My First Foray into a Locker Room

My first time inside a clubhouse could have gone better, but I definitely learned a few things! (Staff photo/Pawtucket Red Sox)

WEEI sent me to Pawtucket, RI, Sunday to cover Bobby Jenks’s second rehab appearance with the AAA Red Sox. You can read the results here. But since I was going to be at McCoy Stadium anyway, the station wanted me to profile pitching prospect Kyle Weiland. Here are five things I learned about sports journalism on Sunday:

1) Do your homework. In many ways, I was not prepared for this trip. Yes, I knew who I wanted to talk to, but at no point did I bother to learn what Weiland, catcher Luis Exposito, manager Arnie Beyeler or pitching coach Rich Sauveur actually looked like. So I had to surreptitiously search for photos on my iPhone or ask other coaches (not players, that would look unprofessional) for help. I’m sure I’m not the first media member to look something up on a smart phone in the locker room, so I doubt I looked as ill-prepared as I felt. But still, this strikes me as something I should have realized ahead of time.

Interviewing Weiland, Exposito and the coaches went fine. I should have memorized the interview questions so that I wasn’t bouncing between the questions sheet and my notebook while trying to juggle a digital recorder and a mic (which felt as awkward as it sounds). More than that, I wish I had learned more about Weiland ahead of time, some kind of ice-breaker. I still think my interviewing skills are the least-developed part of my journalistic repertoire, and these interviews felt stiff. Too formal. Knowing something about musical preferences or favorite movies might have made it all flow more easily. Moral of the story: prepare extensively for interviews ahead of time.

2) Locker rooms aren’t so bad. From my teachers’ descriptions, I pictured locker rooms as these cramped, dank, humid rooms filled with naked men. Yes, I saw a couple of naked men either at their lockers or entering or exiting the shower area. But most players wore underwear most of the time. The Pawtucket clubhouse was spacious, with comfy couches, a large flat-screen television, and a nice little dining area. Well-lit and relatively odor-free. Any discomfort I felt was more from feeling out of my element and unprepared, not from the physicial space.

3) There is a lot of free time. I got to the stadium over two hours before first pitch. Check-in for media was no problem, and I quickly found my way to the clubhouse. Beyeler ushered me into his office, where I hung around with the play-by-play/color team for a few minutes. I didn’t know what to do, so I just listened to their conversation, then improvised a question about Weiland’s development. After that, I excused myself and headed back to the locker room. After figuring out who Weiland was, I waited for him to finish eating (at a teammate’s request, which seemed reasonable), then we did our thing. When that was done, I waited for Sauveur to return to the clubhouse. When that was done, I waited for Exposito to come out of the trainer’s room. All that time I was waiting, I just kind of stood around, mostly watching the Red Sox-Tigers afternoon game. I wasn’t there to do stories on anyone else, but I didn’t know anything about any of the players (hence the need to do homework) that I could have used to start up a regular conversation. I looked over, there was Hideki Okajima, but as a journalist, I couldn’t talk to him about how fun he was to watch in 2007. There was Jenks playing cards, but I figured I’d have time to talk to him after the outing (more on that later). So really, I just sort of hung out in a corner until Exposito finally was available. After that, I high-tailed it to the press box.

4) Free food in the press box! Watching the Pawsox eat before the game made me feel hungry. I passed a hot dog stand on the way to the press box and figured once I got there and got a seat I’d come out and buy some dinner. No need, ol’ chum! Dinner was provided! And it was pretty good! Beef short ribs or pork chops, very edible peas, and pretty tasty mashed potatoes. Free soda. And three gorgeous looking apple pies! I could get used to this!

5) Sometimes, you just get screwed. So Jenks had his outing. The e-mail I’d received ahead of time told me that the media would be allowed into the clubhouse to interview Jenks as soon as he was done. I asked an official if Jenks needed a moment before the press was allowed in. The man called someone, then told me they would announce when Jenks was ready. So I waited. And waited. And waited. I did all of the statistical analysis (pitch selection, speed, accuracy, etc.). The game got later and later. Still nothing. I had seen Jenks yucking it up with the team before the game, so maybe he wanted to stay and watch the whole game. Or make the press do so, if he was the vindictive type.

The game ended. Pawsox won 9-2. The two other reporters and I headed down into the locker room. We interviewed Beyeler about the game briefly, then asked about Jenks. Whereupon we were told that Jenks indeed left the dugout after the first inning. To go eat dinner at Outback Steakhouse. And then leave. Apparently, Jenks felt no need to stick around for interviews about an outing in which he gave up a walk and an RBI single. Meanwhile, us journalists were left with nothing. I tried to salvage the situation by interviewing Sauveur again, asking him basically the same questions I would have asked Jenks. I e-mailed my boss those answers. But as I made the hour-long return to Boston, I couldn’t help but feel as if I’d wasted much of an evening.

Oh well. I’ll get ’em next time.

Nolan Drives in Three, White Scores Two and Strikes Out Four in Relief as Somerville Wins Season Finale

(written, shot, edited and narrated for Somerville Patch)

Somerville vs. St. Clement baseball highlights

There were few 1-2-3 innings to be had in Somerville High’s final baseball game on Saturday. The Highlanders put a man on base in every inning. Their opponents, St. Clement from Medford, put a man on in every inning but the final.

It was a good old-fashioned slugfest at Trum Field, and Somerville came out on top, winning 13-8.

The Highlanders began their scoring in the top of the first, with left fielder Billy Nolan driving in captain Sammy Evers with a groundout.

Dallas O’Brien’s single off St. Clement starter John Foley (complete game, 13 runs, two walks, seven strikeouts) scored starting pitcher Eddie Dias, who was celebrating his 18th birthday. The Highlanders took advantage of two Anchormen errors to end the inning up 4-0.

Not content with a four-run lead, the Highlanders put up five more runs in the second and third innings. Nolan knocked in two more with a single in the second, and leadoff hitter Sean White belted an RBI triple to right before scoring on an Evers single in the third.

The Highlanders’ constant base-running presence let them overcome a poor start from Dias, who struggled in less than two innings of work. Although he retired the first two batters easily in both the first and second, Dias gave up four two-out runs on three walks and three hits.

“He [Dias} didn’t really have what he normally has,” head coach Mike Powers said. “To get those early runs and see those guys getting the confidence… really helps.”

The St. Clement slugfest finally stalled when White took over on the mound. Though he allowed two inherited runners to score in the bottom of the fifth, he retired five of six batters faced in the sixth and seventh, striking out the last four.

“It seems like the team really steps up when he [White] is on the mound,” Powers said. “He’s very consistent, he’s always around the plate, and since day one he’s gotten better and better each time.”

Before White came in, the Anchormen scored four runs off relievers Chris Santos and John Mendoza. First baseman Joe Cordair hit a solo home run off Santos into the parking lot behind left field in the third, and first basemen Luke Hartnett (2-4, 2 RBI) singled in shortstop Kyle Boudrias (3-4, 2 RBI) in the fifth to cut the Highlander lead to 9-6.

Mendoza walked all three batters he faced in the sixth before White took over, with two scoring on a fielder’s choice and an errant pickoff attempt.

The Highlanders finished their season 7-12 overall, but 0-8 in the Greater Boston League.

Powers said that while he was disappointed his team did not make the postseason tournament, he was proud of his players for sticking with the team and finishing the season strong.

Said Powers, “It was a great group of kids. The only thing that stinks really is that we’re going to lose a lot of them, and we’re going to be pretty much starting over again next year.”

Sometimes, the Bad Guys Win

Get used to the image of James driving past the Mavericks: the Heat will win in five games. (Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Miami Heat will beat the Dallas Mavericks in six games to win the NBA Championship. I know I usually write some kind of introduction before making such assertions. A joke in which I call Chris Bosh a turdasaurus rex, a veiled WWII reference regarding Dirk Nowitzki, a discussion of how LeBron James’s “Decision” showed a degree of ego so large that no amount of talent can forgive it. You know, something to show that while I’m a Heat believer, I’m not a Heat fan.

Sorry, friends. Not happening. Because while I agree Bosh is a B+ (at best) player riding better players’ coattails, and I also agree that Nowitzki looks like he should be fighting Grendel, and I even agree that James isn’t doing much social good with the opportunities presented to him, I won’t sugar coat my unwavering belief that the Heat will win the Finals convincingly.

No matter which team had home-court advantage, I’d still pick Miami in six. The Heat are unbeaten at the American Airlines Arena. Dallas has shown some resiliency in these playoffs, having won their last five road games, including one in overtime. But that ends in Miami. Meanwhile, the Mavericks lost a home game to the Oklahoma City Thunder. It may be a difference of just one game, but that one game showed a crack that the Heat can break through. Miami sweeps the first two games, goes 1-2 on the road, then wraps it up on the home court.

Miami, simply put, has more weapons than Dallas has. Nowitzki may be averaging 28.4 points per game, no. 2 in the playoffs and higher than any one Heat player. The key words being “any one.” Because the Big Three are combining for 68.3 points per games. That’s 40 more points per game. Forty! Where will that extra offense comes from? Jason Terry might give you something, but not much. And he’ll have to keep up with Dwyane Wade and the suddenly explosive Mike Miller, who’s given the Heat a deep scoring threat off the bench.

The Heat’s only vulnerabilities have been at point guard and in the post. Before he dislocated an elbow (and after to a lesser extent), Rajon Rondo had his way with the Heat. Before he choked, Chicago’s Derrick Rose was doing the same. In the post, Kevin Garnett abused Bosh at times, and Luol Deng also enjoyed some success.

Nowitzki will destroy Bosh at power forward. It will be comical how incompetent Bosh will look trying to shut down Nowitzki 1-on-1. So the Heat will double-team him. James is dangerous in front of his mark, but he’s equally dangerous from behind. He sneaks up behind shooters, reads their shooting techniques, then times his jump perfectly to swat the pass away. Expect James to knock the ball out of Nowitzki’s hands at least a half-dozen times across the series.

The 2-on-1 won’t cancel the Mavericks’ advantage at power forward, but it will keep Dallas from sustaining long scoring runs. Miami is the far superior rebounding team, especially on defense, and it will hold Dallas to single-shot possessions. At point guard, Jason Kidd and J.J. Barea will give Dallas poise and not much else. Barea will get eaten alive by the bigger and stronger Heat players. Kidd is 38. ‘Nuff said.

Aside from the Mavericks simply not having enough to beat the Heat, Miami’s players possess two traits that make them impossible to beat four times:

1) Physical strength.

2) Cold-blooded focus.

The Heat are a fantastic late-game team. All they have to do is stay close (not necessarily ahead) and then they win in the final five minutes (or, as last night showed, the final two minutes). Against the Celtics, James and Wade simply ran their opponents into the ground. Boston ran out of legs trying to cover the Heat, and the Celtics were dominated in the last few minutes of every game but Game 3. It takes so much energy to contain players like Wade and James, and the Celtics ran out of it. James, Wade and Bosh all average close to (or in James’s case over) 40 minutes a game, and they’re as strong in the final four as they are in the first four. Very few players (especially older ones) can sustain their intensity the way the Heat’s Big Three do, and that gives Miami an advantage.

“But Matt,” you’re asking, “the Bulls weren’t an old team. How did they lose in five games?” Focus. No, the Bulls didn’t lose because they were exhausted. They lost because they tightened up. Rose and especially Joakim Noah lost their rhythm in the late minutes of their games. Instead of trying to win, they tried not to lose. You could see the skittishness in their play. Balls would hit Noah in the hands and bounce away. Rose would take even more unnecessarily difficult paths to the basket than he usually does. Bulls would get trapped in double-teams along the sidelines. The Heat, meanwhile, remained calm and loose. They scored on offense because they have fantastic clutch shooters. Then they waited for the Bulls to mess themselves up on the other end. It worked every time after Game 1.

To win this series, the Mavericks would need 48 uninterrupted minutes of high-intensity, high-focus basketball. They can’t do it. They’ll win once, but that’s it.

The Heat’s Big Three will reign supreme. Bad guys win.

Varitek Beats Indians with his Arm AND his Bat

Jason Varitek watches his two-run home run clear the wall in the seventh inning of Tuesday's game in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

Jason Varitek had gone 116 at-bats without a home run before Tuesday night’s game in Cleveland, a stretch that spanned nearly an entire calendar year. He was due.

Varitek’s two-run home run in the seventh proved the difference-maker, and the Boston Red Sox got another sterling performance from Josh Beckett, beating the Indians, 4-2. Combined with the Tampa Bay Rays loss, the Red Sox now sit in second place in the AL East.

Red Sox Win with Small-ball and “Big-ball”

Indians starter Fausto Carmona cruised through many of his eight-plus innings of work, retiring the Red Sox 1-2-3 five times. He struck out seven and induced 13 ground outs. So when the Red Sox put runners on base, they had to take advantage any way they could. That meant small-ball and manufactured runs, and the Red Sox executed it to perfection.

Down 1-0 in the top of third, Carmona hit Carl Crawford in the back to lead off the inning, and Crawford promptly stole second base. Recent call-up Drew Sutton – giving Dustin Pedroia a night off after a minor leg injury the night before – moved Crawford to third with a ground out, and Jacoby Ellsbury walked.

Jed Lowrie then lofted a 1-1 pitch to the warning track in center field. At that distance, Crawford just needed to jog home to tie the game 1-1. Ellsbury then stole Boston’s second bag of the inning, and Adrian Gonzalez cleaned out an inside fastball to right for the RBI double. 2-1, Boston.

The Red Sox tried to manufacture another run in the seventh, with J.D. Drew grounding to second to advance David Ortiz, who had led off the inning with his second double of the night. Up came Varitek, and Carmona left his first pitch over the plate. Varitek didn’t need to manufacture anything, crushing the pitch down the right foul line and off the pole for the 4-1 Red Sox lead.

Beckett Shuts Down Indians

Beckett continued his bounce-back season (he always pitches better for the Red Sox in odd-numbered years) by going 6.2 innings, striking out six while allowing five hits and three walks. He also hit one batter, a rare miss on a night in which Beckett once again had control of all of his pitches. His fastball painted the corners or blew hitters away. His curveball finished exactly where he wanted. His breaking ball fell out from beneath.

Although Beckett enjoyed one only 1-2-3 inning and allowed three lead-off base-runners, he never lost his composure, always coming back with the out necessary to prevent the Indians from putting up a crooked number.

Beckett only allowed two base-runners in an inning twice. In the second, the first two Indians reached on a hit-by-pitch and a walk, only to have Beckett come back with two straight strikeouts. Center fielder Ezequiel Carrera then took a 2-2 pitch up the middle for the 1-0 Cleveland lead, but Ellsbury made a strong throw to third to cut down second baseman Orlando Cabrera and end the inning.

In the seventh, Beckett allowed a two-out walk and an infield single, but reliever Rich Hill struck out third baseman Jack Hannahan looking to end the threat. Hill pitched a scoreless eighth, and Jonathan Papelbon closed out the ninth for his ninth save, despite allowing a one-out solo home run to designated hitter Travis Buck.

With the win, Beckett improved to 4-1. It was only Beckett’s second decision since an April 16 win against the Toronto Blue Jays. Beckett’s ERA is now a ridiculous 1.69.

Defense Backs Beckett Up

Ellsbury’s second-inning assist was not his lone strong defensive play Tuesday night, nor was it the team’s. In both the third and fourth, Varitek threw out a Cleveland base-runner trying to steal second.

In the fifth, Ellsbury sprinted to the gap in right-center to track a fly ball from Carrera. First baseman Matt LaPorta grossly underestimated Ellsbury’s speed and, figuring Ellsbury wouldn’t catch it, rounded second and headed for third. When Ellsbury did catch it, LaPorta didn’t even try to get back to first before Ellsbury doubled him up.

In the ninth, it was Drew’s turn to sprint, heading into foul ground to put Cabrera away for the second out.

After a bullpen meltdown last night cost the Red Sox, the bullpen backed its starter tonight and gave Boston its first win over the Indians this season. Boston will have a chance to win a series against the best team in the MLB tomorrow, and possibly finally take over first place in the division.

Two-Goal Second Period Gives Thomas, Bruins 3-2 Lead In Eastern Conference Finals

Brad Marchand scores a second period goal past the defense of Martin St. Louis and goalie Mike Smith #41 in Monday's Game Five of the Eastern Conference Finals in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

(aaaaaand I’m back!)

The Tampa Bay Lightning held the Boston Bruins to just eight shots in the second period of Monday’s Game Five of the Eastern Conference Finals at the TD Garden.

The Bruins only needed two.

Goals by Nathan Horton and Brad Marchand in the second period gave the Bruins the lead, and Tim Thomas stopped 33 shots in a row to power the Bruins to a 3-1 win over the Lightning. The Bruins will have a chance to secure their first trip to the Stanley Cup since 1990 on Wednesday in Tampa Bay.

Bruins Offense Comes Alive in the Second

After one period, the Bruins were losing in shots, 14-4. They were losing in goaltending to Lightning goalie Mike Smith, who had blocked all 29 shots on him in relief, but had never started a playoff game before. They were hitting more, but the Lightning were skating faster, and that seemed to be working better.

The Bruins did dominate in faceoffs won, however, and in the second period they used it to their advantage. David Krejci won a faceoff in Tampa Bay’s zone and quickly dished it to Milan Lucic circling in from behind. Lucic got off a strong backhanded pass to Horton, who fired off a slap-shot from the near side of the left circle that went right past Smith, tying the game 1-1 with 15:36 left in the period.

With just over four minutes left in the second, Zdeno Chara fought through three Lightning players to get the puck to Patrice Bergeron near the right circle. Bergeron held the puck for a moment to let Marchand skate into position, then him with quick pass in the crease that Marchand flipped under the crossbar for the 2-1 lead.

The Bruins won 41 faceoffs to the Lightning’s 30. Their strong faceoff game paid dividends on offense and defense. Up 2-1 with 1:08 left in the game, Rich Peverley knocked the puck away from center Vincent Lecavalier as soon as Lecavalier secured the puck after an offsides faceoff. This forced the Lightning to retreat into their own zone and start their offense from farther back. It kept Tampa Bay from pulling Smith from the goal for nearly 30 extra seconds.

Peverley followed up his play by knocking a pass from defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron into the air, which Chris Kelly secured and then passed back to Peverley near center ice. Peverley stepped around Bergeron, pushed the puck a bit up the ice and buried the empty netter for the 3-1 lead with 1:13 left in the game.

Thomas Gives Up Early Goal, Then Bears Down

The Lightning defense was overbearing in the neutral zone and dominating near their own goal early on in the game, and the Bruins offense completely crumbled. Just 1:09 into the first period, Krejci misplayed the puck near the Lightning blue line, and Andrew Ference lost his footing as the puck scooted by him. That gave the Lightning an easy two-on-one, with center Steven Stamkos hitting left winger Simon Gagne with a short crossing pass that Gagne buried in the back of the net for the 1-0 lead.

Tampa Bay’s goal came on its first shot on Thomas, but Thomas stopped the next 33. Though he hasn’t been the dominating force in the Eastern Conference Finals that he was against the Philadelphia Flyers, Thomas’s Game Five performance looked more like the Thomas who set an all-time record in save percentage during the regular season.

When winger Sean Bergenheim got off two shots in 10 seconds midway through the first, Thomas became a wall. When center Blair Jones angled undefended towards the goal with 1:50 elapsed in the third, Thomas came out to challenge him, forcing a shot that bounced wide off the right goal post. And when right winger Steve Downie got off a close-range shot with Thomas out of position, Thomas made a desperate dive back towards the net. Extending his stick as far in front of him as he possibly could, Thomas just managed to get the blade in-between the puck and the goal. Downie’s shot struck the edge of the blade, ricocheted off the left goal post and sailed away.

Though the Lightning got off four more shots before the game ended, Downie’s miss had drained the team. They never regained the strength, speed and intensity that had categorized their first- and second-period play, and the Bruins’ defense just got stronger and stouter.

It might not have been the most prolific shooting night in Bruins playoff history, but the Bruins scored just enough to let the best goalie in the NHL do his thing. And now, they sit just one game away from the Stanley Cup.

NBA Conference Finals: Who Should I Root For?

A common way to ask a person’s prediction for a sports game is to say, “Who do you like?” That question can be answered figuratively and literally. I’ll briefly answer the figurative question first.
I’m picking the Bulls to beat the Heat in six. Chicago is strong at the positions where Miami is weak: point guard and center. The Heat struggled with a one-armed Rajon Rondo who is a bad shooter even when healthy. How will the Heat contain MVP Derrick Rose, a far more complete point guard and a dynamic scoring threat? Meanwhile, Joakim Noah is a great rebounder who can also keep LeBron James and Dwyane Wade out of the lanes. Carlos Boozer should have no problems with Chris Bosh.
In the Western Conference, I’m picking the Mavericks over the Thunder in seven. The Mavericks looked like a very complete team in their four-game sweep of the LA Lakers, and they’re rested. The Thunder, meanwhile, struggled to beat a Memphis Grizzlies team that, although they played out of their minds, didn’t actually have any good players. Kevin Durant is amazing, but Dirk Nowitzki’s experience will prevail.
Now, David Stern and the NBA will be happy no matter which team comes out of the East, but the league absolutely wants the Thunder to come out of the West. Durant is infinitely more marketable than Nowitzki, who has two strikes against him: he’s white, and he’s foreign. He appeals to no one outside of his team’s fanbase. That, and Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is a turd.
None of this should matter, but remember I said this if the calls start going Oklahoma City’s way.
So the finals will be Mavericks-Bulls, and I’ll predict the finals next week. But I have a more pressing issue: who should I root for? I don’t really like any of these teams. Or, more specifically, each team has players I really dislike.
Noah is a good player, but his histrionics and whining make me nuts. Plus, he’s maybe the sleaziest looking player in the NBA. If they made a porno version of “Pirates of the Caribbean” (or, technically, a second), Noah would play Orlando Bloom’s character.
I have nothing against James’s actual decision (it’s not like the Celtics didn’t do the exact same thing four years ago in bringing in two superstars to help their existing one win a ring), it’s “The Decision” that pissed me off. It’s unethical for a news agency to pay to broadcast the news, and James made ESPN pay to watch him basically take a crap on his home state (plus New York). Normally I don’t mind ego from an athlete as long as the talent matches, but James may possess an ego so large that no amount of talent can justify it. Also, the Heat’s Mike Miller looks like the biggest douche in the NBA.
I haven’t really followed Nowitzki’s career, so he might be a perfectly reasonable guy. I just don’t trust German people. Never have, probably never will. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop with Nowitzki.
So that just leaves the Thunder. I started liking Durant during the FIBA World Championship, where he averaged nearly 23 points and six rebounds per game. It takes commitment to try that hard in a tournament that no one cares about.
Problem with Durant is, all of the sports media feel the same way, and I don’t want to be part of a pack. But that really isn’t a knock against Durant, and the Thunder do have former Celtics Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson.
So I’m rooting for the Thunder. But really, I’m just gonna watch more of the Bruins.

Medford High Batters Somerville Softball in Mercy-Rule Game

(Written, shot, edited and narrated for Somerville Patch)

Somerville vs. Medford softball highlights

When the home team in a high school softball game goes up by 15 runs in the bottom of the fifth, the “Run Ahead Rule” – alternately called the “mercy rule” or “slaughter rule” – automatically ends the game.

Thursday afternoon at Tufts Park in Medford, that’s exactly what happened. Medford High pinch-hitter Jackie Smock drove in two with a single in the bottom of the fifth, automatically ending their game against visiting Somerville High.

The Mustangs beat the Highlanders, 21-6.

The Highlanders led 5-3 after one inning, but Medford starting pitcher Kristina Bove limited Somerville to just one base-runner through the second, third and fourth innings. The Medford offense scored 15 runs in those same three innings, highlighted by an 8-run bottom of the second.

Somerville starting pitcher Verna Estes walked the first two Medford batters in the second – her fourth and fifth walks in one-plus innings of work – and was replaced by junior Jackie Homsi.

Both of Estes’ walked-batters scored on consecutive pitches in the dirt by Homsi that got away from catcher and captain Ashley Auciello, tying the game 5-5. Following two more walks, Bove singled down the first-base line, just past sophomore Megan O’Brien, to drive in two more.

Medford scored four more in the bottom of the second on three consecutive RBI singles and an RBI groundout, and the inning ended with the Mustangs up 11-5.

Consecutive extra-base hits in the third increased the Mustang’s lead to eight, and the team scored five more in the bottom of the fourth. Bove added another two-run single, finishing the game 3-3 with four runs and four RBIs.

The Highlanders got one run back in the top of the fifth, with senior shortstop and captain Kelsey Garrity doubling off replacement Medford pitcher Rayann Staude, and Auciello singling to drive her in. But an RBI single by Medford left fielder Sarah Donnelly – her sixth RBI in a 4-5 game – put the Mustangs up 19-5, setting up Smock’s two-run single.

The Highlanders took a 5-0 lead in the first. Auciello led off with a walk, stole two bases and came home on a ground out to first by third basemen Maegan Auciello.

The Highlanders added two when Medford shortstop Jackie Pallechia dropped a pop fly by junior Mattie Barber-Bockelman. Second baseman Brianna Dell’Isola drove in two more with a single to center field, but was thrown out trying to stretch it into a double.

Estes started the bottom of the first with a strikeout, then walked the bases loaded. The Mustangs sacrificed in one run, then scored two more when Donnelly hit a pop fly just beyond Garrity’s reach.

There was little the Highlanders could have done to contain the Mustangs’ hitting. All of Medford’s hits were to open spaces on the field, and the Highlanders defense did not throw away any easy outs.

However, they sometimes looked lackadaisical in the field, not realizing quickly enough when a Medford runner was trying to steal or take an extra base on a walk. Balls weren’t always run in or cut off fast enough. While this likely did not mean the difference between victory and defeat – Medford averages over 10 runs a game – it might have kept the score slightly closer.

Head coach Bill MacDonald agreed that this carefree attitude and lack of effort are major concerns on this Somerville team.

“This team does have a tendency to be non-chalant about a lot of things,” MacDonald said. “It’s something we’ve been battling for a long time now, trying to get them to be more urgent about plays.”

MacDonald said he would also like to see the Highlanders go after fly balls harder. He said that defense and unearned runs – which have accounted for half the total runs scored against the Highlanders this season – was not as big an issue Thursday after working on infield defense the day before.

He also liked how his team hit better in the middle of the lineup and maintained a positive attitude in the face of a large deficit.

Said MacDonald, “The good thing about being with this team, this particular group of girls, is even though they’re losing a lot, they like each other, and they like coming to the ballpark.”

Quick Reactions to the Celtics

Miami's Dwyane Wade and LeBron James together out-scored Boston's Big Three by eight points per game, even without Chris Bosh's 12.8 points per game. (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Boston Celtics’ Game 5 loss to the Miami Heat is less than four hours ago. While the pain is still fresh, here are a few concluding thoughts on the playoffs and the Celtics’ future.

1) The Celtics Big Three just don’t have the athleticism anymore.

Game 2: game tied 80-80 with 7:09 left in the game. Heat out-score Celtics 22-11 down the stretch.

Game 3: game tied 86-86 after four quarters. Heat out-score Celtics 12-4 in overtime.

Game 4: game tied 87-87 with 2:57 left in the game. Heat out-score Celtics 10-0 to close out game and series.

Three of the Celtics’ four losses happened because the Celtics couldn’t maintain through the end of the game. Some will blame that on heart or another intangible – convenient, since it’s so hard to measure. Others will blame it on mental lapses and mention the 13 turnovers and steals the Heat forced from the fourth quarter on in those three games.

But really, the Celtics were just tired. It takes such intensity, such effort to contain scorers like Dwyane Wade (30.2 points per game) and LeBron James (28 points per game). It takes all the energy out of you. And when you’re old and slow like the Celtics (especially Kevin Garnett), there comes a point when you simply don’t have the legs left to hang with younger, faster, more athletic teams. If you don’t have a big enough lead or a crowd to inspire you, at that point you collapse. It happened over and over last season. That it didn’t this year is more a miracle than anything else.

2) Celtics Need a Center

If Doc Rivers is serious about giving the Big Three one more year of his life, Danny Ainge needs to give him a center, and a good one. No more of this “we’ll sign another old guy and see what he gives us” crap. No more rolling the dice. The Celtics need a proven commodity.

Garnett has never been a great one-on-one defender. He is a “help” defender, best when working with another defender to double-team a player, either forcing a bad pass he can steal or a shot he can block. That’s what made Garnett and Kendrick Perkins good together: they could swarm.

The problem with Perkins (which wouldn’t have saved this Celtics squad) was that a) he couldn’t rebound, and b) he caught, dribbled and then shot, which killed his offense. The Celtics need a fourth scoring option for when the Big Three – who Wade and James together out-scored, 58.2 to 50.4 points per game – run out of gas.

In every Celtics losses, at one point Garnett stopped playing the post and lost the will to fight for rebounds. About the same time, Paul Pierce stopped driving through the lanes, which made his step-back jumper easier to predict and defend. And while all this was going on, even the ageless Ray Allen stopped his nonstop sprint around the floor while trying to get open. Which is fine, because by that point the Heat figured out Allen was the go-to shooter, and just started swarming him on every pass.

With the Big Three all likely to fade at about the same time (given a tough enough opponent to push them), the Celtics need a fourth scoring option. Rajon Rondo, for all his heart, just isn’t that guy.

3) This bench is awful!

Yes, the Celtics bench out-scored the Heat 123-95 in the series. But over 40 percent of the Celtics bench points came from Delonte West, who scored in double figures in all five games. Great for him, he probably cemented his role as Rondo’s backup next year. But the rest of the Celtics bench gave them nothing. The only other player to score in double-figures even once was Jeff Green.

The Celtics won a championship in 2008 because they had sharpshooters Eddie House and James Posey on the bench. They didn’t play great defense, but they knocked down shots when the Big Three weren’t on the court.

I look at this Celtics bench, and I don’t see that shooter anywhere. Green, who committed at least one turnover in each game, is still a liability on the court. Glen Davis averaged four points a game on 31.8 percent shooting. Nenad Krstic (who has the court-sense to be a good rebounder but not the hands) scored eight in Game Five, and that’s it.

Moving forward, the Celtics need a real bench. They need shooters and stronger defenders. West is the best all-around player on the team (Green might be more talented, but he hasn’t shown it consistently yet), and Davis can draw charges and occasionally sneak a rebound. That’s all your bench strength, and brother, that ain’t enough.

4) The Celtics early season victories over the Heat were the flukes, not this series.

Yes, the Celtics won the season series 3-1. But that just means the Celtics peaked too early and the Heat peaked later. The Heat’s Big Three had never played together before. They had no idea how to make it work. At first, they played .500 basketball. Then they went through a phase where Wade and James played better separately than together. Now, they recognize that they are two of the strongest, most athletic players on the field. They don’t have play with perfect rhythm: they can just wear other teams down.

By the end of the playoff series, Wade and James were abusing Celtics defenders. They would barrel uncontested to the rim for dunks, swat away fouls and sink their shots anyway, or just shoot over Celtics from deep. It might not be the most fluid or dynamic offense you’ve ever seen. It’s less boxing, more ultimate fighting. Don’t work the other team into a corner, just punch them til they hit the deck. Then keep punching. All the way to a championship.

In Loss, Lakers Play Like a Bunch of Losers

Andrew Bynum's flagrant-2 foul on Juan Jose Barea was nothing but schoolyard brutality, and the NBA must punish it accordingly. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

It’s rare that I call out individual players with anything more than snarky semi-criticism. These are just sports, and every play and every player must be taken with a bit of a sense of humor. Every society on every continent has evolved some form of athletic competition, for entertainment and for status. But only in this country do people get paid millions to throw a ball through a hoop while teachers fight tooth and nail to keep their meager paychecks from going even lower.

When a situation is ridiculous, the only appropriate response is to ridicule.

But there was nothing ridiculous in the flagrant-2 fouls that got Lakers power forward Lamar Odom and center Andrew Bynum ejected in the fourth quarter of their season-ending blowout loss to the Dallas Mavericks Sunday afternoon.

Let’s start with Odom’s hit on Mavericks power forward Dirk Novitzki. Though not by any means acceptable, this play certainly seemed at least understandable. The Lakers were getting blown out and were about to be swept out of the playoffs for the first time since 1999. There was a little bit of contact, Odom lost his cool and lashed out at Novitzki. It’s o.k., Lamar: who among hasn’t wanted to punch a German in the face?

Had Odom’s incident been the only one, he would’ve been criticized for poor play and it would’ve ended there. But then we get Bynum’s hit on Mavericks point guard Jose Juan Barea. At that point, it gets ugly.

Bynum’s hit was a bevy of bad adjectives. Disgusting. Calculated. Malicious. Juvenile. An elbow straight to the gut of a defenseless player that you dwarf by a full foot and 110 pounds. Bynum’s hit showed him to be a gutless bully picking on the smallest kid on the court because he’s the least likely to fight back (though that doesn’t always work, as this kid showed).

At least Odom went after Dallas’s star. Bynum just wanted to hurt somebody. And with two such hits in one game, a new dimension to the mentality of the Lakers has been revealed. Many have called coach Phil Jackson the “zen master” of basketball, projecting an unceasingly calm and confident demeanor. Jackson never panics, never gets emotional, and his team has fed off that in cultivating a constant aura of professionalism.

That’s what Jackson wants us all to think, anyway. But did these Lakers look calm Sunday? Did they look confident they could get back in the game or the series? Did they show professionalism, maturity or grace in defeat?

No. They punched people in the back of the head and elbowed them in the gut mid-shot. Jackson has taught these Lakers how to win, but did he ever bother to teach them how lose?

After the game, Bynum was unapologetic.

“We were getting embarrassed, they were breaking us down,” Bynum said. “So I just fouled somebody.” No, you didn’t. Just fouling is grabbing a player on a fast-break to prevent a layup. Just fouling is glancing your arm off a player’s head while going for the block. Just fouling is getting caught in an up-fake and contacting the player as you come down from the jump. You threw an elbow to the ribcage of a defenseless player. You didn’t try to disrupt the shot; you tried to hurt someone.

Odom’s comments – “I didn’t mean anything by it” – after the game were a bit more believable. I don’t think he meant to hurt Novitzki, who was fine after the play (Barea, meanwhile, lay on the floor for several minutes after Bynum’s hit). But the Lakers sent a horrible message to young athletes: if you’re losing badly, if you’re “embarrassed” by another team, dirty play is fine. If they’re beating you by playing by the rules, go ahead and break those rules (or just the other players).

David Stern and the NBA must take a good, hard look at these incidents. Anything less than a stringent penalty will send a terrible message to the NBA, its fans, and potential players everywhere.

Buchholz, Bullpen Shut Out Twins Despite Long Rain Delay

Jacoby Ellsbury hits a two-RBI single in front of Minnesota Twins catcher Rene Rivera in the eighth inning of Saturday's game at Fenway Park. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

The rain pelted Fenway Park for over two hours Saturday afternoon, suspending play after two innings. It looked like another strong start by a Red Sox pitcher would be washed away, and Terry Francona would have to cobble seven innings from an already overworked bullpen.

Problem is, nobody told Clay Buchholz.

Buchholz threw five scoreless innings despite the long delay, the bullpen followed suit, and the Red Sox snapped a three-game losing streak by beating the Minnesota Twins, 4-0.

Buchholz, Bullpen Dominant

The Red Sox used five pitchers Saturday, who combined to limit the Twins to just seven base-runners. They surrendered just three hits – two by Buchholz, all three singles – while walking two. They struck out 10 (four by Twins right fielder Jason Kubel)

Buchholz’s featured a strong 12-6 breaking ball Saturday that fell out from under Twins swings. He used a deceptively high fastball that right-handed hitters swung under. He threw 14 first-pitch strikes (to 18 batters), seven swinging strikes, and 44 strikes out of 61 total pitches.

Buchholz appeared to tire in the fifth, walking catcher Rene Rivera with one out, but Jed Lowrie snared a 3-1 liner from second baseman Luke Hughes by diving, then doubled Rivera easily off first.

After the fifth, Buchholz’s teammates were visibly congratulatory on his gutsy performance, which earned him his third win and lowered his ERA to 4.19. The bullpen followed Buchholz with four scoreless innings, highlighted by Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon retiring the Twins 1-2-3 in the eighth and ninth.

Matt Albers pitched a scoreless seventh, lowering his ERA to 0.84.

Defense Backs Up Pitchers

Lowrie’s fifth-inning dive wasn’t the only strong defensive play. With two down in the second, Marco Scutaro dove to his left to field a grounder up the middle, then flipped his glove to Dustin Pedroia while still on the ground. Pedroia changed his footing so he could fully extend to grab Scutaro’s throw on a bounce for the final out.

In the sixth, reliever Rich Hill put two Twins on base with no outs, but then Hill got Justin Morneau to ground it to Adrian Gonzalez. Hill sprinted towards first base while Gonzalez threw it to Scutaro covering second, so Hill was perfectly positioned for Scutaro’s throw to complete the double-play.

In the eighth, Scutaro charged a slow roller from leadoff hitter Denard Span and fielded it quick enough to gun Span down at first.

Red Sox Score Early, Add Late

The Red Sox took an immediate 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning. Jacoby Ellsbury extended his hitting streak to 16 games with a leadoff double, stole third base, and came home on a Lowrie single to left with two outs.

Twins starter Brian Duensing started but did not last through the rain delay, and replacement Kevin Slowey fared no better. He gave up a one-out ground-rule double to Gonzalez in the third, who scored on a Kevin Youkilis single off the Green Monster.

The Red Sox banged out 12 hits and drew three walks Saturday, but the biggest hit may have come in the eighth inning. With the bases loaded, Ellsbury drove a 2-1 pitch from reliever Alex Burnett back up the middle, scoring Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Carl Crawford.

Ellsbury, Youkilis, Scutaro and Crawford each finished the game with two hits. Crawford is now on a seven-game hitting streak, has had multiple hits in four of those games, and is batting .210.

Pedroia and Lowrie each hit a single and reached on a walk.