Lester keeps Sox rolling, 4-3

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Lester keeps Sox rolling, 4-3

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The offense is still in stuck in first gear, but the Red Sox' starting pitching continues to hum along quite nicely.

Jon Lester tossed six shutout innings as the Red Sox beat the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, 4-3, Friday night, for their third consecutive victory.

Since last Saturday, the Sox are 6-1. In that span, the starters have a collective 1.17 ERA, with no starter allowing more than two runs in an outing.

The Red Sox had just five hits on the night, but bunched together a few and got some help from the Angels' porous defense.

Jacoby Ellsbury doubled home Jarrod Saltalamachia in the third for the first run. A fly ball that dropped between Torii Hunter and Peter Bourjos produced two more in the fourth.

Vernon Wells boxed around Jed Lowrie's leadoff double in the seventh, sending Lowrie to third, from where he scored on J.D. Drew's single to center.

The Angels broke through off Matt Albers in the seventh with a run on two broken-bat hits, then scored twice off Bobby Jenks in the eighth, with Saltalamacchia allowing a passed ball that enabled Bobby Abreu to score all the way from second.

Jonathan Papelbon settled things down in the ninth for his fifth save.

STAR OF THE GAME: Jon Lester.

Lester wasn't particularly efficient (111 pitches in just six innings), but there's no arguing with the results. He allowed just four hits and walked two while fanning eight.

After a rough start on Opening Day, Lester has now allowed just four earned runs in his last four starts.

Now 2-1 with an ERA of 2.59 and just one start this month remaining, it's safe to say that Lester's April troubles are over.

HONORABLE MENTION: J.D. Drew

Drew, who has hit leadoff the previous two games, was returned to the middle of the order (sixth) and responded with a double in the fourth that helped key the two-run inning, then added a run-scoring single in the sixth.

In four plate appearances, Drew reached base three times with a run scored and an RBI.

GOAT OF THE GAME: Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

Saltalamachia had another rough night behind the plate as the Angels swiped three bases and Red Sox pitchers were charged with two wild pitches on balls that Saltalamacchia got his glove on.

Worse, Saltalamachia allowed a 2-seamer from Bobby Jenks to go between his legs in the eighth inning, then couldn't find the ball, allowing Bobby Abreu to score all the way from second base.

TURNING POINT: In the second inning, with the Angels threatening (first and second, one out), second baseman Dustin Pedroia made a terrific double play by swiping a tag on baserunner Alberto Callaspo, then firing to first for an inning-ending rally-killer.

BY THE NUMBERS: 1.17 -- the ERA of Red Sox starters since Saturday, during which they've gone 6-1.

QUOTE OF NOTE: "A little bit. I think that's fair to say,'' -- Terry Francona on whether catcher Jarrod Saltalamachia is fighting himself behind the plate.

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

NCAA TOURNAMENT: South Carolina headed to Final Four, beats Florida 77-70

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NCAA TOURNAMENT: South Carolina headed to Final Four, beats Florida 77-70

NEW YORK - It's only right that South Carolina's first trip to Final Four was earned through its defense.

A team known for a swarming zone used it effectively down the stretch to beat Florida 77-70 on Sunday and win the East Regional at Madison Square Garden.

Sindarius Thornwell scored 26 points for the seventh-seeded Gamecocks (26-10) against the fourth-seeded Gators (27-9) in the all-Southeastern Conference matchup.

South Carolina will face Gonzaga, the No. 1 seed from the West Regional, in the Final Four on Saturday at Glendale, Arizona.

"Gamecock Nation, we heard you loud and clear," coach Frank Martin roared as the team prepared to cut down the nets. "We'll see you in Phoenix."

The game was as close as expected until the final minute. There were 14 lead changes and 10 ties. The last lead change came on two free throws by Thornwell with 2:24 left that made it 65-63. Florida managed just three field goals over the final 3:55.

Thornwell, the regional MVP, followed the deciding free throws with a nice assist to Maik Kotsar for a 4-point lead. It seemed Thornwell, who scored eight straight points for the Gamecocks, was always where he needed to be including making a steal with 40 seconds left that turned into a 73-68 lead.

"I just made plays," Thornwell said. "Plays needed to be made down the stretch and I stepped up and made plays."

"Thornwell was just being Thornwell," Florida coach Mike White said of the SEC player of the year. "He's one of the best players in the country."

PJ Dozier added 17 points for the Gamecocks, Chris Silva had 13 and Kotsar 12.

It all totaled to a Final Four trip for Martin, he of the booming voice and terrifying faces.

Justin Leon had 18 points for the Gators who managed a 40-33 halftime lead on 7-for-12 shooting from 3-point range. But that was it. Florida was 0 for 14 from beyond the arc in the second half, a lot like the 0-for-17 effort the Gators had in their first meeting with South Carolina this season.

South Carolina, which forced Florida into 16 turnovers, finished 23 for 31 from the free throw line, including a 9-for-10 effort from Thornwell.

Nash stepping up when Bruins need him most

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Nash stepping up when Bruins need him most

BROOKLYN -- It took most of his first season in Boston, but Riley Nash is hitting his groove with the Bruins at exactly the right time.

Nash came up huge in a must-win game Saturday night against the Islanders, scoring both goals in a 2-1 win over the Isle. The unheralded Nash and equally unheralded backup goalie Anton Khudobin were the two most important performers in the tight, playoff-style win that snapped a four game losing streak while pushing the B's back into playoff position.

"That's part of [a big win], right? Big performances,” said interim coach Bruce Cassidy. "Generally you look to your best players, but [Nash] did a really good job. He's got a sneaky shot, so hopefully he uses it a little bit more. You can't say enough about those goals. We needed them tonight.

"Generally our top guns have been good offensively and have come through. But tonight it was the lesser lights for us in terms of offense, so good for us.”

Both Nash goals were titanic. The first came on the first shift following the Islanders goal in the first period. The fourth-line winger stripped Isles defenseman Scott Mayfield in the neutral zone and then flipped a shot past Thomas Greiss to the short side that tied the game at 1-1. Then in the third period, Dominic Moore hit Nash in stride as he sped into the offensive zone, and Nash weaved through defenders before sneaking one past Greiss for the game-winner.

The two goals give Nash four goals and six points in 21 games since the All-Star break, in line with his normal offensive output during his NHL career, and a step up from the three goals and nine points in his first 52 games this season.

The affable Nash was more than happy to contribute in a big win, and enthused at seeing the offense finally starting to flow on a semi-regular basis when the Bruins can really use it.

"It's quite the output as opposed to the season I've had so far, so I'll take it and be happy that we won the game,” said Nash. "I think everyone in here knew that was the biggest game of the year. It was going to be a really big uphill battle if we lost that one.

"Both teams came out desperate in a pretty tight, playoff-style game, but that's what it's going to be like for the rest of the season. So we've got to hunker down and take it one game at a time as the saying goes.”

With the Bruins third line fading a bit in these tight, physical games where players have to battle for their ice, it's been vital that Boston's fourth line step up and provide big minutes at both ends of the ice. Nash and Co. did more than that on Saturday night by potentially saving the season with his biggest, best game in a Bruins uniform.