CityBeat Blogs - Sports http://www.citybeat.com/cincinnati/blogs-1-1-1-38.html <![CDATA[High School Hosts Donkey Basketball Game]]> If you were getting bored watching humans play basketball, Batavia High School has the solution for you: Donkey basketball. Yup, donkeys playing basketball aka "Donkey Ball." 

Batavia's class of 2016 is hosting the second annual Batavia Donkey Ball game, a fundraiser to support their class activities including prom and graduation, on Saturday, Jan. 11. Donkey Ball has been a popular small-town fundraising event since the Great Depression. Team members ride real, live donkeys while playing basketball. 

Photo: donkeyball.com

Along with the donkeys, there will also be an alumni team and celebrity team, featuring several Marines, the Clermont County sheriff and Clermont County prosecutor, plus two teams featuring current Batavia Local school's teachers, staff and high school students.

Get there early for a chili cook-off. Free donkey rides available at half-time.

5:30 p.m. chili cook-off; 7 p.m. donkey ball game. $6 in advance at Batavia's high school, middle school or elementary  $8 at the door; free for ages 12 and under. Game in the Batavia High School gym, 1 Bulldog Place, Batavia, bataviaschools.org.

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<![CDATA[Marvin Jones Emerges as a Driving Force for the Bengals]]>

The destruction of the Jets two weeks ago by the Bengals saw not only the largest margin of victory for our football team in many years, but also the emergence of second-year wide receiver Marvin Jones.

The Bengals brought Jones aboard in 2012, but not until the fifth round of the draft — much to Jones' disappointment. He assumed he was going to be drafted in the second round, and many scouts agreed, also thinking he would go in the second or third round. Looking at his college stats, it’s easy to see why. 

Jones played at University of California, Berkeley, and scored 13 touchdowns throughout his four seasons with the team. 

As a wide-receiver, he averaged 14.6 yards with the team with 156 receptions for a total of 2,270 yards. This includes a freshmen year when Jones only made one reception for eight yards. 

With these stats, it’s no wonder he was predicted for the second round. 

In his rookie season with the Bengals, though, Jones didn’t see much play time. He started in five of 11 games, but this season Jones has exploded on the scene. 

When the Bengals and Jets played on Oct. 27, Jones set a franchise record of four touchdowns in a single game, with a total of 122 receiving yards. 

If the Bengals had not called off the hounds with 17 minutes left in the game, it is safe to say Jones very well could have tied the record for receiving touchdowns in one game. 

This record is currently held by Hall of Fame players Kellen Winslow and Jerry Rice, as well as Bob Shaw, all of whom scored five receiving touchdowns in one game. 

One comparison we can draw from Jones to an active NFL wide-receiver is the Broncos’ Wes Welker. 

Welker, who gained mass popularity as one of Tom Brady’s favorite targets for the Patriots, sports impressive stats with close to 10,000 career receiving yards in regular season play. 

As an established receiver, Welker currently holds the most red zone touchdowns for this season at eight, followed closely by Jones’ seven in the red zone. 

What really made this possible for Jones was not only his superb skill set and hands these past few weeks, but also quarterback Andy Dalton’s trust in his many receivers. 

Dalton has not played favorites with receivers since the loss against the Browns where he threw the ball to A.J. Green 15 times. 

Jones, in an interview with Coley Harvey for ESPN.com, said Dalton is spending extra time in film and practice with the other receivers, making the relationship between the QB and his many targets stronger than ever. 

With the second half of the regular season upon us, this level of cooperation in the backfield will be vital, and if Jones’ professional career is anything like his college career, we can expect him to continue to grow and improve alongside the team. 

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<![CDATA[Cincinnati Rollergirls to Hold Tryouts and Bootcamps for 2014]]> The Cincinnati Rollergirls, our local badass babes on wheels/internationally ranked women's flat-track roller derby team, is recruiting skaters, referees and non-skating officials for its 2014 season at the Cincinnati Gardens.

If you've ever wanted to push people around while wearing fishnets and roller skates, now is the time. 


The team is holding informational sessions, skill assessments and bootcamps to prepare prospective skaters for tryouts on Jan. 12, 2014. Sessions are open to interested female skaters 18 years and older and interested referees, who can be male or female as long as they're 18. Interested skaters and referees will be asked to pay a $60 commitment fee on Nov. 3, 2013 to help cover rink rental and training costs. 


BOOTCAMPS AND TRYOUTS SCHEDULE (via the Rollergirls' press release)
Date: Sunday, Nov. 3, 2013  What: Skating Assessment and Informational Meeting

Location: The Skatin' Place, 3211 Lina Place, Colerain
Time: 9 a.m.-noon
At this session, we will run drills to gauge skaters' skill level and skating ability. Skaters will receive immediate feedback on what they need to work on to pass the actual tryout. We will also hold an informational meeting to answer questions, and give skaters calendar of bootcamps and Monday night practices so that they have a clear plan for how to attain their goals.

 

Date: Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013 

What: Bootcamp and Assessment
Location: The Skatin' Place, 3211 Lina Place, Colerain
Time: 9 a.m.-noon
We will be holding an intensive skills training bootcamp and once again check in with skaters about areas of improvement.

 

Dates: Friday, Jan. 10, 2014 and Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014  

What: Bootcamp Refreshers
Location: CRG practice space (address to be announced)
Times: To be announced
We will hold an intensive skating skills bootcamp on Friday night and a derby skills bootcamp on Saturday afternoon to get skaters back in derby mode right before the tryouts. All participants must provide their own skates and safety equipment for these bootcamps.

 

Date: Sunday, Jan. 12 

What: Tryouts
Location: The Skatin' Place, 3211 Lina Place, Colerain
Time: 9 a.m.-noon
At tryouts, skaters will be tested on the skills they learned at the bootcamps, including timed laps around the derby track, stops, skating backward, skating with others, giving and receiving hits and overall potential as a derby skater. Skaters who pass tryouts will immediately be invited to a league meeting to meet the rest of the team.


To RSVP, email recruiting@cincinnatirollergirls.com

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<![CDATA[Hidden History of Concussions and the NFL]]>

A new book set for release Tuesday called League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth is set to challenge the NFL and their denial of a connection between concussions and football. 

Written by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru, investigative reporters for ESPN, the book claims the NFL has not only known about the connection between concussions in the NFL and long-term brain injuries for about 20 years, but the league has been actively trying to cover up these facts.

The suicides of Junior Seau as well as former NFL players such as the Bears’ David Duerson and the Eagles’ Andre Waters have brought this issue to the forefront of players’ and fans’ minds. All three players are thought to have suffered severe brain damage from injuries while playing football, all of which lead to their unfortunate suicides.

The NFL has claimed for years they had no knowledge of any relation between the brain injuries sustained from concussions and the deaths of professional players. Even in the face of a recent lawsuit from players, the league held firm to their stance.

The league did settle the recent lawsuit out of court for $765 million, and many questions were raised asking if the league has been honest with how much they know about the possible link between concussions and football. 

For a long time, concussions in the professional level of football were not seen as a big issue because no one knew of the long-term effects. Former New York Jets defensive lineman Marty Lyons talked with Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com where he described his own sideline concussion experience. 

Lyons said whenever a player would come off the field, the physician would hold up some fingers, ask how many and, despite the player’s answer, the physician said, “Close enough.” A couple plays later, or even the next play, the player would find themselves on the field once again. 

“That wasn’t the doctors or trainers saying, ‘You’re OK,’” Lyons said in the interview. “I’m not saying the league didn’t know, I’m not saying the players didn’t know. It was part of the game.” 

According to the authors of League of Denial, the cover-up of how much the NFL knew about the connection started when the former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue created a concussion committee in 1994 to better understand the effects of concussions on players. A few members of the committee came forward in 1995 saying concussions were not “minor injuries” as previously thought. These claims were quickly hushed by the NFL. 

Another claim the book makes is that around 2000, some of the country’s top neuroscientists told the NFL the big hits in football, especially those considered head-to-head, led to not only concussions, but also what is known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

Some of the symptoms of CTE are higher rates of depression, dementia, memory loss and brain damage.

The NFL, rather than publishing these findings and telling players of the potential harm, made no such effort and tried to ignore the facts.

Then in 2005, the authors report the NFL tried to persuade a medical journal to retract articles and findings on concussions and their effects on individuals. The journal in question refused and the findings continued to circulate without interference. 

The authors spoke with Dr. Ann McKee, a former assistant professor of neuropathology at Harvard Medical School and one of the leading professionals on the link between football and brain damage, who said of the 54 harvested brains of deceased NFL players, only two did not have CTE.

However, all of these findings are not just exclusive to professional football. Youth, high school and college football players are also at a high risk for concussions. 

A report from 2007 titled “Concussions Among United States High School and Collegiate Athletes,” found that about 300,000 people aged 15 to 24 suffered traumatic brain injuries every year from contact sports. This number is only second to brain injuries sustained from motor vehicle accidents. 

This same study also found of the total number of concussions from other collegiate sports, including boys’ and girls’ soccer and basketball, football was responsible for more than 40 percent of the concussions.

Concussions in high school sports have even led to the death of young athletes. Jaquan Waller and Matthew Gfeller are two football players who died in North Carolina after head injuries sustained during high school games this season.

A study from the University of Pittsburgh found that over the past decade, 30-40 high school football players have died from concussions, and the likelihood of contact sport athletes to receive a concussion is 19 percent. 

Changes are coming to the NFL, however, most notably in the minds of players. Bengals’ cornerback Brandon Ghee received two concussions in back-to-back preseason games against the Falcons and Titans. Ghee was forced to take a five-week break from contact because of these injuries. 

In an interview with The Enquirer, Ghee said if it weren’t for the recent deaths and lawsuit, he would have wanted to go back to play immediately. Now though, he’s not so sure. “After the second one you have to think about your kids and family,” Ghee said in the interview. “You don’t want any long-lasting issues.”

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<![CDATA[Brandon Phillips Acts Like a Real Dick to Reporter]]> Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips is typically all smiles when the cameras are on him, but before last night’s game against the Cardinals — and just outside the frame of a video recorded by a St. Louis-area radio station — Phillips let the expletives fly during a tirade against Enquirer reporter C. Trent Rosecrans, who dared to accurately report Phillips’ shitty on-base percentage in response to Phillips asking to bat higher in the lineup.

The incident earned a minute-long segment on SportsCenter and responses from multiple national baseball writers.


Phillips was moved to the second spot in the batting order for that night's game — he has batted fourth most of the year and ranks third in the National League in RBI. In a tweet, Rosecrans pointed out that Phillips' .310 on-base percentage is lower than the .320 of the guy he replaced in the two-spot in the team's lineup.


Phillips reportedly went off on Rosecrans in the clubhouse and then continued the tirade during the media session with Baker. Phillips, who is off camera in the video, interrupts the interview with Baker, calling out “fat motherfucker on the end” and saying to Baker: “Tell him you’ll have me bat eighth if you’re worried about my on-base percentage. Fat motherfucker, make him happy.”


Phillips says to Rosecrans, “I’m tired of you talking that negative bullshit about my team, dog. I found out your Twitter name motherfucker, that’s a wrap.”


Rosecrans responds, “Wow, took you how many years?”

Dusty Baker laughed and then said, “I ain’t in this; it’s between you and him.”

Rosecrans says, “It’s between him and him.”

The Enquirer
posted a blog in response to the incident before the game was over. Enquirer sports editor Angel Rodriguez wrote, “While we are disappointed in Phillips' reaction, we understand it is a pennant race and emotions are high during a crucial series with a heated rival. This isn't the first time a player has lost his temper in response to a reporter's questions and it won't be the last. It is part of covering the team day-in day-out.”

In response to an outpouring of support on Facebook, Rosecrans wrote that this kind of thing isn’t really new to the world of sports coverage but thanked people for the support.

Rosecrans was the Reds beat writer for the Cincinnati Post and has reported for local radio stations and websites, in addition to spending most of 2012 writing a weekly sports column for CityBeat. He is a 10-year member of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

The full video can be seen below:


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<![CDATA[Deadspin Rips Paul Daugherty over Homer Bailey Take]]> Reds pitcher Homer Bailey threw the second no-hitter of his career last night and dropped an awesome F-bomb during a postgame TV interview. The comment came in response to a pretty dumb question about whether batting in the sixth inning had something to do with him walking a batter in the seventh, the only baserunner to reach and the only reason his no-no isn't considered a perfect game.

Bailey said: "I just fucking walked a guy. This game is pretty tough, you know?”

Enquirer sports columnist Paul Daugherty apparently dropped his prune juice at the sound of the naughty word, and sports site Deadspin ripped Daugherty’s responses on Twitter and his blog, where he criticized Bailey's lack of class, bemoaned a grown-ass man cursing and felt for the poor cable TV viewers who had to witness it.

Deadspin: "Cincinnati Columnist Remarkably Upset That Homer Bailey Said 'Fucking'"

Video below (Note: Bailey is covered with shaving cream because a teammate pied him earlier, after they dumped red Gatorade all over him):


The Enquirer's blog link wasn't working for a while on Wednesday, but Sports Editor Angel Rodriguez said it was just a technical issue and that their people have been having fun with the situation, as evidenced by this "Homer F@!cking Bailey" image they posted on Facebook:

Bailey was actually the most recent pitcher in baseball to throw a no-hitter, performing the feat against Pittsburgh last September. Bailey is the first pitcher since Nolan Ryan in 1974-75 to throw consecutive no-hitters out of everyone in baseball.

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<![CDATA[UC Baseball Interview Shenanigans Go Viral]]> The University of Cincinnati baseball team might not have had a winning record last year (24-32, 6-18 Big East), and it is currently without a leader after the school fired longtime head coach Brian Cleary last week. But that doesn’t mean the dudes didn’t have some fun this season — at least after the games ended.

People of the Internet are enjoying a collection of videos and GIFs released by UC showing players doing hilarious stuff in the background of postgame interviews. The clips have been posted at Deadspin and USA Today’s sports blog.

Here's the video:



And GIF form:


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<![CDATA[Court Overturns Ban on Walnut Hills Basketball Player]]> A Hamilton County judge ordered the Ohio State High School Athletic Association to back off a last-minute decision that blocked Walnut Hills senior Dontonio Wingfield Jr. from playing basketball this season. Walnut Hills is the top-ranked large high school program in Southwest Ohio this year. Judge Robert Ruehlmann said the OHSAA previously ruled Wingfield eligible under school transfer guidelines and should not have suddenly reversed course at the last minute. He described the Nov. 29 decision as a total change that came out of the blue.

“I granted a restraining order that said he can play, and now there is agreement he can play,” Ruehlmann told CityBeat on Tuesday after an emergency hearing on the dispute.  “He is eligible and we’re done. The OHSAA has worked things out with his attorneys. It is over. He is playing.”

Wingfield is the son of former University of Cincinnati Bearcats star Dontonio Wingfield, who left the university for the NBA after a single season. Wingfield Jr. is considered a the top prep shooting guard in Ohio this year. He has verbally committed to attend Ohio University in Athens.


OHSAA officials, who in August told Walnut Hills there was no problem with Wingfield’s eligibility, notified the school by email last week that he used up his transfer options when he moved from Summit Country Day to Lockland High School. His lawyer, Terence R. Coates, said there has been some inadvertent paperwork errors involving transfer rules.

“Dontonio planned to attend a four-year college and felt the academic regiment at Walnut Hills wouild best prepare him for being successful in college. His transfer was not motivated by athletics,’’ Coates said. He called the OHSAA ruling that made Dontonio ineligible “arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable."

Meanwhile, the hearing on another student athlete, Winton Woods female guard Alexxus M. Paige, was delayed until Dec. 7 on procedural issues. Judge Ruehlmann said there is a likelihood the case might be settled by having Paige return to Withrow High School to finish her senior season this year. She had transferred to Winton Woods because of family issues. OHSAA ruled her ineligible for a year.]]>
<![CDATA[Ex-Withrow H.S. Basketball Star Fights State Ban In Court]]> A Hamilton County judge plans to hold an emergency hearing next week that will allow Alexxus Paige to challenge a rule that has kept the star guard from playing her senior year at Winton Woods High School.

Last month, the Ohio High School Athletic Association declared her ineligible for the current basketball season. It says her family’s move into the suburban school district was not for “bona fide” reasons; it was solely to play basketball. A lawsuit filed by Paige’s mother, Vivian Watkins, contends Withrow High School opposed the transfer and filed an inaccurate complaint that led to the ban. OHSAA has not yet filed its formal response in the case. Court officials told CityBeat its lawyer has been in touch with the judge and indicated it will fight to keep Paige from playing high school hoops.

The 18-year-old Paige is a 5-foot-7 guard who is one of Cincinnati’s top female athletes. A post-high school college scholarship might be hanging in the balance of the court case. She was all-conference for the past three seasons in the Cincinnati Metro Athletic Conference, the league which includes most of the city’s public urban high schools. (Clark Montessori and Walnut Hills are the two city schools that are in different leagues). Three years worth of Paige’s stats are available by clicking here.

Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Robert Ruehlman has scheduled a Dec. 4 hearing on a request for a temporary injunction that would lift the OHSAA ban and allow Paige to play. The basketball player’s mom — who is acting as her own lawyer in the case — says legitimate family issues led to the move outside the city. The mom contends the OHSAA has refused to consider evidence showing her daughter transferred to Winton Woods because the mom’s marriage broke down and she moved into a suburban apartment with her two children.

“Mrs. Watkins looked for apartments that would fit her budget and a decent community to reside in,” the mom wrote in the lawsuit against the OHSAA. “She looked all over and finally found a place in May of 2012. Since Alexxus was moving with her it would have been hard to transport Alexxus back and forth to Withrow High School, so it was decided that Alexxus would attend Winton Woods High School which is closer to Alexxus place of residence.”

The state rule is designed to hamper schools from recruiting star athletes to pump up their sports programs. In the past, there have been allegations that players enrolled in schools where they did not actually reside, or had temporarily “moved” in order to improve a team.North College Hill was dogged for years over rumors it recruited O.J. Mayo and Bill Walker for its state championship hoops teams.  Both are now in the NBA: Walker plays for the New York Knicks and Mayo is with the Memphis Grizzlies.

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<![CDATA[W&S Open: Championship Weekend]]>

Saturday semifinals and on the men’s side, the only real intrigue comes from looking ahead to the finals, although any player will tell you that they can never overlook the opponent immediately across the net.

Novak Djokovic, the number two seed, goes toe-to-toe with the sixth seed from Argentina Juan Martin Del Potro, the first man other than Rafael Nadal to steal a Grand Slam from Federer during his amazing run from a few years ago. Del Potro has dealt with injuries, which slowed him down following his US Open win, but he’s back and clearly has what it takes to reach the finals here.

Djokovic has definitely brought that return game of his, which will be key against the taller Del Potro who takes advantage of his height. The first set stays on-serve until Del Potro litters a serve game with two double faults and Djokovic breaks for a 4-2 lead. From that point, it’s a routine set of holds with Djokovic winning the set 6-3. 

Djokovic breaks Del Potro during his second service game in the second set. A pair of holds before Djokovic breaks again (Del Potro fails to win a point during this service game) for a 5-2 lead. Watching the latter portion of this set, its curious to see Djokovic pushing Del Potro further and further off the baseline with punishingly deep shots. And he pushes and shoves him right out of the match with a final ace [6-3, 6-2].

•••

The other semifinal match is all Swiss, all the time. The number one-seed and world’s number one player Roger Federer against Stanislas Wawrinka. The two teamed up to capture the gold in doubles in the Olympics and having served as practice partners over the years, there’s a real familiarity that could make this match intriguing.

Federer comes out and it is apparent that as the man is king of all he surveys. The crowds are overwhelmingly behind him, granting him home court advantage, although its not like he needs it.

The first set features flashes of brilliance from each man as they hold serve with Wawrinka confirming that he has a powerful weapon in his serve. He logs more aces than Federer, yet Federer's net play and shot selection more than keeps him in the match. By the inevitable tiebreak, the all-around game of Federer leads to a 7-4 win.

The second set is more of the same as they trade holds up through 3-games all, and then Federer sneaks in a break and a strong hold for a 5-3 lead. The expectation is for a Wawrinka hold and then Federer to serve it out, but an untimely double fault for Wawrinka gives the game and match to Federer [7-6 (7-4), 6-3].

FINALS

Roger Federer versus Novak Djokovic. The number one seed versus the number two seed – the first time the two top seeds have met in the finals at the W&S Open. This is the match everyone was waiting for and the crowds are raucous.  

On court, the action takes an unexpected turn. Federer breaks immediately, holds and then breaks again for a 3-0 lead. He holds again at love and unbelievably breaks once more for 5-0. Is Djokovic hurt? He makes no calls for his coach or a trainer and simply lets Federer serve out the first set [6-0]. Has he ever been blanked in a set, in an event final?

When Djokovic holds to start the second set, the crowd whoops it up, hoping to provide him with a charge. And now both players look like the top seeds we came to see. The service games add up and there’s the sense that a tiebreak is in store.

When it arrives, the temperature seems to rise. Heat and excitement generate a palpable jolt. Federer grabs a mini-break on Djokovic’s first serve and holds his two points. Before the air deflates out of the stands, Djokovic holds and breaks back. Back and forth they go. At 6-6, with the crowd firmly in his corner, Djokovic holds to take a 7-6 lead, but Federer scores a huge smash before taking the next two points and the match.

He raises his arms and grants Mirka a knowing nod as he walks over to towel off before the trophy presentation. This match sets the field on notice that Federer is ready to extend his Grand Slam singles title count even further and everybody, including the defending champion, better watch out.

•••

The women’s finalists, ninth seed Na Li (CHN) and the fifth seed Angelique Kerber (GER), have the distinction of being the players who took out the Williams sisters on the way towards this meeting and each of them has proven capable of slugging it out or exerting their will through carefully constructed points.

Much like the men’s final though, this one starts off rather one-sided. Kerber follows up an all-business hold with a quick break of Li and another hold.  Li finally hangs on during a service game, but what has undone her thus far is an inability to rein in her shots. Serves and groundstrokes sail far and wide in an-ever increasing avalanche. She seems confounded by her lack of control, but by the time Kerber has earned the first set at 6-1, Li has no answers and yet, it is Kerber who calls for an on-court conference with her coach.

The second set offers more of the same, as Li continues to push shots, except for her swinging half-volleys, which she nails with surprising accuracy. Somehow, she settles into a groove and evens things up at 3-all. Kerber lapses into a funk and before you know it, Li has secured the second set 6-3.

Li breaks to open the third set and suddenly, the two have completely switched games. Kerber can’t keep the ball on the court or as the games mount, it looks like she’s frustrated by Li’s ability to power shots all over the court. Kerber begins to stop chasing down shots that she consistently reached in the first set. She calls for a second pow-wow with her coach after falling down 3-0. Li aces her to take the fourth game, but Kerber digs deep enough to win her next service game and the crowd perks up for a minute, checking Kerber’s resolve.  Unfortunately, Kerber had nothing left in the tank and she allowed Li to sweep her off the court without much resistance.

The final score [1-6, 6-3, 6-1] doesn’t quite reflect the curious lack of sharp precise play. It will be interesting to see if either player can use today’s effort as a springboard into the US Open. The women’s side of the upcoming Slam appears wide open, ready and waiting for someone, anyone to step up to the big stage, like Stosur last year. At this rate though, it will take far more from either of these finalists to own that epic moment.

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<![CDATA[W&S Open: Day 5]]>

As the tournament progresses, it challenges us to keep up with the evolving storylines — the sudden defeat of major players and the quiet emergence of those who have escaped notice, the silent assassins.

My day started on Court 3, a make-up match between the ninth seed Na LI (CHN), the first Grand Slam winner from China, and qualifier Johanna Larsson of Sweden, who, on the morning of this match, was celebrating her 24th birthday and in her debut here in Cincinnati.

Li has been in the spotlight, with two Slam finals last year, but at 30 years old, one has to wonder if she has peaked too late. She is six years older than her opponent, but today, it is best to focus on experience rather than age because she displays a potent blend of wisdom and execution as she forces her younger foe to work harder and harder for the points she wins on her serve, while Li cruises through her own service games. She breaks Larsson twice with surgically precise shot placement, moving Larsson around at will. When Li captures the first set 6-2, it is plain that she is firmly in command and using the match as practice because thanks to the suspension of play from the previous night, the winner here will end up playing again tonight.

•••

Another holdover from the rain delay is the battle between Caroline Wozniacki (DEN) and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (RUS), which was called with Pavlyuchenkova already up a set (6-4) on the number six seed and former number one player in the world.

By the time I settled into the stands, Wozniacki was down 4-3 in the second and Pavlyuchenkova held to take a 5-3 lead. The Russian woman looked like a pounding brawler, but a couple of points dispelled that misconception. Pavlyuchenkova tempered her obvious strength with well-placed balls that unerringly found line and corners of the court just beyond Wozniacki’s reach. A hold from the higher seed set up an opportunity for Pavlyuchenkova to serve out the match, much to the chagrin of the vocal fans on the Grandstand who possibly hoped to be able to catch a glimpse of Rory McIlroy later in the evening. Alas, it was not to be. Pavlyuchenkova slammed that book shut, earning a spot opposite Petra Kvitova to compete for a coveted semifinal match, where maybe the fans might join her cause.

•••

Next up on the Grandstand, Venus Williams and the three-seed Samantha Stosur (AUS), the reigning US Open champion. Venus has had to exert a great deal of effort along the way and would probably appreciate an easier match here, but with the formidability of Stosur and her compact, punchy power that’s highly unlikely.

It is apparent though that Venus wants to be the aggressor, as she stands on top of the baseline for Stosur’s first serve and a foot inside on the second. This allows her to get the jump and force Stosur off-balance. An early break and a tough hold for Venus, followed by a quick hold and a break for Stosur, and any hope for a quick two-setter are completely out the window. Even though Venus breaks right back on her opponent’s next two service games and ends up taking the first set 6-2, something in the way Stosur carries herself says, this isn’t close to being over.

•••

On Center Court, Novak Djokovic and Marin Cilic (CRO) have already completed a set, which Djokovic took 6-3. Djokovic has had a fairly easy path thus far, especially his previous match, which ended when Davydenko retired after losing the first set 6-0, before last night’s rain. Today, he is a cat toying with his well-contained prey. Cilic is definitely in a tight corner with his back to the wall because before fans can blink, Djokovic is serving for the match with a 5-2 lead and just like that, it’s over. The cat has gobbled his prey up.

•••

Stosur forced Venus to go back and forth with her on their way to a second set tiebreak, which she seized 7-2, but then Venus immediately broke her in the first game of the third set. As Venus reaches 3-1, most thoughts start to drift to a possible fantasy match-up of the Williams sisters in the final. Serena is set to start on Center Court and has dominated her court appearances thus far.

Television coverage of the end of the Venus-Stosur match means that Serena and Angelique Kerber (GER) are forced to wait.

A gritty battle for the final set goes to Venus (6-4) and we are tantalizingly closer to the dream.

•••

Joe Morgan handles the coin toss to determine who serves to start the Serena-Kerber match. Serena serves and promptly gets broken, although she does seem too bothered. Her shots were either just a bit long or subject to the fickle fate of bounces off the net cord, which she will certainly adjust to as the match progresses.

Kerber, a much shorter player with reasonable power, works on moving Serena around and capitalizing on her error-prone play. There are flashes of Serena’s gifts – games where her serve, one of the best in the women’s game, cannot be touched – but those moments are fleeting. Instead, we see a Serena who has trouble timing her shots, sending swinging volleys into the net that should have been clear and rousing winners. She ends points staring off at either where the winner should have fallen or confused by the absurdity of this predicament she found herself in.

She seemed to be wondering where the real Serena Williams was, and she wasn’t alone. The only person not asking that question was Kerber, who took the match from whoever happened to be standing there in Serena’s lime-accented attire.

Final score: 6-4, 6-4.

It is time to dream another dream, it seems.

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<![CDATA[W&S Open: Day 4]]>

Monday was a bit of a wash, and yes, I mean that literally. Unable to journey out during the daytime session, I braved rush hour traffic in order to catch the evening match-ups. 

News trickled in from loyal colleagues as the afternoon progressed. Andy Murray felled by lucky loser, the Frenchman Jeremy Chardy who had already dispatched Andy Roddick. Unfortunately for him there are no other Andys in the draw. And Roger Federer was Roger Federer, making routine work of his opponent.

So I just knew the night would be worth the trip, right? 

Novak Djokovic versus David Davydenko. I imagined that the Russian would force Djokovic to find his groove early. There would be no time for half-stepping against the veteran. But from the start, something was off with Davydenko. He wasn’t crisp and clean with no caffeine, although Djokovic certainly was as he fired off aces and returns. He wasn’t at the top of his game yet, but he was ready to shift into that next gear when necessary.

It wasn’t necessary, not at all. He took the first set 6-0 and before I could blink — I actually had a wild hair in my eye that was bothering me — he called for a trainer. No diagnosis was announced, but Davydenko retired and the audience was quite gracious.

And then the rain began.

After the 45-minute delay Monday night, I was ready for a brief wait and the promise of more tennis, because really I hadn’t gotten much tennis at all thus far. But alas, it was not to be. The rain fell steadily and lightning flashed like aces in the night sky and tournament officials suspended play. 

And so we all retired for the night.

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<![CDATA[W&S Open: Day 3]]>

Cincinnati heats up, but it does little to slow down the fans eager to follow their favorites all over the grounds of the Open. Another day of racing between matches to catch the highlights as a scattered flurry of notable pairings dot the landscape.

Jumping right in, I head over to Court 9 for a look at two players I caught on Day 1. American wild card Sloane Stephens against fellow wild card Italian Camila Giorgi who took out Francesca Schiavone with relative ease. Both women seemed sharp and ready in the opening round and this match promised more of the same.

Thanks to early double faults, Stephens breaks Giorgi for a 2-1 lead. Both players are striking the ball exceptionally hard. After a Stephens hold, Giorgi loses her concentration for a moment – a swinging volley on a shot that was going to drop long – and that leads to another break and a request to talk things over with her coach.

Stephens keeps her head down and gets to 5-1, before Giorgi is able to hold again, but it matters little once Stephens holds at love for a 6-2 first set.

•••

Another outer court beckons me. Shuai Peng of China battles Italian Roberta Vinci on Court 7. Peng displayed great discipline in taking out last year’s finalist Jelena Jankovic in a marathon match Monday night, but she had no worries today. By the time I arrived, she had just broken to take a 5-3 lead. A quick hold gave her the first set.

Once again, I found myself seated near her coach on the bleachers. 

Peng breaks quickly in the second set for a 2-1 lead and then just handles business to capture the match at 6-4. The only weak link in her game seems to be an inability to secure net volleys. This may haunt her as she moves further into the tournament.

•••

Back on Court 9, Stephens is up 5-1. As with her first match, she’s clicking and looks extremely poised on the court. While Peng has a slight crack in her armor, Stephens appears to be a bit more fortified and ready for another round or two here.

Both women have strong and vocal fan bases as well who are excited to go on with them.

•••

The second round of matches for the morning feature our first glimpses at the top seeds of the tournament.

Questions have dominated the discussion about the number two seed Novak Djokovic, facing off against Italy’s Andreas Seppi, with many seeking to compare his standing this year to where he was a year ago. Last August, he suffered just his second loss up to that point here against Andy Murray in the final. It was a run for the ages and his win at the US Open capped off a three-out-of-four Grand Slams and a world number one ranking. 

Of course, now we see how the wear and tear of a long tennis season along with the constant media scrutiny can chip away at the resolve of even the best players. This year, Djokovic has seemed far more mortal, while still having an enviable record – he earned another Australian Open and looks poised to defend his US Open title.

During his first match here, fans got to observe how a top player works himself into a match and a tournament. For a comparable sports analogy might be fitting to look to boxing and the early rounds where the boxers are getting their bearings, moving and punching, but not for points or power yet, more to settle their nerves before establishing their game plans.

Djokovic was loose and a bit free-swinging initially, but he found his range on serve and then focused on picking the right opportunity to pounce on Seppi, who gamely fought through a few tough service games, but held his own. By the first set tiebreak though, Djokovic scored the min-break he needed to win 7-4 and the inevitability began to creep in for Seppi.

•••

Over on the Grandstand, the number four seed Petra Kvitova (CZE) ran into a strong challenge from Mona Barthel of Germany who wisely decided early on to play a safe return game because Kvitova started off quite error-prone. Down 5-1, Kvitova looked listless and luckless as shot after shot either sailed out or flew of the net cord or the side of her racket. She kept at it though and picked her way back into the set before finally falling 6-4, but the last couple of games showed that if she found her hard-hitting form, she might be able to punch her way back into the match.

•••

Djokovic found the next gear quickly and jumped up to a 5-1 lead in the second set, but Seppi dug in for a hold to make it 5-2, forcing Djokovic to serve it out. The final point of the match came on a soft volley into the open court and with a gentle smile for the fans, Djokovic, the winner last weekend in Toronto, was ready to move on.

•••

Kvitova apparently was ready to prove my assumption correct. She pounded shots at Barthel, hard and heavy body blows and knocked her down in the second set 6-2. The match really was looking like a pair of boxers, one using finesse, the other a power puncher, somehow going toe-to-toe. 

•••

On Center Court, Sam Querrey, the American wild card, was preparing to face off against the number three seed from Great Britain, Andy Murray, last year’s winner and thanks to his runner-up spot at Wimbledon and then his Olympic Gold against Roger Federer (a replay of the Wimbledon final), a man on a mission to shatter the glass ceiling keeping him from the rare air of the top three ranking in the world and Grand Slam glory.

As I mentioned while covering Querrey’s previous match, he’s got skill and form to spare but he hasn’t found the intangible that will take him to the next level consistently. While watching the first set of his match against Murray, I found myself comparing him to one of the competing interns on that season of the medical drama House, when Dr. House was trying to pick a new diagnostic team. A host of talent and knowledgeable doctors and specialist raced and clawed their way through challenges to land a spot and Querrey’s one of those in the hunt in tennis, but Murray, well, he’s a bit like Foreman (Omar Epps), a former team player who hangs around, but everyone knows he’s just not quite ready to take over for House (ever). Of course, he can out-diagnose any pesky intern, any day of the week.

And like a classic episode of House, it’s only a matter of time before the intern falls.

•••

Kvitova has to grind it out in the third set because Barthel has the nerve to stand in the center of the ring and trade punches with her. They go back and forth and there’s something surprising about Barthel’s tenacity, her pesky spirit that gains depth as the match goes on.

But she slips up on her way to a possible tiebreak, losing the third set 7-5, and sadly the match. Has Kvitova gotten herself on track though?

•••

Unforced errors kill Querrey (6-2, 6-4). All that time I spent coming up with the House analogy, Querrey was guessing and guessing wrong. If there really had been a patient on the table, they would have died repeatedly and their next of kin would have earned millions in medical malpractice.

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<![CDATA[W&S Open: Day Two]]>

After the more leisurely pace of the first day, which afforded me the opportunity to settle in for whole matches at a time, the second-day schedule presented quite a change right off the bat. As always, I find myself drawn to a few select players, in the early rounds, who don’t get the same level of attention as the top seeds but who might be sleepers.

Center Court launched with Venus Williams as a wild card facing the 12 seeded Maria Kirilenko (RUS). Williams, working her way back into form while recovering from illness, still seemed more than capable of handling Kirilenko and the first set, which she won 6-3, sent me off in search of other signs of life.

•••

Court 9 played host to another American wild card, Sloane Stephens, who has attracted interest as a possible upstart in the Williams sisters mold. She’s a solid African-American player who has risen up through the U.S. system and has become one of the marketable role models for kids in the summer recreation center programs around the country. 

Her match, against Tsvetana Pironkova (BUL), offered an up-close glimpse and she did not disappoint. Pironkova is a game competitor with second-week experience in the majors, but she lacks the power of the top players. She craftily uses finesse and movement to keep herself in points, but Stephens seized the opportunity and dispatched her handily (6-4, 6-1).

What was impressive about Stephens was the fact that she went in with a game plan and executed it flawlessly. She knew Pironkova’s weaknesses and attacked with power and pinpoint accuracy. Stephens looks strong and fit, although the comparisons to the Williams sisters seem forced. She’s not as tall as Venus or as strong as Serena. Physically, she’s a step removed from each of them, yet a good blend of their strengths. It remains to be seen if she will be able to harness her talents and catapult forward, but the potential is certainly there.

•••

Back on Center Court, Venus was prepared to serve out the second set against Kirilenko, but a funny thing happened on the way to that forum. A few slips at net and erratic serving led to a tiebreak, which Kirilenko won (7-5) to force a third set.

The third was little more than a wake-up call for a snoozing Venus who definitely looked a bit more like an awakened giant. She took the match [6-3, 6-7 (7-5), 6-2] and enjoyed the full support and admiration of the fans on Center Court. 

The fans would be on-hand to bolster the spirits of several others over the course of the day.

•••

The second match on Center Court, between Andy Roddick and lucky loser Jeremy Chardy (FRA), appeared to be more red meat for the crowds. In the early going, Roddick used his booming serves to feed the frenzy, routinely registering aces in the 130-range before dropping the pace for a sneaky 110 mph kicker that completely froze his opponent. 

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<![CDATA[W&S Open: Day One]]>

All of the qualifying matches, on both the men and women’s sides, have been played and today marks the official start of the main draws. There are preliminary press conferences scheduled with a select group of top players and while the interviews may have star power and a hint of intrigue – especially in light of the impact of inserting a grass court Olympics event into the already crowded summer schedule – I am drawn more to a few first round match-ups. 

Veteran Nikolay Davydenko (RUS) dispatched the 13th seed Alexandr Dolgopolov (UKR) with such ease and efficiency [6-1, 6-1] that I never even made it out of the press box above Center Court down to watch the match from inside the stadium. Dolgopolov fumed a bit, but was clearly not ready for the steely Davydenko who is never unprepared.

I was able to march over to the Grandstand though for the second match of the day on that court, featuring two Americans – the qualifier Jesse Levine and young upstart Donald Young who has cracked the mid-to-upper ranks (world top 30) thanks to strong recent Grand Slam showings. He’s got natural athleticism and solid command of his shots, but the knock on him has been that he’s not as disciplined mentally as he needs to be to truly make a sustained run.

And, unfortunately, today’s match offered proof to support these claims. The duel between the two American lefties kicked off with loose play from Young as he was broken easily in his first service game and then sloppily dropped enough points for Levine to hold. Watching Young, it felt like he started out in a much lower gear, so low, in fact, that I would argue it’s a gear that the top players don’t even have anymore at this stage. The guys in the Top Five start in third and shift up from there, but Young was definitely in first and seemingly stuck, although Levine wasn’t ready to jump on the opportunity. He played down to Young’s level and I found myself pondering how quickly the winner here would exit in the next round.

In a fit of frustration after a listless point, Young muttered to himself that his shot “was the worst ever” and sadly, it would have been hard to disagree with him. That attitude though, without a corresponding rise in the level of play, is going to knock the wind out of his sails and those of his fans. Buck up, Young man!

The next match on the Grandstand, I was sure, would be better. In another battle of countrymen, Francesca Schiavone (ITA) faced off against wild card Camila Giorgi and I was hyped for a passionate display from Schiavone who impressed me during last year’s W&S Open with her never say die approach and gritty shot making. She has won a Grand Slam on clay, which lines up with her skills (and robs the larger, stronger players of their strengths), but the shots have to fall and alas that was not the case against Giorgi.

Schiavone struggled to withstand the power of Giorgi, a player who certainly looked equal to her in stature. There was discipline and poise in every move Giorgi made, while Schiavone settled into a surprising degree of resignation over the shots she was spraying all over (and beyond) the boundaries of the court. She quickly transitioned from frustration to acceptance that today, in this match, Giorgi was simply better, but she fought to the last point, as we would expect. In this case, as opposed to the Levine-Young match, I give Giorgi solid odds to possibly advance further, mainly because she didn’t simply let Schiavone give her the match; she earned it by seizing control of points and making shots.

My final match of the day, the first of the evening on Center Court featured the 13th seed and former Number One Jelena Jankovic (SRB) against Shuai Peng from China. Jankovic won the women’s W&S title back in 2009, but has been struggling to rebound back into the top ranks of late.

Rather than watch from the sheltered remove of the press box, I ventured down to the photographer’s pit on court and by chance ended up next to Peng’s coach. While I offered little more than a nod of greeting when he initially sat down, I found myself alternating between my own study of the match and a sneak bit of observation, focusing on his reactions to his player’s efforts.

Much is made of the idea that players should not receive coaching during a match, but a simple clap of encouragement or a reminder to keep your head in the game or to watch a stroke seems perfectly acceptable. Peng’s coach did these things, sparingly, and often, it was little more than confirming something Peng (and many of the observant fans in the stands) already knew. It was intriguing interplay that never crossed the line, but also wouldn’t intrude upon the player’s ability to think and strategize for herself. She is the one out there in the match and any adjustments, whether large or small, must come from her and their arrangement certainly gave her the control she needed.

Peng is a crafty and solid player who primarily uses a two-handed swing on both sides. I’m not much of a fan of the two-handed backhand because I believe that it limits the full range of the player’s stroke and forces them to get into position faster to reach and make certain shots, but watching Peng’s form, I must admit that she nearly won me over. When she was set and on top of the ball, the two-hand swing allows her to generate a great deal of power, which she can control and direct to either side.

The best facet of her game though is her discipline and mental toughness. Peng never once succumbed to rushing either a shot or the pace of her play. There was always a sense of an inner calm and this match certainly ended up pushing her to the limit.

Peng and Jankovic slugged it out for three long sets, the final going to a tiebreak, alternating between brilliant shot making and loose points. In addition, they suffered through a 45-minute rain delay, but in the end, Peng stood triumphant, as Jankovic seemed ready for the match to be over. After nearly 3 hours, it was hard to blame her.


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<![CDATA[Free Who Dey This Weekend!]]>

Well, it’s August and to sports fans — real sports fans — that means one thing: preseason football. 

The Bengals preseason training camp, for the first time ever, is being held at Paul Brown Stadium and all practices and scrimmages are free and open to the public.

Capacity shouldn’t be an issue this year, unlike their former Georgetown, Ky., location which, let’s face it, sat less people than most middle school lacrosse games. 

If you’re really jonesing for a Bengals fix, check out the Intrasquad Scrimmage 3 p.m. Saturday, which features the most full contact of camp.  

Sunday at 6 is the Black/White mock game (take it easy Kathy Wilson, it’s not what you think), where they split the team into two squads who play a minimal-contact game against one another. They keep score in that one, which, depending on what side A.J. Green is on, could be a good thing.  

Speaking of wide receivers, Jordan Shipley’s back from that pesky ACL tear that sidelined him for all of last season. The talented Mr. Shipley will be running routes alongside Brandon Tate, Antonio Bryant (yes, that Antonio Bryant) and third-round-pick Mohamed Sanu. 

Some other new faces worth checking out are former Patriots running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis and rookie tight end Orson Charles. 

Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait on buying tickets to Kirkpatrick Island (wow, that really doesn’t have a ring to it) as the new cornerback, and first-overall draft pick, is missing most of camp due to an undisclosed leg injury. 

So check out the 2012 Bengals while it’s still free. It’s the best chance you’ll have to dip your toe in the water before deciding if you want to sell a kidney to afford those Party Deck tickets. For the complete preseason schedule, click here

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<![CDATA[Cincinnati's Broner Scores Fifth Round TKO, Loses Title]]>

Cincinnati's Adrien "The Problem" Broner won the fight Saturday night, but he lost the title.

Broner, contracted to defend his WBO Junior Lightweight title (130 pounds) against Vicente Escobedo on Saturday in a fight broadcast nationally on HBO, failed to make weight, coming in more than three pounds heavy.

The undefeated Broner automatically lost his title, while Escobedo, who faced more risk fighting the heavier Broner, had the option to cancel the fight. After negotiating substantial additions to his share of the purse, Escobedo agreed to proceed.  

No longer a title fight, the 12-round bout began with a pattern Broner continued throughout the night:  jabbing low to the body early each round, then mixing his punches — crosses, hooks and uppercuts with both hands — with jabs higher up. Broner struck at first in single or a few shots, but increasingly unleashed torrents of hard shots with speed and power in both hands throughout the first four rounds.     

Both men landed punches, but Broner landed significantly more jabs and the more telling power shots. For four rounds Escobedo stayed in the center of the ring with Broner, though faring worse in the exchanges.  

At the end of the fourth round, both men headed back to their corners. Broner gave Escobedo a long look then told his trainer, "I'm going to walk him down." Calm in his corner, Broner remained sitting until the final moment when the bell signaled the beginning of the round.  

Broner's pace and intensity ratcheted up. The battered Escobedo barely forced his way off the ropes through a barrage of punches, circling not Broner but the whole ring, his back to the ropes.  

The final, measured attack saw Escobedo bent double, nose bloodied, unable to respond to Broner's attack. The referee halted the bout in the fifth round as Escobedo's corner threw in the towel. 

"It was time to open up," Broner said after the fight. "I was opening up every round, getting closer and closer. He's a world class fighter who has a chance win a world title one day, but today was not his day."

"I felt his power. He's fast and hard to hit," Escobedo said. "I did my job and came in here like a professional and he didn't. That's the past, and he was the better man tonight." 

For Broner, the TKO victory means he can explore bigger possibilities in higher weight classes as an unbeaten, phenomenally skilled, yet only modestly, tested pound-for-pound candidate.  

Broner's trainer Mike Stafford said Broner "can be comfortable at 135; he can be comfortable at 140. But right now, we're going to [135]. We're not going up two weight classes because we don't have to." 

Broner, who previously has said he might go as high as 154, said, "The task only gets bigger from here, going to lighweight. We'll give them all hell: [Antonio] DeMarco can be next, after that, [Juan Manuel] Marquez, [Brandon] Rios ... anybody."

Broner's failure to make weight on Friday has been criticized by many and interpreted to reflect his attitude toward life both in and outside the ring. It's too soon and the situation too complex — networks, promoters, pundits, the fighters and camps are all in play — to reach definitive conclusions about how Broner will continue to develop as a person and a fighter.

In the meantime, the measured approach of Broner and his team gives him the best chance to demonstrate possibly elite skills against more challenging competition. 

Three other Cincinnati-area fighters on the undercard won their bouts Saturday night, including middlewight Chris Pearson, junior lightweight Brandon Bennett and heavyweight Danny Calhoun.                                              

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<![CDATA[Hometown Boxer Adrien Broner to Defend Title on Saturday]]> Cincinnati resident and elite boxing prospect Adrien "The Problem" Broner will make his second WBO Junior Lightweight World Champion title defense at the U.S. Bank Arena Saturday.

The Cincinnati pugilist (23-0, 19 knockouts), who lives in Westwood, faces Vicente Escobedo (26-3, 15 knockouts). The fight will be broadcast on HBO's Boxing After Dark and represents the next step in a career that may propel Broner into the highest levels of the sport. This will be Broner's fifth appearance on HBO.  

Broner is the youngest current U.S. title holder after winning the WBO Junior Lightweight belt with a third-round knockout of Vicente Rodriguez last November. His first title defense came in February of this year, also in Cincinnati. He easily defeated Eloy Perez, prompting additional fan, cable and promoter attention. His second title defense this Saturday may be a turning point, leading to the next tier of exposure and reward — and perhaps much tougher fights.   

Escobedo is a 2004 US Olympian, though he did not medal. He's fighting at 130 pounds, having tasted defeat as a pro at 135 pounds in a split-decision title fight loss versus Michael Katsidis in 2009. After four victories in the new weight class, the 30-year-old Escobedo now faces one of the most highly touted prospects in boxing today in Broner. 

In the ring, Broner's athleticism, speed, power and preparation, as well as his side-on fighting style and offense-from-defense positioning, have led to comparisons with current pound-for-pound great Floyd Mayweather, Jr. Broner says he doesn't watch tape of opponents but prefers to adapt in the ring.  

Outside the ring, he's known for a flamboyant style that also has brought comparisons to Mayweather's flashy persona, but Broner shows adaptability in the arena of life as well. Broner describes strong and apparently nourishing interests, including recording his own music. So far, when it's time to focus — in the ring or answering serious questions about his claims to elite status — the 22-year-old can be frank, direct and thoughtful.  

But he's also being called over-the-top. A rare talent. And, of course, undefeated.  

Cincinnati sports fans are on notice that maybe, just maybe, they have a new, hometown, world-class athlete worth following on the international stage.  

Broner-Escobedo headlines an extensive undercard on Saturday, July 21. U.S. Bank Arena doors open at 5 pm. HBO Boxing After Dark coverage begins at 10 pm. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster.

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<![CDATA[Reds Lead League in Fan Web Gems]]>

When Reds pitcher Mike Leake hit his first career home run Monday night off Braves starter Mike Minor at Great American Ballpark, it landed directly in the lap of 20-year-old casual-turned-hardcore fan Caleb Lloyd, who was sitting at the edge of the left field bleachers.

It was also Lloyd's first home run catch, he said later.

When Zach Cozart hit a homer to mark the occasion of the Reds first back-to-back jacks since last season, the ball headed toward the same general vicinity of the first homer, bounced a couple seats away from where Lloyd was sitting and landed directly into his free hand (the other was occupied by his previous homer catch).

The last time that happened was never. I think dude should call Guinness.

(Drew Stubbs followed Cozart's jack with a home run of his own, making it a rare back-to-back-to-back homer hat trick. Sadly, it went to right center field, not directly in Lloyd's pocket.)

The Reds' TV crew invited Lloyd up to the broadcast booth to hang out for a bit. He spoke to the media before last night's game, where he was also named the team's honorary captain and delivered the game card to the ump before the first pitch.

To make the story even more perfect, Lloyd reportedly returned to Leake his first home run ball to keep as a memento and he gave the friend who he said "dragged" him to the game the other ball. What a guy!



That wasn't the first Reds fan's fancy fielding move this year to trump any made on the field (at least for the day). At Yankee Stadium just four days before Monday's miraculous catches, a young Reds fan amongst the savage Yankee masses gracefully swooped a Joey Votto foul ball out of mid air with his glove while his father (also decked out in Reds gear) hoisted him up a good four feet into the air.



The father/son combo was up for ESPN's Web Gem that night, put up against a play at home by Elvis Andrus of the Texas Rangers. The Reds fans won the vote 63 percent to Andrus' 37 percent. (He's probably pissed. I mean, he had to perform his play all by himself!)

The cool surprise ending to this story — according to Jim Day's postgame report on Fox Sports Ohio, the man from the two-person foul-ball catching team was Reds catcher Ryan Hanigan's brother-in-the-law; the kid was the catcher's nephew.

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<![CDATA[The Reds Are On a Roll]]> The Reds are on a roll. They haven’t lost any of their last six series — discount the two-game series against Chicago. Despite all the successes the Reds have had there are still some things that need to be addressed.

Numero uno: When is Mike Leake going to get off that fat goose egg in the win column? Indications are that it will be soon, as Leake pitched a great game against Pittsburgh last week only to receive minimal run support in a 3-2 loss. Although the Reds have again lucked out in not having to face Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg during this weekend's series, Leake opens the series against the Gio Gonzalez (3-1), the Nationals' number two. The Nationals have received plenty of hype this year between their first place standing in the NL East and the introduction of 19-year-old standout Bryce Harper. Surprisingly, Washington’s offensive numbers are far from gaudy, in the bottom third of major league ranks in three major offensive categories — the Reds are only slightly better.

Secondly, while the likes of Ryan Ludwick and Scott Rolen are still struggling with the sticks, Johnny Cueto and Aroldis Chapman have been nearly flawless from 60 feet 6 inches. Wednesday night is a perfect example: Cueto threw seven scoreless innings tallying five strikeouts; Brewers all-star, Zack Greinke was even better, pitching eight innings of 11-strikeout, two-hit baseball. Chapman came in for the eightth and struck out two, including Rickie Weeks with a 101 mph eye-high heater. Sean Marshall came in to close the game but made things interesting with a solo bomb to Ryan Braun and putting two on before Logan Ondrusek got Travis Ishikawa to fly out to left.

Clearly the Reds have decided to save the arm of Chapman for later in the season. He could have stayed in for the ninth, but limiting his innings will keep him fresh. I expect to see Chapman inserted into the starting rotation sometime in July if the Reds remain the hunt for a playoff spot. With clutch performances like last night the Reds can only continue to improve — a must considering their next five series are against winning clubs.

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