Archive for April, 2010

Fight Week: Pavlik vs Martinez, What Kelly Is Saying

Kelly Pavlik was very recently interviewed about his upcoming fight with Sergio Martinez.  Thanks to Team Pavlik for the above interview.  Pavlik definitely gives Martinez his props and shows alot of respect.  Having spoken with Pavlik this past weekend, I noticed alot of pep in his step and sensed that he just seems to be enjoying what it is he does. 

Jack Loew claims that The Ghost is heading into the nationally televised fight in the best shape he could be in.  Pavlik seems confident and happy, like he is in a good place right now.  Based on his good attitude and the positive feedback I have received from just about everyone I have spoken to on the inside, Pavlik will look sharp.  Expect a good showing.

As stated here in earlier articles, this fight can be a springboard to so many other options if Pavlik looks dominant.  When the fight was signed, everyone rambled on about how bad Kelly would be beaten because he didn’t care about the sport anymore.  The facts are that the medication he had to take for a dangerous staph infection is no longer needed, the hand is 100% for the first time in over a year, and showing up in shape before training camp started would all signify a  hunger to remain the champ. 

I love being the guy on the internet who defends Pavlik, because the “boxing experts” keep picking him to lose, dating back to Pavlik-Taylor I, and have been wrong all but once.  Again, my money is on the champ.

I am heading to Atlantic City to cover the fight and will be doing stories all week long leading up to Saturday night.

Bodies Fly As Pro Bull Riding Visits Youngstown

As I approached the Covelli Centre to check out the bull riding event, I saw a whole demographic of people who probably do not head into town much.  The men were wearing cowboy hats and boots, the women were wearing flannels, and anyone not wearing blue jeans stood out like dandelions in a well-manicured yard. 

Not sure what to expect, I headed in and first noticed that the usually pleasant-scented venue smelled like the Canfield Fair, where people pet a pig on their way to grab a sausage sandwich.

Over the course of the next few hours, I gained admiration for the men who were courageous enough to mount bulls, I learned how someone wins, and I talked with several polite people with the PBR who saw past my ignorance of their craft with a pleasant and insightful demeanor.

The crowd of close to 3,000 was larger than I thought it would be.  Robbie Hodges (above) served as the announcer/comedian in his self-proclaimed title of barrel clown.  Hodges had one of those hands-free Janet Jackson headsets on and was very active.  Hodges main job is to serve as the space filler between rides by telling jokes, dancing, jumping around, and basically doing whatever it takes to keep the audience going.

Jimmy Brownlee, of Cocoa, FL, tours with the PBR and serves as a judge.  I asked him to explain how and what the participants win.  “We mark the rides on a scale of 1-25 on the animal and 1-25 on the ride.  You have to ride at least eight seconds to get a scoreWe also look at the degree of difficulty on the bull with bucking, kicking, and spinning.  The guys can win money and a prestigious belt buckle if they are crowned the winner.”

OK, so far so good.  The guy on the horse in the above photo has the responsibility of roping a bull once the rider has been thrown.  He was pretty accurate from the distances he was heaving the lasso and I only saw him miss once all night.  Once the bull is roped successfully, it is led back to the storage cages behind the start chutes.

Once the rider is mounted in the start chute, the gate is pulled open and the bull basically starts a very unpredictable series of movements.  Many of the riders were thrown into the air and have no choice but to take the hard landing.  The way a ride ends, good or bad, is by being thrown from the bull, so the poor guy who only lasted three seconds and the rider who can survive for ten seconds realize the same fate in the end, and knowing how to fall and dodge is a key to lasting in the sport.

Besides Hodges, there are two other clowns who try to get the attention of the bull after the rider has been tossed.  In my opinion, these two guys had the riskiest job in the building.  They had to deal with every bull on every ride

How fast would you move? 

All-in-all, the crowd seemed pleased and enjoyed the efforts that the PBR Show brought to Youngstown.  If you ever get a chance to take your family to something different than a movie and dinner, throw this event on the list, you will not be disappointed.  Kasy Hays was crowned the winner of the ‘final round of ten’.  Afterwards, an autograph table was set up in the concourse where fans lined up to meet their favorite PBR personalities.


Guest Coaches Add Celebrity Twist To Spring Game

To sit there and watch World Middleweight Boxing Champion Kelly Pavlik and U.S. Congressman Tim Ryan look over a sheet with defensive schemes and offensive formations was just scary.  Pavlik and Ryan served as honorary coaches for the Red team in Saturday’s Spring Football Game at Stambaugh Stadium.

Youngstown Mayor Jay Williams (pictured) and State Senator Joe Schiavoni served as the honorary coaches for the White team.  Williams and I shared some good conversation on the elevator.  Amongst the topics were the rust working itself out of his golf game and what a beautiful day we had for the Spring game.

New YSU President Appointee, Dr. Cynthia E. Anderson, was also on the sidelines and having a good time.  I asked her how she could be an honorary coach and not be wearing headphones or instructing players.  Dr. Anderson laughed and replied, “I am much better at cheering and clapping and being happy.  I know nothing, so I am just going to stand here and be happy.  Seriously though, I think this is wonderful.  We have perfect weather and the school spirit is on display here today.  There is going to be alot of excitement here this year and we will have alot of people coming out.”

Former State Senator Harry Meshel was on hand to show his support for the program.  “The crowd is exhilleratedWolf brings alot to the coaching situation, you can see it in the ballplayers, even the ones who are a little shorter.  The guy [Wolford] has so much spirit, and we just have to keep making this game bigger every time we do it.”

At one point in the second half when the Red scored a touchdown, someone from Team Pavlik shouted out, “Nice call Kelly!”  Pavlik turned back with a keen smirk nodding his head saying, “Yeah, it was nice, wasn’t it.” 

A couple of moments later the chants of ‘Kelly-Kelly-Kelly’ started in the lower bleachers to which Pavlik turned, smiled, and tipped his cap to the fans.  The only other chant even close was a ‘Wolford-Wolford-Wolford’ chant that went up in the first half.

Youngstown State Spring Game Provides Highlights

New YSU Coach Eric Wolford advised all to circle the annual Red-White Spring game on their calenders.  He promised at halftime of the home basketball game against Butler that there would be tailgating for the first time ever as a way to hype things up and a way for the community to enjoy fellowship and networking.  Wolford had to be happy with the upgrade from Spring games past as the Red got by the White, 48-20, in front of well over 2,000 fans.

The way the game was set up, the Red team were the “ones“, or first teamers.  The White team were the “twos“, or second teamers.  According to Wolford, no one was guaranteed anything, so with a strong showing against the Red team, any member of the White team could be promoted to starter status.

The two big questions coming into the game remained unanswered.  Marc Kanetsky and Kurt Hess (above) both had good showings at QB as they alternated series with both offenses.  Kanetsky finished the day 20-32 for 213 yards and a TD, he also ran one in from two yards out.  Hess was 26-33 for 350 yards and 3 TD.  Statistically, the edge goes to Hess, but Kanetsky did a better job leading drives that resulted in scores.  Hess was critical of himself afterwards.  “There were some reads that I made not as fast as I would have liked to, but getting the ball to the receivers we have so they can do the things they do worked out well for me today.”

The other unanswered question was will the special teams be a drawback as they were last year?  There were two field goals attempted, one by starter Stephen Blose, that were missed.  Blose also missed an extra point attempt while succeeding six times.  There were a couple of mishandled punts that rolled around on the turf.  The blocking on punts was not full contact, so that was an untested commodity.  Special Teams will win or lose a team games and Wolford knows how important they become when in a close one.

The factors that were expected to click did not disappoint.  Dominique Barnes caught 10 passes for 174 yards and two TDs.  Both of Barnes’ touchdowns (27 and 35 yards) came from Hess passes.  Jelani Berassa stepped it up catching 8 balls for 107 yards and a touchdown. 

In the rushing department, Torrian Pace (above, being served water by injured Torrance Nicholson) ran hard and got 13 carries for 109 yards and a pair of scores.  Jamaine Cook (pictured below) got 14 touches for 48 yards.  Dan Banna, the younger brother of Red team FB Kyle Banna, had 10 carries for 93 yards to lead the White team.  Dan Banna commented on what it was like to play against a team his brother was on fo the first time ever.  “We are always competing, but usually on the same side.  Today you got to see which Banna was better,” remarked the younger Dan as brother Kyle laughed.

Pace praised the offensive line and gave his thoughts on what will happen at quarterback.  “The O-line did a great job and it all works because of them.  Both of the quarterbacks played well and it is in the coaches hands.  I have faith in both of them and trust whoever I am lined up behind on the field.  I think they can both play”

After the game, Coach Wolford commented on the positives.  “I’m excited by the great turnout today.  I was happy with things I saw on both sides of the ball and you really have to credit the White for playing very competitively.  We are now entering the most important phase of the year, our Summer program.  As coaches, you cannot monitor the players but it is a time when you can make the biggest gains or losses and we need to make alot of gains.”

A man of his word, Wolford and members his staff went through the tailgate lot visiting the fans who came out in celebration of YSU Football.  “It was good to see.  This community is ready to change and we are all going to work together to do positive things.”

Hazimihalis Focused On Performing In Atlantic City

In December, another professional boxer from the Mahoning Valley with promise debuted.  Chris Hazimihalis couldn’t ask for more that night.  He was launching his pro boxing career on the undercard of a pay-per-view fight, his family and friends could all come to root him on, and the partisan crowd would surely give him the additional adrenaline he would need to reign victorius.

Hazimihalis got by Norman Allen with a third-round TKO.  It took him a couple of rounds to work the nerves out, but once the stagefright disappeared, Christo Hazimihalis was able to methodically pick apart his opponent, showing the promise and instincts needed to succeed in this profession.

On April 17th, Hazimihalis gets back into the ring to continue his climb.  This time he will be facing Philadelphia’s Ramon AllenJack Loew, who is training Hazimihalis, has studied the tapes on Allen.  “He is very durable and will push Chris to go more rounds and we want that.”

Loew also complimented Hazimihalis on his preparation.  “Chris is a workoholic, he has a very good training regimen, is gifted with natural ability, and puts his time in at the gym.”

Hazimihalis, who greeted me and wanted to squeeze in one more lap before the brief interview,  also credited other sports in developing aspects of his boxing strengths.  “I played alot of soccer which helped me out with my footwork in the ring.” 

Hazimihalis respects what he saw of his next opponent on film.  “He [Ellis] has a good chin and can take a punch.  He is always coming forward and seems to be in really good shape.  I need to make sure I throw some good combinations.”

With Easter ending the fasting period, Hazimihalis is back to his regular diet.  “I was away from my normal diet while I fasted through Lent.  I ate good Easter Sunday and have resumed my normal diet, so the weight is coming off pretty good.”

Two Pavlik fights in a row, Hazimihalis has been on the undercard.  “I have been trying to get a fight for the past few months.  We had something scheduled for February 19th, but it fell through.  Then on March 19th, I was supposed to get another fight and the show got cancelled.  I guess I am just lucky that Jack [Loew] is my trainer and he also happens to train the middleweight champion of the world.  I’m grateful that I get the opportunity to fight on that kind of show and I need to make the most of my opportunities.”

Before parting ways, Hazimihalis informed me that he was going to run up the First Street Hill in Campbell.  It is a pretty steep incline, and his legs will get a good burn.  “Somebody over there has pit bulls”, said Hazimihalis.  Fearlessly, he and family members went knowing there was still more to do.

Pavlik Closing In On Weight

Kelly Pavlik is working hard, perhaps harder than he ever has, to make weight for his April 17 fight with Sergio Martinez.  The fight, which will be televised live on HBO, is Pavlik’s biggest test since Bernard Hopkins and will either thrust ‘The Ghost’ back into the national boxing spotlight or bury the champ in mediocrity.  Top Rank Promotions and Bob Arum are handling the specifics, so all is well in that department.

Jack Loew, Pavlik’s trainer, spoke about the magnitude this fight holds for Pavlik.  “This is the most important fight of Kelly’s career.  Last year was a tough year for us and Kelly had a hard time keeping his focus.  Staph infection, fights being cancelled, even the medicine he had to take affected his performances and capabilities.  He is really focused right now and stronger than ever.”

Loew, when asked about the weight Pavlik has to lose, did not see any problems.  “He is right where he usually is at this point of training camp, right around 169 or 170.  The difference is the muscle from all of his hard work and preparation coming into camp in shape.  It’s a tough situation, but it always is.”

Should Pavlik win convincingly, bigger doors should open.  Sergio Mora just won his fight on the Jones-Hopkins undercard.  Arthur Abraham and Paul Williams would also draw a big gate. 

Sergio Martinez (44-2-2) will not be a pushover.  Martinez just took Paul Williams to his limits and lost a very controversial decision.  For all who say Pavlik ducked Williams, let this fight be a measuring stick of a common opponent that will yield answers in the comparison.

Enough Sweet Caroline Already

I respect the work of the great Neil Diamond.  He was already a legend in the 1970’s and kept gaining popularity.  He is what every artist wishes to be, both authentic and original.  The best compliment you can pay to any singer is that he has his own sound.  Kudos Neil Diamond, nothing but respect.

Sweet Caroline is one of the big Diamond tunes.  It’s a catchy song with a cool melody and has one of those easy to sing with tones.  The song was released in 1969 and I can still remember the hit from my elementary school days.  The origin of Sweet Caroline came from Diamond’s affection for Caroline Kennedy after seeing her in an equestrian outfit on the cover of Life Magazine.  He wrote and composed the song in about an hour in a Memphis hotel room.

I am confused, however, on when Sweet Caroline became a sports anthem.  There is no mention of sport whatsoever in the song about a girl named Caroline.  Maybe Caroline was a good right fielder in the forties when Diamond was growing up.  So good they called her Sweet Caroline.  Maybe not.

I can accept that maybe in the Carolinas, the song would be better understood as a timeout filler and the kids could go nuts.  Is it that big of a deal to go Ba-Ba-Ba while shaking your arm in the air three times?  I am lost on this whole movement.

Maybe Neil Diamond can issue his whole catalog to sports usage.  Here are some examples of better suited songs and where they might be used.

  •  He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother – WWE’s Mark Henry can use this as his new entrance song.
  • Song Sung Blue – Even sounds like Sweet Caroline a bit if you lift the lyrics.  Duke could use it.
  • You Don’t Bring Me Flowers – Would be a heck of a backround song while showing Tiger Woods putting in slow motion to promote the Masters.

I could go on and on.  The Mets, Red Sox, New York Rangers, Boston College, and Pitt are all using the song.  Diamond performed it live at the Red Sox home opener against the Yankees Sunday night.  Mitch Miller would have been proud, but Simon Cowell would have ribbed Diamond and said his performance was pitchy and self-indulgent.

Phantoms Season Ends With 4-1 Loss To Cedar Rapids

The inaugural season of the Youngstown Phantoms USHL membership came to a close on Saturday.  The Phantoms came out on the short end of the stick, losing to Cedar Rapids, 4-1.  Cedar Rapids is a strong team already locked in as a #2 seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.  The Phantoms played hard and have nothing to be ashamed of in losing to the Roughriders (38-19-3).  In fact, I am sure Cedar Rapids is happy to be leaving Youngstown.

The first period did not produce a score for either team and the Roughriders outshot the Phantoms 11-5.  Both teams had powerplay opportunities, but the man advantage would yield no goals either way.  Hits were plentiful and the refs were busy in a physical game picking up right where it left off Friday night.

At the 8:10 mark of the second period, the Roughriders took a 1-0 lead.  Michael Parks knocked in the puck to record his 11th score of the season.  Derek DeBlois recorded an assist on the only even-strength goal of the night.

Stu Wilson, who scored his second goal of the year on Friday, connected again Saturday.  Wilson’s goal was assisted by Thomas Fallen and helped the Roughriders capitalize on the two-man advantage powerplay chance.  Tibbett could not have done much to stop this goal as he was shielded and leaning the wrong way when Wilson let it rip.

With just 14 seconds elapsed on the goal that made it 2-0 in favor of the visitors, Cedar Rapids connected again to increase their lead to 3-0.   Max Bennett tallied at the 12:32 mark from close range.  The Roughriders were still on a powerplay, it just turned into a one-man advantage after the Wilson goal.

Jordan Tibbett stepped up and made a diving save, perhaps the save of the year, for the Phantoms.  Tibbett was blocked away by a crease camper and picked up on a flying puck coming his way.  The reaction to dive across the crease to glove the biscuit and rob Jeff Costello was brilliant.

Ty Loney, in his 17th game for the Phantoms, cut the Cedar Rapids lead to 3-1 with 3:25 left in a busy second period.  Dylan Margonari and Nick Czinder picked up assists on the Phantoms powerplay goal.

Cedar Rapids held the attacking Phantoms at bay in the final period.  Bryce Aneloski dumped an empty-netter in with ten seconds remaining in the contest to close out the scoring and insure a 4-1 victory for the playoff-bound Roughriders.

After the game, Phantoms Coach Curt Carr reflected on the team’s strong finish.  “We will be getting alot of these guys back next year, and these last ten games have shown people what they are capable of.  I would give them a grade of B+ over that span.”

The Phantoms finished the season with a 20-36-4 record.  After the game, which was donned “Fan Appreciation Night“, a jersey auction was held.  As I shook hands with many of the players, some of which will return to Youngstown next season, I realized how it is possible to take young men from all walks of life and geographically distant locations and assimilate their focus to a common goal. 

Some, like Jefferson Dahl, will play college hockey next season and will not be back.  Dahl enjoyed Youngstown and reflected on the up-and-down season.  “It is looking pretty positive here for next season.  There is a real good core of guys who will be back next year and there are some leaders, they will do some damage.”  Dahl is off to Wisconsin to continue playing hockey while he attends college.

Over a six month stretch, I was never bored at a Phantoms game, not once.  The staff and management worked hard to provide wholesome family entertainment.  The one complaint was that the attendance was not what I envisioned.  Dollar beer night at a Scrappers game packs the house.  At a Phantoms ‘bargain beer night’, attendance numbers stayed steady but never exploded.  With a beautiful facility to play in, I would only hope for increased attendance next season. 

With that being said, thank you to the Zoldans for the access and hospitality.  Thank you Bob Mainhardt for all of the great quotes and insight on what to expect at his level.  Thank you Curt Carr and good luck with the baby.  Thank you Matt Gajtka for being the ultimate professional and a friend at all times.  Thank you Richard Young for reminding me that there are consequences when you go on tilt.  A big thank you to all of the players and the very best wishes as you pursue your dream.

YSU Announces Four Players To Leave Men’s Basketball Team

The YSU Men’s Basketball Team is doing it’s best to bolster the confidence of the women’s program.  Having lost five to graduation, the Penguins are now without four underclassmen who were expected to be big pieces in the 2010-11 puzzle. 

Juniors Vance Cooksey and Tom Parks and freshmen Eddie D’Haiti and Lamar McKnight have informed the program that they will not return next season.  No explanations were given as to why the foursome have walked away.

Cooksey and D’Haiti both played adequately this season.  Cooksey started 10 games, but more  importantly, would have been the sparkplug next season.  D’Haiti was more of a physical work in progress.  He played, but very sparingly, and admitted himself that he needed to get stronger to compete at this level.

Parks broke his ankle in December in a snow-related accident and missed all but 11 games.  McKnight redshirted and did not play at all.

This leaves six players, ala YSU Women circa 2010, and that experiment did not yield any wins.  Ashen Ward, Vytas Sulskis, and Dan Boudler are the only three carryovers with any true playing experience for Youngstown State.  Andy Timko (above) appeared in three games, and Sheldon Brogdon and Damian Eargle never saw the court this season.  Fletcher Larson and Kendrick Perry are incoming recruits who have committed.  Aaron Anderson is another potential recruit who is close to signing with the Penguins.

Coach Jerry Slocum has not talked on the matters as of yet.

*** Thanks to for updating a mistake that I printed.  Aaron Anderson signed with North Dakota, not YSU.

UIC Battles Back To Steal One From Youngstown State, 9-7

Youngstown State could not hold a 5-0 lead after six innings as UIC rallied to post a 9-7 Horizon League win at Eastwood Field on Saturday afternoon.  The bullpen for the Penguins surrendered three home runs over the last three innings, which were the difference in the game.

Sean McDermott, a coach for UIC got tossed in the fifth for calling out the umpires one too many times.  McDermott (below) shouted a host of expletives toward home plate umpire, Paul Lancaster, about the inconsistent strike zone and displeasure toward a called third strike to end an inning for the Flames.

YSU starter, Phil Klein, flirted with danger in his six plus innings loading the bases twice before eventually escaping unharmed.  Klein surrendered five hits over six innings before allowing the leadoff man to reach base in the seventh inning.  Bill Turosky was called in from the bullpen to relieve Klein.  Turosky struck out one batter but allowed the bases to get full yet again. 

Kevin McCulloh was next to pitch for the Penguins.  McCulloh struck out the first batter he faced.  With the bases loaded and two outs, UIC used their biggest weapon, Chris Rutta, to make a pinch-hitting appearance.  Rutta, on an 0-2 pitch, launched a bomb deep into left field which tied the game at 5-5.

Still tied at five runs apiece in the eighth, UIC had Steve McGuigan standing on second base with one out.  On a ball hit to the warning track in right, McGuigan got greedy and tried to score from second but was thrown out at the plate.

Jeremy Banks, who was 3-4 with three RBI’s for Youngstown State, started the bottom of the eighth with a single.  Joe Iacobucci was next, and he also singled moving Banks to third with nobody out.  Anthony Porter then slapped an outside pitch to left which appeared to be trapped.  The umpires ruled it a catch and it ended up being a double play.  Despite the shoddy umpiring, Jacke Healey scored from third to give the Penguins a 6-5 lead.

Alex Oles came into the game to pitch the ninth for YSU.  After getting the leadoff man to ground out, everything fell apart.  Penguins RF Tom Clayton slipped in pursuit of a high fly ball which ended up being a gift triple for UIC’s John Rosinski.  The next batter, Joe Betcher, homered to left-ceneter staking UIC to a 7-6 lead.

Trent Wood was called out of the Penguin bullpen to try and douse the flames and give YSU a realistic chance in the bottom of the ninth inning.  UIC catcher, Ryan Meehan, took Wood’s very first pitch out of the park.  When the top of the ninth ended, YSU trailed 9-6.

Freshman Zac McFarland hit his first career home run for Youngstown State to pull the Penguins to 9-7, but that is where the scoring ended.  YSU dropped to 11-12 (3-2, HL) and UIC improved to 7-15 (3-2, HL).  The teams won a game apiece in the three-game set. 

IMG_6132  IMG_6133

IMG_6134  IMG_6135

For Klein (above), who was effective for 2/3 of the game, the result had to be a disappointing no-decision.