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Byrd set to help Cubs climb new heights in NL Central title chase

Dan Hock is a staff writer for megasportsnews.com but this week he is filling in as The Guest Writer of the Week

marlon byrd will bat fifth in the Cubs batting order this season

The 2010 Chicago Cubs, coming off an 83 win season after back to back NL Central Division titles in 2007 and 2008, will be banking on a new face to help them rise again to the top.

Marlon Byrd, a 32 year old veteran outfielder who signed a 3-year free agent contract after having his best year with the Texas Rangers in 2009. Byrd, who will be penciled in as the Cubs everyday center fielder, drove in 89 runs while hitting 20 homers for Texas, both career highs.

Chicago, looking to return to having a dominant offense similar to the 2008 divisional champions, hope Byrd will be a big part of the puzzle.

“I look at this as a great opportunity to help this club reach its goal of a World Series,” said Byrd. He continues, “the fans of this team are something special and I want to be able to bring them special memories”.

Byrd, who will be entering his ninth major league season, will man center field by Alfonso Soriano in left field and Kosuke Fukudome in right field.  Cubs manager Lou Piniella says that Marlon Byrd will hit fifth in the batting order.

The Chicago Cubs will open the 2010 major league season in Atlanta, Monday April 5th, in a 3 game series and will conclude their first regular season road trip in Cincinnati with a three game series from April 9 through April 11th.

Miami RedHawks surprise Buffalo on Senior Night, 73-62

Kenny Hayes scored 17 points (mu)

Adam Fletcher "heart and soul" of the team (mu)

Oxford, O.- The Miami RedHawks honored their senior class Thursday night at Millett Hall. Kenny Hayes, Adam Fletcher and walk-on Michael Aluise were honored before the game with their families by their side in a very emotional moment. At this time of the year across college basketball, teams are saying ” goodbye and thank you ” to their seniors for all of the greatest moments good and bad. After all, for four and five years, these players are a part of a community and a fans life.

Usually on senior night, every team wants to go out and post a win so those players can have pleasant memories for playing in the final home game of their college careers. But sometimes the opponent will not cooperate because they are better than the home team or they want to spoil the celebration and win the game for themselves.

Thursday night, Miami had a tough opponent to overcome. The Buffalo Bulls, a fellow member of the Mid-American Conference, East Division. The Bulls are athletic, physical, quick, explosive and deep on their bench. They throttled Miami up on Lake Erie, January 9, 73-55. The Bulls had beaten Miami three games in a row, eventhough the RedHawks led the overall series at 17-7. Also, the Bulls have an experienced and talented senior class of five, Sean Smiley, Rodney Pierce, John Boyer, Calvin Betts and Max Boudreau. That quintet of players have been responsible for the rebirth of Buffalo basketball by winning in order: 23, 19, and 21 games in 3 of the past 5 years.

Miami ended up winning the basketball game, 73-62, but early on, they had their hands full trying to slow down Buffalo who started off shooting 66.7% in the first 5:13 of the game.

Miami had trouble getting the ball inside and if it wasn’t for Julian Mavunga’s play early on, they might’ve been blown out. The RedHawks had trouble guarding Mitchell Watt who had 11 points and was one of the reasons why Miami had 7 team fouls to only 2 for Buffalo at the 4:09 mark of the first half. And Buffalo showed why they are one of the top rebounding teams in the MAC; pounding out an 18-9 advantage at that point of the game.

After a media timeout at the 3:12 mark, Miami came and took control of the game the rest of the first half. Led by Kenny Hayes, Julian Mavunga and backup point guard Kramer Soderberg turned the score from 23-22 Buffalo to a halftime score of 33-29, a run of 11-6 where they played solid defense and forced Buffalo into some quick shooting.

The halftime stats favored Buffalo across the board: Mitchell Watt with 11 points and Max Boudreau scoring 8 off the bench; outrebounding the RedHawks, 18-13.

In the second half, Miami showed why they’re 9-3 at home and 6-1 in MAC play at home this season. The RedHawks started to get good ball movement on offense and their bench started outshining Buffalo’s bench, which is one of the best in the MAC. Miami rolled up a 49-40 advantage at the 11:15 media timeout. Buffalo was still controlling the backboards at 24-14, but Miami was shooting 59% from the floor and pushed the lead 16, 58-42 and the 13th win of the season was secured as long as the RedHawks made their free throws and took care of the ball which they did. Buffalo did manage to cut the lead down to a three possession game but the RedHawks were just so resilient on this special night, that they weren’t going to be denied a hard-fought win.

A small, but raucous crowd of 1,486 at Millett Hall witnessed Miami outscore  Buffalo 34-26 in the paint, 23-12 off the bench, shoot 16 of 22 on free throws and shoot the ball well, 50% from the field and take a good selection of 3 point field goals, 5 of 10 for 50%.

Leading the way was senior point guard Kenny Hayes with 17 points on 7 of 11 shooting; Julian Mavunga 17 points on 6 of 10 shooting and Antonio Ballard 13 points and 9 rebounds. The RedHawks improve to 13-17, 9-7 in the MAC East.

The Bulls, despite not shooting well in the game, 36.1%, was kept in the game by grabbing 40 rebounds, 20 on the offensive and 20 defensive and 16 of 21 from the free throw line. Mitchell Watt led the way with 17 points, Rodney Pierce added 16, but he was 3 of 13 from the floor and Calvin Betts led the way on the boards, pulling down 12. The Bulls dropped to 17-11 and 9-7 in the MAC East.

Both teams will now turn their attention to the MAC tournament which will start on campus sites on Sunday March 7.

SOUNDS FROM THE POST GAME PRESS CONFERENCE(to listen to audio file, click the number)

44 431 Kenny Hayes Miami Guard They had to win this game heading to MAC tourney….44 432 Kenny Hayes The difference in the two games with Buffalo splitting series….44 434 Julian Mavunga Miami Forward On his aggressiveness on offense tonight….44 435 Julian Mavunga On teammate Adam Fletcher playing hurt a quad contusion….44 410 Kenny Hayes It was Senior Night at Millett Hall an emotional event for him….44 411 Kenny Hayes It is unusual that he may never play another game at Millett Hall….44 412 Kenny Hayes Miami has made strides this season after a tough early schedule….44 415 Kenny Hayes Playing against Kentucky and UCLA in his career

GAME NOTES

* Buffalo’s Rodney Pierce has over 500 points this season. He is the seventh player in school history to do so. He is also a 1,000 point scorer, 16th in school history.

* Calvin Betts played in his 120th game last night, ranking him fourth in school history.

* The Bulls have 8 road wins this season, tying a school record. Kent State also has 8 wins on the road.

* Another winning season for the Bulls, 5th time in the 7 years that they’ve won 17 or more games. Before 2003-04, they won 17 games only nine times in the first 85 years of the program.

* Buffalo is getting good production off the bench, averaging 23,8 ppg. They’ve scored at least 21 points in 13 of their 15 Mid-American Conference games. The highest point total off the bench is 30 vs. Bowling Green.

* Buffalo head coach Reggie Witherspoon has 143 career wins at the school which is 3rd all-time, with 119 of those coming in the last seven years.

* Miami leads the MAC in blocked shots at 4.33, 3.72 in all games.

* Miami leads the MAC in scoring defense, giving up 61 ppg.

* Miami ends up 10-3 at home in all games, 7-1 in MAC games.

Tiger Woods back for The Masters! Jack Nicklaus thinks so

Jack Nicklaus (wfe)

compiled from staff and wire reports

Tiger Woods (pga)

Wednesday afternoon, Legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus had just finished playing a Pro-Am round of golf in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., with Drew Brees, Dan Marino and saxaphonist Kenny G, where he broke an 80 after finishing with a birdie. He was asked about how he sees the timetable for Tiger Woods’ return to the PGA Tour.

“The Golden Bear” said he would not be surprised if Woods would return in time for the Masters tournament, which begins April 8. Woods, the world’s number 1 player has won the Masters four times in his career.

Nicklaus says that Tiger will probably play a couple of tournaments just to get back in the groove before jumping into a major tournament like the Masters.

Jack Nicklaus will be at the Masters this year as an honorary starter. He has won the Masters six times in his career.

The Columbus, Ohio native has said during this past off-season that 2010 might be a phenomenal year for Tiger Woods if he wanted to creep up a little closer to Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championships. Three of  the majors this year will be on courses where Woods has been very dominant before: Augusta National, Pebble Beach and St, Andrews. Of Woods’ 14 major wins, half  have been accumulated on those three courses. Tiger has never missed a Masters or a U.S. Open since 1995.

Since the whole Tiger Woods infidelity scandal broke last November, Jack Nicklaus has been very hesitant to comment, saying that someone’s private life is their business.

Big first quarter fuels Cavaliers in romp over Nets, 111-92

Anderson Varejao scored 12 points for Cleveland (AP)

With the Cleveland Cavaliers rolling up a 35-15 first quarter lead Wednesday night against the New Jersey Nets, the fans were thinking any chance they had in the game was disappearing rather quickly. Well their thoughts were right. Cleveland coasted to a 111-92 victory in East Rutherford, N.J.  at the IZOD Center. Cleveland is now 48-14.

The Cavaliers, using their small, quick lineup were so dominating in the first quarter, they shot out to a 20 point lead in ‘no time flat’.

Cavs star LeBron James, had 26 points and 14 rebounds. J.J. Hickson scored 20 points and pulled down 14 rebounds.

Brook Lopez, had 21 points and 14 rebounds for the Nets who creeped back in the game and trailed by 11 points in the fourth quarter but could’nt get any closer.

This was the  Cavs last visit to the Meadowlands complex. New Jersey will soon break ground on their new arena in Brooklyn. In the meantime, they’ll play in the Prudential Center in Newark until the new arena is ready.

As usual LeBron James was approached by reporters from the New York/New Jersey area about him possibly playing for the Nets or the Knicks. As usual, he said nothing about his plans for free agency.

Week 4 in Nascar Schedule: Atlanta Motor Speedway

Atlanta Motor Speedway (ams)

Can the red-hot number 48 Lowes Chevrolet team led by Jimmie Johnson make it three wins in a row?

NASCAR moves into dixieland this week at the Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Ga., which is 30 miles  south of Atlanta. The seating capacity is 113,000 on a quad-oval track. The Kobalt Tools 500 will be on March 7 on Fox TV at 1 p.m. This is the 50th anniversary of the speedway and Atlanta has hosted more 500-mile races (93) than any other NASCAR facility.

Renovations at the facility turned th speedway into NASCAR’s fastest 1.5 mile track. The asphalt is banked in the turns.

Since Jimmie Johnson’s sweep in 2007, two Dodges, a Ford, and a Toyota have won at Atlanta. Fireball Roberts won the first NASCAR event in Atlanta, the 1960 Dixie 200.

Recapping the 2009 race, Kurt Busch dominated, leading 234 of the 330 laps in his Miller Lite Dodge, but needed to get past Carl Edwards with two laps to go to win the race. Jeff Gordon, who led 47 laps, also slipped past Edwards for second. Mark Martin, the pole-sitter finished 31st.

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