P-Bruins has become quite the challenge. Among some of the players out with injury are Ryan Spooner, Joe Morrow, and Bobby Robins, not to mention the fact that rookie star David Pastrnak had been away in the World Junior Championships and in Boston. Tuesday saw the team play shorthanded with only 17 skaters active for the game, one short of a full lineup.

Despite all this going against them, they have persevered through it all to remain in the playoff hunt. This includes the game they played shorthanded, as with five seconds left in regulation Ethan Werek netted a game winning goal to give the Bruins a gutsy 3-2 road victory. Even with that win, playing shorthanded seemed to have really taken a toll on the team over the weekend. After a 4-2 win over the Sound Tigers, the team looked gassed both offensively and defensively. Providence went over 100 minutes without scoring a goal and played very sloppy defense as well.

Currently the team sits in eighth place in the East with 38 pts, though they are only two points out of fifth. They are getting tremendous play in goal from both goaltenders, but Jeremy Smith has gone above and beyond the call. He is off to one of the best starts of his career and is on pace to set career bests in goals allowed average and save percentage. When Providence signed Smith it was expected he would give young Malcolm Subban a solid AHL backup as he continues to grow. While Subban has been very good in net as well, Smith is challenging the youngster for more playing time. The team has been good about getting both an even amount of time, though it was previously thought that Subban would get more time than Smith.

As previously stated, injuries and call-ups have created problems for the P-Bruins depth, however the line of Alexander Khokhlachev and Pastrnak has been able to create chances. Pastrnak especially has shown that he is slick with the puck and can make offensive plays out of seemingly nothing. The only question is how long he remains with Providence as that kind of spark is something Boston could use right now. It wouldn’t be shocking to see him called up within the next week or two.

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Competitive College Basketball Season Hits Halfway Mark in Massachusetts

After starting the season just 6-6, Cady Lalanne and UMass have some work to do in order to earn a second straight NCAA Tournament berth (Photo via NBCSports.com).

by MATT HOSMAN

In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, six Division 1 basketball teams are vying for berths in the postseason. Generally, teams from Massachusetts are competitive nationally, and this season is no different. The teams span a wide range of leagues, giving fans the chance to see them compete against schools from all over the country. Regularly, these teams compete for their respective league championships and berths in the NIT and NCAA tournaments. A seventh team, UMass Lowell, is not eligible for postseason contention due to its NCAA reclassification last season but has improved steadily over its first year-plus as a Division 1 program.

Boston College (ACC)
Record: 6-4
Key Wins: Providence, New Mexico
Key Losses: Massachusetts, Dayton, USC
Remaining Non-Conference games: UMass Lowell, Harvard
Key home ACC games: UNC, Notre Dame, Louisville, Virginia
ACC Tournament: March 10-14 in Greensboro, N.C.

With two key players from last year’s 8-22 team transferring out (Ryan Anderson to Arizona and Joe Rahon to St. Mary’s), the Eagles look will look to younger players and their veteran captain Dennis Clifford to provide leadership. So far, BC has been paced by returner Oliver Hanlan (16.0 ppg) and Southern Miss transfer Aaron Brown (15.5 ppg). First-year coach Jim Christian has seen BC be competitive in every game, with their biggest loss only being 12 points. The Eagles have one more important non-conference game coming up as they host UMass Lowell on Dec. 29 before opening their ACC schedule at Duke on Jan. 3.

Massachusetts (Atlantic 10)
Record: 6-6
Key Wins: Boston College, Florida State, Northeastern
Key Losses: Harvard, Providence, LSU
Non-Conference games remaining: Iona
Key Home A-10 matchups: Davidson, Rhode Island, Dayton
A-10 Tournament: March 11-15 at Barclays Center, Brooklyn

The Minutemen have had one of the better offenses in the country this season averaging 73.7 points per game, but they have struggled on the defensive end, as they are 308th in points allowed per game (73.5). Veteran forwards Maxie Esho (14.2 ppg) and Cady Lalanne (13.3 ppg) lead the scoring for UMass, but they have not found their guard play. In the absence of starter Seth Berger, Jabarie Hinds, a transfer from West Virgina, has stepped in and filled his role. The Minutemen host Iona on Dec. 30 before beginning Atlantic 10 play on Jan. 3 against St. Bonaventure. They look to make it back to the NCAA tournament for the second straight season.

Boston University (Patriot)
Record: 3-7
Key Wins: Norfolk State, Quinnipiac
Key Losses: Northeastern, UNH, Harvard, UMass-Lowell
Non-Conference games remaining: Wentworth
Key home Patriot League games: Holy Cross, American, Bucknell, Army
Patriot League Tournament: March 3-11; games played at the home of the higher seed

3-7 Boston University has taken their lumps a little bit this season, taking some teams deep into games, but struggling to get over the top and finish games. Cedric Hankerson has been the high scorer for the Terriers thus far, averaging a solid 19.0 points per game. He also averages 4.9 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game, showing his versatility on the court. John Papale is another key name for Terrier fans, contributing 9.5 ppg and 4.0 assists. BU took a tough road trip to #1 Kentucky in November and trailed only 40-35 at the half before ultimately falling 89-65 in Lexington. The Terriers have a busy week this week, hosting Division 3 Wentworth on Dec. 29 and traveling to Holy Cross on Dec. 31 before opening Patriot League play the next week. Former BC assistant Joe Jones looks to take the Terriers back to the NCAA tournament, where they were ousted last year by Illinois.

Northeastern (CAA)
Record: 7-4
Key Wins: Boston University, Florida State, Santa Clara
Key Losses: Harvard, Massachusetts, St. Mary’s, Cal Poly
Remaining Non-Conference games: Richmond, Detroit
Key Home CAA Games: UNCW, College of Charleston, Towson, Drexel
CAA Tournament: March 6-9 in Baltimore, Md.

The Huskies of Northeastern started their off strong, winning each of their first four games before a loss to UMass took them off their path. The Huskies play very unselfish basketball, averaging 14.9 assists per game. Senior Scott Eatherton leads NU in scoring at 16.4 ppg. Junior guard David Walker, who dropped 23 points in an opening night victory over BU, shoots 89.3 percent from the free throw line. Northeastern travels to Richmond for a New Year’s Eve matchup with the Spiders before tipping off CAA play on Jan. 3 at Delaware.

Harvard (Ivy)
Record: 7-2
Key Wins: Houston, Massachusetts, Northeastern, Boston University
Key Losses: Holy Cross, Virginia
Remaining Non-Conference games: Arizona State, Grand Canyon, St. Rose, Boston College, Bryant
Key Home Ivy games: Columbia, Princeton, Yale, Brown
Ivy League Tournament: None; regular season winner becomes league champion

The 7-2 Crimson are 33rd in the country in points allowed per game at only 58.3. They are led by their senior forwards Wesley Saunders (18.3 ppg) and Steve Moundou-Missi (8.9 ppg) on both the offensive and defensive ends. Along with their scoring, the Crimson rank 20th in the country in blocks per game at 5.8. Harvard was ranked 25th in the preseason AP poll, but fell out of the rankings after an early-season loss to Holy Cross at the TD Garden. The Crimson play at Arizona State on Dec. 28 and continue their West Coast trip at Grand Canyon on Dec. 30 before returning home for the New Year. Harvard looks to take another trip back to the NCAA tournament this season.

Holy Cross (Patriot)
Record: 5-5
Key Wins: Harvard, NJIT, Albany, Brown
Key Losses: Sacred Heart, Canisius, Hartford
Remaining Non-Conference games: None
Key Home Patriot League games: BU, Bucknell, American
Patriot League Tournament: March 3-11; games played at the home of the higher seed

Holy Cross has a very balanced offensive game, with no standout scorers. However, seniors Malcolm Miller (11.9 ppg) and Justin Burrell (11.4 ppg) lead the team in that category. The Crusaders tough inside play is indicative of their 5.4 blocks per game, which is good enough to be in the Top 30 in the nation. Holy Cross is on a two-game skid, but look to break that against a struggling BU team on Dec. 31 before opening up Patriot League play.

UMass Lowell (America East)
Record: 6-5
Key Wins: Sacred Heart, NJIT, Fordham, Boston University
Key Losses: Ohio State, URI, Cornell, Dartmouth
Remaining Non-Conference games: Boston College, Brown
Key Home America East games: New Hampshire, Vermont (at Tsongas Center), Stony Brook (at Costello Athletic Center)

The River Hawks look to build on a 10-18 season last year in their first season at the Division 1 level. Coach Pat Duquette looks to build his team by recruiting nationally as UMass Lowell only carries two players from Massachusetts on their roster. Sophomore Jahad Thomas is the leading scorer, averaging 14.6 ppg and 5.5 rebounds. The River Hawks went on a six-game winning streak at the end of November, but have since lost their last three games. They have one remaining non-conference game (at Boston College on Dec. 29) before America East play starts. They won six conference games last year and aspire for more.

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Pats Postgame Thoughts

It wasn’t easy, but the Patriots were able to squeeze out a 17-16 road victory against the Jets Sunday afternoon. The Jets have earned much deserved criticism given their poor play all season, however they played well in this game. They fought hard in what was essentially their Super Bowl, and expecting them to lie down and not play their hated rivals close wouldn’t be smart. By no means was this the Patriots best game on either side of the ball, and while execution by New England had much to do with it the play of the Jets cannot be discredited.

When teams game plan for the Jets, usually the strategy is to let quarterback Geno Smith beat them. Smith and the Jet offense is known for making bad decisions with the football, leading to turnovers and good field position for the opposing offense. That’s what the Patriots tried to do. For the most part, they did a good job stopping the Jets’ running attack with the exception of a few plays. Vince Wilfork did a great job clogging up the middle of the field and forcing Chris Ivory and Chris Johnson to try making something out of nothing. They made Smith beat them. However, he delivered accurate, key throws in big spots, something that hasn’t happened all season long. Despite having one bad turnover, he made solid decisions and played as well as he’s played all season.

Another thing teams know is that Rex Ryan and his defense will create problems for even the best offenses. Even throughout this dreadful stretch over the last few years, their defense has been solid and overlooked. Teams have had little success running the football on their defensive line, along with stopping the pass rush. These trends continued Sunday, as the Patriots never had a consistent running attack and certainly did not contain the pass rush. Tom Brady was constantly under pressure from both the normal three or four man rushes and blitz packages. The Patriot offensive line struggled in this game, and without Dan Connolly at guard there seemed to be communication break downs up front that led to the struggles. It has been an up and down season for this group and a successful playoff run will revolve around consistency from them.

A combination of Geno Smith being smart and the defense getting pressure on Brady would seem to be a good combination for a Jets victory. However, the Patriots offense played much more determined in the second half, going with a quick, up tempo attack. This was in large part to Danny Amendola stepping up and having his best game of 2014. Without having Julian Edelman as the go to guy in the slot, Amendola needed to have a good day and he did so not only in the passing game but also in the return game. He led the team with eight receptions including key first down catches along with putting the offense in good field position. His role will likely be condensed once Edelman returns, though it is nice to see that he is capable of coming up big.

The Jets always seem to play the Patriots well, and that was the case on Sunday. If the Jets knew they would be able to get consistent pressure on Brady while Smith didn’t completely cost them the game, they would take that every time. I felt the game would be closer than most people thought, so the final score did not concern me as much. I would, however, be concerned with the Pats up and down offensive line, as teams like Seattle and Denver have the ability to do what the Jets did.

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Providence overcoming injuries

The fifth weekend of the AHL season has already come and gone, but it wasn’t an easy one for the Providence Bruins. Entering Friday with five straight wins, the P-Bruins dropped a home game to Portland followed by a road loss to Worcester. They were able to salvage two points in their third game, playing well against a dismal IceCaps team and winning at home 4-1. The team sits at 7-4-1 after 12 games, and their 15 points is only two shy of first place.

It is no surprise that Providence is going through a little rough patch, as injuries to their team and Boston’s team have changed the look of their roster. Bobby Robins, Jordan Caron, and Ben Youds are just some of the P-Bruins out recently with injuries, and no timetable has been given for their return. Injuries to Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug, and Kevan Miller have forced Boston to deplete Providence’s defense core. This leaves the P-Bruins without Joe Morrow, Zach Trotman, and David Warsofsky for the foreseeable future.

It takes a team effort to overcome these kinds of losses, but if there has been an MVP so far it is rookie David Pastrnak. Pastrnak has been as advertised this season, leading the team in assists (10), points (13), and rating (+12). Last weekend in Providence’s two losses he was held scoreless, but in the team’s win he registered three assists. He has been playing with another talented young star in Alexander Khokhlachev, who is second on the team in scoring and also had a good day Sunday. However, the team could very well be without Pastrnak for three weeks next month. According to Mark Divver, he likely will participate in the World Juniors tournament, though no final decision has been made. Hopefully by then, some of the team’s injured or called up players will be back to fill the huge void he will leave.

Another huge reason for the P-Bruins’ success has been the play of their goaltenders. Much was made about Malcolm Subban going into 2014, and he has played very well early on. However, Jeremy Smith has been just as good, if not better, in the backup role. The two have split time in net, with Subban getting one more start than Smith in the early going. Having two goalies that can be relied upon is so important not only for the depth it provides, but also for the fact that both can remain fresh.

Providence will kick off their next stretch of games Friday when they take on the Springfield Falcons at home.

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Providence season underway

We are only a week into the AHL season, and the Providence Bruins have already had some roster shakeups. The team’s second line center Seth Griffith was recalled to Boston, and one could argue that through two games this was the team’s most productive line. Along with Matt Lindblad and David Pastrnak, the line has combined for three goals already with Griffith netting one of them. This line also has a +7 rating combined, though the loss of Griffith will likely break up this group.

Pastrnak, a highly touted rookie, has looked good in his first two games. He has plenty of skill and speed, showing his ability to be creative with the puck in a Brad Marchand type way. His one goal and two assists, including one early in overtime to Joe Morrow opening night, gave a glimpse at what he is capable of doing. However some of that might be due to his chemistry with Griffith, as the two worked well together in training camp. With Griffith out of the picture for now, the rookie will have to adjust to new line mates likely on the first line. This happens all the time in hockey, but since Pastrnak has so much to learn in the coming weeks this was one adjustment that the team would have liked to avoid for the time being.

With Griffith’s promotion, the signing of Simon Gagne, and the return of David Krejci, two players were sent to the P-Bruins from Boston. Jordan Caron and Bobby Robins will rejoin the team this weekend after both spent time on the Bruins roster to start the year. Robins wasn’t bad in his time with Boston, but with so much depth the team didn’t need him anymore. The team has stated they expect him back at some point, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he gets another call. Fans know of his fighting ability, but when on the ice he provides energy to his team while showing some skill as well. He is more than just a bruiser and the more time he has the showcase it the better he will be. This is someone capable of playing at the NHL level.

The team went 1-1 in their first weekend of the season, dropping a game in Portland 3-2 to the Pirates after taking their home opener 2-1 in OT against the IceCaps. Head coach Bruce Cassidy said he wasn’t happy with the team’s defensive effort on opening night, and despite the loss thought they did better in game two. Defense should be a strength of this club as they have several talented, experienced players with NHL potential at these spots.

While it is only two games, there is a lot to be excited about with this team, as several of their core players have bright NHL futures. The madness of promotions and demotions has already struck the team, but this will be a group that competes for a playoff spot in Calder Cup playoffs yet again.

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Red Sox Look to 2015

The Red Sox season is FINALLY over. As the they develop their shopping list I thought I would take a look at each position for 2015. The good news is that the July trades of Jon Lester and John Lackey helped solidify the outfield situation. The bad news is that the Red Sox are severely lacking a #1 and #2 starter (and maybe a #3 depending on Clay Buchholz).

Let’s start by looking at the pitching staff…

Starter #1: TBD. Many fans are expecting the return of Jon Lester but I am not sure that the Red Sox will go beyond 5 years and $125 million dollars so Lester will need to take the “hometown discount” he has mentioned in the past if he is coming back to the Sox. A fallback to Lester could be Cole Hamels who is on a more “reasonable” contract but Hamels will cost the Red Sox 3-4 top prospects.

Starter #2: TBD. James Shields seems like a good fit here. He is battle tested in the AL East and his age would seem to limit the years/total dollars that the Red Sox want to avoid.

Starter #3: Clay Buchholz. Buchholz has been incredibly inconsistent since he started off last year as one of the best pitchers in the AL. He could be a #1 or be out of the rotation by May 1 next year. 2015 is a make or break year for Buchholz.

Starter #4: Joe Kelly. Kelly came over to Boston in the Lackey deal and has been decent. If he is your #4 starter then you are in pretty good shape.

Starter #5: One of the “kids”. This should be a great battle in spring training. Rubby De la Rosa would seem to have the inside track based on his performance this year but Brandon Workman, Anthony Ranaudo and Henry Owens could also been in the mix.

Bullpen: Koji Uehara’s struggles have put his return in question. He is a free agent and it is hard to tell if he is tired from the workload of the past two seasons or if he is becoming less effective because of his age. Other relievers should include Junichi Tazawa, Burke Badenhop (has been effective this year), Craig Breslow and Brandon Workman (long man). Expect some veteran pitchers to be added in the off season, especially a potential closer as insurance.

Catcher: Christian Vazquez would seem to be the starter in 2015. He has handled the pitching staff fairly well and his defense is excellent. Blake Swihart is close but may be a September 2015 call up. I would expect the return of David Ross on a one year deal to help mentor the younger catchers.

First Base: Mike Napoli. He is in the last year of his contract and needs to provide more power than he did this year but he should be a solid part of the lineup in 2015.

Second Base: Dustin Pedroia. There is also an outside shot that the Sox could move Pedroia and his long contract and put Mookie Betts at second. I would be surprised if the PR conscious Red Sox traded one of the most popular players on the team.

Shortstop: Xander Bogaerts. Hopefully the Sox have stopped moving around Bogaerts and will give him a complete season at shortstop.

Third Base: Big ?. I don’t see Will Middlebrooks bouncing back although his right handed power ability will make the Sox give him one more shot in the spring. Brock Holt is an option here as well but a solid Free Agent may be the most likely scenario.

DH: David Ortiz. Not much to say here. He continues to rake. His career will end soon but he should have an above average season in 2015.

Outfield: There are a lot of candidates. Yoenis Cespedes, Rusney Castillo and Allen Craig seem like the outfield as of today. Daniel Nava, Shane Victorino, Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. will also fight for playing time. The most likely scenario would have the Sox packaging at least one of these players in exchange for a #2 pitcher or a Third baseman.

Overall, the outlook is good for the Sox. The July trades and the signing of Castillo gave the Sox some much needed depth and they have the money to go after top free agent pitchers. General Manager Ben Cherington will have a lot of options and the Red Sox could go from worst to first again if he makes the right decisions.

By Ryan Winn

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BC off to 3-1 start thanks to excellent running game

by TOM JOYCE

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — After losing Andre Williams to the NFL Draft, the Boston College Eagles took a huge hit in their run game. Last year Williams rushed for 2177 yards on 355 attempts in a true breakout senior year. He was even a runner up in the Heisman trophy voting.

Despite losing one of the most prolific running backs in the team’s history, the Eagles have found a new way to generate yards on the ground — and lots of them for that matter.

Florida transfer and Eagles starting quarterback Tyler Murphy has done his best to fill the void losing Andre Williams left in the offense. In four games, he has already rushed for 500 yards on 55 carries while leading the Eagles’ option-based offense.

In total, the Eagles have six players who have rushed for at least 100 yards meaning that they share the ball well and use the correct personnel for each situation.

Saturday marked the first time all year that Murphy did not rush for 100 yards in a game. He was one shy rushing for 99 yards on 13 carries. The reason why he did not reach the 100-yard mark is because he was taken out late in the game in favor of backup quarterback Darius Wade as the Eagles led 33-10. They ended up winning 40-10.

As usual, Jon Hilliman played effectively against Maine. Second in rushing on the team with 241 rushing yards, he was able to take the rock 21 times totaling 98 yards. Two of his carries resulted in touchdowns.

For backup running back Marcus Outlow, the blowout against Maine very well may have been his breakout game this year. Working in primarily with the second offense, the freshman rushed for 107 yards on 14 carries, with a long run of 27 yards. Before breaking out against Maine, Outlow had only played against UMass, a game in which he carried the ball twice for three yards. After his performance against Maine, expect Outlow to get some carries while the games still matter.

With this in mind, the Eagles rank fifth in the nation in rushing yards averaging with 336.3 a game. As one could imagine, the passing game lags behind. The team ranks just 122nd with 124.3 yards a game.

Still though, the ground game works for the Eagles who are 3-1 on the year including a 37-31 win over a USC team which was ranked the ninth-best team in the nation.

In the running department, Tyler Murphy is a huge upgrade over former Eagles quarterback Chase Rettig who gained -225 yards rushing in his BC Eagles career. Passing is a whole different ballgame, but yards are yards and Murphy has done a good job helping his team gain yards as have the running backs.

Despite a lack of a good throwing arm on Murphy’s part, the team is 3-1 and destined for some sort of a bowl game. He might not be the prolific pocket threat that Tom Brady is, but Murphy does what he does and does it well which leads the team to victory more often than not.

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PawSox season another success

It doesn’t matter how you slice it, 2014 was a tremendously successful year for the Pawtucket Red Sox. The team made it to their third straight Governors’ Cup Final, and for the second time in those three years they came away with the Cup. It was an epic series filled with excitement, big moments, and players with little Triple-A experience stepping up with big performances.

But even before the team clinched the Cup, the season was still a big time success.

While winning at any level is good to see, minor league wins and losses don’t define the success of a season. It is all about player development and any organization will admit as much. Winning the Governors’ Cup, along with getting players some postseason experience, is icing one cake so long as the goal of player development is accomplished.

Going into the season, the biggest thing I wanted to see was how the team’s young pitchers grew and adjusted. I needed to see that Allen Webster, Anthony Ranaudo, Matt Barnes, and Rubby De La Rosa were ready to contribute at the big league level. Each in their own way showed that they were ready to be Major League arms.

Ranaudo made the biggest impression by far, winning the I.L. Pitcher of the Year. Ranaudo’s numbers were dominant with Pawtucket, producing several brilliant stretches that Ranaudo himself described as “the best run of his career.” He was able to make adjustments early in the season to his delivery, something he attributes his success to. In limited MLB action he’s had his ups and downs, but has ultimately shown he can be successful.

De La Rosa bounced back from a rough 2013 season, showing why he was a highly regarded prospect. He made an impact with Pawtucket early and spent most of the year in Boston’s rotation. Barnes started off the year injured, but after a rocky start dominated in the finals months of the season. Webster was promoted in July, and though again his MLB numbers aren’t impressive he showed he has graduated from Triple-A.

The bottom line for all four of these young arms is they reestablished their value at a critical point in their careers. Will they all make Boston’s rotation, or roster, next year? That is highly unlikely, as there won’t be enough room for all of them. One would assume the organization goes out and acquires at least one established free agent arm to join Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly, leaving two openings in the rotation. With many the many needs the organization wants to address in the offseason, the value of these young arms with MLB experience becomes huge for trade purposes. The possibilities are endless for how they manage these prospects, but they have certainly lived up to their end in 2014.

The offensive player I was looking forward to seeing coming into this year was Garin Cecchini, and I was happy with the season he put up. The numbers don’t jump out, especially after a hot start with Pawtucket. He struggled in the middle of the season, specifically in June and July where he hit under .200 in each month. However, he was able to fight through it, make adjustments in his swing, and deliver strong numbers the rest of the way. Factor in the fact that he learned the outfield in addition to his normal third base position, and one has to be happy with how he progressed this year. Will Middlebrooks has done nothing to show he deserves the third base job in 2015, so the idea the Cecchini could start there is very possible.

As the season moved forward, more and more of the Sox future passed through McCoy. Henry Owens dazzled in his Triple-A debut, giving the organization a glimpse of what he can do on the mound. He also had some struggles at this level, but that is to be expected. At just 22 years old, he is the number one pitching prospect in the Boston system and will almost certainly start 2015 with the PawSox. As he gets more innings under his belt, expect the dominance to continue and a big league call up to be not far away.

2014 also saw “Mookie Madness” hit Pawtucket, as Mookie Betts tore up the minor leagues on his way to Boston. Betts showed that he can do a little bit of everything on the baseball field, impressing me more than I though he would. Learning the outfield was very easy for him as he transitioned out of second base plus he didn’t let the move impact his offense. A ceiling of dynamic leadoff hitter for Boston in 2015 is not out of reach based on what he has shown.

Three players that will likely start 2015 with Pawtucket after coming up in the final months of the season are Blake Swihart, Deven Marrero, and Edwin Escobar. Each of these players made huge contributions to the team’s championship run and will look to continue their growth after promising years.

As we look back on 2014, the PawSox have a lot to be proud of. They were able to develop the organization’s young pitchers and hitters, promote some of their brightest Double-A talent to McCoy, send major league ready players to Boston, and return the Governors’ Cup to its rightful home.

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PawSox let Game Two slip away

Already up 1-0 in their best of five Governors’ Cup series, Pawtucket would have to get a game two win with someone who has never pitched in Triple-A.

Brian Johnson, who spent most of this year dominating in Portland, was summoned to make his Triple-A debut when Matt Barnes was called up to Boston on Monday. He faced off against Alex Colome who has spent time in the big leagues this season for the Rays.

Johnson pitched strong, but the PawSox lost 4-3 after letting a late lead slip away. Their series is now tied 1-1.

For the second consecutive game, Pawtucket struck quickly with runs in the first two innings. The team loaded the bases with no outs in the first, though only managed one run on a groundout from Ryan Lavarnway. Ivan DeJesus Jr. started off the second with a triple and Corey Brown launched a two-run home run giving Pawtucket a 3-0 lead.

That would chase the ineffective Colome from the game after an inning and a third, marking the second time in as many games a Durham starter didn’t make it past three innings.

Durham responded with a two run home run in the third inning by Mike Mahtook to make it 3-2, but that would be all the offense until the later innings. Pawtucket had plenty of scoring chances early, though didn’t capitalize nearly enough on them.

“We had a chance to blow it open,” Manager Kevin Boles said. “We missed some opportunities. I liked how we burned through their starter and get opportunities but we just couldn’t push runs across.”

Johnson looked solid in his six innings of work, allowing two runs on four hits and three walks while striking out seven. He flashed an impressive curveball, though did not factor in the decision.

“He pitched well,” Boles said. “He settled in with a good pitch mix and he gave us what we needed tonight.”

“I was excited to get out there,” Johnson said of his debut. “I got on the same page as Lavarnway pretty quick. This year has been fun for sure and hopefully we finish on the right note.”

Heath Hembree, who was shaky in last night’s appearance despite recording the save, came out for the ninth but gave up a game tying solo home run to Vince Belnome making the score 3-3. Brown led off the ninth with a double for Pawtucket, but was stranded at third.

Pawtucket again squandered a golden chance to win it in the 10th, loading the bases with two outs for Brown who struck out.

The Bulls would not waste their chance to win in the 11th. With runners on first and second, Mike Fontenot lined an RBI single to right off John Ely, giving the Bulls a 4-3 lead. The PawSox limited the damage, but Pawtucket wouldn’t score in their half and fell by that final.

The Rusney Castillo watch continued, as he went 1-4 with a walk in his second Triple-A game. He had a chance to win the game in the ninth, however popped out weakly with a runner on third and one out. Once the game went into extras, he was removed as the plan was for him to play nine innings. He has shown that he will continue to be an aggressive player and when watching him play it is tough not to see flashes of fellow Cuban Yasiel Puig. Boles said that it is doubtful he plays in game three.

Pawtucket will hope to regain their series lead tomorrow as Henry Owens takes the mound against Matt Andriese.

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