Friday, July 6, 2018

Mercury continues hot streak with win over Sun

By Scott Mammoser

PHOENIX – The Phoenix Mercury showed the Connecticut Sun why it’s the hottest team in the WNBA, never trailing in an 84-77 victory on Thursday night. The Mercury won its fourth straight and for the 12th time in its past 14 games to retain its position in first place. 

Meanwhile, the Sun fell to 10-8, but still tied with the Washington Mystics with the most wins in the Eastern Conference.

“We were a cohesive unit on both sides of the floor,” Mercury coach Sandy Brondello said. “We didn’t execute some of the plays. You have to remember, Angel (Robinson) hasn’t played with BG (Brittney Griner) much, and DB (DeWanna Bonner) hasn’t played much at the four, but we did play parts of the game where we executed well. We were locked in defensively. The last four minutes, they only scored three points, and we have done that all season long.”

Diana Taurasi and Griner, fourth and sixth in the league in scoring, scored 25 and 23 points to lead the Mercury, and Taurasi also passed Hall of Famer Tina Thompson with her 2,631st career made field goal during the contest.

“We kind of have to ignore it because in this league you can drop two in a row and be in sixth really quickly,” Taurasi said of the team’s current placing. “I’ve been saying all year, you can’t be too high or too low, just roll with the punches and play your best game and be focused.”

Sun rookie guard Lexie Brown cut a lead that was once 15 to a one-possession game with a three in the mid-fourth quarter. Leilani Mitchell answered with a three, only for Brown to respond with another one on the other end. Out of a Phoenix timeout, Morgan Tuck cut the lead to 73-72. DeWanna Bonner, who had 12 points and 13 rebounds, sank a trey from the corner to open a four-point lead that was never approached afterwards.

In the first game since 6-foot-5 starting power forward Sancho Lyttle was lost to the season with a torn ACL, Yvonne Turner entered the starting lineup for the second time in 2018. The 5-foot-10 Turner scored nine points, including a deep three that gave the Mercury its largest lead of the game in the late third quarter.

“We do everything to stay ready for whoever we play,” Turner said. “We’re always ready and come into practice every day to get ready.”

Turner was coming off of career highs in minutes (31), rebounds (nine) and assists (seven) in her past two games.

“We know what Yvonne can do,” Griner said. “She’s getting into her groove.”
Camille Little was also sidelined with an ankle injury, and Coach Brondello said she would return soon. Brondello also added that the team would be in search of a replacement for Lyttle later in the month once the salary cap allows it. Three Sun players tied for the team high with 11 points - Chiney Ogwumike, Rachel Banham and Jasmine Thomas.

The Mercury hits the road for the next four games, beginning at noon PT on Sunday in Atlanta. The next home game is at 7 p.m. on July 19 versus Las Vegas and Rookie of the Year candidate A’ja Wilson. The Sun will be at Las Vegas on Saturday night.

In addition, around the league on Thursday, Rebekkah Brunson grabbed her 3,317th rebound  to pass Tamika Catchings as the league’s career rebounding leader in the Minnesota Lynx’s 83-72 win over the Los Angeles Sparks.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Mercury’s stars shine in first meeting with Las Vegas

By Scott Mammoser

PHOENIX – The ‘Big Three’ of the Phoenix Mercury were in top form, as Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner and DeWanna Bonner combined for 58 of the team’s points in its 72-66 win over the Las Vegas Aces on Sunday. Taurasi scored 25, Bonner 14 and Griner 19 to go along with 15 rebounds and seven blocks.

The Mercury went up by as many as 15 in the third quarter, but the Aces cut the lead to four points in the closing minutes. Kelsey Plum drove to the rim, and Griner made the play of the game with a block that prohibited the one-possession contest and swung around the momentum.

“I was just trying to keep them from scoring,” Griner said. “Blocking the shot, keeping them from scoring, and giving us another possession pumped me up to try to get another one.”

It was the sixth-consecutive win for Phoenix (7-3), its longest such streak since its 2014 championship season. In addition, it won its first-ever match-up with the newly-formed Aces (1-7) and extended a winning streak over the franchise to nine games, dating back to their time as the San Antonio Stars.

“The ball didn’t move enough between people’s hands,” Mercury coach Sandy Brondello said. “But we won the game, and that’s the important part. I wish we out-rebounded our opponents every single game (49-40), but when we need to we do.”

A’ja Wilson, the No. 1 overall draft pick and NCAA Player of the Year, led the Aces with 17 points, Kayla McBride scored 16, and Plum added 12. JiSu Park, the 19-year-old Korean rookie center, grabbed 11 rebounds for Las Vegas, as well.

“I think it went pretty well,” Wilson said of her first game against Griner. “She’s hard of course with her length. I think I did it pretty decently, but of course, we didn’t get the outcome we wanted. But I think, as a team, I give it all to JiSu Park. She’s 19 years old, and I think she held her ground with her.”

Following a game at Dallas at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, the Mercury returns home at 7 p.m. on Saturday to face the first place Connecticut Sun (7-1). The Aces will be at win-less Indiana on Tuesday.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Mercury slides to 2-3 after home loss to Mystics

By Scott Mammoser

PHOENIX – Kristi Toliver stepped up in the absence of Elena Delle Donne, scoring 30 points to lead the Washington Mystics to a 103-95 victory at the Phoenix Mercury on Wednesday night. Brittney Griner and DeWanna Bonner scored 27 and 25 points for the Mercury, which has lost three consecutively.

Phoenix Mercury has lost 3 straight games
“That’s my job,” said Toliver, who is averaging 15.2 points and is looking to return to her All-Star status from five years ago. “When we’re down a couple of people, everyone needs to elevate their game, and you have to do that both when you’re short people, but when you get people back. It’s good to have that experience to grow and know what they’re capable of in order to contribute.”

On the other side, the Mercury allowed Washington to shoot 65 percent from outside in a game where officiating dictated sour reactions from coaches, players and fans.

“We have some amazing athletes out there, and we just want to watch them play,” Mercury coach Sandy Brondello said. “I thought Washington had more advantages tonight. We can’t change the refs, but we know we can play better, and we have to have our game do the talking.”

After a tight opening first quarter, where no team led by more than four, Griner was 6-for-7 from the field with 13 points. The Mystics opened a 49-43 lead at halftime, with Toliver heating up and the defense holding Griner to two points. The lead swelled to 22 in the third, and the Mystics were on their way to improving to 5-1, a night after losing their first game- by four points at Seattle.

“We just have to play better, it’s as simple as that,” Mercury guard Diana Taurasi said. “I’m tired talking about what we need to do better and this and that. At the end of the day, it’s just a simple basketball game. You need to find a way to score more points than the other team, and we’re complicating ourselves with a lot of talk. We just need to do what we need to do to win the game.”

Mercury allowed Washington to shoot 65% outside
Washington snapped an eight-game losing streak to the Mercury and won in Phoenix for the first time since July 1, 2010. Ariel Atkins, the rookie from Texas, scored a career-high 21 points, and Tianna Hawkins recorded a double-double of 13 points and 12 rebounds, the first of her career.

Already missing Tayler Hill with a torn ACL and Emma Meesseman training with the Belgian national team for the upcoming World Cup, Natasha Cloud was sidelined with kidney stones, and Delle Donne was listed with an illness. In addition, Mercury center Angel Robinson, signed this week to replace the waived Imani Wright, did not see action.

The Mercury is at their archrival defending champion Minnesota Lynx (who are only 2-3 to start the season) at 5 p.m. on Friday (ESPN2), and after two more road games, returns home to face Chicago at 7 p.m. on June 8. The Mystics are at Las Vegas on Friday night.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Devils Lose Final Series but Stand Proud on Tough Season

Mike Stockman

PHOENIX, AZ (May 24, 2018) - The Arizona State University Sun Devils hosted Pac-12 rival California Golden Bears for the final three game series of the season that featured the two top home run hitters in NCAA Baseball. Freshman Spencer Torkelson of the Devils leads NCAA with 25 home runs this year and the Bears' sophomore Andrew Vaughn has cleared the fence 23 times.
Devils win game one in walk off single, 5-4.

In game one on Thursday night, Devils' Gage Canning added to his total hit count of 17 doubles on the season.

In the bottom of the second inning, Gage Workman hit a two run home run over left field wall giving the Devils a 2-0 lead.

In the top of the third, the Bears' Korey Lee slams a home run over center field making the score 2-1.

The Devils extended the lead to 3-1 in the bottom of the third inning when Spencer Torkelson scored from first base on an RBI double to the left field corner by Carter Aldrete.

The Bears score one in the sixth inning. In the seventh with bases loaded, the Bears add  two to take the lead 4-3. 

In the bottom of the ninth with one out, Lyle Lin hit an RBI double tying the game.  Hunter Bishop hit a hard shot up the middle allowing Lin to score from second, ending game one by a score of 5-4.
Devils get shut out in final game 3-0 to the Bears

Game two featured Torklenson's 19th multi-hit outing this season which contributed to two of the four runs posted by the Devils.  The Devils would fall to the Bears in the ninth inning with two outs when a two run RBI made the score 6-4 in favor of the Bears. The Devils were unable to repeat Thursday's walk-off win.

The final game of the season was uneventful until a two error play allowed one runner and the batter Jonah Davis to score, giving the Bears a 2-0 lead in the top of the third inning.

In the top of the fourth, the Bears' Andrew Vaughn hit an RBI single extending the score to 3-0 over the Devils.

In the final inning of the season, with one out, the Devils' Carter Aldrete hit a single up the middle, sparking the crowd. The Devils were shut out when Lyle Lin hit into a double play, ending the game 3-0 in favor of the Bears. 

After the game, Head Coach Tracy Smith held a 20 minute press conference in which he stated 'I can't say enough about those five seniors...because of their experience will probably make them better...they're gonna win in life - I can tell you that". When talking about the things that he wish would have been better this year, he mention ' defensively - you get better or you get worse. I think we're gonna get better".  When asked what he thought he accomplished most this year he said "I know we were gonna be up and down...". He then stated "treating these guys the right way - treating them with respect" explaining that is what he was the proudest of "that's a strong locker room. They held together".

Coach Smith wanted his seniors to experience their last game and cherish the moment. 
Eli Lingos, a senior pitched 6.0 innings, giving up three hits, one walk, and six strike outs.
Grant Schneider was the starting pitcher, going 2.2 innings allowing two hits, two walks, on run, and three strike outs.

Lingos and Schneider talk about lessons learned at ASU
When the seniors were asked what they learned from their experience putting the uniform on for the very first time to this last time, Eli Lingos responded - "you wanna go out on a good note...I wish we could have gotten a W but it was good." He had this to say to the younger players - "you wanna stay positive, maintain a better feeling through the year." As for what he learned, he commented "never give in, stay on it, learn to push thru...". Grant Schneider added "it's a grind, 6am in the weight room, 7am classes, degree - it's hard." He learned "how important it is to be a good person".

The Devils (23-32, 13-17) complete their season, finishing seventh in the Pac 12.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Sun Devils sweep South Carolina to punch ticket to Women’s College World Series

By Scott Mammoser

TEMPE, Ariz. – After a five-year hiatus, the Arizona State Sun Devils are back in the Women’s College World Series. A pivotal four-run fifth inning broke a tie with South Carolina, and ASU rolled to a 5-2 victory in the second game of the Super Regional on Saturday night.

The Sun Devils (45-11) made the WCWS seven out of eight seasons between 2006 and 2013, winning the national championship in 2008 and 2011 and establishing themselves as one of NCAA softball’s premier programs. This also marks the first career WCWS appearance for head coach Trisha Ford, the third coach ASU has hired since Clint Myers departed for Auburn in 2013.

Coach Trisha Ford taking ASU back to WCWS
“I’m just so proud of this group,” Ford said. “Nobody would have thought at the beginning of the year we would be here except for us. This is why I came to ASU, to get ASU back to the World Series. I said that in my interview. I don’t think it’s sunk in yet, but we’re going to the Series.”

ASU freshman catcher Rylee Maston decided on a pretty good time to pick up the first hit of her career. Entering the contest 0-for-10 in 13 games played, Maston delivered a double in the top of the second that sent Jade Gortarez to third with two outs. Skylar McCarty drove Gortarez home for the 1-0 lead on the ensuing play.

Designated as the home team, South Carolina (49-17) tied it in the bottom of the fourth, when freshman Alyssa Kumiyama singled to score classmate Jana Johns from third base. The Gamecocks left two runners stranded, as ASU picked up consecutive bounces towards first to end the inning.

Taylor Becerra loaded the bases for the Sun Devils in the top of the fifth with no outs. Morgan Howe, hitting more than .360, scored McCarty to reclaim the lead, and freshman designated player DeNae Chatman doubled to center for three more RBIs and still no outs. Kelsey Oh replaced Cayla Drotar on the mound for the Gamecocks, maybe a little too late. The Gamecocks added a run with two outs in the bottom of the sixth, when Tiara Duffy’s double scored Johns, who was 2-for-4.

“Today’s game didn’t turn out the way we hoped, but I am so proud of this team,” South Carolina coach Beverly Smith said. “This difference in this season was a shift in the culture and how they competed. We have a lot to look forward to. We have a great incoming class and we built a foundation.”

Sr. Macha shines in her last ASU home appearance
Breanna Macha tossed six strikeouts for the win (16-6) in the senior’s final appearance at Farrington Stadium. Macha made possibly the defensive play of the game in the first inning, catching a Drotar line drive and throwing out Mackenzie Boesel at first base.

“To finally live our dream out in OKC…,” Macha was at a loss for words. “Hats off to them because they did battle until the last out. We just needed to fight harder. It just shows the grittiness of this team. I’m always going to go out there and compete on every pitch.”

The eighth-seeded Sun Devils will face a top-seeded Oregon team in the first game of the WCWS on May 31 at Oklahoma City. The Ducks went 2-1 at ASU in mid-April, winning 5-0 and 9-1, before being shutout 4-0 in the finale. Two-time defending champion Oklahoma, Washington, Georgia, Florida, and UCLA also have advanced to the double elimination playoff of eight teams, while Florida State and LSU will meet in a decisive third game at noon PT on Sunday to qualify for the final spot.

“It means everything,” ASU senior second baseman Marisa Stankiewicz added. “Getting recruited to come here, their tradition going to the WCWS, and not being able to go the first three years was tough because we knew we had the talent. To finally do it our senior year means a lot.” 

Sun Devils one win shy of WCWS after setting tone early against South Carolina

By Scott Mammoser

ASU Softball one step closer to WCWS
TEMPE, Ariz. – Eighth-seeded Arizona State just might be the hottest team still alive in the NCAA Women’s Softball Championship. While the seven other Super Regionals have produced a slew of one-run nail biters, the Sun Devils opened their best-of-three series with No. 9 South Carolina, no-hitting the Gamecocks through six innings and winning 5-2 on Friday.

Through four games this postseason, ASU (44-11) has outscored its opponents 23-3, including 21-3 versus high-caliber SEC teams. The second game begins at 6 p.m. on Saturday from Farrington Stadium, and a decisive third game would be at 6 p.m. on Sunday.

“We came out with a lot of focus,” ASU coach Trisha Ford said. “When we play our game, good things happen. They did a great job tonight. This team is special, and they have the ability to beat teams in a variety of ways. At this point in the season, we’re prepared for whatever is thrown at us.”

The Sun Devils started early, with Morgan Howe’s triple in the bottom of the first bringing Taylor Becerra all the way around from first to home. In the second, Jade Gortarez sent the first pitch she faced over the center field fence for a three-run home run, her eighth of the season. Two more runs scored in the bottom of the fourth, as Skylar McCarty drove home Gortarez, then passed home herself on a Howe single. Howe finished the game 3-for-3 with two RBIs.

“It’s great to be a part of something like this,” Howe said. “Coach tells us to score early, score often. Whenever we score first it’s a good thing, and it gives us momentum.”

Juarez gets the win with 8 strike outs
Just as she did in the regional round, ASU pitcher Giselle ‘G’ Juarez carried her no-hitter into the top of the seventh. Gamecocks catcher Alyssa VanDerveer broke it up with a leadoff single, and leftfielder Kennedy Clark smashed a home run to center to bring South Carolina (49-16) within three runs. Juarez (26-4) still finished with eight strikeouts, while South Carolina’s Dixie Raley and Kelsey Oh combined for six.

“Uncharacteristically, we gave up a lot of runs,” Gamecocks coach Beverly Smith said. “Certainly, the field plays very fast here, so we’ll be ready for that tomorrow. Getting the hits in the seventh was very important. We’ll be ready to go tomorrow. This team is going to battle until the end, we have a never give up attitude.”

Thursday, May 24, 2018

First quarter Mercury lead evaporates in loss to Storm

By Scott Mammoser

PHOENIX – A 31-point second quarter allowed the Seattle Storm to erase a double-digit deficit and win at the Phoenix Mercury, 87-71, on Wednesday, with Jewell Loyd scoring 22 of her 29 in the second half.

Double-digit lead evaporates in loss to Storm
“We just didn’t execute very well,” Mercury coach Sandy Brondello said. “It’s hard to keep a great player (Loyd) down two games in a row. It’s a game we can learn a lot from. I say, ‘Welcome to the WNBA,’ you never know what you’re going to get, every single game. That’s how strong this league is.”

The Mercury (2-1) scored the first eight points of the game, until Loyd scored at the 7:20 mark. Briann January answered with a three, and the largest Mercury lead would be 13-2. 
Things came apart for the Mercury shortly after, as the Storm (1-1) found its rhythm, coming within 20-15 after the first, taking a 23-22 lead and widening the lead to 46-33 at the half. Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird knocked down consecutive three pointers to bring Seattle to the break. Phoenix cut it to 62-57 after three behind Griner’s nine and Taurasi’s seven points in the period.

“We had a lack of focus from a veteran team like this, it’s unacceptable,” Taurasi said. “We take that one on the chin. The WNBA season is a work in progress because it’s so short. Week to week, month to month, you’re trying to figure out what works best against certain teams, and today wasn’t one of those days.”

The fourth quarter saw Loyd add 14 points and Alysha Clark eight of her 16 for the Storm, as it redeemed itself from Sunday’s 87-82 loss to the Mercury in its home opener. Loyd was 3-of-11 for 10 points in that game, as Brondello referenced earlier. Griner, who had 29 points and 10 rebounds in Sunday’s win, scored 18 on Wednesday, Taurasi finished with 23, and DeWanna Bonner grabbed nine rebounds, eight on the defensive side.

“It’s early, we can’t panic,” Mercury forward Camille Little said. “We missed shots, they made shots, it’s not a good thing, it happens.”

The Mercury is at the Sparks at 2 p.m. on Sunday and returns home at 7 p.m. May 30 to meet the Washington Mystics. The Storm hosts Chicago at 7 p.m. on Friday, its first non-Mercury opponent this season, including two preseason games with Phoenix.

“We treated tonight like a playoff game,” first-year Storm coach Dan Hughes said about seeing the same opponent so many times. “We had a couple of days to make adjustments, and we used it the same way we would for the playoffs.”