KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — After playing three of its first four games on the road, picking up victories at top-25 foes Georgia Tech and Miami along the way, the Tennessee women’s basketball team returns to the friendly confines of Thompson-Boling Arena for a three-game home stand.
The Lady Vols, who have risen to No. 20 this week in the Associated Press Poll and to No. 15 in the USA Today Coaches Poll, return to action at 2 p.m. on Sunday, as Alcorn State comes to town with an 0-3 record to begin the welcomed spree of contests at Rocky Top.
Middle Tennessee, receiving votes in both polls, is up next on Nov. 28 at 7 p.m., followed by No. 25/NR North Carolina at 1 p.m. on Dec. 2. The tilt vs. UNC will be UT’s first televised game of the season, with SportSouth and FOX Sports Tennessee carrying the game regionally and MyVLT broadcasting locally.
After stubbing its toe in the season opener at Chattanooga, UT has bounced back to win its last three matchups, and those wins on the road vs. ranked teams have done wonders for the team’s outlook, according to sophomore forward Cierra Burdick.
“I definitely think we’re feeling pretty good,” Burdick said. “Obviously, we don’t want to settle by any means, but I think our confidence has been boosted a bit. We’ve gotten two great road wins. It does help. It’s good to know that our practice and hard work have paid off.
“Those were big-time wins. Georgia Tech is a great team, Miami is a great team. Both of them are extremely physical, extremely fast. Just to go and play in their house and get the win is big-time for us.”
Now Tennessee has a chance to try and build some momentum on its own court, with a former Lady Vol bringing her squad to Knoxville. Alcorn State is coached by Tonya Edwards, who played at Tennessee from 1986-90 and helped the Big Orange win its first two NCAA titles in 1987 and 1989.
“I think when we look at the schedule and an opportunity for a team to come and play us, we always try and see what former Lady Vols are out there. Tonya expressed an interest to come, so I am excited that she is coming back and playing at Tennessee and bringing her team.
“She brings back great memories. She was probably one of the first impact guards that we signed in a while and from the Detroit area. She made a difference in our team. Her athleticism, the way she played, how hard she played. As they called her `Ice,’ she was smooth but she got things done. She helped us get the ball rolling.”
For this year’s team, improved ball security and effort on both ends of the floor have gotten things going in the right direction. Eliminating mistakes is a must, but Warlick is hoping to overcome early-season miscues with a focus on all-out effort.
“I will tell you this,” Warlick said about her team. “They are competitive, they are young and they are going to make mistakes. As long as we keep playing hard and keep playing with the mindset that we have right now, I am pleased with it. We can make mental mistakes because of our youth, but I think we make up for that in hustle plays and just playing hard all of the time. That is what we are trying to get them to do, play hard, and get the hustle plays and that will make plays happen.”
So far, that formula has led to tangible improvement en route to a 3-1 record through four contests. The next few games, however, will go a long way in terms of dictating the direction Tennessee’s season is headed.
“They’re huge,” Warlick said of the upcoming contests on the schedule. “You have teams coming in and then you go and play Texas and then you play Baylor who is No. 3 and then come home and play Stanford who is No. 1, so it’s a pretty easy stretch right there (Warlick chuckles). It is what it is.
“We have to really focus on Alcorn State, and Middle Tennessee is good. North Carolina too. We have to keep plugging along. We have these teams at home and you have to protect your home court. We have to make sure that we protect our home court and win all our games at home. If we can do that and get a couple on the road, I think we’ll be in business.”
ATLANTA — Highly regarded catching prospect Christian Bethancourt headlines the group of five players the Braves have added to their 40-man roster. The other additions were right-handed pitchers Zeke Spruill, Cory Rasmus, David Hale and Aaron Northcraft.
Major League Baseball’s deadline to protect players is Tuesday at 11:59 p.m. ET. Players first signed at age 18 must be added to 40-man rosters within five years or they become eligible to be drafted by other organizations through the Rule 5 process. Players signed at 19 years old are to be protected within four years.
Clubs pay $50,000 to select a player in the Rule 5 Draft, to be held on Dec. 6 at the conclusion of the Winter Meetings in Nashville. If that player doesn’t stay on the 25-man roster for the full season, he must be offered back to his former team for $25,000.
Atlanta now has 36 players on its 40-man roster.
The Braves have signed veteran backup catcher Gerald Laird with the expectation that he will serve as their starting catcher for most of April while Brian McCann recovers from right shoulder surgery. Bethancourt will be among the candidates who could begin next season as Laird’s backup.
But the expectations are that the Braves will give the 21-year-old Bethancourt — ranked No. 2 on MLB.com’s Top 20 Braves prospects list — a chance to spend most of the 2013 season enhancing his offensive skills at the Minor League level. His rifle arm and great athletic skills have drawn rave reviews from a defensive standpoint. But he hit .243 with a .566 OPS while playing 71 games with Double-A Mississippi last year.
Bethancourt broke his left hand when he was hit with a pitch in early August. But after allowing the injury to heal for two months, he has spent the past couple of weeks playing in the Dominican Winter League.†In 11 games with Licey, he has batted .286 (8-for-28) with three doubles.
Spruill caught the attention of manager Fredi Gonzalez during Spring Training, and then posted a 3.67 ERA in 27 starts for Mississippi this past summer. The 23-year-old right-hander from suburban Atlanta posted a 3.63 ERA and allowed opponents to hit .250 in seven starts during this year’s Arizona Fall League.
Hale produced some encouragement while serving as a full-time starting pitcher for the first time in his career this year.†The 25-year-old product of Princeton University posted a 3.77 ERA in 27 starts with Mississippi.†He recorded 124 strikeouts and issued 67 walks in 145 2/3 innings.
Rasmus has endured an injury-plagued career since being selected by the Braves in the first round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft. The 25-year-old right-hander posted a 3.68 ERA and recorded 62 strikeouts while issuing 32 walks in 58 2/3 relief innings with Mississippi this year.†He surrendered 18 hits and 12 earned runs in 14 innings during the AFL.
Northcraft compiled a 3.98 ERA in 27 starts for Class Advanced Lynchburg this year. The 22-year-old right-hander recorded 160 strikeouts and issued 53 walks in 151 2/3 innings.
Zeke Spruill, Cory Rasmus, David Hale
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Titans right guard Deuce Lutui has some extra motivation when Tennessee visits Jacksonville on Sunday that doesn’t involve football. The veteran is playing for Sgt. Jacob M. Schwallie of Clarksville, Tenn.
Lutui was flying back to Nashville on Tuesday night from Arizona when Titans fan Tom Schwallie recognized the lineman in first class and gave him a metal bracelet commemorating his son. The black bracelet is engraved with Schwallie’s name, the name of the 82nd Airborne Division he served in and May 7, 2012 _ the date Jacob Schwallie was killed in action in Afghanistan at age 22.† soldier
A father of five himself, Lutui said the man became so emotional that the lineman got up during the flight, crossed the aisle and hugged Schwallie.
“We meet people through God for a reason,” Lutui said. “I mean this is just a reminder of how thankful I should be for this Thanksgiving. For him to give up something so close to him, it belonged to his son. It was made for his son. he said, `You don’t have to wear it. Just put it in your locker and let the boys know Jacob was a great fan and he was a great young man and he served in the Army.'”
Lutui gave Schwallie his Titans sweat shirt, with the man advising the lineman to just hug his children, be thankful and not yell at them too much. Lutui noted his mother lost her youngest child in a car accident, and he called home to talk to his wife as soon as the flight landed.
Schwallie later shared a photo of his son’s gravestone along with a picture of his wife wearing Lutui’s sweat shirt. The lineman, who posted a photo of the bracelet on Twitter and his Facebook page, wants to invite the Schwallies to an upcoming home game.
“This is such an inspiring story, an honor for me to hold this band that’s such a treasure for him,” Lutui said.