Gary Shelton - 3/193 - SaintPetersBlog

Gary Shelton

Gary Shelton is one of the most recognized and honored sportswriters in the history of the state. He has won the APSE's national columnist of the year twice and finished in the top 10 eight times. He was named the Florida Sportswriter of the Year six times. Gary joined SaintPetersBlog in the spring, helping to bring a sports presence to the website. Over his time in sports writing, Gary has covered 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics, Final Fours, Masters, Wimbledons and college national championships. He was there when the Bucs won a Super Bowl, when the Lightning won a Stanley Cup and when the Rays went to a World Series. He has seen Florida, FSU and Miami all win national championships, and he covered Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden and Don Shula along the way. He and his wife Janet have four children: Eric, Kevin, K.C. and Tori. To contact, visit garysheltonsports@gmail.com.

Rookie Brayden Point leads the Lightning as its hot streak continues

So how did you spend your 21st birthday?

Odds are, Brayden Point has you beat. On Monday night, the rookie Point took over Madison Square Garden, scoring two goals to lead the Lightning to a 3-2 victory and brought the team to within one point of the final wild-card spot.

Point scored in the first and third periods, bringing his season total to 11 goals.

“I know this is cliché, it’s been used a million times, but he’s a hockey player,” coach Jon Cooper said. “It’s what he is. You saw it in the first development camp he came to us, he was more undersized than he is now, but I truly believe when you have commitment and the work ethic, that’s your first thing that you notice on a player, everything else will fall into place. And that’s what that kid has. He goes into a corner, and it doesn’t matter the size of the guy he’s going in against, I’m always sitting there thinking, ‘He’s going to come out with this.’ And you’ve got to have a will, and he does.”

Goaltender Peter Budaj notched his first win for the Bolts, stopping 26 of 28 shots. Rookie Gabriel Dumont also scored a goal, his second of the year.

“Just exceptional effort on a night where I actually thought both teams were off,” Cooper said. “And so that game was up for the taking. You’ve got to tip your hat to (Budaj) for making a big save on (Chris) Kreider in the opening minute. If he doesn’t stop that, who knows where our momentum goes. We weather the storm in the first, pretty fortunate to come out 1-1. The power play’s kind of chipping away for us, and then after that, it was anybody’s game. Our goalie just happened to make one more save than there’s and then the little engine that could, Point. He came through big for us.”

The Lightning has now pointed in 14 of its last 16 games (11-2-3). Tampa Bay plays at Ottawa tonight.

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Deondre Francois now in charge of the FSU football team

In Year Two, the kid has grown up. This FSU offense now belongs to quarterback Deondre Francois.

Now, we see how far he can carry it.

Francois, who starred as a redshirt freshman a year ago, is now the Seminoles’ undisputed leader. With a schedule that includes Alabama, Clemson, Miami and Florida, the expectations are on his shoulder.

“He’s been out there when the scoreboard mattered,” coach Jimbo Fisher told the Orlando Sentinel. “He’s been in big games, almost four or five game-winning drives last year if we could pull a couple of them off.

“He put us in good position to win a lot of games, and he did it under big time situations, so that always gives you confidence.”

As a freshman, Francois proved he had enough of an arm. He also showed he could stand up the physical abuse that comes with the job.

I’m not out here competing with anybody else, but I’m competing with myself internally,” Francois said. “If I’m tired, I have to keep going. The next ball has to be perfect. I can’t have any mistakes.

“I’m just competing to make myself better this spring than last spring.”

Francois led a comeback win against Ole Miss, then led scoring drives to beat Miami, N.C. State and Michigan.

Still, last year, FSU’s leader was running back Dalvin Cook. That’s no more.

“I’m going to miss Dalvin, but he reached his peak and had to go,” Francois said. “A lot of the young guys are learning fast, so it’s going to be fun.”

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Canadian Adam Hadwin earns Masters’ trip with win at Valspar

There were times he threatened to turn a golf course into a race track. In the end, however, one stroke was enough for Adam Hadwin.

Hadwin, a 29-year-old from Moose Jaw, Canada, parred his final hole to edge American Patrick Cantlay. Cantlay had gotten back into the Valspar Tournament with birdies on five of six holes, but a bogey on the 16th did him in.

Hadwin hit a shot into the water on No. 16 to lead to a double-bogey. He parred his last two holes for the win, however.

“I don’t know what to say right now,” Hadwin said. “I fully expected Patrick to make that [par] putt. I said yesterday I just wanted a chance to win coming up the last fairway and I had that chance. I thought we were going to have make birdies to win it.”

Hadwin, who entered with three straight rounds of under 70 and a four-stroke lead, earned a trip to next month’s Masters win the win.

Cantlay was playing on a medical extension after missing all of 2016 with a back injury.

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Sabastien Bourdais wins St. Pete Grand Prix by going worst-to-first

Sebastien Bourdais started the day in last place. He finished in first.

Any questions?

Bourdais took the St. Petersburg Grand Prix Sunday, beating reigning Series champion Simon Pagenaud by more than 10 seconds. Bourdais, who is from France but lives in St. Petersburg, started the day in 21st place – last – after a problem in qualifying.

“It’s probably the hardest race to recover. The (passing) windows are super narrow, and it’s difficult to pass,” Bourdais said. “We had a pretty good car, and I just threw it away. I really didn’t know what to do myself. To turn the result from yesterday to today, I just thank the guys.”

Bourdais earned his 36th career victory, which broke a tie with Bobby Unser for sixth on IndyCar’s all-time win list. It was the fifth career win for the Coyne team.

“From last to first, that’s about all you can do,” Coyne said, adding of his new hires, “we knew we’d be much better than we were before.”

Bourdais led 69 of the 110 laps to give Honda a much-needed victory over Chevrolet.

Scott Dixon finished third for Chip Ganassi Racing, in its first race back with Honda. Ryan Hunter-Reay was fourth for Andretti Autosport, and Honda appeared much improved with four drivers in the top five. Takuma Sato was fifth in his first race with Andretti.

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Lightning overcomes two-goal deficit to take big win over Florida

The Tampa Bay Lightning is treating this playoff race like something real.

The Lightning won a memorable game against the Florida Panthers Saturday night, coming from a two-goal deficit to take a 3-2 victory. The Bolts are now 10-2-3 in their last 15 games.

After falling behind 2-0, the Bolts came back on a power-play by Nikita Kucherov, a short-handed goal by Yanni Gourde (his first in the NHL) and a tiebreaking goal off a deflection by Ondrej Palat. It was Kucherov’s 31st goal, and it tied him for the league lead in power-play goals.

Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper didn’t seem concerned that his team was down two goals in a hurry.

“To be honest, we were in the room thinking that there’s no way we should be down 2-0 in that game,” Cooper said. “I think the scoring chances were pretty even, shots were pretty even. Coby’s untimely break of his stick keeps the puck in the zone, and that was a tough break. The first one, I guess you realize why Jagr’s got 700-plus goals, to score a goal like that from that angle.

“So we thought, OK, maybe a couple of these weren’t getting the breaks, but we thought we were earning ours. We could’ve easily been up 2-0 in that period going into the break, but there was a lot of fight in the boys we had left. We felt we were playing well enough. It was keep working the way we were, and things will pay off, and they eventually did.”

For the Bolts, it was one of the team’s more impressive home stands of the season.

“Sometimes a little youthful exuberance injected in there, and guys don’t really care,” Cooper said. “They just want to go and try their hardest and try and win. Everybody knows where we are right now and it is desperation mode. The guys are playing with it.

“I don’t know how many kids we had that started the year in the minors that were in the lineup tonight. We talked earlier in the year. It’s not the 22 guys or the 23 guys at the start of the year that make this team. It’s 30-plus that are a part of our team. You need everybody to win.”

Goaltender Andrei Vasilevski is 5-0-1 in his last six games.

The Bolts travel to New York to face the Rangers on Monday and then on  to Ottawa on Tuesday.

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Rowdies drop exhibition match, 1-0, against Jacksonville Armada

As the regular season approaches, the Tampa Bay Rowdies defense is obviously ready.

The offense, however, could use a bit more effectiveness.

The Rowdies lost to the Jacksonville Armada Saturday in their next-to-last preseason game before the regular season, which begins March 25 against Orlando B. The Rowdies dominated much of the play, but could not finish.

Armada midfielder J.C. Banks scored the only goal of the match, just three minutes into the second half.

“Despite the result, the team continued to press and press, which is good as we continue to prepare for the home opener,” said Rowdies’ coach Stuart Campbell. “We need to continue to work on things ahead of March 25, but if we continue to create chances like we did tonight, we’ll find positive results.”

Trialist forward Martin Paterson had two chances in the first couple of minutes, but, as he was trying to capitalize on Armada’s defensive mistakes, the home club was able to put out the fire both times.

Jacksonville’s most dangerous chances came off two free kicks conceded by Rowdies defender Damion Lowe. Despite being in good positions, Jacksonville was unable to put either shot on frame.

As the second half began to settle down, Jacksonville found the only goal of the match via a great finish by Banks. After beating the offside trap, Banks was alone in front of goal and buried his shot past Rowdies trialist goalkeeper Akira Fitzgerald.

Rowdies midfielder Martin Vingaard nearly equalized in the 68th minute, firing a wonderful volley just inches wide. His volley jump-started the Rowdies’ offense, which searched tirelessly for the equalizer.

With just 15 minutes left, the best chance to equalize came via a header by defender Damion Lowe. A header from just outside the 6-yard box was denied from point-blank by Jacksonville goalkeeper Kyle Nastar.

Despite numerous corner kicks and crosses into the box, the Rowdies were unable to break a strong Armada defense, who held on for the 1-0 win.

“On any other night, we would’ve [scored] three or four goals, but it didn’t happen for us tonight,” said Campbell. “We need to look ahead to next Saturday and see what we need to improve as it’s our final test before our home opener against Orlando.”

The Rowdies will be in action next Saturday, March 18, when they travel to play Miami FC of the North American Soccer League. The match will kick off at 11 a.m. at St. Thomas University.

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Bucs add former Dallas safety J.J. Wilcox to free agent signings

The Tampa Bay Bucs added safety J.J. Wilcox to their free agent signings Saturday.

Wilcox, 26, is a former third-round draft pick of the Dallas Cowboys who should compete for former safety Bradley McDougald’s old job.

He has started 38-of-58 regular season games played for the Cowboys over the past four seasons (2013-16), totaling 196 tackles, 15 passes defensed, five interceptions, three fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles.

 A native of Cairo, Georgia, Wilcox played collegiately at Georgia Southern. He played only one year of college football.

 

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Signing of DeSean Jackson puts Tampa Bay Bucs in NFL’s top half

How much did the free-agent signing of DeSean Jackson help the Tampa Bay Bucs?

Well, according to Bleacher Report, it vaulted them into the top half of the league.

Bleacher Report did its latest power-rankings Friday, and the Bucs came in at No. 13. Not bad, when you consider that Super Bowl runner-up Atlanta was No. 12.

“There are free-agent signings I really like. And there are free-agent signings I absolutely love,” wrote Chris Simms, the former Bucs’ quarterback.

New England led the Power Rankings at No. 1, which should surprise no one. Following are Kansas City, Pittsburgh and Dallas.

In the NFC South, Carolina was No. 17 and New Orleans was No. 21.

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FSU’s Derrick Nnadi assumes leadership role for Seminole team

It’s a transitory thing, leadership.

One day, you’re looking around the huddle, and other guys are pointing out the direction.

The next day, the rest of the huddle is looking at you, and it’s up to you to plot the course.

In college football, where the faces change so often, it’s especially true.

And so has learned Derrick Nnadi, leader of the FSU Seminoles.

“I’ve probably said this a lot before,” Nnadi told the Orlando Sentinel. “I’m not one who’s like ‘I’m going to be a leader.’ I just want to make sure what I’m doing is right.

“But as I’m getting older, being a senior, I have to take certain types of responsibilities. I have to do it. If it’s for the good of the team, I’m not going to deny it.”

Oh, the Seminoles need it. From last year’s team, they lost Dalvin Cook and DeMarcus Walker.

Last year, FSU lost two of its first five games, as Nnadi was hampered by a bad ankle. But the Seminoles won seven of their last eight games.

“(I’m) just trying to give them some sort of motivation in drills even though I don’t talk that much,” Nnadi said. “Every now and them, I’ll be like ‘come on bro, you’ve got this. Come on, just keep it moving.’ Or just leading by example.

“I just want to prove I’ve gotten better year in and year out, and overall just be an elite tackle,” Nnadi said.

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After a year’s delay, Will Power has his sights on third Grand Prix title

For Will Power, it all seemed destined.

He had won the pole for the St. Petersburg Grand Prix. Again. A lot of analysts thought he was going to win it for the third time. It was going to be smooth sailing, right?

And then it wasn’t.

After a crash in practice, Power was held out of last year’s race with concerns about a possible concussion (he didn’t have one) just before the race and had to sit and watch as Juan Pablo Montoya won for the second straight year. Only Helio Castroneves has won more often.

But Power doesn’t have a grand scheme of winning. He prefers a laid-back approach.

“I’ve just said it’s going to be what it’s going to be,” Power said. “The year I won the championship, I just did a race-by-race thing. I’ve tried everything, but I think what works is just focusing on each little bit at a time.”

Power, who has 25 wins on the circuit, still figures to be one of the men to beat in the event.

“I’m just looking forward to this season,” Power said. “I’m just doing my normal thing heading into it. I haven’t really thought about it too much. It’s been a long time since then, a lot of races since then. I’m just working through the things I need to do in order to be quick there.”

The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg weekend opens with a pair of 45-minute practices Friday, beginning at 11:15 a.m. and 3 p.m. ET. A third practice is scheduled for 10:50 a.m. Saturday, with knockout qualifying beginning at 2:55 p.m. The final warmup practice takes place at 9 a.m. Sunday, with the green flag waving for the 110-lap event on the 1.8-mile temporary street circuit at 12:30 p.m.

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