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    Times wires
    Monday, December 17, 2012

    SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Jim Boeheim called it just another number. The Carrier Dome message board didn't agree.

    Moments after his third-ranked Syracuse Orange held off Detroit for a 72-68 victory Monday night in the Gotham Classic, making Boeheim the third Division I men's coach to reach 900 wins, Hall of Famer Dave Bing, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and Louisville's Rick Pitino offered congratulations on the big screens inside the Teflon dome.

    Boeheim, 68 and in his 37th year at his alma mater, is 900-304. Krzyzewski (936) and Bob Knight (902) are the only other men's Division I coaches to win that many games.

    "To me, it's just a number," said Boeheim, whose first victory was against Harvard in 1976. "If I get 900, have I got to get more? That's why maybe it's just not that important to me because to me it's just a number, and the only number that matters is how this team does."

    So far, it has done okay.

    James Southerland had 22 points for Syracuse (10-0), which won its 30th straight home game, the longest streak in the nation. Detroit had its four-game winning streak snapped.

    Bing, Boeheim's college roommate, teammate and fellow Hall of Famer, and Roosevelt Bouie, a star on Boeheim's first team in 1976-77, were in the Carrier Dome crowd of 17,902.

    Bing was standing tall in the locker room after the game.

    "Nobody would have thought when we came here 50 years ago that either one of us would have had the kind of success we've had," said Bing, today the mayor of Detroit. "I'm so pleased and proud of him because he stuck with it. He's proven that he's one of the best coaches ever in college basketball, and he'll be No. 2 shortly."

    NO. 12 MISSOURI 102, S.C. STATE 51: Jabari Brown, playing in his first game since Nov. 17, 2011, when he was a freshman at Oregon, scored 12 for the host Tigers (9-1).

    NO. 21 UNLV 62, UTEP 60: Bryce DeJean-Jones scored 12 for the visiting Runnin' Rebels (9-1), who held on when Konner Tucker's last-second 3-point attempt bounced up and off the rim.

    NO. 22 NOTRE DAME 74, IPFW 62: Pat Connaughton, who went in averaging 7.9 points, scored 18 and added six rebounds for the host Irish (10-1).

    B-CU 102, FLA. CHRISTIAN 51: Adrien Coleman scored 23 for host Bethune-Cookman (5-8), which scored its most points since 2003.

    JOHNSON C. SMITH 67, ECKERD 64: Alex Bodney missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer for the host Tritons (3-2), who never led in the second half but never trailed by more than six.

    TAMPA 81, P.R.-RIO PIEDRAS 49: Anthony Griffis had 19 points for the Spartans (9-0), who blew it open in the second half in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

    SAINT LEO 87, ELIZABETH CITY ST. 74: Trent Thomas had 28 points and Jerrel Harris 22 as the visiting Lions (7-2) won their fourth straight game.

    BUtler KEEPs DOOR OPEN: Two days after Butler president James Danko said he would not rule out joining a new conference with the seven Catholic schools that are leaving the Big East, he issued a statement calling the rumors a "tribute" to the Bulldogs' success and saying only that the school would "do what is right."

    AP POLL: Duke replaced Indiana at No. 1, giving it the top ranking at least once in a record 16 seasons under Krzyzewski. Butler entered at No. 19, and Wichita State fell out.

    Women

    NO. 8 CAL 71, N'WESTERN 65: Brittany Boyd scored 18 and Talia Caldwell 16, and Gennifer Brandon's three-point play with 3:04 left put the visiting Golden Bears (8-1) ahead for good.

    AP POLL: FSU entered at No. 23, along with No. 25 Colorado. Miami and Ohio State fell out. Stanford remained No. 1 for the fifth straight week.


    Associated PressAssociated Press

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  • 12/17/12--20:46: Titans 14, Jets 10
  • Times wires
    Monday, December 17, 2012

    Titans 0 7 7 0 14
    Jets 3 0 7 0 10

    NASHVILLE — Chris Johnson went 94 yards for the NFL's longest touchdown run since 2006 and the Titans beat the Jets 14-10 Monday night to eliminate New York from playoff contention.

    Jake Locker's first touchdown run of the season put Tennessee ahead late in the third quarter, and the Titans intercepted four passes by a struggling Mark Sanchez to snap a three-game skid.

    After bumbling around all night, the Jets somehow still had a chance to win when they took over at the Tennessee 25 with 47 seconds left following a 19-yard punt by Brett Kern. But Sanchez fumbled a low shotgun snap, Bilal Powell inadvertently kicked the ball away and the Titans recovered to seal it.

    It was a fitting end to an ugly game that left New York coach Rex Ryan cursing to himself as he walked off the field.

    The Jets needed to win their final three and get help to earn a playoff spot. Instead, the Titans sacked Sanchez three times and got a fourth on Tim Tebow. Cornerback Jason McCourty and safety Michael Griffin each had two interceptions, keeping New York out of the playoffs for a second straight season after reaching consecutive AFC title games.

    The second pickoff by Griffin came near the goal line with less than two minutes to go and the Jets driving.

    Johnson, with the names of the victims of Friday's shootings in Connecticut written on his cleats, ran a franchise-record 94 yards for a TD in the second quarter. That was the second-longest run in Monday Night Football history; only former Cowboys great Tony Dorsett (99 yards) had one longer.

    This marked Johnson's sixth career touchdown run of at least 80 yards, giving him twice as many as anyone else in NFL history.

    Locker's 13-yard touchdown run at the end of the third put the Titans ahead to stay.


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    By Damian Cristodero, Times Staff Writer
    Tuesday, December 18, 2012

    Lightning goaltender Anders Lindback, playing for the Finnish team Ilves Tampere during the NHL lockout, is expected to miss 10 days because of a cut to a knee sustained during Tuesday's practice.

    Lindback was hit by a puck and did not realize the seriousness of the injury until he undressed after the workout, agent Michael Deutsch said.

    "He said, 'I took my gear off and I couldn't believe there was a cut there,' " Deutsch said.

    Deutsch said Lindback required "a few" stitches and "there is no structural damage."

    The Lightning last summer signed Lindback, 24, to a two-year, $3.6 million contract with hopes he will be a long-term solution in net. He is just 3-6-4 in 13 games with Ilves Tampere but has a 2.33 goals-against average and a .933 save percentage.

    TYRELL ALSO HURTING: Dana Tyrell, playing in Slovakia for Banska Bystrica, has missed one game with a sore groin. The right wing is getting his first game action since a January knee injury that required surgery


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    By Joe Smith, Times Staff Writer
    Tuesday, December 18, 2012

    PUNTA GORDA — Matt Bush was once the envy of many as baseball's top overall pick in 2004, boasting plenty of potential and millions in the bank.

    But with Bush's alcohol problem and several related arrests rendering him broke, and after he squandered every chance he was given to reach his big-league dreams, the former Rays pitching prospect quietly accepted the fate of his stunning fall Tuesday.

    Bush, 26, pleaded no contest to driving under the influence with serious bodily injury, receiving a 51-month prison sentence that will equate to 31/2 years with time already served.

    It could have been a lot worse, as the plea agreement with the state resulted in the other six charges from his March DUI hit-and-run arrest being dropped. Bush won't have any post-prison probation, but because it's his third DUI conviction in 10 years, there will be a 10-year license revocation in Florida. He has to pay $578 in court costs.

    To the family of the victim, Tony Tufano, 72, who nearly died in the crash in North Port, it wasn't enough. They were disappointed Bush didn't receive probation.

    "When he gets out he doesn't have to account to anybody," said Shannon Moore, Tufano's daughter-in-law. "He's already done this, what, three times? So, we're not too confident that he's not going to do it again."

    Bush didn't have a license, or own a car, on March 22 when police say the Dodge Durango he borrowed from teammate Brandon Guyer ran over Tufano's motorcycle and fled the scene. Police say Bush had a blood alcohol level of .18, more than double the legal limit.

    Bush originally pleaded not guilty, saying he didn't remember seeing — or hitting — a motorcycle. But attorney Russell Kirshy said the state's investigation, which included testimony from several witnesses, convinced them there would be a conviction on at least one charge, which could have meant more prison time.

    Tufano was in intensive care for a few weeks after the crash, with injuries including a collapsed lung, brain hemorrhaging and several broken bones. He's at home now, but Moore said he's not the same, a former marathoner who struggles to walk the family dogs.

    Said Moore: "Tony will deal with this the rest of his life."

    The state gave Bush two plea offers: three years in prison and seven years probation; or four years and no probation. Kirshy said with Bush's history of alcohol issues, the seven years probation was a "disaster waiting to happen."

    "The wakeup call should have happened so long ago, that anybody who is looking at this from the outside, says, 'Dude, seriously?' " Kirshy said. "But for him, certainly it's a wakeup call. I think the nine months in jail, I think being in Podunk, USA, and being held on a million dollar bond, I think that horrified him. Then getting $440,000 bond, then prison sentence. I don't think this turned out nearly like all the other cases that he's had."

    Bush, who signed a minor-league deal with the Rays in 2010, had said and done all the right things until his arrest, moving his way up to Double-A Montgomery. But soon after the arrest, Bush was put on the restricted list, and he was released by Tampa Bay in October. Kirshy said he has not heard from anyone in the organization.

    The Tufano family has filed a $5 million civil suit against Bush and Guyer. While the Rays aren't named in the lawsuit, Moore believes they bear some responsibility.

    Said Moore: "He wouldn't be here if it wasn't for the Rays, so I think the family is a little upset with the Rays, knowing Matt Bush's history, all the DUIs, why would they bring him to this area?"

    Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@tampabay.com.


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    By Damian Cristodero, Times Staff Writer
    Tuesday, December 18, 2012

    When Jim Creson received his $1,400 refund for the two Lightning season tickets he canceled because of the NHL lockout, he gave himself a present: a new set of golf clubs.

    "If I have to sacrifice hockey, at least I'm going to enjoy myself playing golf," Creson said. "I'm terrible, but I love the game."

    The Citrus Park resident loves the Lightning, too, and after attending games for more than 10 years sprang for season tickets for him and 13-year-old grandson, Isaiah Wilson.

    But Creson, 51, a software developer who had two 300-level seats, said the lockout soured him, and reclaiming his money was his small protest.

    "The owners need to know the fans belong to this team, too," he said. "It's not just the players who are going to determine whether your team is successful."

    Creson is not alone. About 100 Lightning season-ticket accounts have been canceled because of the lockout, team spokesman Bill Wickett said.

    The actual number of tickets canceled could not immediately be determined, but suffice it to say, an organization with a season-ticket base of about 10,000 and a 20,000-seat stadium to fill can't afford defections.

    For some, taking their money from the team with which they live and die is the only way to voice their disgust at the spectacle of the league and players arguing, and perhaps going to court, over how to split $3.3 billion in revenues.

    And with the lockout in its 95th day and a second season in eight years close to being lost to labor strife, feelings are raw.

    "It really wasn't a debate," Orlando's Linda Hamilton said about canceling two 100-section tickets with husband Stewart, who owns a construction firm.

    "When they said they were locking the doors my first thought was, 'I'm done.' I can protest. I can yell and scream on social media, but nobody hears it. My money is my voice and my money can be spent elsewhere to do more productive things."

    Responded Wickett in an email: "We're disappointed for all hockey fans but, in particular, the season ticket members that are our lifeblood. We know the passion and commitment they have for the Lightning and, like them, we look forward to the return of the game. We have worked hard to service our season ticket members on a one-on-one basis and take a long-term approach when it comes to maintaining a strong relationship with them."

    •••

    The Lightning gives fans three ways to manage their season tickets during the lockout.

    Make no changes and you get 10 percent interest toward food, beverages and merchandise. You can get 5 percent interest paid in monthly installments following any missed games to be applied to the playoffs, if there are any, or the 2013-14 season.

    Then there is what Hamilton called "financial divorce."

    It was not an easy decision, she said, despite the arduous 90-minute drive each way she and Stewart face between Orlando and the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

    But Hamilton has what Stewart calls a "hockey addiction."

    To see the now-canceled Winter Classic between Detroit and Toronto at the University of Michigan, the couple — both 46 and with five kids — bought a 20-game Red Wings ticket package.

    Total investment, including their Tampa Bay seats: $8,000, all refunded, Hamilton said. They now have season tickets to the ECHL Orlando Solar Bears.

    "It's like a two-sided coin," she said. "I feel good because I'm standing up for something. I'm using my voice to be heard. At the same time you miss it. My love is the love of the sport first, so I can't abandon hockey, but I can abandon the NHL, financially, for now."

    •••

    That the NHL is even in this mess so soon after the 2004-05 lockout is what burns Shawn Berger, who canceled two 300-level seats for a $700 refund.

    The IT specialist from Palm Harbor blames both sides for the lockout. He figures players can get by on less money since some are playing for less in Europe. "But (owners) can't completely railroad the players, either.

    "So, I said if they're going to play this game and not get a deal done then I'm going to put my money where my mouth is. That's the only way they'll know we are truly dissatisfied."

    Besides, said Berger, 40, "I have a 2-year-old daughter who would rather go to Disney World than a hockey game."

    Family obligations, too, were central to Bill Buchalski when he, wife Laura and daughters Ashley, 19 and Kristina, 18, discussed canceling four 300-level seats.

    But games are "family time," said Buchalski, 50, of Spring Hill, a supply chain manager. "They bond us and make us feel closer."

    No way could he cancel, though he is disillusioned because he sees negotiations to end the lockout as simply "a battle of egos" between commissioner Gary Bettman and the players' union chief Donald Fehr.

    "I don't think it's about money," Buchalski said, and added, "It hurts the fans. It hurts the people that work. I don't think that's something they've considered."

    He said he believes fans will return to the game when the lockout ends, "but with a little bit of distance, a distance of, 'You do this again and I'm done.' "

    Some aren't waiting.

    Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@tampabay.com.


    BRENDAN FITTERER   |   TimesBRENDAN FITTERER | Times

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    By Gary Shelton, Times Sports Columnist
    Tuesday, December 18, 2012

    There are times when he looks sleepy. There are times when his arm seems beyond his control. There are times when his decision-making looks more like guesswork.

    Yeah, it's a tough time to be Josh Freeman.

    On the other hand, it could be worse.

    He could be Mark Sanchez.

    There are times when his town sounds tired of him. There are times when it is easy to wonder if he tests the patience of his coaches as much as he does that of the fans. There are times when Freeman still looks like more of a question than an answer.

    Yeah, Bucs fans seem fairly annoyed at their quarterback these days.

    On the other hand, it could be worse.

    He could be Joe Flacco.

    Things are tough all over, and especially for quarterbacks. What's the old line about poor people? That God must have loved them, because he made so many of them? Same with quarterbacks. If you're giving out grades, not many passers are passing.

    Not Philip Rivers. Not Tony Romo. Not Michael Vick. Not Carson Palmer or Christian Ponder or Jake Locker. Not Alex Smith or Blaine Gabbert or Ryan Fitzpatrick. Not Brandon Weeden or Kevin Kolb or Matt Cassel. Frankly, Eli Manning is in a funk himself these days.

    So, yeah, Freeman had an awful day at the office on Sunday.

    Still, he had lots of company.

    If you are a Bucs fan, this probably doesn't make you feel better. A town on a losing streak has no time for someone else's pain, and in general, fans couldn't give a hoot about the frustrations of other fans. To them, it is as simple as this: Freeman played poorly against the Saints.

    In Tampa Bay, the outrage has been unleashed. He isn't accurate enough or fiery enough or decisive enough. There are people who will tell you that they knew on the day of his birth that he would be an unacceptable quarterback. On the other hand, the Bucs lost by 41 points on Sunday. Not to get in the way of Tampa Bay's lather, but how good would Freeman have had to be to change the outcome?

    At this point, I don't think there are any final answers to Freeman. He has been very good at times. He has been very bad at times. He has been very frustrating at times.

    Then again, that's the NFL. Except for a few cities, everyone's quarterback is making every city miserable. There are the elite quarterbacks — Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Ben Roethlisberger and, possibly, Eli Manning — and there are the super rookies — Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and, lately, Russell Wilson. Except for that, every quarterback comes with his own heartache.

    Did you get a load of Sanchez's going-out-of-business sale Monday night? He was not only bad enough to lose his job — and good luck to Greg McElroy — he was bad enough to make you wonder why he had it this long.

    Have you paid attention to Flacco lately? He has been so bad that Ravens fans are talking about alternatives themselves.

    Rivers? His decision-making has been so bad lately that he would struggle to finish fourth on Jeopardy.

    So where does that leave Freeman? How good is he? And besides better, how good should he be?

    If you are fair, Freeman is about in the middle of the pack. After Sunday, ESPN's total quarterback rating has him 16th in the league. That's about right. That rating has him above Carolina's Cam Newton and Chicago's Jay Cutler and St. Louis' Sam Bradford. Also above Flacco and Rivers and Sanchez.

    His traditional quarterback rating? It's ahead of Eli and Matthew Stafford and Cutler and Flacco.

    Not great, but not garbage.

    If you look at it game by game, Freeman has two grade-F performances this year: Dallas and Sunday's game against the Saints. Maybe a D against the Broncos. He was awful for a half against the Eagles, but he helped his team to an 11-point lead halfway through the fourth quarter. He had a slow start against the Redskins, but he left the field that day with a lead the defense couldn't hold.

    Around Tampa Bay, however, Freeman has never sustained success long enough for the benefit of the doubt. He had five straight games where his quarterback rating was above 100, and still, no one seemed convinced. After Sunday's game, however, people say his name as if it is a swear word. No one seems happy with a quarterback who is only good some of the time.

    And yet, people seem ready to trade him for, well, just about anyone. For Smith. For Flacco. For Tim Tebow.

    Ask yourself this: When is the last time a team traded for someone else's backup and had that backup become a star? No, it wasn't Cassel. No, it wasn't Matt Flynn. It probably hasn't happened since the Packers swiped Brett Favre from the Falcons.

    Like it or not, the noise is probably going to continue.

    So far, Freeman has played well enough to keep his job.

    What he hasn't done is play well enough to make you smile over the prospect.

    Listen to Gary Shelton weekdays from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. on 98.7-FM the Fan.


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    By Bill Hardman, Times Correspondent
    Tuesday, December 18, 2012

    What's hot: Hogfish are plentiful in most depths and most of our divers have gotten their daily limit. Most hogfish are roaming up and down ledges and some nice-sized ones have made it to rocky areas in the mouth of Tampa Bay. Keeper-size red grouper are in water a little deeper than 60 feet; ones 20-22 inches are mostly in shallower areas. In water deeper than 80 feet, 24- to 26-inch red grouper are being found. Mangrove snappers are still in most depths, but our divers have noticed fewer in their usual haunts. More lobsters have been taken by divers over the past couple of weeks.

    Amberjack: Most are found more than 30 miles from shore. In the past week a couple in the 30-pound range were speared off a wreck in 75 feet, just west of Sarasota. The amberjack are moving closer to shore but the big ones are still a long ride from the dock.

    Bill Hardman teaches scuba, spearfishing and free diving through Aquatic Obsessions Scuba in St. Petersburg and can be reached at (727) 344-3483 and captainbillhardman@gmail.com.


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    By Antonya English, Times Staff Writer
    Tuesday, December 18, 2012

    >>TONIGHT

    No. 8 Florida vs. Southeastern Louisiana

    When/where: 7; O'Connell Center, Gainesville

    TV/radio: Sun Sports; 1250-AM

    Records: Southeastern Louisiana 1-7, Florida 7-1

    Notable: The Gators gave up their second-most points this season in a 65-64 loss at Arizona but remain No. 3 nationally in scoring defense (50.4 points per game). … SLU has played six of its eight games on the road. Its only win was 91-49 over Louisiana College. … SLU is led by guard Brandon Fortenberry with 11.5 ppg and Roosevelt Johnson with 6.4 rpg. … This will be Florida's only home game in a 40-day span as the Gators play five of six away from Gainesville, including three true road games.

    Antonya English, Times staff writer


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    Times wires
    Tuesday, December 18, 2012

    Johnny Manziel ran for almost 1,700 yards and 30 touchdowns as a dual-threat quarterback his senior year of high school at Kerrville Tivy.

    Who would have thought he'd be even more impressive at Texas A&M when pitted against the defenses of the SEC?

    Tuesday, Manziel picked up another major award for his spectacular debut season, being voted the Associated Press player of the year. As with the Heisman Trophy and Davey O'Brien Award that Manziel already won, the QB nicknamed Johnny Football is the first freshman to collect the AP award.

    Manziel's 31 votes were more than twice that of second-place finisher Manti Te'o, Notre Dame's star linebacker. He is the third straight Heisman-winning quarterback to receive the honor, following Robert Griffin III and Cam Newton.

    Manziel erased doubts when he ran for 60 yards and a score in his first game, against Florida.

    "I knew I could run the ball, I did it a lot in high school," Manziel said. "It is just something that you don't get a chance to see in the spring. Quarterbacks aren't live in the spring. You don't get to tackle. You don't get to evade some of the sacks that you would in normal game situations. So I feel like when I was able to avoid getting tackled, it opened some people's eyes a little bit more."

    The 6-foot-1 Manziel threw for 3,419 yards and 24 touchdowns and ran for 1,181 yards and 19 scores to help the Aggies win 10 games for the first time since 1998.

    EX-BUCS ASSISTANT READY TO GO: Western Michigan introduced former Bucs wide receivers coach P.J. Fleck as its head coach. Fleck, 32, becomes the youngest coach in Division I. He played at Northern Illinois from 1999-2003 and later was an assistant coach there. "It's great to be back in the MAC," Fleck said. "My staff and I will make it our mission to bring excitement, energy and a winning tradition back to the Broncos. We will recruit, coach and develop young men of character the Bronco way. I can't wait to get started on this journey."

    BADGERS PICK COACH: Utah State's Gary Andersen, who guided the Aggies to their first bowl victory in 19 years, will be named Wisconsin's new coach, ESPN reported. On Sept. 15, Utah State nearly upset the Badgers, falling 16-14 when Josh Thompson missed a 37-yard field goal in the final seconds.

    COACH INTRODUCED: Paul Haynes was formally announced as Kent State coach, succeeding the popular Darrell Hazell. Hazell, who left for Purdue, established a winning culture and led the program to the AP poll and a bowl berth. Haynes, a 168-pound Kent State defensive back in 1987-91, called the job "a dream and I haven't landed yet."

    JACKSONVILLE ST.: South Alabama defensive coordinator and former Gamecock Bill Clark was hired as coach and is set to be introduced at a news conference today.

    MICHIGAN: Quarterback Denard Robinson pleaded guilty to driving with a suspended license and remains eligible to play in the Outback Bowl against South Carolina on Jan. 1 in Tampa. The school said Robinson paid a fine and faces no additional punishment.

    UTAH ST.: Junior defensive lineman Sini Tauauvea was arrested in Boise, Idaho, after Saturday's Famous Idaho Potato Bowl on charges of misdemeanor battery and trespassing.


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    By Joe Smith, Times Staff Writer, Times wires
    Tuesday, December 18, 2012

    The Rays haven't decided whether newly acquired right-hander Roberto Hernandez, formerly known as Fausto Carmona, will be a starter or reliever next season.

    But executive vice president Andrew Friedman said the 32-year-old will compete for a rotation spot during spring training and, either way, "help us get meaningful outs."

    The Times reported last week the sides were close on a deal, and it was officially announced Tuesday, with the former All-Star receiving $3.25 million plus $1.825 million in incentives.

    "We feel like this is one of those risk-reward stories that makes a lot of sense for us," Friedman said. "Upside is really compelling."

    Hernandez has shown promise in his seven big-league seasons, all with the Indians, finishing fourth in the American League Cy Young race in 2007 (19-8, 3.06 ERA) and earning an All-Star selection in 2010. But he is trying to re-establish his career — and his name — after a controversial and unproductive 2012 season.

    He began the year on the restricted list after a false identity arrest in his native Dominican Republic. It was learned that his real name is Roberto Hernandez, not Carmona which he had used since becoming a pro, and that he was 3 years older than he had listed. He didn't make it back to the United States until July and served a three-week suspension, making three starts (0-3, 7.53) before suffering a season-ending ankle sprain Aug. 27. The Indians declined his $6 million option.

    Said Friedman: "Obviously, last year was a lost year for him in a lot of respects."

    He said they have no issues with Hernandez's makeup, having talked with his former coaches and teammates, and believe he will fit in "extremely well" in the clubhouse.

    Where Hernandez fits on the pitching staff remains to be seen. But with the Rays recently trading James Shields and Wade Davis, Friedman said accounting for the lost innings was "very much on our mind."

    Hernandez could provide depth at the back end of the rotation, an experienced starter who has pitched 200-plus innings twice. A sinkerball pitcher with a high ground ball rate, Hernandez could also be a weapon out of the bullpen. Both scenarios appeared in play during negotiations, since Hernandez has incentives for both innings pitched (up to $1.25 million) and relief appearances (up to $600,000).

    Hernandez hasn't made a relief appearance since his 2006 rookie season. Friedman said they'll stretch him out as a starter in spring training and, at the end, see what "makes sense."

    "This guy has got really good stuff," Friedman said. "We feel he has the repertoire to get out right-handed and left-handed hitters. … It gives us a chance to add to our pitching depth, which is something that is a focus for us in a way that it hasn't been in recent years."

    Around the nation

    NEW YORK — R.A. Dickey picked up his phone on Saturday, and Mets general manager Sandy Alderson told the NL Cy Young Award winner he had 72 hours to negotiate a contract with the Blue Jays.

    "Okay, here we go. I probably am never going to be a Met again," Dickey remembered thinking. "I think I had a wash of just numbness come over me, really."

    A day after he was traded to Toronto and finalized a $30 million, three-year contract, the knuckleballer, 38, talked about his exit from New York after three seasons that revived his career and made him a fan favorite. And he discussed the stimulation he will get from joining a contender.

    "I think it's important for me to grieve leaving New York," he said. "I had a proverbial home there. I had a home among fans. I had a home in an organization. I had a lot of success there, and I think it's important for me to be sad about that for a moment before I move on to the next feeling."

    That next feeling is glee about joining the amped-up Blue Jays, who have added five All-Stars during the offseason, with Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle and Melky Cabrera preceding Dickey north.

    "I can't tell you how excited I am to be part of an organization that's committed to winning and putting a product on the field that the fans can be excited about," Dickey said.

    INDIANS WOO SWISHER: Former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel was among a group who had lunch with free-agent outfielder Nick Swisher, who played baseball for the Buckeyes, on his visit with Cleveland.

    GIANTS: Right-handed reliever Santiago Casilla completed a $15 million, three-year contract.

    PHILLIES: Left-hander John Lannan finalized a $2.5 million, one-year deal.

    TWINS: Right-hander Mike Pelfrey agreed to terms on a $4 million, one-year contract.

    Times staff writer Marc Topkin contributed to this report, which used information from Times wires.


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    By Greg Auman, Times Staff Writer
    Tuesday, December 18, 2012

    TAMPA — Stan Heath hopes his USF team can become the defensive stalwarts of last year's NCAA Tournament run, and the final 15 minutes of Tuesday's game against Youngstown State were a promising nod to those Bulls.

    Trailing 45-39 with 15 minutes to play, USF's defense clamped down on the Penguins, who shot 15 percent the rest of the way and went the final 9:46 without a field goal as the Bulls pulled out a 72-54 win before an announced crowd of 3,680 in the Sun Dome.

    "I thought our defense kept turning it up and turning it up, and we finally were able to get the stops we needed," Heath said. "It was a good second half for us, and hopefully our guys are understanding that we can't take anybody lightly."

    Victor Rudd had a season-high 16 points and a career-high 16 rebounds, leading the Bulls (6-3) to a 45-35 edge on the boards. Point guard Anthony Collins had 14 points and seven assists, hitting back-to-back runners to spark a 10-2 run that gave USF the lead for good.

    "I think we know we have all the pieces. It's just a point of putting everything together and playing as a team," said Collins, who had 13 days between games to rest a nagging calf injury.

    Youngstown hit seven 3-pointers in the first half, which ended with a 33-33 tie. USF came out of the break sluggish enough that Heath called time out with 17:07 left and the Bulls trailing by three.

    "They were beating us down the floor, and I'm thinking to myself, 'Man, we must be out of shape,' " Heath said. "That's all we talked about: 'We're out of shape. I'm going to run the heck out of you guys until we get back in shape. That's my fault.' Seemed like after that, we got back in better shape."


    OCTAVIO JONES TimesOCTAVIO JONES Times

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  • 12/18/12--20:08: Baylor women pound Vols
  • Times wires
    Tuesday, December 18, 2012

    WACO, Texas — Brittney Griner and third-ranked Baylor were ready to play, and young No. 10 Tennessee never recovered after the Bears' fast start.

    Griner scored the first six of the game and Baylor the first 17 on the way to its 45th straight win at home, a surprisingly easy 76-53 victory Tuesday night.

    "Our defensive intensity, the excitement of the crowd, maybe it was the excitement of they're going home now for Christmas for a while," coach Kim Mulkey said.

    "We haven't played (in a week). It's just like they were ready to go, our defensive intensity was pretty special there at the beginning. Everybody fed off of each other when the game started."

    Tennessee (7-2) missed its first 11 shots.

    Griner, who had 17 points and 12 rebounds for her third consecutive double double, already had nine points before the Vols finally scored.

    "We just came out prepared and on fire," Griner said. "Any time we play Tennessee, it's a high-intensity game."

    Along with the 6-foot-8 two-time All-American's 47th career double double, Brooklyn Pope had 11 points and 16 rebounds for the Bears (9-1).

    In a rematch of last season's NCAA region final, a 77-58 Bears victory in Tennessee coach Pat Summitt's final game, the Vols trailed 41-16 at the half. That was their largest halftime deficit ever.

    NO. 7 KENTUCKY 80, PEPPERDINE 62: DeNesha Stallworth scored 17, and the visiting Wildcats (9-1) won their eighth consecutive game.

    NO. 14 LOUISVILLE 75, WASH. ST. 39: Sara Hammond scored 18 for the host Cardinals (10-2), who had lost two of their previous three games.

    NO. 16 DAYTON 90, AKRON 59: Andrea Hoover and Cassie Sant scored 18 each as the visiting Flyers (11-0) romped.

    TAMPA 68, ALA.-HUNTSVILLE 50: Shamika Williams had 20 points and Illyssa Vivo 18 to lead the Spartans (8-0) in a game at Florida Southern in Lakeland. Tampa is off to its best start since the 2009-10 squad opened 9-0.

    Men

    MIAMI 72, UCF 50: Durand Scott had 17 points and Reggie Johnson 16 points and 13 rebounds for the visiting Hurricanes (7-1), who won their sixth straight game. The Knights (6-3) shot only 35.4 percent (17-of-48) for the game.

    NO. 4 ARIZONA 89, ORAL ROBERTS 64: Mark Lyons scored 17, Grant Jerrett added 15 and the host Wildcats (9-0) showed no signs of a letdown after its last-second win over Florida.

    NO. 7 OHIO ST. 65, WINTHROP 55: Deshaun Thomas scored 21 — missing nine straight shots at one point and making five in a row at another — to lead the host Buckeyes (9-1) to their fourth straight win.

    NO. 9 KANSAS 87, RICHMOND 59: Jeff Withey had 17 points and 13 rebounds for the Jayhawks (9-1), who will ride an eight-game winning streak into Saturday's showdown at Ohio State, a rematch of last year's national semifinal won by Kansas.

    NO. 18 SAN DIEGO ST. 76, PT. LOMA NAZARENE 49: Xavier Thames scored 17 for the host Aztecs (9-1), who won their ninth straight while leading scorer Jamaal Franklin sat out with a back injury.

    NO. 20 MICHIGAN ST. 64, BOWLING GREEN 53: Gary Harris and Denzel Valentine scored 12 each for the visiting Spartans (10-2), who struggled to put away the Falcons until late in the game.

    NO. 25 N.C. STATE 88, STANFORD 79: Lorenzo Brown scored 18 of his season-high 24 after halftime as the host Wolfpack (8-2) won its fourth straight game.


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  • 12/18/12--20:21: Jets' Ryan bypasses Tebow
  • Times wires
    Tuesday, December 18, 2012

    For nearly four seasons, the Jets began each week with one constant in their starting lineup: Through thick and thin, Mark Sanchez has been the quarterback.

    That run ended Tuesday, a day after Sanchez's five turnovers in a loss to Tennessee that eliminated the Jets from playoff contention. Coach Rex Ryan announced that the third-stringer, Greg McElroy, would make his first career start Sunday against San Diego.

    Ryan told Sanchez shortly after Monday's game.

    It remained unclear when he told Tim Tebow.

    In a conference call Tuesday, Ryan would not divulge why he chose McElroy ahead of Tebow, who has been listed as the backup since Week 1.

    "I can answer this question a million ways — frontwards, backwards, sideways and anything else," Ryan said when pressed on Tebow. "It's my decision, and I'm going to base it on my gut feeling or whatever."

    Sanchez threw four interceptions and lost a fumble with less than 50 seconds to play, with the Jets on the Titans' 25-yard line after Tennessee shanked a punt. Sanchez has committed 24 turnovers this season and 50 since the start of 2011, most in the NFL.

    "He had obviously a poor day, but he wasn't alone with that," Ryan said.

    Ryan would not rule out the possibility Sanchez will start again, either in Week 17 or down the road. Ryan also did not clarify if Tebow would be the backup, No. 3, or even inactive.

    McElroy replaced Sanchez in the third quarter Dec. 2 against Arizona and threw the go-ahead touchdown pass in a 7-6 victory. But he was inactive the following two weeks.

    Also, a man posted death threats toward Sanchez on his Twitter account Monday night. The unidentified fan, who used the handle BraveGrancru, told Newsday on Tuesday that he never intended to carry out his threat and said, "I do not even own a gun."

    CRUZ SEES GRIEVING FAMILY: Giants receiver Victor Cruz visited the home of the 6-year-old Connecticut shooting victim who was buried in a replica Cruz jersey. Jack Pinto was among 20 children shot to death Friday in Newtown.

    BELCHER CASE: Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher was apparently worried he would lose his baby and money to his longtime girlfriend before fatally shooting her and himself on Dec. 1, according to newly released police reports. Belcher also complained about Kasandra Perkins, the mother of the couple's 3-month-old daughter, in conversations and texts sent to a woman he was dating on the side, the reports show.

    BILLS: Starting right guard Kraig Urbik signed a four-year extension through 2016, worth $13.3 million including a $3.5 million signing bonus this season.

    BROWNS: Alec Scheiner, 39, was named team president. He was with the Cowboys for eight years and was senior vice president and general counsel with Dallas the past five years. … Linebacker James-Michael Johnson and safety T.J. Ward went on injured reserve with knee injuries.

    CHARGERS: Running back Ryan Mathews (broken left collarbone), wide receiver Malcom Floyd (ankle) and tackle Reggie Wells (ankle and toe) went on season-ending injured reserve.

    COWBOYS: A judge ordered nose tackle Josh Brent to wear an electronic monitor pending his trial on an intoxication manslaughter charge in the one-car crash that killed teammate Jerry Brown. State District Judge Fred Tinsley also lowered Brent's bond from $500,000 to $100,000.

    DOLPHINS: Defensive back Dimitri Patterson was awarded to Miami one day after the Browns waived him.

    JAGUARS: Defensive end Andre Branch and running back Jordan Todman went on injured reserve.

    STEELERS: The boot came off of Ike Taylor's fractured ankle but the cornerback will miss his third straight game Sunday.


    Associated PressAssociated Press

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    By Joe Smith, Times Staff Writer, Times wires
    Tuesday, December 18, 2012

    The Rays haven't decided whether newly acquired right-hander Roberto Hernandez, formerly known as Fausto Carmona, will be a starter or reliever next season.

    But executive vice president Andrew Friedman said the 32-year-old will compete for a rotation spot during spring training and, either way, "help us get meaningful outs."

    The Times reported last week the sides were close on a deal, and it was officially announced Tuesday, with the former All-Star receiving $3.25 million plus $1.825 million in incentives.

    "We feel like this is one of those risk-reward stories that makes a lot of sense for us," Friedman said. "Upside is really compelling."

    Hernandez has shown promise in his seven big-league seasons, all with the Indians, finishing fourth in the American League Cy Young race in 2007 (19-8, 3.06 ERA) and earning an All-Star selection in 2010. But he is trying to re-establish his career — and his name — after a controversial and unproductive 2012 season.

    He began the year on the restricted list after a false identity arrest in his native Dominican Republic. It was learned that his real name is Roberto Hernandez, not Carmona which he had used since becoming a pro, and that he was 3 years older than he had listed. He didn't make it back to the United States until July and served a three-week suspension, making three starts (0-3, 7.53) before suffering a season-ending ankle sprain Aug. 27. The Indians declined his $6 million option.

    Said Friedman: "Obviously, last year was a lost year for him in a lot of respects."

    He said they have no issues with Hernandez's makeup, having talked with his former coaches and teammates, and believe he will fit in "extremely well" in the clubhouse.

    Where Hernandez fits on the pitching staff remains to be seen. But with the Rays recently trading James Shields and Wade Davis, Friedman said accounting for the lost innings was "very much on our mind."

    Hernandez could provide depth at the back end of the rotation, an experienced starter who has pitched 200-plus innings twice. A sinkerball pitcher with a high ground ball rate, Hernandez could also be a weapon out of the bullpen. Both scenarios appeared in play during negotiations, since Hernandez has incentives for both innings pitched (up to $1.25 million) and relief appearances (up to $600,000).

    Hernandez hasn't made a relief appearance since his 2006 rookie season. Friedman said they'll stretch him out as a starter in spring training and, at the end, see what "makes sense."

    "This guy has got really good stuff," Friedman said. "We feel he has the repertoire to get out right-handed and left-handed hitters. … It gives us a chance to add to our pitching depth, which is something that is a focus for us in a way that it hasn't been in recent years."

    Around the nation

    NEW YORK — R.A. Dickey picked up his phone on Saturday, and Mets general manager Sandy Alderson told the NL Cy Young Award winner he had 72 hours to negotiate a contract with the Blue Jays.

    "Okay, here we go. I probably am never going to be a Met again," Dickey remembered thinking. "I think I had a wash of just numbness come over me, really."

    A day after he was traded to Toronto and finalized a $30 million, three-year contract, the knuckleballer, 38, talked about his exit from New York after three seasons that revived his career and made him a fan favorite. And he discussed the stimulation he will get from joining a contender.

    "I think it's important for me to grieve leaving New York," he said. "I had a proverbial home there. I had a home among fans. I had a home in an organization. I had a lot of success there, and I think it's important for me to be sad about that for a moment before I move on to the next feeling."

    That next feeling is glee about joining the amped-up Blue Jays, who have added five All-Stars during the offseason, with Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle and Melky Cabrera preceding Dickey north.

    "I can't tell you how excited I am to be part of an organization that's committed to winning and putting a product on the field that the fans can be excited about," Dickey said.

    INDIANS WOO SWISHER: Former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel was among a group who had lunch with free-agent outfielder Nick Swisher, who played baseball for the Buckeyes, on his visit with Cleveland.

    GIANTS: Right-handed reliever Santiago Casilla completed a $15 million, three-year contract.

    PHILLIES: Left-hander John Lannan finalized a $2.5 million, one-year deal.

    TWINS: Right-hander Mike Pelfrey agreed to terms on a $4 million, one-year contract.

    Times staff writer Marc Topkin contributed to this report, which used information from Times wires.


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    By Rodney Page, Times Staff Writer
    Wednesday, December 19, 2012

    After 25 years, the Champions Tour is bypassing Tampa Bay.

    The tour released its 2013 schedule Wednesday, and the mid-April stop at TPC Tampa Bay in Lutz has been replaced by the Greater Gwinnett Championship in Duluth, Ga.

    "We just couldn't find a (title) sponsor in Tampa,'' tour president Mike Stevens said. "We had some nibbles. But at the end of the day, we were not able to get anyone across the line.

    "If it wasn't for this downturn in the economy, we wouldn't even be having this conversation.''

    The beginning of the end came when Outback Steakhouse, the title sponsor since 2004, pulled out after the 2011 senior event. Tournament officials scrambled to find another sponsor before Encompass Insurance came on board for 2012. However, Encompass was only a one-year fix because it hosts a new event in Glenview, Ill., starting in June.

    On Sept. 1, with no title sponsor in sight, all full- and part-time employees were let go.

    Tournament director Amy Hawk stayed on until the end of the year in a last-ditch effort to find a sponsor.

    While exact figures aren't made public, Champions Tour title sponsorship costs about half that of a PGA event. Transitions Optical paid about $7 million per year to sponsor the PGA tournament at Innisbrook.

    While there will be no 2013 event, Stevens said the tour has not given up on the bay area.

    "We still have Tampa as a viable host city,'' he said. "When we have companies that express interest in sponsorship on the Champions Tour, Tampa is always a part of the market list. … I hope we can get back there in 2014 and if not, perhaps '15. We've got 25 years invested there. It's tough to walk away from.''

    "It's really disappointing that it didn't work out," Hawk said. "I got at least 15 emails today about buying tickets, and I didn't know what to tell them. Hopefully we can get it back in '14."

    The senior tournament started in 1988 at Tampa Palms and was known as the GTE Classic. Verizon took over sponsorship from 2001-03. Outback bought the title sponsorship rights and made it a pro-am. It drew celebrities, including actors Mark Wahlberg, Bill Murray, George Lopez and Michael J. Fox.

    Past champions include Tom Watson, Jack Nicklaus, Hale Irwin and Bernhard Langer. The 2012 champion was Michael Allen.

    The tournament has raised more than $9 million for local charities since its inception, according to its website. TPC Tampa Bay hosted the tournament for 20 years, the second-longest streak on tour.

    With the Champions Tour gone, the only professional golf event in the area is the PGA's Tampa Bay Championship in Palm Harbor. That tournament needs a title sponsor as well but will be played in March.

    Stevens said the tour was flexible in its pitch to possible sponsors. They suggested format changes and dates in February, March or April. "It's a big loss for us,'' he said. "If I could wish for anything, it would be to have a sponsor come in and assume that role. I'm going to stay bullish on the market.''


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  • 12/19/12--08:59: Fishing report
  • By Tim Whitfield, Times Correspondent
    Wednesday, December 19, 2012

    What's hot: Trout are biting soft plastic shad tails. Jig them in the potholes and then swim them over the grass. On low tide fish are stacking up on the edges of potholes and the edges of the flats. The big gators are in the mullet schools and moving around tailing redfish. If the puffer fish become a problem, switch to hard plastic sinking twitch baits. Redfish are chewing on shrimp, cut ladyfish and dart-type baits. Work the creek mouths, and mullet schools will put you in the right areas to find the slot-sized reds. Go inside the creeks for rod-bending action on just under slot redfish (maybe a slot fish in the mix), sheepshead and trout.

    Creek action: Several snook have been caught in creeks — some up to 30 inches. They have fallen victim to the shrimp and jigs, or if you can find it, white bait. With a cold front pushing through, the creeks should fill up with fish. Fish regular-sized shrimp on the bottom with a jig head or split shot for redfish, or under a popping cork for trout. Also, the front should push the silver trout back onto the reefs. They are excellent table fare but do not freeze well, so take only what is needed for a meal.

    Tim Whitfield can be reached at (813) 714-0889 or tim@swiftfishcharters.com.


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    By Andy Warrener, Times Correspondent
    Wednesday, December 19, 2012

    Sickles wrestling coach Terry Brockland stands to achieve a milestone dual-meet victory mark Saturday.

    Brockland will take his Gryphon team into a 10-team meet at Robinson, needing just five wins to reach 250 dual-meet wins.

    But it's not a mark that will have Brockland popping open champagne

    "I didn't even realize until myself and the other coaches were talking at the beginning of this year and Steve (Cortese) asked when we would get to 200," Brockland said. "We counted up all our dual-meet wins and saw that we were close to 250."

    • • •

    Brockland has certainly put his time in. He formerly taught and coached track at Buchanan Middle School, then a junior high with a football program, and he credits then-football coach Steve Randolph with forming the foundation of his coaching philosophy.

    "He (Randolph) never cussed, never raised his voice at the kids," Brockland said. "He'd tell them to run six perimeters and then talk to them after — I try to follow that philosophy."

    Brockland wrestled in high school at South Miami High, so it fell to him to start the Sickles wrestling program when he moved over in 1997 and became the school's first and only coach.

    "Whatever was best for the school was best for me," Brockland said.

    The calm demeanor and team-first mentality have followed Brockland wherever he has been. James Harris, Sickles' current athletic director, was Brockland's student at Buchanan.

    "He's (Brockland's) not only skilled at being a coach, he's a great role model for the kids, too," Harris said. "He (Brockland) really knows what it means to be a student athlete."

    • • •

    The student athletes flourish in the tiny wrestling room adjacent to the gymnasium. Problems with academic ineligibility seldom arise. Many of Brockland's current wrestlers are honors students; some are in advanced placement classes.

    Oluwabunkunmi Olusanya, a 2008 graduate, was a state qualifier and AP student before being admitted to Howard University. Olusanya's two younger brothers graduated or will graduate from Sickles — Adedeji in 2010 and Adekunle this summer.

    "You learn a lot of discipline here, along with sound techniques," Olusanya said. "He's (Brockland) always bringing in good technicians to help out.

    "You don't feel like someone's raining down on you; he's (Brockland's) not the type to curse or yell," Olusanya added. "Any time new coaches come in they take that same approach, too."

    Brockland has a couple of assistants who bring loads of expertise to the room: Steve Cortese, a state high school runner-up in New Jersey, and Jeff Urban, a two-time NCAA qualifier at Missouri. Both boast of Brockland's positive attitude, and the can-do atmosphere has produced success across his career.

    It took his first nine seasons to build up the 100-win milestone. But Brockland cites a thicker dual-meet schedule and a peaking program for closing the last 150 wins in just the past seven years.

    The 2012-13 team is a young team, according to Brockland, but not without depth and potential state qualifiers. Junior Andrew Martin (145 pounds) and senior Vincent Brown (138) are the Gryphons' best shots at state final bids. Martin is currently 24-1 and Brown is 23-2.

    "He (Brockland) pushes us hard but it pays off," Martin said. "I'd be nowhere without him."

    Brockland, along with former pro wrestler Jerry Briscoe, runs the Guardian Wrestling Club out of Sickles, and it provides a steady stream of talent.

    Also, Brockland's son, Adam, now 9 years old, could come through Sickles and the wrestling program. Brockland said he will "definitely stick around for that."

    Who knows what win total Brockland will be approaching by then. Chances are he probably won't even notice. When asked what he planned to do when he hits 250?

    "Probably just roll off of one mat and get off to the next one," Brockland said.


    Photos by Andy Warrener   |   Special to the TimesPhotos by Andy Warrener | Special to the Times

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    By Brandon Wright, Times Correspondent
    Wednesday, December 19, 2012

    SEFFNER

    Last year's Seffner Christian team finished 24-5 and reached the Class 3A region finals. Without a senior on the roster, the Crusaders had plenty of reasons for optimism heading into this year.

    Then Seffner Christian added a familiar face who happens to be one of the best players in the area.

    "We had a great team last year," coach Greg Fawbush said. "This team could be better."

    Tesha Hanson, a Division I prospect, transferred back to Seffner Christian this season after a year at Riverview. The senior guard has blended back into the team and Seffner Christian hasn't missed a beat, racing out to a school-best 12-0 record heading into a pair of important holiday tournaments starting tonight at 6.

    "We were excited to have (Hanson) back," junior guard Sabrina Whiting said. "We welcomed her back. She's going to make us better."

    And it's not like the Crusaders needed much help. Seffner Christian reached the Final Four two years ago and fell a game shy of it last season.

    "Two years ago we were a bunch of overachievers," Fawbush, the only coach in the program's history, said. "Last year you could see the pieces of the puzzle coming together. This year we are a complete team."

    It's hard to argue considering the Crusaders' results. Four players — Ally Parimore (12.2 points per game), Peyton Walker (15.3 points per game), Hanson (15.9 points per game) and Whiting (15.7 points per game) — are all averaging double digits.

    "We're hard to guard because we have so many scoring threats," said Whiting, who has started since her seventh-grade season. "It's hard to lock down four people."

    Whiting, Hanson and Parimore are all perimeter threats while Walker, who also leads the team at 10.9 rebounds per game, is a dangerous post presence.

    "Peyton sometimes doesn't get the credit she deserves for how good she is," Fawbush said.

    Undefeated, the Crusaders haven't been just winning, they have been dominating. Seffner Christian has defeated opponents by an average of 46 points and hit the 70-point mark in half of its games.

    "Our goal when we go out is to get 70," Fawbush said. "If you look at the top teams (in 3A), that's what they are scoring. All of those teams are in that range."

    Because Seffner Christian has been so much better than its county opponents, the team is looking forward to some stiffer opposition in the next two weeks.

    "It's real exciting," Whiting said. "We haven't had much competition in our district, so I think it will be good for us."

    First Baptist Academy, Strawberry Crest and Academy of the Holy Names will compete in the Seffner Christian Holiday Tournament beginning tonight. Academy kept it close earlier in the season, losing 75-57 to the Crusaders on Sept. 29.

    The Crusaders will then travel to Fort Myers for the prestigious 64-team Queen of Palms Basketball Classic Dec. 27-29.

    "The girls know it's going to be a rough three days, but they are challenge oriented," Fawbush said. "They just don't back down from anyone."

    Brandon Wright can be reached at hillsnews@tampabay.com.


    CHRIS ZUPPA   |   TimesCHRIS ZUPPA | Times

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    By Joel Anderson, Times Staff Writer
    Wednesday, December 19, 2012

    ST. PETERSBURG — The recruiting dance had been going on for a few months when Eric Patterson got a phone call from a USF assistant coach not long before signing day in 2011.

    The coach told Patterson, then a defensive back for Plant High, he was too small. The Bulls were looking for bigger cornerbacks.

    Patterson ultimately went off to Ball State with those words ringing in his ears. He remembered them — and the rejection from his hometown team— when the Mid-American Conference school hosted USF on Sept. 22.

    On the final play of Ball State's 31-27 win, Patterson made the clinching interception — the first of his career and final word to the staff that doubted his ability to play big-time college football.

    "Not to knock on their game," the 5-foot-10, 193-pound sophomore said, "but I feel like I'm better than all the corners that are there right now."

    Patterson returns to the bay area Friday, when Ball State takes on Central Florida in the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl at Tropicana Field.

    Much has changed since Patterson left Tampa for Muncie, Ind., in the summer of 2011. He is bigger, wiser, stronger, faster and more responsible than the 18-year-old recruit who first bedeviled his coaches at Plant then the staff at Ball State.

    Patterson started nine games for the Cardinals this fall, tallying 60 tackles, two interceptions and a forced fumble. It was good enough to earn third-team all-MAC honors.

    Away from the game, his coaches — old and new — said his fledgling maturity has shown up in the classroom and other areas of his life.

    "Coming in, it was kind of a shock for him," Ball State defensive backs coach (and former Florida safety) Daryl Dixon said. "But from Day 1 to now, I can say Eric has changed his life."

    Even by his own account, Patterson has come a long way from the sometimes aimless teenager who struggled balancing schoolwork and football.

    Things started to change soon after Patterson moved in with his grandmother before his junior year of high school, allowing him to transfer from Hillsborough to Plant.

    "From the moment he got with us, he showed tremendous potential," Plant coach Robert Weiner said. "It was a matter of getting him honed in and focused on what he had to do. We saw enough flashes that when he grew up and matured, we knew that he was going to be a really good player."

    That potential showed up in the spring of Patterson's junior year, when he went up against current USF receiver and former Jefferson star Andre Davis in a jamboree featuring more than 15 players boasting scholarship offers.

    Patterson allowed only a 30-yard reception despite giving up 5 inches in height to a player dubbed "Freak Show." He broke up one fade pass in the end zone and knocked down two other passes intended for Davis.

    "After the spring game, I really blew up," said Patterson, who had offers only from Buffalo and Youngstown State at that point. "A lot of coaches started contacting me. But I had bad grades, so they told me when I get my grades up to give them a call."

    He followed up the breakout spring performance with a senior year that included 60 tackles, 22 pass breakups, an interception and two touchdowns, including an 87-yard kickoff return in the Class 5A semifinals.

    Ball State coach Pete Lembo, who accepted the job in December 2010, offered Patterson a scholarship on the advice of Weiner, a friend who supplied him with a handful of recruits at his previous job, at Elon.

    "We had a month to go out and recruit," Lembo said. "You want to know what you're getting, and so we went in and saw Bob (Weiner). Eric was still available. We got him up to Ball State, and he really liked it."

    The adjustment was initially difficult for Patterson, who wasn't prepared for the slower pace of Muncie — "where I'm from, you don't see cows out in the front yard," he said — or the grind of being a college athlete.

    He played in seven games as a freshman, but few believed he was fully capitalizing on his opportunities.

    "When I came in as a freshman, I thought everything was a (joke)," Patterson said. "Here, you have to bring your A game every day."

    Said Lembo: "He wasn't quite as consistent as you'd hope for."

    Last winter, Patterson finally resolved to become a student in the classroom and on the field. Then he came up with three goals: start, make an All-MAC team and get to the NFL.

    "Right now, I've got two of them," he said.

    His coaches point to the interception against USF as the turning point of his career.

    "That was a huge play for him," Dixon said.

    "Everything came full circle for him right there," Lembo said.

    Patterson, of course, hopes to come up with a few more game-turning plays Friday. And maybe once again remind the school across the bay of what it missed out on.

    "I'm too small," he said, mocking the previous USF coaching staff's assessment of him. "Seeing their cornerbacks this year, I just laugh about it."

    Joel Anderson can be reached at janderson@tampabay.com or Twitter @jdhometeam.


    Courtesy of Ball StateCourtesy of Ball State

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    By Seth Leto, Times Correspondent
    Wednesday, December 19, 2012

    What's hot: Looming temperature drops will have snook seeking warmer water. As cold fronts make their way through and water temperatures plummet, snook will move into deeper pockets that do not cool as fast. They also will be found around structures that hold heat such as natural limestone rock, seawalls, dock or bridge pilings and dark muddy bottoms. The best time to target winter snook is at night because they will be grouped up in warm water waiting for an easy meal.

    Tactics: The best areas to fish will be protected from the wind and have minimal water flow, accessible pockets of deeper water, a dark bottom and a structure. Make multiple casts, and use a slower retrieve. Winter snook are lethargic because of slow metabolism. You also can troll in larger areas of deeper water such as a river or arroyo. These include the Anclote and Cottee.

    Tackle: Most winter snook fishing is done with light spin outfits or conventional bait casters. The most popular baits include rattle traps, slow-diving plugs and soft, plastic jigs. Artificial lures are generally used with this type of fishing, though a live shrimp usually will not be turned down.

    Seth Leto runs Pristine Fishing Charters out of Tarpon Springs. Call (727) 385-0382.


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