03/31/15 The Heater
PORT CHARLOTTE — SS Daniel Robertson, the prized prospect acquired from Oakland in the Ben Zobrist deal, had already made a good impression on Rays officials during his short stint in camp.
Called back for a one-day cameo Tuesday, the just-turned 21-year-old made an even better one, hitting a pair of home runs in the 11-8 loss to the Red Sox.
"Robertson, wow," manager Kevin Cash said. "It's impressive. You definitely have to credit our scouting department, (baseball operations president) Matt (Silverman) and his group. He's fun to watch. An exciting player....
TAMPA — USF rising junior quarterback Mike White, who started 15 career games but appeared to lose ground in this spring's competition for the starting job, has been granted his release to transfer.
"Mike and I talked after the conclusion of spring practice and he expressed his desire to pursue the remainder of his career at another school," Bulls coach Willie Taggart said in a USF news release....
To this point, that unmistakable ping of leather-bound ball meeting aluminum bat has been drowned out by various incarnations of March Madness on USF's campus.
But it's there, and in college baseball circles, it's resonating.
With women's hoops competing for high stakes and football installing a higher tempo, the Bulls baseball team (20-9-1, 3-0 American Athletic Conference) has quietly enjoyed a resurgence under first-year coach Mark Kingston....
USF rising junior QB Mike White, who started 15 career games but appeared to lose ground in this spring's competition for the starting job, has been granted his release.
"Mike and I talked after the conclusion of spring practice and he expressed his desire to pursue the remainder of his career at another school," Bulls coach Willie Taggart said in a USF news release.
“We wish Mike all the best in his future and thank him for his contributions to our program and university.”...
A week after the USF women's basketball team's historic season ended, Coach Jose Fernandez appears to have replenished the long-range proficiency that exited his roster.
Kitija Laksa, a 6-foot wing player from Latvia, has committed to USF and is expected to sign when the NCAA's spring signing period begins April 15. A member of her country's senior women's national team, Laksa, 18, is averaging 9.1 points and 2.2 rebounds for the TTT Riga basketball club.
TTT Riga (20-1) is competing this week in the final four of its Latvian league playoffs.
If she signs, Laksa will become the sixth European player on Fernandez's roster. She's expected to fill the void created by the departure of perimeter sharpshooter Tamara Taylor (team-best 58 3-pointers), the only senior among the 15 Bulls who suited up for their two recent NCAA Tournament games....
In the wake of their respective on-campus home-run derbies, USF grand-slam extraordinaires Buddy Putnam and Karla Claudio have been named American Athletic Conference Player of the Week for baseball and softball, respectively.
Putnam also was named Louisville Slugger National Player of the Week by Collegiate Baseball, becoming the first player in program history to earn a national weekly honor....
With Tampa set to host the women's Final Four, we offer a week's worth of vignettes on past tournaments:
The winningest NCAA basketball coach ever also may have been its most superstitious. Seems Pat Summitt never met a quirky, irrational custom she didn't like.
Except one. Try to follow along.
Down the stretch of the 1989 season, Summitt and two of her Tennessee assistants — Holly Warlick and Mickie DeMoss — had become enslaved to both routine and preposterous notion alike. An outfit worn during a loss was discarded; a certain shade of lipstick worn during a big victory was purchased in bulk supply....
It generated the most hype, attracted the largest audience and spawned the most conversation among its fan base. Football does that to folks in these parts.
But compared to USF's other sports performances Saturday, the Bulls' spring intrasquad game ranked fourth -- a distant fourth -- in the school's pecking order.
When the baseball team capped its 11-inning, 4-3 victory against Cincinnati on Andres Leal's walk-off double around 9:30 p.m., USF capped one of its most prosperous spring days in recent memory.
* The men's and women's track teams combined for 212 points, more than any of the other 10 squads, at the UCF Invitational in Orlando. Separately, both Bulls teams placed second.
Five Bulls athletes won individual titles including Riverview High alumnus Michael Babinec (men's three-kilometer steeplechase). Former Mitchell High star Kelli Williams ran the seventh-fastest 1,500-meter time in USF history (4:28.45) and Wharton alumnus Abby Ritter ran the fifth-fastest women's 800 (2:12.33).
* At the USF Softball Stadium, senior Karla Claudio crammed a career into a doubleheader, finishing with three home runs -- including a walk-off in the second game -- as the Bulls (30-10, 2-2 American Athletic Conference) swept Tulsa.
Claudio, who smashed the first pitch she saw from Golden Hurricane pitcher Caitlin Sill over the left field fence, completed USF's rally from a five-run deficit for a 7-6 triumph.
It still might not have upstaged her Game One effort, when her grand slam capped a Bullls six-run rally in the seventh to force extra innings. Senior D'Anna Devine followed with a one-out single that scored Astin Donovan in the 10th, lifting USF to an 8-7 victory.
For the day, Claudio finished 3-for-7 with nine RBIs.
"We like to win," Claudio told USF's athletics website. "Coach (Ken Eriksen) gave me the opportunity to hit today and I didn’t want to let my team down.”
* Leal's double down the right field line, following singles by Luke Maglich and Daniel Portales, propelled the baseball team (19-8-1, 2-0 AAC) to its 13th win in its last 15 games.
TAMPA — Based on the various perspectives of the 3,255 observers at USF's spring intrasquad game, Saturday's proceedings — a 10-9 Green triumph — provided either a wince-inducing reminder of last fall, or a positive harbinger for the next one.
On a crisp, windy afternoon, the offenses combined for three times as many interceptions (three) as touchdowns and stymied themselves with false starts as their new high-tempo approach got trumped by first-year defensive coordinator Tom Allen's brisk 4-2-5 (a.k.a. nickel) attack....
03/27/15 The Heater
The Rays' opening day national anthem will be performed by Cozi Zuehlsdorff, a 16-year-old singer/actor who appeared in the Dolphin Tale movies filmed in Clearwater. Zuehlsdorff wrote and performed the song Brave Souls for Dolphin Tale 2.
Number of the day
10 Consecutive home-opener sellouts if the Rays sell out this year's, as they anticipate, though tickets remain for the April 6 game against the Orioles...
03/27/15 The Heater
PORT CHARLOTTE — Rays manager Kevin Cash said Friday that RHP Jake Odorizzi and RHP Nathan Karns will start Games 2 and 3 of the season. But the order, primarily based on matchups going forward, hasn't been determined.
"Other than off-days, this is the time you can kind of set for matchups," Cash said. "We don't have five lined-up starters ready to go out of the gate, so we might as well do our homework and pick the best advantages for the pitchers and our team."...
While most eyes naturally will gravitate toward the performances behind center at Saturday's USF spring game, the guys playing center might also spark conversation.
No fewer than three Bulls -- redshirt sophomore Cameron Ruff, redshirt freshman Michael Galati and senior Brynjar Gudmundsson -- have made snaps this season as the Bulls seek a replacement for three-year starter Austin Reiter.
Ruff, a Jesuit High alumnus, has taken the most to this point and will play on the White team with Gudmundsson, but the position battle may not be finished.
"I wouldn't necessarily say (there's) a front-runner," Taggart said.
"I've been impressed with Cam and how he's progressed over the spring. ... We've been blessed to have a guy there (Reiter) for a while, and now we're trying to find the right match for us, especially up front, to get the right guys in there to have a really good offensive line."
Making arguably the biggest strides among the linemen has been sophomore Jeremi Hall, a 6-foot-5, 335-pounder from Atlanta who was one of two "free agents" chosen by the Green team before the Bulls' spring intrasquad draft.
Hall was the only offensive lineman taken in free agency.
"I think it speaks highly of his development over spring and what everybody's seen from him," Taggart said. "Even throughout our winter conditioning, he lost a lot of weight and it's paying off for him now. When you watch him up front, he's again, one of the most consistent guys we have up there now and playing physical like we like for 'em to."
NEVER DULL: Spectators at Saturday's spring intrasquad game likely are to observe extensive celebration -- in lieu of the excessive kind -- on both sides. Taggart, unlike many of his counterparts, encourages it if done properly.
"We don't abide by that rule, 'Act like you've been there before,'" he said.
"It's hard to get there, and every time we make a big play we want to celebrate with our teammates and enjoy it on both sides of the ball, and you should. I tell our guys all the time, 'It's okay to express your love for the game (if) you make sure you're doing it the right way.'"
AUDIBLE 1: "We have...the defensive coordinator (Tom Allen) who installed the defense. ... And we have a couple of deep threats: Evan (Wilson), who has been doing pretty good for us; Chase Whitehead, Mr. Consistent; and Stanley (Clerveaux), he's been doing pretty good. So we have a pretty solid team, and the defense on the back end, we're pretty solid." -- S Jamie Byrd, when asked why the Green team will win Saturday's spring game
AUDIBLE 2: "We've got speed, that's all I've got to say. The Green team, they don't have nothing on our side. Me and Ryeshene (Bronson) on the outside, me playing slot as well, I mean, we're just gonna get behind 'em." -- WR Rodney Adams, when asked why the White will win...
TAMPA — These days, USF's annual spring game is stretched into a multilayered event preceded by an alumni flag football contest, game-week hospital visits, an intrasquad draft and even a free agent period.
Among the four free agents selected before this spring's draft: rising sophomore quarterback Quinton Flowers, who will lead the White team. Four months after a mostly shaky collegiate debut last fall, Flowers has shown crisper passes and more compatibility with the Bulls' new spread, no-huddle approach....
TAMPA — A day after confirming the departure of point guard Anthony Collins and low-post reserve Dre Clayton, USF announced Thursday that well-traveled shooting guard Shawn Smith transferred into the program.
A Jacksonville native, Smith (6 feet 4, 205 pounds) spent the 2013-14 season at Texas A&M before transferring to Lee College, averaging 15.2 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.3 assists for the junior college program on Houston's outskirts. He can play right away for the Bulls and will have two years of eligibility remaining....
Of the roughly two-dozen former Bulls who did lifts, leaps, 40s and field goals for NFL scouts Thursday, none appear on any prominent mock drafts.
For a handful, the NFL odds are remote. For others, off the board. With more than 20 NFL teams represented, there were dreams to gain and absolutely nothing to lose Thursday. At the end of the warm afternoon, the general hope was that a head might have been turned, a face or 40 time embedded into a scout's cerebrum.
In that regard, a few Bulls might -- just might -- have strengthened the pulse of their pro aspirations.
"It was a really good day," said USF career receptions leader Andre Davis, among those expected to snag a camp invitation. "What I expected, to come out here and ball out with my boys for one last time. It was a great experience all the way around."
With relatives observing with the NFL types, former Bulls OLB Reshard Cliett had arguably the most prosperous afternoon.
Cliett, who had a team-best six sacks last season, elicited the day's heartiest audience reaction with a vertical leap of 38 1/2 inches -- a half-inch better than his previous best. He said his 40 time was clocked between 4.39 and 4.5 seconds, and he managed 21 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press.
"I felt like people didn't really know what I could do," said Cliett, measured and weighed at 6-foot-2, 222 pounds. "And I think I put up a good show for 'em out here."
Davis, who has been training locally with former Buccaneers receivers Reidel Anthony and Yo Murphy at Tampa's Performance Compound, said he notched a 4.5-second 40. For a player whose speed has been questioned -- fairly or unfairly -- since high school, it represented a victory of sorts.
"My hips have gotten better, a lot looser," said Davis, who also played in the East-West Shrine Game at Tropicana Field in January.
"That's what I've been working on, a lot of flexibility; and the speed work. I feel like everything else is there, but I need to key on those things and keep getting better at those things and I'll be fine."
Also possibly gaining attention Thursday was former TE Mike McFarland, if for no other reason than his physical upside.
McFarland, whose stature (6-6, 252) seems NFL-ready right now, notched a 36-inch vertical, ran a 4.66 40 and did 18 reps of 225 on the bench. A second-team All-American Athletic Conference pick (per Phil Steele) last season, the Blake High alumnus had a career-best 27 catches in '14.
"I was surprising myself by how many times I did 225," McFarland said. "This has always been a childhood dream for me, just to be able to perform in front of these teams."
Pro day particulars
While we couldn't collect the pro-day performance of every USF participant Thursday, here are the results we did gather:
DT Todd Chandler
225-pound bench (# reps): 29
LB/S Reshard Cliett
40 time: 4.39-4.5
225-pound bench (# reps): 21
WR Andre Davis
40 time: 4.5
TE Mike McFarland
40 time: 4.66
225-pound bench (# reps): 18
OL Austin Reiter
225-pound bench (# reps): 32*
DL Elkino Watson
Ht/wt: 6-2 1/2, 290
40 time: 4.86
225-pound bench (# reps): 21
*-Did bench press at NFL Super Regional in Arizona...