American interest in Korean baseball shows power of sports

photo: Mamta Popat/Arizona Daily Star

By Jeff Uveino

As the waning hours of Monday night crept into the early hours of Tuesday morning on the east coast, many American sports fans found their attention focused half way around the world.

It wasn’t until earlier that day that sports television giant ESPN announced that it would be broadcasting games from the Korea Baseball Organization, or the KBO.

Suddenly, thousands of baseball enthusiasts who had been deprived of the sport due to the postponement of Major League Baseball’s season became interested in South Korea’s premier baseball league. And, every major sports media outlet scrambled to put out a story that would help readers become familiar with the league.

Thursday marks 55 days without a ‘major four’ professional sporting event being played in the United States, and 190 days since MLB played the last game of its 2019 season.

Under no other circumstances would American sports fans be inclined to follow the KBO. After all, the product put out by MLB is widely regarded as the highest level of baseball in the world, and most weeknight Korean games start at 5:30 a.m. eastern time— perhaps the worst possible time for most in the US.

However, in a time when live sports are nearly impossible to come by, Korean baseball played in the middle of the night with no fans in attendance is oddly attractive for disciples of the sport, myself included.

You’d be hard pressed to find American baseball fans who followed the KBO before this week. Now, names such as the Samsung Lions, Kia Tigers and Lotte Giants suddenly carry weight.

American interest in Korean baseball not only shows the desire that we have for sports to return, but also the power of sport, which on several hours’ notice, caused thousands to stay glued to their television screens late through the night to catch this phenomenon.

Naturally, if one is going to follow a sports league, they will pick a favorite team. After some brief research, I was drawn to the Changwon-based NC Dinos. Despite lacking a championship in nine KBO seasons, the Dinos feature several bona-fide stars.

Catcher Eui Ji Yang was the league’s batting champion in 2019, hitting .354 with 20 home runs and 68 runs batted in. Outfielder Min Woo Park wasn’t far behind, batting .344 with six homers, 45 runs driven in and 18 stolen bases.

Outfielder Aaron Altherr, who played in over 350 MLB games from 2014-19, signed with the Dinos this past offseason, as did Drew Rucinski, a former Miami Marlin.

Now-Washington National Eric Thames became a breakout star in KBO with the Dinos, winning the league’s Most Valuable Player award in 2015 after posting a .381 batting average with 47 HR and 140 RBI.

The Dinos led the KBO in home runs in 2019, and their games are sure to feature an abundance of the league’s signature ‘bat flips’ that are not typically seen in the North American game.

The Dinos began KBO action on ESPN by beating the Lions, 4-0, on Tuesday’s Opening Day. The game was the first of six that will have aired live on the family of ESPN networks throughout the week.

While late-night KBO may not be the ideal fix to the baseball cravings of US fans, it will have to do for now as the COVID-19 crisis continues.

And, I will say, as I struggled to stay awake on Monday night to watch a baseball game played over 6000 miles from my home in upstate New York, I found the crack of the bat and the pop of the glove to sound comfortably familiar.

Column: Hudson, Bona softball players react to ongoing pandemic, canceled season

photo courtesy of gobonnies.sbu.edu

By Akim Hudson

ST. BONAVENTURE, NY — COVID-19, Coronavirus or whichever you prefer to call it, has struck the United States and has sent waves of peril and panic from coast to coast.

Unless one has been living under a rock, they can observe the effects of Coronavirus.

No, I don’t mean the biological and anatomical effects and so forth, I mean the fact that approximately every square inch of the United States is paused. The New York State government was one of the first states on the quarantine wave, practically setting an hourglass on the fate of the St. Bonaventure school year.

But before I even breakdown how that went, I can’t just subside the termination of all sports in the world, yes literally the world.  

I remember, it was a Wednesday evening, I was just finishing a workout at SBU’s Richter Center, then I get a notification from ESPN reporting that the remainder of the NBA season has been suspended.

The NBA, being the eminent force that it is, practically made every other sports league play hardball. One by one, they all fell. MLB, MLS, even the damn NASCAR shut down.

I personally blame Rudy Gobert, but that’s neither here nor there.  

With all the sports leagues shutting down, reality sunk in and we all knew the inevitable NCAA shut down, but everyone avoided the elephant in the room and stayed as optimistic as they could.

Thursday morning, I attended a (mandatory) SGA meeting where Rob Defazio, director of the center for activities, recreation and leadership at Bona’s, broke the news that the Atlantic 10 basketball tournament had been cancelled, along with all of SBU’s spring sports.

Immediate shockwaves moved through the room.

It was just a sudden moment of shock, like one of those utterly unbelievable moments that couldn’t even elicit any reaction.  

I couldn’t help but feel a robust sense of sympathy for spring athletes for their loss (and empathy because my season for club basketball was also terminated).  

After that announcement, everyone really began to comprehend just how serious this whole situation was. Over the ensuing couple of days, many left St. Bonaventure, while some stayed until the week came to a halt, constantly pondering, “what’s next?”  

I held a rather spontaneous interview with several spring sports athletes on campus about their reaction to the sudden termination of their season.

Freshmen softball players Shannon Costello and Bella Reese, along with senior softball player Mckenna Holtz, voiced their opinions on the situation.

The first question was obviously how they felt about their season coming to a halt. Costello said that she was “extremely disappointed” about her season coming to a halt, yet she wasn’t “entirely surprised” because she’d already expected shut down after SBU’s weekend series in Maryland got cancelled.

Knowing the intentions of the NCAA were to keep them safe along with the knowledge that she is only a freshman and would have another season, Costello found clarity in the whole situation.

However, her “heart truly broke” for the seniors whose college careers have been vanquished. Which is a perfect Segway to our senior.

Holtz was in an absolute shock when she got the news.

She even took the initiative to meet with Bona coach Mike Threehouse because “part of [her] couldn’t believe it could be real” until further confirmation from him.

Reese had a reaction that was pretty much an exact conjugation of both Costello and Holtz, also in shock and disappointment, but a different sense of disappointment.

Reese’s disappointment was spearheaded by the team’s hard work basically being deducted to futility.

Divulging that there were changes during the offseason that put the team in position to improve, now it felt like the team had spent months constructing some sort of building only for it to be ravaged within a day. 

Next, I asked the student athletes how this pandemic had affected their day to day schedule.

Costello said she went home on the ensuing Saturday and swung at the batting cages, but there “definitely [was] like a void in [her] daily life.” Swinging at the cages just “wasn’t the same.”

After playing three previous seasons, Holt naturally built her schedule around softball. She said she “[doesn’t] know what to do with all [her] free time” and staying active without her teammates being available to go down to the fields with her is a “huge adjustment…[and will] take a long time before [she] can ever get used to not having practice”.

It’s human nature to be very habitual once we get conditioned, and it is very difficult to break that conditioning, I must say, this quarantine is making me go through withdrawals of my own as far as being active goes.

Reese, who redshirted this season, said her schedule wasn’t really that different after the termination of their season, but she was now “left accountable” of her workouts and so forth.

I must say that there was an archetypal response from all three student athletes of utter shock with somber overtones.

This quarantine has set us back as a nation, but when our safety is being put in perspective, whatever is necessary, I suppose I’ll conform. Sympathy to those whose season came to a screeching halt, or whose schedule has been bewildered by this quarantine.  

Stay as productive as you can amid the current circumstances. This is a time to focus on the betterment of yourself, especially health-wise.

Be smart, stay safe, live healthy, and work on yourself. As always, it is an honor to be able to express myself to you all, peace and prosperity, beloved.  

Column: How the Coronavirus took over the Atlantic 10 tournament, and the world of sports, in a matter of hours

By Jeff Uveino

BROOKLYN, NY — When Mark Schmidt and his players took time for media availability on Monday, the Coronavirus’ impact on the Atlantic 10 tournament was an afterthought.

The Schmidt-led St. Bonaventure men’s basketball was set to leave for Barclays Center the next day, with its sole focus on finding a way to win the tournament as the No. 5 seed.

Just over 48 hours later, the conversation regarding the virus and its impact on sports completely changed when a chain reaction of cancellations and restrictions erupted across social media.

Around 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, it was announced that all NCAA tournament games would be played without fans in attendance.

As NCAA conferences around the country made the decision not to allow fans to attend their respective tournaments, the Atlantic 10 followed suit at 9:13. About 30 minutes after that, the NBA announced that it was suspending the remainder of its season.

However, the decision that hit closest to home for the Bona community came as No. 8 Massachusetts and No. 9 VCU were set to tip-off Thursday’s A-10 tournament action.

Moments before the game’s noon start, the league announced that its championship tournament would not be played.

As did every other conference in the nation.

In an unprecedented series of events, the world of sports seemingly shut down over the course of 24 hours.

And, as it did, a Barclays Center scene that otherwise would be filled with thousands of A-10 basketball fans from across the northeast turned into a ghost town.

As the league held a press conference shortly after announcing its decision, the heavy mood of the room was one of deflation and disappointment.

“The very precautionary decision-making to protect our student-athletes, all of our support staff, our coaches, our administrators, and the public and family members, is something that I think everybody across the country is doing right now,” said A-10 commissioner Bernadette McGlade.

Later in the afternoon, the NCAA announced that it was canceling ‘March Madness,’ as well as the remainder of every winter and spring sport championship this season.

By the time media members left the arena on Thursday evening, the entire sports world had seemingly come to a stop.

The conversation in Brooklyn was no longer about the tournament. It was no longer just about college basketball.

A postseason, or entire upcoming season, was taken away from college athletes in a matter of hours. Not to mention the high school and professional athletic cancelations.

VCU coach Mike Rhodes best summed up the emotion of the day.

“There weren’t any dry eyes in our locker room,” Rhodes said. “When our seniors sat down and realized they wouldn’t be putting on a uniform again, that was tough.”

As the Coronavirus’ impact spreads, so will the emotion that enveloped the A-10 on Thursday.

However, Rhodes and UMass coach Matt McCall made light of the situation when asked about Thursday’s game.

I thought Coach Rhodes had a great idea,” McCall said. “He said, ‘Let’s me and you play one-on-one in our suits here and we’ll battle it out that way.”

“I’m for it,” Rhodes added. “That would be good TV.”

 

Atlantic 10 tournament canceled over Coronavirus fears

By Jeff Uveino

BROOKLYN, NY — The remainder of the Atlantic 10 men’s basketball tournament was canceled on Thursday minutes before the tournament’s first game of the day was scheduled to start at Barclays Center.

No. 8 Massachusetts and No. 9 VCU were set for a noon tip-off to start the day’s action, until it was announced at 11:59 a.m. that the tournament would not be played due to fears over the Coronavirus.

“It was a very difficult decision, and you can probably hear that in my voice,” A-10 commissioner Bernadette McGlade said while calling in to the league press conference on Thursday. “The precautionary decision making done to protect our student athletes, family members and the public is something that I think everyone in the country is doing right now.”

The conference had announced on Wednesday night that the tournament would be played without fans in attendance. McGlade said that at that point, she knew that canceling the tournament was a possibility, but hoped that it would not be necessary.

“You always hate to pull people off the court, but the right decision was made, even in the last hour,” said Thorr Bjorn, athletic director at Rhode Island and the chair of the A-10 athletic directors. “This was a preventative decision, not a reactionary one.”

The news came as NCAA conferences around the nation announced that they would not hold their respective tournaments.

“Two minutes left in the warmup, you’re on the court and locked in, and then no game,” VCU coach Mike Rhodes said. “It’s surreal. The reality of it is, you can’t win every game, but your responsibility as a coach is to keep your players healthy and safe.”

Rhodes said that the decision was especially tough to swallow for his senior players.

“There weren’t any dry eyes in our locker room,” Rhodes said. “When our seniors sat down and realized they wouldn’t be putting on a uniform again, that was tough.”

McGlade, who had called in to from an NCAA Selection Committee meeting, said that she is uncertain whether the NCAA tournament will be the next event to be impacted.

“All of the leadership executives within the NCAA and our committee are very attentive and attuned to everything that’s going on, and looking at all of the impactful information that’s coming on as we are charged with taking care of our responsibilities.”

Atlantic 10 tournament preview: Bona enters as No. 5 seed; faces tough road back to final

photo courtesy of gobonnies.sbu.edu

By Jeff Uveino

BROOKLYN, NY — For the first time since 2017, the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team will have to play on Thursday in the Atlantic 10 tournament.

After an 11-7 regular season in the A10, Bona is the No. 5 seed at the conference tournament, which will take place at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, from March 11-15.

The Bonnies dropped their season finale to Saint Louis last Saturday, which erased their hopes of a top-four seed and a double-bye through the first two rounds of the tournament. A win in the game would have landed Bona at No. 4, meaning it would not have had to play until Friday.

“Two of the last four teams that have won (the tournament) have played on Thursday,” Bona head coach Mark Schmidt said. “It’s not like no one has done it. You’ve just got to be playing well and get some momentum. It’s ‘game seven’ for the next four games, and hopefully we can win those game sevens.”

A year ago, Bona fell just short of winning the tournament, after making a run to the championship game as the No. 4 seed and letting a late-game lead slip away to Saint Louis in the championship game.

Bona returns three starters from that team, including now-sophomore Dominick Welch, who averaged 12 points and seven rebounds per game in three A10 tournament games a year ago. Welch scored 20 points in Bona’s quarterfinal win over George Mason.

“It gives me confidence knowing how well I played there,” Welch said. “We’ve let the new guys know that it wasn’t easy, and we’ll really have to prepare. Last year, we got off to a slow start because we weren’t used to the setting and the rims, so (we need to) make sure we get our shots up and are prepared.”

Schmidt said that the experience his team got playing deep into the tournament a year ago can only help it this time around.

“It certainly won’t be a negative,” Schmidt said. “They played well in pressure situations, and the more experience you get the better you’re going to be.”

Kyle Lofton and Osun Osunniyi, both sophomores, also started all three tournament games for the Bonnies a year ago. Lofton averaged over 16 points per game to earn him all-tournament team honors, while Osunniyi averaged seven points and eight rebounds per game.

This year, Bona’s path back to the championship game is anything but easy.

SBU will play either No. 12 George Mason or No. 13 St. Joseph’s at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, with No. 4 Saint Louis awaiting the winner on Friday.

“It’s one game, and we can’t worry about what’s happening on Friday, Saturday or Sunday,” Schmidt said. “If you lose you go home, so our mindset is to prepare the best we can for St. Joe’s or George Mason.”

Then, if the Bonnies can beat the same SLU team that thrashed them, 72-49, on Saturday, they’ll set up a date with No. 1 Dayton on Saturday afternoon.

For players that weren’t around for last year’s tournament run, such as Jaren English, the opportunity to win a championship is exciting.

“We have the opportunity to win a championship, which would band us together as a team here forever,” English said. “Everybody talks about the 2012 team with (Andrew) Nicholson, and it would be a great honor to be talked about as we go on in our careers and come back to Bonaventure.”

The sophomore guard has college postseason experience, as he helped lead Ranger Community College to the National Junior College Athletic Association Division I championship game a year ago.

English has since had a breakout year for the Bonnies, averaging nearly 12 points per game this season.

“We want to get down there and show people that they can’t cross us off of their list,” English said. “We’ve got high hopes and we believe that we can win, and that’s all you really need.”

Bona’s game on Thursday will be broadcasted on NBC Sports Network, as will its quarterfinal game if the Bonnies advance to Friday.

“Preparation is important, but you’ve got 24 hours after they play,” Schmidt said. “So, the preparation isn’t going to be as important as just going out and playing, and doing what you do best.”

Below is the complete tournament bracket.
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Levesque, Johnson lead women’s lacrosse to best start in seven years

photo courtesy of gobonnies.sbu.edu

By Jeff Uveino

ST. BONAVENTURE, NY — The past three weeks have happened quickly for the St. Bonaventure women’s lacrosse team.

After announcing the hiring of a new head coach a week before its 2020 regular season opener, the team now has more wins than it had in the previous two seasons combined.

After Jason Levesque was hired on Feb. 7, a three-game win streak to open the season has given the Bonnies their best start since 2013.

“I think the biggest thing with coming in late like that was saying, hey, let’s have some fun,” Levesque said. “I think the girls have bought into a new mindset and have been hungry to win.”

SBU started the year with a 16-8 win at Hartford before edging Central Connecticut State, 10-9, on the road. The Bonnies then rolled by Kent State, 15-7, in their home opener.

“You have to learn how to win, just like you learn how to lose,” Levesque said. “If you get complacent, you become content with losing. We’ve tried to push them more to not be okay with that and help them understand that winning is tough, but at the same time we can have some fun.”

Senior midfielder Destinee Johnson has netted 12 goals and handed out six assists over the course of the young season. She scored 18 goals a year ago.

“The girls around me instill confidence in me,” Johnson said. “The seven of us playing as one on the attack is what has made our offensive so much more successful this year. Having that backup gives you that much more strength to go score a goal, or assist the next girl.”

The Bonnies have scored nearly 14 goals per game this year, and are tied for 13th-best in the nation with eight goals allowed per game.

Ashley Easterday has scored six goals for the Bonnies, while Nora Anderson has scored five goals.

“This has been everything we’ve worked for over the past four years,” Johnson said. “Having it come together is absolutely amazing.”

Levesque said that despite Bona’s offensive success, he thinks that his team could be scoring even more than it has.

“We want to keep the ball moving and be selfless,” Levesque said. “It doesn’t matter who scores the goals as long as St. Bonaventure scores them. If we share the ball and remain selfless, good things will happen.”

The Bonnies will play five more non-conference games before beginning Atlantic 10 play in late March.

“(A10) play will really show us where we’re at,” Levesque said. “The top end of our conference is very, very good. It will prove to be a strong challenge, and we’ll see where we need to be better.”

SBU will travel to the Carolinas next week, playing Wofford on Tuesday and Gardner Webb on Thursday.

Bona will not play at home again until March 14, when it takes on Butler.

“After last week’s game, I told the ladies that it’s only going to get harder from here,” Levesque said. “We need to make sure that we’re focusing game-by-game and preparing for that A10 schedule.”

Duquesne gets revenge, beats Bonnies in overtime

photo courtesy of gobonnies.sbu.edu

By Jeff Uveino

ST. BONAVENTURE, NY — Two and a half weeks ago, the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team outlasted Duquesne on the road.

On Wednesday night at the Reilly Center, the Dukes returned the favor.

Duquesne survived a late-game Bona comeback before forcing overtime and beating the Bonnies, 81-77.

Sincere Carry found himself at the free throw line in multiple game-changing scenarios for the Dukes, including when he hit two free throws to force overtime.

Then, with six seconds left in the extra stanza and Duquesne leading by two, the sophomore guard hit two more free throws to end Bona’s hopes of last-minute magic.

Carry finished with 18 points, including four in the overtime period.

“I thought Duquesne got off to a better start and had more energy than us in the first half, but our guys really responded coming out of halftime,” Bona head coach Mark Schmidt said. “We took the lead and then it was back and forth, but we had our opportunities.”

Michael Hughes, who was matched up with Bona center Osun Osunniyi for much of the game, also had 18 points.

“I thought Hughes hurt us at the end of the game,” Schmidt said. “He had two or three jump hooks. He didn’t have his best game, but he’s a great player.”

Hughes had four points in the final two minutes of regulation, as well as a big bucket with less than two minutes left in overtime.

“(Hughes) knows how to play in the post and he has good moves,” Osunniyi said. “I gave him too much position inside and he got some easy buckets later in the game, which hurt us a lot.”

Osunniyi had 23 points and 13 rebounds of his own, shooting 10-for-15 from the field.

“They out-toughed us in the first half, and we tried to play harder in the second half,” Osunniyi said. “When you play a good team like that, you can’t have mental lapses.”

Neither team helped itself offensively, as the Bonnies and Dukes combined to shoot 27 percent from 3-point range and 60 percent from the free throw line. Each team forced 16 turnovers.

“They made one more play than we did,” Schmidt said. “We had a great game against them (on the road) and we had another great one against them tonight, but we came out on the short end this time.”

Jaren English had 15 points for the Bonnies, while Kyle Lofton scored 14 points.

English was forced into Lofton’s usual point guard position late in regulation when Lofton went down with an apparent ankle injury, but the sophomore was able to come back into the game after a minimal stint on the bench.

Dominick Welch picked up his sixth double-double of the season, as he scored 10 points to go along with 14 rebounds.

Lamar Norman Jr. put up 14 points for the Dukes, while Tavian Dunn-Martin, who lit up Bona in the teams’ first matchup, finished with nine points.

“You have to pick your poison with them,” Schmidt said. “Do you double team Hughes and then give up open three’s, or guard him straight up?”

The win was monumental for Duquesne’s Atlantic 10 tournament seeding hopes, as the Dukes moved to 9-6 in the league and 19-8 overall, good enough for a share of fifth place.

SBU fell to 10-5 in the A10 and 18-10 overall. The Bonnies now sit in fourth place in the A10, after Richmond defeated George Washington on Wednesday night to move to 11-3.

Up next for Bona is a Saturday trip to La Salle, where tip off is scheduled for 2 p.m.

“We have competitive guys in our locker room and they’re upset that we lost,” Schmidt said. “We’ll come back in 24 hours and get ready for La Salle. That’s always been the mentality.”

Bonnies survive Richmond comeback, beat the Spiders for share of third place

photo by Erin Lanahan/The Intrepid

By Hayden Robinson

ST. BONAVENTURE, NY — After a controversial call by referees, clutch free throws from St. Bonaventure’s Jaren English and Dominic Welch helped the Bonnies seal a win over Richmond on Saturday. 

The SBU men’s basketball team team pulled out a narrow victory over the Spiders at the Reilly Center, 75-71. 

With 35 seconds left in the game, Bona sophomore Bobby Planutis committed  a “flagrant one” foul. This would lead to a free throw made, followed by a clutch 3-pointer by Richmond’s Blake Francis, cutting Bonaventure’s previously sizable lead down to three points. 

Richmond would foul to stop the clock, but the Bonnies’ free throw shooting would prove to be the x-factor.

English and Welch were a combined 6-for-6 from the free throw line in the final 25 seconds of the game.

English Finished with 17 points, while Welch put up a double-double with 16 points and 12 rebounds. 

During this time of the year, you want to start putting everything together,” Bona forward Osun Osunniyi said. “The way we handled the big shots they hit, hitting our free throws when we had to, was really big.” 

 Bonaventure started the game on a 14-4 run over the first five minutes, making it seem as if it would be a game in Bonaventure’s hands. However, Richmond continued fight, keeping it within 10 points for much of the game 

A big corner three by Dominic Welch would put the Bonnies up by 13 points with nine minutes left in the game, which was  Bonaventure’s biggest lead of the night. 

Welch attributed his hot shooting tonight to his calm demeanor on the court.  

Just have to play my game and go with the flow,” Welch said. “Just playing with confidence.” 

Bona head coach Mark Schmidt spoke briefly on the difficulty playing against a successful in-conference team like Richmond. 

They hit some big shots at the end and they’re a team that you have to pick your poison,” Schmidt said. “They’re hard to defend and they played exceptionally well.” 

St. Bonaventure’s next game will be at home this Wednesday against Duquesne, who boasts an 8-6 record in cofference.   

All games at this point in the season are important for the Bonnies, as they are third in the A-10 conference at 10-4, and only two games behind Rhode Island for the second spot.