<b>DENIED:</b> Westmont College's Kelsie Sampson (25) rejected a shot by Ashley Tate of Freed-Hardeman in the NAIA Women's Basketball National Championship Semifinals, Monday, March 18. Sampson had three blocks in the game, as Westmont upset the Lady Lions from Tennessee, 59-49.
Courtesy Photo

While Westmont College took some California dreamin’ to Kentucky, and the conclave of cardinals in Rome picked a man who had touched “the hand of God,” there was lots of sports action on the home front, as always…

LUCK OF THE GAUCHOS: Black smoke belched out of the Notre Dame team’s bus, signifying the Fighting Irish lost their baseball game at UCSB’s Caesar Uyesaka Stadium last week. “I hope we murder them,” Gaucho super fan Phil Womble had said before the game. The last time UCSB faced the Irish on the diamond, it was in the 2001 NCAA Regionals on a miserable, cold day at South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame eked out an 11-10 victory in 10 innings that sent the Gauchos home. This time, UCSB took a 5-0 lead in the fourth inning after Parker Miles ripped an RBI double into the left-field corner, and Tyler Kuresa swatted a triple into the right-field corner for two more runs. Starting pitcher Greg Mahle kept Irish bats in check before a committee of relievers took over. There was a crisis in the top of the seventh when Notre Dame, trailing 6-2, loaded the bases with one out. Pitcher Kenny Chapman induced a comebacker and got the force out at home, and the batter was called out when catcher Jackson Morrow’s throw to first hit him in the back — a tough call for the Irish. The final score was 7-2. Notre Dame still managed to win four of its seven games on the West Coast.

THE BLUES: In my first season of covering Santa Barbara sports almost 45 years ago, Dos Pueblos High’s football team had a shifty wingback named Kim Wilson — the same man who is the lead singer and blues harp virtuoso for The Fabulous Thunderbirds. Wilson was in top form during a concert at Campbell Hall last week. He forced painful moans and ecstatic choruses out of his instrument, as his legs pumped in rhythm — football moves while displaying the endurance of a marathon runner.

THE CHEERS: Congratulations to the Santa Barbara High School Competitive Cheer Team. The Dons successfully defended their championship in the Super Varsity Show Cheer Novice Division at the U.S.A. Nationals in Anaheim.

MARCH MADNESS: Michael Bryson did the sort of thing that makes college basketball so wild and crazy this month. The UCSB freshman came out of nowhere to score 29 points and almost bring the Gauchos all the way back from a 19-point deficit against top-seeded Pacific in the Big West Tournament. The Tigers held off the Gauchos, 71-68, and went on to the championship. The Gaucho women lost in the semifinals to their nemesis, Cal Poly, which won its first conference title.

Meanwhile, there was mounting excitement in the hills of Montecito all week as Westmont College advanced in the NAIA Division I Women’s Basketball National Championship at Frankfort, Kentucky. On consecutive days, the Warriors knocked off Cumberlands (KY), 63-58; Rogers State (OK), 77-70; and Westminster (UT), 39-36. The last game was retribution for a December match in which Westminster held Westmont to 29 points. Coach Kirsten Moore’s Warriors gave the Utah women a taste of their own defensive medicine. In the NAIA’s Fab Four on Monday, Westmont upset top-ranked Freed-Hardeman (TN), 59-49, to reach the championship game against another Tennessee team, the Lee University Lady Flames.

THE HAWK: Tommy Hawkins entertained and edified a gathering of basketball fans Monday night at the Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table’s annual Prelude to March Madness. Hawkins, an All-American at Notre Dame, was a member of the original Los Angeles Lakers when they moved from Minneapolis. Unlike the Dodgers, who flew into town to great acclaim a few years earlier, Hawkins said, “We drove through San Bernardino at night on a Greyhound bus.” The players, including future Hall of Famers Jerry West and Elgin Baylor, had to hit the streets to promote their game. “They say Magic Johnson and Larry Bird saved the NBA, but we founded the damn thing,” Hawkins said. Along those lines, Hawkins scoffs at the assertion that Michael Jordan is the greatest of all time. “He won six NBA titles,” Hawkins said. “Bill Russell [the Boston Celtics’ great center] won 11 titles in 13 years. When Michael gets to 10, then you can come and talk to me… Michael Jordan did some great drives, but Bill Russell would have stuffed nine out of 10 of them back in his face, as he did to me.”

DAY IN THE SUN: High school track and field athletes will be running, jumping and throwing all day Saturday during the 75th annual Santa Barbara Easter Relays at seaside La Playa Stadium. If you go to watch the races, make sure you are protected from the sun, which can be dangerously radiant now that spring is here.

SPORTING POPE: Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, newly elected as Pope Francis, is said to have once shaken the hand of soccer star Diego Maradona. In the 1986 World Cup, Maradona scored an infamous goal against England when he seemed to swat the ball away from the goalkeeper. Maradona later attributed the goal to “the hand of God.” There’s now another Argentine player on the loose with seemingly supernatural powers — Lionel Messi, who scores one amazing goal after another, including a pair of gems in his Barcelona club’s victory over AC Milan last week in the European Champions League.


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