The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas on June 1, 1998 · Page 9
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The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas · Page 9

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Monday, June 1, 1998
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m E t.v, THE SAUNA JOURNAL Sports CLASSIFIED / B4 ALMANAC / B7 FUN / B8 B T COMMENT T PRO BASKETBALL PETE GOERING The Topeka Capital-Journal Breakup of WAC-ky bunch is a no-brainer TOPEKA — This week's news that the WAC — short for Without A Clue — is breaking apart 'ranks on the surprise meter right up there with reports that Mark McGwire hits the ball really hard. It isn't difficult to understand this happened to a collection of schools that are as much as 4,000 miles and four time zones apart and pretty much have nothing in common except the fact they were orphans. This conference was doomed from the start, done in by bad planning and bad logistics. As if Hawaii and Rice weren't enough of an odd couple, the conference fathers went one step more — actually four — to make the WAC as confusing as possible. They divided it into quadrants. Problem was, no one knew why. Heck, most fans didn't even know which four teams belonged in each quadrant. Not that they made any sense ... Texas Christian won the Pacific Division basketball title last season. But what really upset some important people — like presidents and athletic directors — was the WAC-ky plan to break up natural rivalries for the sake of quadrant play. Colorado State against nearby Air Force? Not this year, thank you. Not when we've lined up San Jose State to play the flyboys instead. It'd be like the Kansas-Kansas State game being dumped so the Wildcats could play, say, Baylor. The good news about the split is that it happened right down the middle. Eight teams are bolting. Eight are left holding the WAC duffel bag, among them TCU, SMU and Rice, veteran bag- holders all. They were, you might remember, part of the Southwest Conference that disbanded several years ago ... the part that didn't get invited to join the Big Eight. They were — how do I say this diplomatically? — the lepers, the schools no one wanted. While four of their Texas brothers in the old SWC bolted to the Big Eight like puppies in heat, the leftovers were left to fend for themselves. The result was the world's first 16-team conference. And, maybe after one more season, the last. Sixteen is too many. Heck, 12 is too many, if you ask me. No one did. The perfect number for a variety of reasons is eight..It makes for a perfect 14-game basketball round-robin and a seven-game conference football season in which every team plays every other team each season, and Oklahoma plays Nebraska every year. Having a certain affinity for schools that get dumped on, an empathy that dates to high school consolidation in another lifetime, I believe something should be done for those Texas schools that are adrift for the second time in four years. Why not invite them to join the Big 12? Think about it. The conference already has a pronounced Texas 'flavor. What's another three or four Lone Star schools going to ;hurt, even if Billy Tubbs works for one of them? We could invite TCU, SMU, Rice and Texas-El Paso into the Big 12 family. That would bring the membership to 16. Too big? No question. So we'd have to divide it into divisions. Let's say East and West. Nope, that doesn't work. Try North and South. Or North and Southwest. Just for kicks, put eight teams — let's say KU, K-State, Nebraska, Missouri, Iowa State, Colorado, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State — in the North. The Southwest, naturally, would consist of the eight Texas schools. Obviously, this format would mean the end of the Big 12 as we know it, but would anyone miss it? Didn't think so. I'm not sure why, but I think this eight-team thing has a chance to work. Maybe eight was enough all along. Bulls take Pacers in Game 7 Chicago keeps alive quest for sixth title, faces Utah in Finals By CHRIS SHERIDAN The Associated Press CHICAGO — This was not the expiration date for the Chicago Bulls. Their dynasty has survived to see another series. The Bulls made it back to the NBA Finals on Sunday night and kept alive their quest for a sixth championship by outlasting the Indiana Pacers 88-83 in a riveting Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals. In a tight, back-and-forth game that culminated two weeks of struggle and drama, the Bulls used their ability to excel in pressure situations to overcome the Pacers' determination and grit. "We came out a little tense, a little nervous, but came back in the ballgame and we knew we were in a fight," Chicago's Michael Jordan said. "A lot of people say we sit back and wait for me but today everybody had to step forward and do it. Steve Kerr and Luc (Longley) and (Toni) Kukoc stepped up and did it." It all came down to the final five minutes, and Jordan and his teammates displayed intensity and con- trol as they came up with all the clutch plays. The Bulls scored .nine of the game's final 13 points and watched the Pacers fail to find ways to match them as they moved on to a date with the Utah Jazz begin- Pacers 83 ning Wednesday BU " 8 88 "Utah is back there waiting for us and they have the homecourt and it'll be even tougher," Jordan said. "A day off will gives us a chance to clear our minds and focus." Chicago will be playing for its sixth championship this decade, and perhaps to somehow keep their dynasty intact — quite an ac- complishment for a team that was greeted on its home court Sunday by a mood of desperation and finality. In this city where fans have become spoiled by the routineness of titles and the greatness of Jordan, there was a strange feeling surrounding this game. Could this really be the end of the run, the "Last Dance" as coach Phil Jackson keeps calling it? It might have been, if not for the way Chicago played at the end. The game was tied 79-79 going into the final five minutes, and that's when the Bulls showed exactly how valuable five years of championship run experience can be. Scottie Pippen scored on a T GOLF: SALINE COUNTY FOUR BALL Threepeat Vandegrift, Brown come from behind to capture third straight Four Ball By LARRY MORITZ The Salina Journal Don Vandegrift and Steve Brown can't do anything to stop the aging process. Winning, on the other hand, never gets old. A remarkable finish over the final four holes Sunday at Elks Country Club enabled Vandegrift and Brown to earn their third consecutive Saline County Four Ball title, closing with a final round of 3-under par 68 and a three-day total of 205. "This is as much fun now as it's ever been," Brown said. "I feel very fortunate to come back and still have success. We win for the third year in a row and we've already started thinking about a fourth. That's what makes 40-year-old men still high-five." Vandegrift-Brown join Marty Simpson and Gary Denning as the only teammates in the 33-year history of the tournament to win three consecutive titles. They started the final round three strokes out of first place, and finished with a one-stroke advantage over the teams of Bob Vidricksen-Tyler Alt and Daran Neuschafer-Sean Robertson. Vandegrift's birdie on No. 18 — a 433-yard, par 4 and the toughest handicap hole on the course — avoided what would have been a three-way tie for first. That was fine with the champions, after winning their last two Four Ball titles in extra-hole playoffs. "We really didn't want to go to another playoff," Vandegrift said. "Our luck was about ready to run out." Things didn't look good for the defending champions when they made the turn trailing Vidricksen and Alt by four strokes. Vandegrift-Brown had only one birdie and two bogeys through their first nine holes, "We just couldn't get it going," Vandegrift said. "We came to the turn at 1-over and we decided to go See GOLF, Page B3 KELLY PRESNELL/The Salina Journal Bob Vidricksen watches the drive of his teammate Tyler Alt on the seventh hole of the Elks Country Club on Sunday. The two finished tied for second. T PRO FOOTBALL Report: Elway to return for another year By The Associated Press DENVER — John Elway, who has kept coaches, teammates and fans guessing about his future, has decided to return for a 16th season with the Denver Broncos, a radio station reported Sunday. KOA talk show hosts Dave Logan and Scott Hastings said they have confirmed the quarterback will play for one more year. They said Elway will announce the decision at a news conference on Tuesday. Broncos spokesman Paul Kirk said he could not confirm the Denver radio station's report and that no news conference had been scheduled. Elway, who turns 38 on June 28, has been debating his future since the Broncos won their first Super Bowl in January. ELWAY On Friday, he told reporters at the John Elway Classic golf tournament that he had not made a decision yet, but was leaning toward retirement. Elway also said his right shoulder is recovering well from surgery in February, six months after he ruptured a biceps tendon during a preseason game. In 15 seasons, Elway has guided his team to 138 victories, more than any other quarterback in NFL history. He has thrown for 48,669 yards and accounted for 51,982 total yards, second only to Miami's Dan Marino in NFL history. Elway is the only player ever to pass for 3,000 yards and rush for 200 yards in seven straight seasons (1985-91). Famous for late-game comebacks, he has rallied his team to 44 game-saving drives in his career, the most of any quarterback. He has been named to eight Pro Bowls and was the NFL's MVP in 1987. jumper after grabbing one of Chicago's 22 offensive rebounds, and Jordan drew a double-team and fed Luc Longley for a corner jumper while the Pacers were committing three turnovers and missing a shot. A putback by Antonio Davis made it 85-83 with 2:12 left, but Pippen came right back with a running hook shot with 1:59 left — although he missed a chance to convert a three-point play. Mark Jackson threw away a pass on Indiana's next possession. The Bulls would miss their next two shots, running the clock inside of 30 seconds as they retained possession with another offensive rebound. T MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL Damon fuels KG in victory By STEVE BRISENDINE The Associated Press KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Johnny Damon homered and extended his career-best hitting streak to 12 games in Kansas City's 10-4 victory over Oakland on Sunday. However, his biggest contribution may have come on the basepaths. While running to third on Jose Offerman's seventh-inning single, Damon tried to get in the way of Ryan Christenson's throw from center field. The ball hit Damon in the backside and went yjj , f into the fSB *** ' * dugout, allow- KM Athletlcs 4 ing him to JfopS Royals 10 score the go- ahead run during a seven-run rally by the Royals. "I wanted to make sure I got in the line of the ball, so if it was a close play it could hit off me," Damon said. "In our situation, we need to take gambles, and this one paid off." The Royals had a season-high 16 hits, including at least one by all their starters. Their eight hits off five Oakland pitchers in the seventh — when Terry Pendleton and Mike Sweeney each had two hits — also were a season high. Sweeney had the Royals' first and last RBIs in the seventh, doubling in Pendleton to cut Oakland's lead to 4-3 and driving in Jermaine Dye with a two-out single to make it 9-4. In between, Jeff King hit an RBI double and Dean Palmer made it 8-4 with a two-run homer. "We just let it get away from us," Oakland manager Art Howe said. "They got a break with the ball hitting the runner and going into the dugout, and it just snowballed from there." The rally gave Tim Belcher (4-6) his third win in his last four starts, even though he gave up nine hits in eight innings, including four doubles. "I've always told my teammates throughout my career that I've never lost (with 10-run support)," Belcher said. "So I continued that streak." Belcher, who struck out four and didn't walk a batter, left after throwing 121 pitches. "He'd thrown a lot of pitches, but we were able to let him go. He's a horse, there's no question about it," Royals manager Tony Muser. HIGH SCHOOL STATE SOFTBALL Sacred Heart savors first state softball championship By HAROLD BECHARD The Salina Journal EMPORIA — Before the Class 2- 1A state softball tournament started, Sacred Heart coach Barry Fritz said the Knights would have to out- hit their opponents to be successful. The Knights (17-5) did just that, outhitting their three opponents, 24-15, to win the school's first softball championship Saturday at Trusler Sports Complex. But pitching and defense were also big factors in the school's first girls team championship since the . Class 3A volleyball title in 1979. Sacred Heart scored 22 runs in victories over Oswego (5-4), Elkhart (11-1) and Rossville (6-3) and made three fewer errors while allowing just eight runs. Good hitting may have gotten Sa- cred Heart to the state tournament — the Knights scored 10 or more runs in 11 games this season — but pitching and defense won it for them. Sacred Heart's three opponents had a .203 batting average against freshman Elizabeth Wagoner and sophomore Kellen Ratcliff. Wagoner (7-2) went the distance in tense wins over Oswego and Rpssville, while Ratcliff (8-2) allowed just two hits in a semifinal victory over Elkhart. Anchoring the defense was shortstop Anne Weese, who made several big plays in the tournament. In the Oswego game, with runners on second and third, she went into the hole, hobbled the ball and still threw out a runner to end the sixth inning with her team protecting a one-run lead. Although just a sophomore, Weese is one of the veterans on the team. "I don't think anyone thought about how young we were," Weese said. "I just wanted to get past that first game (against Oswego) and see what.happened." The final out of the title game was a pop-up to Wagoner with a Rossville runner on first. "My heart stopped for a little bit," Weese said. "I didn't think we had it won until she caught the last out. It felt great. For a moment, I couldn't believe it happened." • BALANCED ATTACK — The bottom of the batting order came through for the Knights, who started one senior, one junior, three sophomores and six freshmen in Saturday's two games. Sophomore second-baseman April Earley was 6 for 8 with three runs scored, while freshman designated hitter Laura Leiker was 5 for 9 with two runs batted in. "We just have a lineup full of hitters," Fritz said. "And the girls at the bottom of the order came up big for us." Sarah Weese, Anne Weese and Courtney Ash each had three hits in the tournament as the Knights batted .313 as a team. • CHAMPIONSHIP BANNER — Before Saturday's championship game, Fritz was asked by one of his players if they put state runner-up banners on the wall in Sacred Heart's gym. The Knights coach informed his team the only banners that adorn the wall in the SHHS gym are those that honor state championship teams. "This one is also for all those girls who took second (1994) and third ('95) in the state tournament a few years ago," Fritz said. "Sacred Heart softball wouldn't have been able to do this without them." • STORY LINE — Fritz said his freshman battery of pitcher Elizabeth Wagoner and catcher Bree Oxandale wrote a fictitious newspaper column recently on how they were going to win state. "Now, I'm going to have to go back and read it to see how close they came," Fritz said with a smile. • YOUTH IS SERVED — Sacred Heart wasn't the only young team at the state tournament. In fact, just one school (Udall) had more than two seniors on its roster and only two others (Inman and Elk Valley) had more than four juniors. SUGGESTIONS? CALL BOB DAVIDSON, SPORTS EDITOR, AT (785) 823-6363 OR 1-800-827-6363 OR E-MAIL AT sjbdav!dson@sal]ournal.com

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