BC-FL--Florida Sports Digest, FL
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RALEIGH, N.C. _ The Tampa Bay Lightning visit the Carolina Hurricanes in a possible preview of a first-round playoff series. Tampa Bay has clinched the Presidents Trophy while Carolina is trying to secure its first playoff berth since 2009. By Kyle Glaser. UPCOMING: 500 words, photos from 7 p.m. start.
SUNRISE _ The Arizona Coyotes complete a two-game Florida swing Thursday when they play the Panthers. By Paul Gereffi. UPCOMING: 500 words. Game starts at 7 p.m.
Jakub Voracek was psyched at the mere suggestion the Philadelphia Flyers might play an NHL game in his native Czech Republic. “I’m not going to lie to you, it would be great,” Voracek said with a smile. “Obviously to play an NHL game in your home country, it’d be awesome.” By Stephen Whyno.
PORT CHARLOTTE _ AL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell will go into his first career opening-day start with a lot more financial security than he envisioned just a few days ago. The 26-year-old left-hander said Thursday he was almost certain he wouldn’t receive the raise he felt he deserved until he hit arbitration next winter until he and the Tampa Bay Rays agreed to a $50 million, five-year contract that will keep him with the team through 2023.
JUPITER _ Cardinals manager Mike Shildt says Dakota Hudson will break camp as St. Louis’ fifth starter. Hudson earned pitcher of the year honors for the Cardinals farm system and in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League last season. He emerged as the winner Thursday from a six-way battle for the final rotation spot this spring. By Chuck King.
JUPITER _ Even as Matt Carpenter’s return to Grapefruit League play is delayed, both the team and the third baseman insist the lingering back tightness is no big deal. “If this was the middle of the season and these games counted I would be just working through some of the soreness and tightness that I’m going through, but I don’t feel the need to do that and go back to 70 percent because I’m pushing through a spring training game,” Carpenter said. By Chuck King.
JUPITER _ New York manager Aaron Boone sent Greg Bird back to the Yankees complex in Tampa on Thursday after the first baseman developed stiffness in the elbow hit by a pitch a day earlier. “He probably could have played,” Boone said. “It was me saying, ‘Go home.’” By Chuck King.
TAMPA _ New York Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia has returned to the mound for the first time since undergoing a heart procedure in December. Sabathia allowed one run and two hits over two innings on Thursday in a minor league exhibition game, striking out three for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre against Toledo, Detroit’s Triple-A affiliate. By Mark Didtler.
SPRING TRAINING RDP
CLEARWATER _ Bryce Harper has been playing catch-up since his free agency carried over into spring training. With a week left until opening day, the Philadelphia Phillies’ big-money addition looks ready to pay off.
JACKSONVILLE _ Veteran tight end James O’Shaughnessy has re-signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars, giving the team another option at one of its thinnest positions. O’Shaughnessy has played in 53 games over four seasons with Kansas City, New England and Jacksonville. He entered the league as a fifth-round draft pick by the Chiefs in 2015. He has 46 receptions for 449 yards and a touchdown.
MIAMI _ Veteran linebacker Mike Hull has agreed to terms on a one-year deal to remain with the Miami Dolphins, his team since his rookie season in 2015. Hull is a strong special teams contributor who has made five career starts. He hurt his knee last season and missed the first eight games.
DES MOINES, Iowa _ No. 7 seed and Mountain West champion Nevada opens the NCAA Tournament against 10 seed Florida. By Eric Olson. UPCOMING: 600 words, photos. Game starts at 6:50 p.m.
HARTFORD, Conn. _ Florida State got a first-round scare from sharp-shooting Vermont. In the end, the Seminoles were just too long and too strong for the upset-minded Catamounts. By Pat Eaton-Robb.
JACKSONVILLE _ Belmont proved it belonged. Maryland is moving on. The Terrapins survived a last-second upset at the NCAA Tournament when Eric Ayala deflected a pass, leading to a steal by Darryl Morsell that allowed Maryland to escape with a 79-77 victory in the East Region. By Paul Newberry.
JACKSONVILLE _ As LSU’s comfortable lead started to disappear, most of the crowd at Veterans Memorial Arena turned on the Tigers. Underdog Yale became the hometown team in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. By Mark Long.
NCAA-EAST REGION PREVIEW
COLUMBIA, S.C. _ All eyes are on Duke’s Zion Williamson at the NCAA Tournament — much as they’ve been throughout his remarkable freshman season. Williamson and the top-seeded Blue Devils (29-5) start play in the East Region on Friday against Summit League champs North Dakota State (19-15), the 16th seed. The contest is among four to finish opening-round play in the East. By Pete Iacobelli.
NCAA-CORAL GABLES PREVIEW
CORAL GABLES _ When the NCAA women’s tournament returns to Coral Gables on Friday night, the higher seeds didn’t exactly get rewarded with the easiest of matchups. Such is life at this time of year. By Tim Reynolds.
JACKSONVILLE _ Kentucky coach John Calipari says in a tweet that leading scorer and rebounder PJ Washington has a sprained foot and will miss the second-seeded Wildcats’ NCAA Tournament opener against No. 15 seed Abilene Christian. Calipari also said Thursday on his verified Twitter account that the 6-foot-8 Washington is in a hard cast after wearing a walking boot since Sunday for precautionary reasons. The coach added that specialists confirmed the original diagnosis of a sprain, and there is no fracture.
Reigning national champion Villanova will be in action along with Michigan, the runner-up from a year ago, while Belmont and Murray State open the NCAA Tournament as trendy upset picks. There’s Kansas and Michigan State to provide some blue-blood flavor, and Murray State’s Ja Morant and Marquette counterpart Markus Howard some star power. There’s the big-name coaches such as Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim and the under-appreciated in Wofford’s Mike Young. By Dave Skretta.
JACKSONVILLE _ John Calipari has tweeted that his “plan and desire” is to retire at Kentucky, quashing the latest rumor in what has been an annual ritual linking him as a candidate for vacant coaching jobs. The 10th-year Wildcats coach said on his verified Twitter account Wednesday night “there is no better job in the world” to coach basketball than at Kentucky. Calipari has periodically been mentioned as a candidate for NBA jobs, only to state his commitment to the Wildcats. His tweet did not refer to a specific opening, but the 247Sports UCLA website had reported the Hall of Fame coach was showing “serious interest” in coaching the Bruins, who fired coach Steve Alford early in the season.
MIAMI GARDENS _ Three-time tournament champion Venus Williams won her opening match Thursday at the new site of the Miami Open by beating Dalila Jakupovic 7-5, 6-3. Williams won the tournament in 1998, 1999 and 2001 when it was played on Key Biscayne. The event moved this year to the Miami Dolphins’ complex, and Williams played in the stadium.
SHAQ’S FUN HOUSE
MIAMI _ Shaquille O’Neal is coming back to play in Miami next week. Play music, that is. By Tim Reynolds.
PALM HARBOR _ The PGA Tour event that doesn’t have Tiger Woods this year instead has the Leaping Cougar. That’s a childhood nickname for Joel Dahmen, who took advantage of gentle conditions on a tough Copperhead course for a 5-under 66 to share the early lead Thursday with Austrian-born Sepp Straka in the Valspar Championship. By Doug Ferguson.
MIAMI BEACH _ Tennessee defensive back Kenneth George Jr. has been arrested for allegedly punching a police officer on the side of the head. The 22-year-old George is facing felony charges of battery on an officer and resisting an officer with violence and misdemeanor charges of resisting an officer without violence and disorderly conduct, according to police in Miami Beach, Florida. George was arrested just before 3:30 a.m. on Thursday.
CHICAGO _ Defender Ali Krieger has returned to the U.S. women’s national team for the first time since 2017. Krieger was named to the team’s roster Thursday for exhibition matches against Australia and Belgium as the team prepares for the World Cup in France starting in June.
The AP, Miami