The College World Series was won by...

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The College World Series was won by...

From Comcast SportsNet
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) -- Arizona coach Andy Lopez celebrated the 20th anniversary of his first national championship by winning his second. It was 1992 when Lopez brought unheralded Pepperdine to the College World Series and beat Cal State Fullerton in the championship game. Arizona's sweep of South Carolina in the CWS finals -- completed with Monday night's 4-1 victory -- was not nearly as stunning as what Pepperdine accomplished two decades ago. The Wildcats (48-17) were the hottest thing going in college baseball the last six weeks. But believe Lopez when he says he's soaked up the journey to this title more than he did in winning the first one. The two decades between titles showed him how elusive championships can be. "When I was 38 years old and I showed up in Omaha and we won the national championship, I had no clue," he said. "I was a young guy, my kids were all little guys and I was trying to see if I could figure out if I could survive in this profession. More than ever I do have an appreciation." The Wildcats ended South Carolina's two-year run of dominance at the College World Series and rewarded Lopez for persevering through the hard times that came with rebuilding the downtrodden program he took over 11 years ago. Lopez thought he had a title-caliber team in 2008, but the Wildcats lost a crushing three-game super regional at Miami that he laments to this day. He was devastated again in 2009 when his team failed to make the national tournament. A strong recruiting class two years ago formed the core of the team that won Arizona's first national championship since 1986, and fourth overall. "They've just been a joy," said Lopez, flanked by his key players. "I mean, how many times have I told you I love suiting up with you guys? Said it today before the game. And I really do, I like suiting up with young guys that go to class, go to study hall, hustle on the field, clean up the clubhouse on their own. "I'm extremely, extremely fortunate to be in this profession and work with young people like this." Arizona used strong pitching on consecutive nights to sweep the Gamecocks. James Farris, who hadn't pitched since June 3, and Mathew Troupe combined to limit the Gamecocks to three hits a night after Konner Wade threw his third straight complete game in a 5-1 win. Brandon Dixon's tie-breaking double started a three-run ninth inning for Arizona on Monday. Dixon, who entered the game as a defensive replacement in the sixth inning, sent a grounder down the third-base line past LB Dantzler's outstretched glove for his first hit of the CWS. Tyler Webb relieved Matt Price (5-5), and Trent Gilbert drove in his second and third runs of the game with a two-out single that broke open the game. "Coach Lopez means the world to us, and we're so happy we brought joy back to his life in coaching," CWS Most Outstanding Player Robert Refsnyder said. Refsnyder, one of four juniors who earned All-Pac 12 honors this season, said he knew the disappointment in 2008 and 2009 took a toll on Lopez. "You could tell that he was fed up with baseball and trying to teach young people to go to class and study hall and take care of your business off the field," Refsnyder said. "You could see his frustration. But Lopez gave us, gave myself and the junior class this year, the tools to be successful." South Carolina (49-20) had been trying to become the first team since the Southern California dynasty of the early 1970s to win three national titles in a row. "We battled as hard as we could, but they did a little bit better than we did," Gamecocks coach Ray Tanner said. "Though we're disappointed tonight, I'm not disappointed in my players. We battled awful hard. We made a run, got to the postseason and got back out here. We got in the losers' bracket and got back to the finals." Right fielder Adam Matthews said he never envisioned the run the Gamecocks made. "Obviously, that's the goal of every college baseball team," he said. "When you're recruited to a big program like the University of South Carolina, it's an honor. And you get there and your goal is to get to Omaha -- and further, to win the national championship. "To do that twice and be in a position this year to do it again, it's been unbelievable. It's been a lot of fun. We had a great run." Lopez became the second coach to win a Division I baseball title at two schools. Augie Garrido was the first, winning three at Cal State Fullerton and two at Texas. Lopez took over a program that had gone to the NCAA regionals just once in the previous eight years. He came within that one win of getting to the CWS in 2008, then took a step backward in 2009 when the Wildcats didn't make the national tournament. "On paper the 08 team is probably as good, if not better, because of their bullpen," Lopez said. "But it's not the first team that wins. I came here in 98 as the No. 1 seed with Florida, and the seventh seed in 92, and won in 92 but didn't win in 98. "It's not the best team that wins, it's the hottest team, and these guys got hot at the right time." The Wildcats won 18 of their last 20 games, including their final 11. Down three runs in the bottom of the ninth, South Carolina loaded the bases against Troupe (6-1) on two walks and a single. With one out, Tanner English sent a line drive up the middle that second baseman Gilbert gloved. Gilbert rushed to the bag to double off Dantzler, but Dantzler got back just in time. Grayson Greiner then flied out to right fielder Refsnyder on a 2-1 pitch, sparking a rush of Arizona players to the middle of the field for the celebratory pile-on. "We were extremely fortunate to get away with this victory," Lopez said. Dixon, batting .242 for the season, had been 0 for 7 with three strikeouts in his previous CWS at-bats. As usual, he replaced first baseman Joseph Maggi in the middle innings and got his opportunity after Refsnyder singled leading off the ninth. Farris and Michael Roth engaged in a pitcher's duel through the first seven innings. Farris left with two out in the eighth after allowing one run on two hits. "Farris had a great start for Arizona," South Carolina's Adam Matthews said. "He was working away most of the night. Of course we wanted to hit better, but you have got to give credit where credit's due."

OFFSEASON

Celtics "emerged as a front-runner" for Al Horford

Celtics "emerged as a front-runner" for Al Horford

BOSTON – The Boston Celtics are poised to do the seemingly unthinkable: acquire an elite free agent in their prime. 

The Celtics are meeting with four-time all-star Al Horford tonight and as one league executive told CSNNE.com, Boston has emerged as a front-runner for his services after the Atlanta Hawks came to terms on a three-year, $70.5 million deal with Dwight Howard. 

And the Celtics will come armed with a four-year, $113 million max-salary offer for the 30-year-old Horford as well.   

In addition to the Celtics, Horford is also reportedly considering signing with the Houston Rockets.

Acquiring Horford would bolster the Celtics’ franchise on multiple levels. For starters, he would provide an upgrade roster-wise to a team whose progress has leveled out the last couple of seasons with first-round playoff exits.

Adding Horford greatly enhances the Celtics’ chances at making a playoff run that extends beyond just the first round. Adding Horford also provides the first real tangible sign that the days of Boston being perceived as no man’s land when it comes to free agents are in the past.

In addition, Horford’s leadership on the floor and inside the locker room can only strengthen a culture that’s deeply rooted in accountability.

But as the Celtics approach their recruitment of Horford with cautious optimism, they know all too well that they can’t afford to take anything involved in wooing him for granted.

While the Rockets may appear to be a team that Boston doesn’t have to worry too much about when it comes to Horford, there is one wild card franchise out there: Oklahoma City.

They’re the odds-on favorite to re-sign Kevin Durant, and adding a player like Horford to the roster could only strengthen their chances of keeping him long-term.

Oklahoma City has explored possible trade opportunities centered around Enes Kanter, which could go far in freeing up space to pursue Horford.

And as one of the six teams that Durant will meet with this weekend, the Celtics are well aware of the minefield that awaits them in trying to secure Horford as well as their top target, Durant.

The fact that Boston is on the short list for the top two free agents out there (Durant and Horford), speaks volumes as to how far this franchise has come from a perception standpoint in the eyes of the league’s best players.

Both Horford and Durant have talked in glowing terms about the Celtics franchise, head coach Brad Stevens and the players.

And the Celtics have made no secret about wanting both to eventually become Celtics, something that now stands as a legit possibility with Boston well in the mix for both players.

A. Sherrod Blakely can be followed on Twitter: @SherrodbCSN

Bruins make official free agent signings of Liles, Nash, Khudobin

Bruins make official free agent signings of Liles, Nash, Khudobin

The Bruins made a number of signings official on the first day of NHL free agency on Friday along with the big prize in hard-hitting, productive center David Backes.

Backup goaltender Anton Khudobin signed a two-year deal worth $1.2 million per season to return as a goaltending tandem with Tuukka Rask as they were back in a highly successful 2012-13 NHL season.

Hustling, grinding fourth line forward Riley Nash was signed to a two-year, $1.8 million contract with the Bruins as well, and had nine goals and 22 points in 64 games for the Carolina Hurricanes last season in an energy forward role. In his five-year NHL career, Nash has played in 242 games, amassing 31 goals and 50 assists for 81 points with 69 penalty minutes, including a career-high 10 goals a couple of years ago with the Hurricanes.

The 36-year-old John-Michael Liles signed a one-year, $2 million contract with the Bruins after arriving from Carolina at the NHL trade deadline last spring. Liles appeared in 17 games and notched six assists along with a minus-6 rating for the Bruins in 2015-16 after being acquired for Anthony Camara, a 2016 third-round pick and a 2017 fifth-round pick on February 29, 2016. Prior to joining up with Boston, the 5-foot-10, 185-pound Liles played in all 64 games for Carolina, recording six goals and nine assists for 15 points with 16 penalty minutes.

“We went out to identify a primary target in David Backes as a center, right wing candidate. He provides depth and balance to our lineup, as did Riley Nash. And Anton Khudobin addressed an area that we seemed to have chased for a little while and possibly with Malcolm’s [Subban] injury we needed to address that for the next couple of seasons. John-Michael Liles is a player that we acquired last year that really added a lot to the mobility and the transition game and we’re excited about bringing him back,” said Bruins GM Don Sweeney. “Tim Schaller was a local boy at Providence College that we went out and identified another size, strength, left-shot, penalty kill and continued to add depth. Tyler Randell emerged last year was on our roster all year long, contributed and was a real hard-nosed player, sticks up for his teammates, was able to contribute goals, albeit not necessarily in the lineup every night, bringing balance. And Tommy Cross and the leadership qualities he brings to Providence for younger players to continue to develop.

“He found himself playing in NHL games, acquainted himself very well, just a real quality person across the board. So I think the overall philosophy of today and going into the free agent period was to address some needs and we did that. But we’ve created what I think is a real internal competition for our younger players to step up and emerge around what I think we’ve added to the core group of our players. They should be excited about this opportunity.”

Tommy Cross, Tyler Randell and Tim Schaller all signed one-year, two-way deals with the Bruins for an NHL value of $600,000, but are all expected to play the bulk of the season at the AHL level barring anything unexpected. 

Joe Haggerty can be followed on Twitter: @HacksWithHaggs