Valentine on Fenway: 'It's the baseball Land of Oz'

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Valentine on Fenway: 'It's the baseball Land of Oz'

BOSTON Although he grew up in Connecticut, Bobby Valentine never went to Fenway Park as a kid. But that didnt diminish his appreciation for the ancient ballpark, celebrating its 100th anniversary today.

The park has at least a life, Valentine said. It has a magic to it.Its the baseball Land of Oz. People dream of this place.

I would say that this ballpark has created as many memories for people in this area and around the world as any venue in the world. And today I think there will be a memory created for me and everybody else whos here today. Im looking forward to it.

Im not sure I remember the first time I became aware of it, probably too long ago. But it was always there. I had Little League mates and high school mates who were huge Red Sox fans and always talked about Fenway. My uncle John was a huge red sox fan. It was always in the conversation, I would think. I never got to come here. I only saw one major league game as a kid. But it was in the conversation for sure.

With the Yankees, the descendants of the Highlanders who played that game against the Red Sox in 1912, at Fenway for todays game, affects the ambience. But the scores of Red Sox alumni on hand for the game is what makes it special, Valentine said.

The schedule makers must have known. I dont believe in coincidence, he said. I think it adds to the day of course, or takes away from the day, Im not sure. What adds to the day is so many of the ex-players are here. I saw 50 guys yesterday that I havent seen in umpteen years, and Ill see another 100 or so this afternoon. I think thats amazingly special.

I didnt look at the list. I should just go in and look at the list because there are some guys that knew me but I didnt know them when I knew them, or however you say that. Didnt recognize them. Oh, you are? Holy geez. Yeah. And we played together. They have a little advantage on me because theyve been in the post office lately and seen the most wanted photo of me. So its a little easier for them.

The Sox will wear 1912 replica uniforms, with no names or numbers on the backs.

"Havent put in on yet. I think theyre cool. And Ill see calves of players that Ive never seen before," Valentine said. "The hats are interesting, they take a little getting used to."

Valentine was at Fenway for the free open house on Thursday. The Sox estimated more the 53,000 people attended.

It wasnt billed as come and get Dustins autograph, Valentine said. It was billed as come to the park and its open for you to feel. Thats what I took from it. People were buying souvenirs of the ballpark. Its just different, not getting the autograph or the photograph of the player or the cracked bat. And I stayed around a while. I was amazed. I know theres probably a better word to describe what it was but I dont know what it is.

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.