Next Level Reached After Last Weekend’s Victories

Several crucial sporting events took place last weekend as one of horse racing’s brightest new stars came through with flying colors, pro basketball’s closest team to our area pulled off a three-win trilogy and two Orange County high school baseball teams plus my grandson Logan Smith’s team all advanced to the third round of the state playoffs.

It really wasn’t a big surprise that American Pharoah won the Preakness Stakes quite handily Saturday afternoon at Pimlico in Baltimore, but the surprise downpour a few minutes before post time that transformed the track from fast to sloppy changed the strategy for the horse has a chance to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed turned the trick in 1978.

Trainer Bob Baffert decided to have his prized horse come out of the gate at full speed and never let up that pace because a crowded rail is not a good place to be when the track is sloppy.

American Pharoah was challenged by long shot Mr. Z until the three-quarter mile pole and then showed his class by leaving the 50-1 shot in a muddy trail. Another long shot, Tale of Verve, showed he can run in the mud and charged to second place, some seven lengths behind American Pharoah.

American Pharoah joins six other horses that have won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes, but failed to win the lengthy Belmont Stakes, which will be next for American Pharoah in three weeks.

In a sidebar story, there is speculation that the owners of Pimlico and nearby Laurel Park are considering moving the second jewel of the Triple Crown to Sunday to increase interest and attendance.

The idea is to draw fans to Pimlico on Saturday and Sunday and making a big three-day horse-racing weekend.

Pimlico’s handle for Friday’s Black-Eyed Susan Day was $18.488 million, the highest total handle on the day before the Preakness in 10 years. The handle for the Preakness Day was $85.161 million.

On Sunday the Houston Rockets became only the ninth team in National Basketball Association history to come back from a 3-1 series deficit to win 113-100 and advance to the next round.

            And Head Coach Kevin McHale became the only person to be associated with a team that came back from a 3-1 deficit both as a player and as a head coach.

The Rockets jumped out to an early lead that they never relinquished and sent the Clippers, who were favored by 2-½ points in the crucial Game 7, back to Los Angeles with their tails between their legs.

After all, Houston got blown out in Game 3 (124-99) and Game 4 (128-95) and looked like toast going into Game 5 in Houston. But the Rockets regrouped and spanked the Clippers 124-103 and then went to LA for Game 6 and hung a 119-107 upset on the Clippers in front of their home crowd in the Staples Center.

Sunday’s victory was a sweet on for the Rockets and their screaming loyal fans and they had to pack their bags and travel to play the Golden State Warriors last night (Tues.) in the opening game of the Western Conference championship series.

The two teams play again tomorrow (Thurs.) and then play at the Toyota Center in Houston Saturday and Monday and then go back to California May  27 if necessary, back to Houston May 29 if necessary and will play Game 7 if necessary at Golden State on May 31.

The No. 1-seeded Golden State Warriors earned the right to the conference championship’s best-of-seven series by beating Memphis 4 games to 2.

The surprising West Orange-Stark Mustangs and the pitching-rich Bridge City Cardinals along with my grandson’s Hudson Hornets all advanced to this week’s third round of the state playoffs with impressive victories last weekend.

The Cardinals rode the talented arm of Chase Shugart to defeat Giddings in a one-game, winner-take-all contest and this week will face the No. 2-ranked Huffman Falcons, who made quick work of Caldwell 6-0 and 7-0 last week.

The WO-S Mustangs hung a pair of 3-2 losses on Navasota and will meet Bellville in this week’s third round. Bellville advanced with 1-0 and 7-5 wins over Shepherd last week.

And my grandson Logan Smith’s Hudson Hornets ran into some inclement weather which changed their best-of-three series against Lorena into a one-game winner-take-all event and won on a two-hit shutout 2-0.

The Hornets are set to play Center in a best-of-three series at Stephen F. Austin in Nacogdoches Thursday and Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday (if necessary) at 1 p.m. Center earned its berth into the third round with a 17-0 win over Groesbeck last weekend.

The winners of the Bridge City-Huffman series in the Hudson-Center series will play next week.

KWICKIES…If you’re wondering from where on Page 5 did our Korner jump to page 6 last week, you are not alone. Unfortunately it was one of my better columns on “Deflategate” which made little sense the way the layout got butchered. Here’s hoping that someone may accidentally proofread this one so it doesn’t happen again.

Got to play golf Thursday afternoon with Everett Urech, a visiting attorney from Daleville, Alabama who was en route to his 50th reunion at Houston Bellaire High School. Everett is a member of the Donald Ross Society and makes it a point to play as many Donald Ross courses as he can. And for seeing Sunset Grove Country Club for only the first time, the 69-year-old Urech fired an impressive 76 and took some of our money.

After getting off to a dismal 16-22 start, the Miami Marlins fired manager Mike Redmond Sunday after his team was swept by the Atlanta Braves. The Marlins left spring training very optimistic after signing slugger Giancarlo Stanton to a record $325 million contract. Redmond received a two-year extension on his contract after the final day of last season, but was 155-207 in two-plus seasons and was replaced Monday afternoon by General Manager Dan Jennings.

Former Hudson High baseball star Brandon Belt continues his hot May with the defending world champion San Francisco Giants by homering Sunday for the third time in three games and raising his batting average to a lofty .321. The Giants were in second place in the National League West standings, 4 ½ games behind the front-running Los Angeles Dodgers through Sunday’s action.

Rory McIlroy once again showed everyone why he is the No. 1 golfer in the world by winning the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte, N.C. last weekend by a whopping seven strokes over runners-up Patrick Rodgers and Webb Simpson. McIlroy fired a course-record 61 Saturday which helped the 25-year old glide to victory.

The Lamar Cardinals concluded the 2015 college baseball season on a winning note, beating Sam Houston State 3-2 in 10 innings Sunday. The Redbirds finished the Southland Conference with a dismal 10-19 record, which was not good enough to qualify for this week’s tournament, and 21-31 overall.

JUST BETWEEN US…The streaky, good pitch-no hit Houston Astros just completed a four-game sweep of the Toronto Blue Jays with Sunday’s 4-2 win at Minute Maid Park. The ‘Stroes appear to have remedied their early-season difficulty of winning at home and have improved to 13-9 in the Squeeze Box and went into their present three-game home series against the Oakland A’s Monday sporting a 5½-game lead over the LA Angels with a 25-13 record, the only American League team with 25 victories so far this season. Although several of the Astros’ batting averages are below .200, what few hits they are getting are coming at important times in the games and helping them to keep on winning those close, low-scoring games.