Trail Blazers may have addressed several needs with draft picks

Trail Blazers may have addressed several needs with draft picks

If you want to go down a checklist of things the Trail Blazers could have sought in the 2017 draft that would make their team better, it might go this way:

  • Outside shooting in the front court.
  • Rim protection.
  • Overall defensive improvement.
  • Toughness.
  • More players who can pass.

And after the draft, you might just be able to put a checkmark next to all those categories.

Portland traded two first-round picks for Gonzaga center/forward Zach Collins at No. 10 and then selected Purdue forward Caleb Swanigan at No. 26.

Collins, a seven-footer, doesn't lack for confidence, calmly telling the Portland media via conference call, "I don't see why I can't be rookie of the year."

Neil Olshey, Portland's director of basketball operations, called him "a franchise-level building block" and pushed Collins as a rim-protector, one-on-one defender, pick-and-roll defender and gritty competitor. "We got lucky he got to 10," Olshey said.

Swanigan, a 6-9 forward who can pass and make threes, is known for what is now his rags-to-riches story of attending 15 different schools and living in homeless shelters before getting his weight under control and his life together. "An incredible kid... a great story," Olshey said.

If social media is any indication (and it's not always) the Blazer fan base came away from draft night with a degree of disappointment. There was no blockbuster trade involving Jimmy Butler or Paul George and no drafting of any of the available Oregon Ducks.

But Olshey is sticking to the plan he's had since taking over this roster. "At the end of the day, we have to do what's right, long-term," he said.

The Blazers have built around Damian Lillard and his career arc. The idea is to accumulate players around Lillard's age or younger, then grow them together and be ready as a team for a championship run when Lillard reaches his peak.  Collins is still 19 and Swanigan turned 20 just a couple of months ago so both will need development time.

But front-court players who can make threes, pass and defend always have a shot at playing time. Collins, I would expect, has a real shot at earning rotation minutes as a rookie. Swanigan is one of those players who doesn't quite fit a position but is what Olshey called "a basketball player" -- and the league is shifting more and more to players who don't necessarily fit a stereotype.

How will it work out? Nobody really knows... but it's going to be fun to watch.

Hops rally from 6-0 deficit to win home opener

Hops rally from 6-0 deficit to win home opener

HILLSBORO -- It was the home opener for the Hops Tuesday night and there was a special added attraction. Right-handed pitcher Matt Koch, who has pitched in the major leagues, was the starting pitcher for Hillsboro -- the first big-leaguer to ever appear for the team.

But in the end, all Koch did was put the home team in a 6-0 hole. Which it climbed out of, thanks to a sensational bullpen performance and a walkoff single in the 12th inning by Domingo Leyba that climaxed a 7-6 victory.

The Hops loaded the bases in the ninth after a two-out triple by Eudy Ramos on a bloop that turned into a triple after a failed attempt at a shoestring catch. But after two walks, a groundout ended the inning. And in the 10th they had runners at first and third with one out but couldn't score.

Koch, a former big-leaguer with the parent Arizona Diamondbacks, was making a rehab start for the Hops and didn't’t exactly get off to a smooth start.

The right-hander allowed a long, wind-aided home run to the first batter of the game, Malique Ziegler, and then singles to the next three hitters, upping the lead to 2-0 with still nobody out in the first.

But a pickoff at second, a strikeout and a groundout got Koch out of the inning.

He retired the side in order in the second but was touched for two more runs in the third and the same number in the fourth.

Koch finished up his start after five innings, allowing nine hits and five earned runs.

But the Hops didn't quit.

Designated hitter Kyle Smith got the home team on the board with a two-run homer in the bottom of the fourth, pulling Hillsboro within 6-2.

The Hops scored in the seventh on a two-out, two-run bloop double to right field by Yan Sanchez.  The tying runs were in scoring position after that, and Bryan Araiza got one of the home on a checked-swing infield single and the tying run scored moments later on a wild pitch.

By that time the 4,537 fans were in a frenzy after watching their team rally from the 6-0 deficit heading to the eighth. But they had to hang around a while as the night turned chilly to see the end.

 

The Beavers' control of the strike zone has been amazing

The Beavers' control of the strike zone has been amazing

Oregon State doesn't have the most experienced team in the College World Series. Certainly it didn't have the most draft picks in the recent June free agent draft.

But it owns the corners of the plate on offense and defense and that's been a major key to its success.

Beaver hitters are among the most disciplined I've ever seen at anything below the major-league level. They don't chase bad pitches. They are not afraid to hit with two strikes on them. They work counts and run up pitch counts to a degree that is wrecking pitching staffs.

Monday night against LSU, the Beavers were struggling against reliever Caleb Gilbert in the third and fourth inning. Gilbert struck out four of the first six hitters he faced. But then the Beavers dug in and started doing what they do best on offense -- grinding out at bats, fouling pitches off, taking close pitches off the plate and extending at bats and innings.

Gilbert managed to last two and two-thirds innings but needed 68 pitches to do it. He allowed a couple of unearned runs -- but as we've seen with the Beavers, if you make an error or mental mistake against them, they'll usually make you pay for it. A good part of that is their patience at the plate. And that's something so difficult to teach or coach. You can't just tell players to swing at only good pitches. That kind of discipline comes through countless hours of work -- learning the strike zone, learning the pitches you can hit and the ones you can't and simply being willing to sacrifice yourself at certain times to be willing to take more pitches than you might wish.

LSU used seven pitchers to get through the final seven innings of the game and they combined to throw a whopping 173 pitches -- yes, in seven innings! That kind of workload destroys pitching staffs. We saw OSU do the same thing to Cal-Fullerton in the first game of the CWS and to Vanderbilt in the Super Regionals -- where the Beavers broke first-round draft pick Kyle Wright's resolve with their patience.

Meanwhile, Oregon State starter Bryce Fehmel was creating another masterpiece on the mound. He used only 108 pitches through eight innings, walked three and allowed a paltry two hits. Fehmel is an artist at working the corners and changing speeds, throwing off hitters' timing and messing with their minds. He made it look easy and it wasn't. The Tigers have a terrific offensive team, loaded with speed and power, and Fehmel had them eating out of his right hand.

It was yet another spectacular game for the Beavers, who continue to pile them up. Now, with three days of rest, pitching coach Nate Yeskie will have all his arms rested and ready to go for a game Friday that could vault OSU into the best-of-three championship round. He can choose between Jake Thompson or Drew Rasmussen as his starter and has a bullpen so fresh that many of the best have yet to throw a pitch in the CWS.

And as long as the Beavers continue to control the strike zone, they're going to be a tough team to beat.

LSU brings a solid starting pitcher and a lot of speed to today's CWS matchup vs. Beavers

LSU brings a solid starting pitcher and a lot of speed to today's CWS matchup vs. Beavers

We know all about Oregon State by now. The winning streaks. The nearly impossible feat of getting this far into a baseball season with just four losses. But what about today's opponent, the LSU Tigers? Here is a quick look at what they'll bring to today's battle of 1-0 College World Series teams:

  • The Tigers will start freshman right-hander Eric Walker (8-1, 3.46 ERA, 93.2 IP, 78 K, 23 BB) on the mound. Walker did not pitch in the Super Regionals but won big games in the team's conference tournament and regional. He's much like OSU starter Bryce Fehmel in that he's not overpowering. He changes speeds and keeps hitters off balance. He apparently has overcome some arm "tightness" that kept him out of the Super Regionals. Alex Lange, the LSU ace who was drafted in the first round last week, pitched the team's opening game of the CWS.
  • LSU has a terrific bullpen, featuring setup man Zach Hess, a hard thrower who has allowed only one earned run over his last nine appearances, and closer Hunter Newman.
  • The Beavers have a 22-game win streak but the Tigers bring a win streak of their own into this game -- 17 games, during which they've averaged more than eight runs a game and allowed fewer than three earned runs per game. LSU has come from behind to win five of its six postseason games. There is little question that these are the two hottest teams in the country.
  • The Tigers have plenty of speed and like to pressure the defense into mistakes with it. That will be interesting, because the Beaver defense has survived all attempts to do that. Running foolishly against Oregon State can be a futile pursuit.
  • The team that wins this game has a HUGE advantage in getting to the championship round of this tournament. It will not play again until Friday -- a chance for the entire pitching staff to get fully rested -- and a win Friday would wrap up a berth in the best-of-three championship round. The team that loses today's game must win three straight games to get to the title round.
  • Beaver Coach Pat Casey had this to say about the Tigers: “(LSU is) just so athletic, I mean, it’s unbelievable the guys that they’re running out there. Then you run arms out there. (Zack Hess) came in there last night … and he was 94, 95 (mph fastball) with an 85 mph slider. I don’t know if there’s a more talented team in the World Series.”
  • It would be expected that the first man out of the bullpen for the Beavers would be Drew Rasmussen, who threw an inning in Saturday's win over Cal-Fullerton. If the Beavers can pick up a win over LSU, No. 1 starter Jake Thompson would be fully rested for the Friday game.

Beavers roar back to defeat Titans 6-5 in CWS opener

Beavers roar back to defeat Titans 6-5 in CWS opener

Hey Omaha, that's what a 55-4 team looks like.

Oregon State shrugged off an early 5-1 deficit and kept grinding Saturday afternoon and pulled out a 6-5 win over Cal-Fullerton. And, as so often is the case for the Beavers, it was near-perfect relief pitching and clutch, two-out hits that made the difference.

"We just battled," Coach Pat Casey said. "That's what we've done all year -- just keep battling."

Trevor Larnach hit a two-out, two-run single in the bottom of the sixth to pull OSU within a run and then Jack Anderson followed with another single to tie the game and cap a four-run rally. Catcher Adley Rutschman lined a two-out single in the eighth to plate the winning run. Freshman left-hander Jake Mulhullond got the win after four and one-third innings of hitless relief and Drew Rasmussen saved it with a 12-pitch, 1-2-3 ninth.

"At the end of games we find ways to win," said Rutschman, who made a terrific diving catch of a popped-up bunt in the sixth.

The Beavers move on to meet the winner of Saturday night's LSU-Florida State game Monday at 4 p.m. Casey said following the game that right-hander Bryce Fehmel will start that game with Rasmussen available for relief duty.

Oregon State's Saturday starter was touched for all three of the Titan hits and all five runs. "Too amped up," Casey said. "He was a little too excited."

 

RIP Don Matthews -- just about the best football coach I ever saw

RIP Don Matthews -- just about the best football coach I ever saw

I have always believed he was the greatest high school football coach in Oregon's history, even though his career in the state was short. And as I look back and consider his resume, he may have been the greatest football coach -- including college -- to ever work in Oregon.

Don Matthews, retired and living in Beaverton, passed away Wednesday at 77, after a five-year battle with cancer.

He showed up as the head football caoch at Sunset High School in 1974, taking over a team that was winless the prior season. He won three games in his first year, then captured a state championship the next. The following season he went undefeated and won the state title again. His teams played ferocious defense and used a veer-option offense that seemed at times unstoppable.

He was confident and had more swagger than any prep coach I've ever seen. He'd tell you he'd play any team in the state at any place they wanted. Once, betore taking the Apollos to Roseburg, he told me, "We'll play them in their parking lot, if they want." He could be irascible, profane and distant. But man, could he coach. I always thought he was one of those rare coaches who could beat you with HIS players or walk to the other side of the field and beat you with YOUR players.

You probably haven't heard of him unless you've been around for a while -- or were a fan of the Canadian Football League.

Matthews owned the CFL. That league posted a tribute to him that details his record in that league. He got his start in the CFL when then-Edmonton coach Hugh Campbell brough him up to coach linebackers after the second state title at Sunset. The rest was history.

Matthews retired as the league's all-time winningest coach. He won the Grey Cup five times (and appered in it nine times) and was five times named the league's coach of the year. And he could win anywhere. His Cup wins were in British Columbia, Baltimore (yes, briefly in the CFL), Toronto and Montreal. During his tenure he may have coached the two greatest American players ever to play above the border -- Warren Moon and Doug Flutie.

His halftime adjustments at Sunset were legendary, as were his motivational tactics. I can't say enough for his ability to coach both sides of the ball and figure out ways to win. He was charismatic and unique.

RIP, Coach. A whole lot of people will remember you forever.

McGregor-Mayweather reminds me of Ali-Inoki and could be the same sort of fiasco

McGregor-Mayweather reminds me of Ali-Inoki and could be the same sort of fiasco

The fight a whole lot of people seem excited to see -- Conor McGregor vs. Floyd Mayweather -- has finally been signed. It will happen in Las Vegas, of course, on Aug. 26.

It appears both fighters will get about $100 million for their time and this thing is likely to set records for pay-per-view numbers. And if you think that's high, just take a moment to remember how well McGregor promotes his fights. His wackiness (NSF) at some point before Aug. 26 is going to set this thing on fire.

But come on, a man who has never boxed in his life against someone who is considered perhaps the greatest technical boxer of all time? I know that Mayweather isn't a knockout guy but I'm having a hard time envisioning McGregor even being able to hit Mayweather. There is a real chance this whole thing will turn into a fiasco.

I remember a similar sort of bout many years ago. Does anyone recall Muhammad Ali vs. Antonio Inoki? That fiasco took place in 1976 and matched Inoki -- a pro wrestler -- vs. Ali, in Japan. Without getting into the specifics of the thing, somebody was supposed to lose this bout as a worked match, as in pro wrestling. But it didn't work out that way. What followed was one of the most boring exhibitions I've ever seen, bordering on  slapstick, with Inoki mostly on his back attempting to kick Ali and the boxer trying to avoid the kicks and screaming at Inoki to get up and fight.

But that spectacle made both participants a lot of money (an estimated 1.4 billion people watched it). It worked as a business venture, if not as entertainment. I would say this has a chance to be in the same league. You order this match for about 100 bucks and you'll very likely be sorry you did.

Will I buy it? Yeah, probably. By the time we get there, it's going to be pretty difficult to resist.

 

OK, so tell me about Durant's "legacy" now

OK, so tell me about Durant's "legacy" now

As much as I detest the word "legacy" when people are talking about pro athletes (basketball players have careers, they don't have a legacy. Things like that are reserved for the likes of Dr. Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy) I'm going to use it here.

Where are all those people who insisted that Kevin Durant would affect his "legacy" by jumping from Oklahoma City to Golden State and, as I heard so many times, "ride those guys' coat tails to a championship."

Well, as it turned out, Durant did the right thing. The Warriors would not have won without him. He was the MVP of the series. And he escaped having to play in a city YOU wouldn't live in to the Bay Area. And he escaped having to play with Russell Westbrook on a dysfunctional team and landed with a squad that was the most unselfish in the league.

When people look back on his career they're going to say he carried the Warriors to this championship -- not that they carried him to one.

And he did so while sacrificing pieces of his game for the sake of playing on a winning team. He would have scored more points and his stats would have looked much better had he stayed with the Thunder. But the NBA Finals stage allowed him to show just how talented he is -- leading many people to conclude he's the next big thing in the league.

As far as the Cavaliers are concerned, the Finals showed they have some work to do on that roster of theirs. Instead of stacking their bench with LeBron's buddies, they need to get some serious role players with talent. They need guys capable of contributing instead of just sitting and watching. In Game 5, the Warrior bench outscored the Cavalier bench 35-7, typical of the entire series.

The Warriors, too, had a big coaching edge. Golden State plays the prettiest game in basketball on offense and just about the best defense in the league. The Cavs take turns playing one-on-one with not enough defense.

The right team won. And Kevin Durant made the right move.

Inside Bryce Fehmel's "out of nowhere" OSU pitching performance

Inside Bryce Fehmel's "out of nowhere" OSU pitching performance

Oregon State has piled incredible on top of amazing one game after another this season on the way to its berth in the College World Series, culminated by its 9-2 win Saturday night over Vanderbilt to close out a Super Regional.

But incredible and amazing arrived at the game together Saturday night in Corvallis.

The Beavers won behind the pitching efforts of sophomore right-hander Bryce Fehmel, who went the distance and allowed just one earned run, five hits, no walks while striking out 10 and using just 104 pitches. That's the same Bryce Fehmel who had a terrific season as a frosh, but who had been all but forgotten the second half of this season. He hadn't gotten a starting assignment since May 6, dropped from the rotation as Drew Rasmussen returned from Tommy John surgery. Fehmel wasn't even starting the mid-week, non-conference games.

"We never dreamed he would go nine," Coach Pat Casey said after the game. "I don't know how long it's been since he had a start but he was so good that I almost fell asleep. He was fantastic. I went out to make a (position-player) change and the umpire said, 'I hope you're not taking that pitcher out.' He did say that. I think (Fehmel) should be a poker player. You ask him how he's doing and it's the same every time. Wow, what a game to pitch in that situation against that club.

"It was an absolute warrior mentality from him."

Fehmel was asked where that performance came from.

"Out of nowhere. I don't know," he said. "I've been ready to be in this situation... I was ready for the moment.

"It was part of the scouting report going into the game -- do the best I could to keep the batters off balance and it worked out for the whole game."

Fehmel has a nice assortment of off-speed stuff, breaking balls and when he's right, can spot his fastball. But he isn't overpowering. He doesn't blow anyone away with a 95 mph fastball. But everything was working for him against the Commodores and he had some help from his dugout. Pitching coach Nate Yeskie called every pitch and Fehmel didn't shake off a single call. And make no mistake, that's a critical part of getting a pitcher through a game like this one.

"Coach Yeskie just does a fabulous job," Casey said "He has such a good feel for his pitchers. He really called a great game tonight. Spectacular."

Moving forward to the CWS, the Beavers -- who will likely be without Luke Heimlich -- are going to need more spectacular pitching performances from unsuspected places. It's going to take at least three starting pitchers (and possibly more) just to get through to the best-of-three championship round. If the team loses a game, a fourth starter will likely have to step up. It's expected Rasmussen will join the rotation with Jake Thompson, the nation's winningest pitcher. Fehmel has earned a starting shot now, too. But someone else is very likely going to have to step up at some point in Omaha.

And with the way this season has gone so far for the 54-4 Beavers, that someone -- whomever he is -- WILL step up.

Beavers' magical season continues with Super Regional win over Vandy

Beavers' magical season continues with Super Regional win over Vandy

CORVALLIS – Next stop on Oregon State’s magic carpet ride of a season is Omaha and the College World Series.

The Beavers found some magic Saturday night as they blew past Vanderbilt 9-2 to capture their Super Regional in two straight games and hike their latest winning streak to 21 games.

The tourney's top seed will take an eye-popping season record of 54-4 into the eight-team World Series and meet the winner of the Long Beach State-Cal Fullerton Super Regional in their first game.

Heroes? How about sophomore right-hander Bryce Fehmel, making his first start since May 6? He went the distance, allowed five hits, just one earned run, fanned 10 and didn't walk a batter. It was an amazing performance from a pitcher who had been all but forgotten over the latter part of the season.

And what about KJ  Harrison, who hammered a three-run homer to get the Beavers going in the third? It was his second three-run big fly in two nights.

The Beavers got four runs on five hits in a marathon third inning, capped by Harrison’s three-run clout into the high bleachers in left field.

Adley Rutschman opened the inning with a sharp single to right and moved to second on Christian Donahue’s groundout. With two out, Steven Kwan lined a single to center to score Rutschman with the first run of the game.

Nick Madrigal followed with an infield single to set up Harrison. The OSU first baseman then crushed a 2-1 pitch for his second three-run homer in as many nights.

Donahue actually may have provided some momentum for that inning with a spectacular catch leaping against the left-field wall in the second. It was a terrific play with the ball and Donahue arriving at the fence at the same crashing moment.

Fehmel allowed a lead-off double to open the bottom of the third, but pitched his way out of the inning without allowing the runner to advance –- a shutdown inning.

The Commodores got to Fehmel in the sixth for two runs, one of them unearned and by then the Beavers were lacking in baserunners. After getting five hits in the third, they got only one more over the next three innings.

But OSU came back in the top of the seventh to load the bases on two infield hits and a walk, getting Harrison to the plate with two outs. The Oregon State first baseman fell behind on the count 0-2 but worked a walk to force in OSU’s fifth run. That was the end of the line for Vanderbilt’s much-heralded starter Kyle Wright, who has been tabbed as a possible No. 1 pick in Monday’s baseball draft.

Trevor Larnach then grounded a single up the middle to plate two more runs and the Beavers had a 7-2 lead -- a three-run, two-out rally immediately after the Commodores had put two on the board.

But the Beavers weren't done. Cadyn Grenier smacked a triple to deep right-center field in the eighth to drive in two more runs and the lead was 9-2.