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Wild Things don't miss a beat, clobber Tri-City
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Much of the suspense from Sunday’s game evaporated before the first pitch was thrown.

The Washington Wild Things found out that their first-round opponent in the upcoming playoffs was going to be Quebec. The message came well before their 5:30 p.m. start.

Quebec wrapped up the Atlantic Division earlier in the day with an 11-7 victory over Sussex County.

Quebec will visit Wild Things Park Tuesday and Wednesday, then host Washington in three games over the weekend.

Normally, the home field advantage would go to the team with the better record, Washington, but Wild Things Park was scheduled to have two concerts over the weekend, making it unavailable for baseball.

The Schaumburg Boomers travel to the Florence Yalls in the other Frontier League playoff match-up.

Oh yeah, Washington polished off Tri-City, 10-4, last night to finish the regular season with a 56-40 record, third best in the league.

“It didn’t change anything for us,” said Washington manager Tom Vaeth. “We knew what we needed to do. We knew what we wanted to get accomplished today.”

That would be keep the bats swinging and the pitchers throwing strikes, and Washington accomplished both those things.

Washington pounded out 13 hits and enjoyed a four-run fifth and a three-run eighth inning. That also included a home run by Tristen Peterson in the fifth, his third of the season.

“I think it changed what they did and how they played the game,” Vaeth said of Tri-City, which finished two games behind Quebec for the Atlantic Division championship.

Washington struck early, scoring two runs in the first inning on a single by outfielder Bralin Jackson that scored shortstop Nick Ward, who opened the inning with a book-rule double down the left field line.

Jackson scored when Grant Heyman hit a double down the first base line. The ball landed in foul territory but the umpire ruled it crossed the base in fair territory. Tri-City manager Pete Incaviglia came out for an explanation but didn’t get into a big argument over the call.

Tri-City tied it when Zach Biermann sent an Alex Boshers pitch over the right field fence on an 0-1 count. Juan Silverio had singled just ahead of Biermann’s home run.

“We knew coming out we would play our best baseball,” said Washington first baseman Andrew Czech, who went 3 for 4, drove in a run and scored twice. “We had a lot of good things happen tonight, a lot of great things.”

Washington blew the game open in the four-run fifth inning. Besides Peterson’s rare home run, second baseman Scott Dubrule drove in two of his three runs with a double.

With one out in the eighth, Washington strung a single by Cam Phelts and catcher Trevor Casanova, a double by Peterson and a single by Czech. That produced three runs and a six-run lead.

“We’ve definitely progressed as a team,” said Czech. “Our pitching, our hitting has all gotten better. We’re on the right foot heading into Quebec.”

Notes: Attendance was 2,389 on Halloween Night. ... Tri-City designated hitter Denis Phipps was ejected after Tri-City batted in the second inning. Phipps got into a yelling match with the third base umpire and was thrown out of the game; Phipps tossed a batting helmet and bat toward the third base bag but it didn’t strike anyone.

Steelers rally to beat Bills 23-16 to open season
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers’ new-look offense overcame a slow start, Ulysees Gilbert returned a blocked punt 9 yards for a touchdown and Pittsburgh rallied to a season-opening 23-16 win over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.

Down 10-0, the Steelers scored on each of their first four possessions of the second half, with Roethlisberger putting Pittsburgh ahead for good by lobbing a 5-yard touchdown pass to Diontae Johnson in the left corner of the end zone.

The pass initially went off Johnson’s fingertips, but the receiver was able to secure the ball before tumbling out of bounds 3:41 into the fourth quarter. The Steelers then extended their lead to 20-10 some 90 seconds later with Miles Killebrew bursting up the middle to block Matt Haack’s punt, with Gilbert scooping up the loose ball and running it in untouched.

In opening his 18th – and perhaps final – season, Roethlisberger posted his 36th career fourth-quarter comeback to tie Drew Brees for third on the NFL list. He finished 18 of 32 for 188 yards and a touchdown.

Chris Boswell hit all three field-goal attempts, including a game-sealing 45-yarder with 2:42 remaining.

The Steelers defeated the Bills after losing to them in each of the past two seasons – both times in primetime.

In a matchup of defending AFC division champs, the Bills produced a dud following an offseason in which many pegged them as Super Bowl contenders.

Buffalo’s Allen-led dynamic offense sputtered in resembling nothing of the aggressive unit which set numerous scoring and passing records last year. Allen finished 30 of 51 for 270 yards with a 3-yard touchdown pass to Gabriel Davis.

The Bills otherwise settled for Tyler Bass hitting three field goals and, worse still, failed to convert consecutive fourth-down opportunities to open the second half.

Give the Steelers defense credit for keeping them in the game.

Gilbert’s touchdown came when the Bills were forced to punt following a three-and-out in which James Pierre punched the ball out of the arms of Emmanuel Sanders to prevent a 20-yard catch on second down, and T.J. Watt followed by sacking Allen for a 6-yard loss.

Watt certainly made his presence felt three days after becoming the NFL’s top-paid defensive player by signing a four-year, $112 million contract extension. He sacked Allen in the second quarter and forced a fumble by chasing the quarterback down from behind on third-and-13 at the Pittsburgh 41.

Roethlisberger overcame a slow start under Steelers new offensive coordinator Matt Canada. Pittsburgh combined for just three first downs and 54 net yards on its six possessions in the first half. Rookie first-round draft pick, running back Najee Harris, had 7 yards on eight carries in the first half, and finished with 45 yards on 16 carries.

Big opening

The Bills scored on their opening possession with Bass hitting a 37-yard field goal, which was set up by Isaiah McKenzie’s 75-yard kickoff return.

Buffalo didn’t score again until its final possession of the half, in which Allen capped a 13-play, 91-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown pass to Davis. Facing third-and-goal, Allen threaded a perfect pass in hitting Davis in stride, and a step ahead of defender Cameron Sutton.

Watt’s up

Watt got his 18th career forced fumble, which is the most in the NFL since he was drafted in 2017. Watt also upped his sack total to 51½.

For the block

Killebrew’s blocked punt was Pittsburgh’s first since Roosevelt Nix against Atlanta in 2018. Gilbert’s TD return off a blocked punt was Pittsburgh’s first since Bills current special teamer Tyler Matakevich scored against Cleveland in 2017.

Up next

Steelers: Home opener against Las Vegas Raiders on Sept. 19.

Bills: At Miami Dolphins on Sept. 19.

Pickett leads Pitt past Tennessee, 41-34
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Kenny Pickett threw for 285 yards and two touchdowns and ran for a score to lead Pittsburgh to a 41-34 victory over Tennessee Saturday.

The Panther defense collected five sacks, recovered two fumbles, had an interception and a crucial fourth-quarter goal-line stand to seal their second victory of the season.

The Volunteers (1-1) lost the game and a starting quarterback. Joe Milton went down with a lower leg injury after being sacked and losing a fumble early in the second quarter.

Hendon Hooker came on to throw for 189 yards, but the mistakes hurt the effort.

Just when Tennessee’s offense was showing signs of life in the fourth quarter, the Panthers came up with an answer.

The Vols’ defense ran into tackling issues on a 75-yard drive that resulted in a 5-yard pass from Pickett to Jordan Addison and a 41-27 Pitt lead.

Pitt’s second double-digit lead didn’t last long. Hooker ran for 23 yards, then hit Jacob Warren over the middle for 34 to the Panthers’ 2. Jaylen Wright scored on his third try.

Wright had an opportunity to tie the game midway through the fourth quarter. On fourth-and-1 from the Pitt 3, John Petrishen shot the gap and hit Wright for a loss, giving Pitt the ball. Three plays and a bad punt later, the Vols had the ball back 34 yards away from tying the game.

Pitt’s Brandon Hill ended that threat with an interception.

After leading by seven at halftime, Pitt kept the pressure on. The Panthers went 60 yards and Pickett scored from a yard out.

It took Hooker a while to take ownership of the Tennessee offense. After replacing Milton early in the second quarter, the attack sputtered until he led a 63-yard drive that ended when he hit Warren for an 8-yard TD.

After a stale first quarter and trailing 10-0, Pitt put 27 points on the board in the second.

The Panthers went 92 yards in 11 plays, with the payoff coming on an 11-yard connection between Pickett and Melquise Stovall.

The Vols constantly tried the deep ball, showcasing Milton’s arm. The strategy loosened the Pitt defense, allowing Milton to run 54 yards to the Pitt 5. A personal foul moved the ball back to the 22, then an offensive pass interference call took it back to the 37. Chase McGrath converted on a 48-yard field goal for a 13-7 lead.

Pitt got a little fancy on its next possession. After a long pass and another personal foul on the Vols, Pickett took the snap, threw a lateral fo Jared Wayne who then found Lucas Krull in the end zone from 16 yards and a 14-13 advantage.

Defensive lineman Keyshon Camp knocked Milton out of the game and came up with the fumble at the same time, giving Pitt the ball on the Vols’ 19, Four plays later, Sam Scarton made it 17-13 with a 38-yard field goal.

The Tennessee offense went nowhere, and Pitt took advantage with another field goal and 20-13 lead.

It didn’t take long for the hosts to tie it up. Jimmy Calloway took a wide receiver screen from Hooker 44 yards for a TD to cap a drive that went 68 yards in four plays.

Pitt didn’t waste the final 2:16 of the first half. The Panthers went to work and put together a 75-yard drive that Vincent Davis finished off from 2 yards with 19 seconds to spare.

After Pitt’s opening drive yielded minus-4 yards, Tennessee’s Christian Charles blew through the middle of the Panther line and smothered Kirk Christodoulou’s punt. Nick Humphrey fell on it at the Panther 2-yard line. Jabari Small made it 7-0 on the first snap.

Tennessee’s lead went to 10-0 when McGrath converted a 37-yard field goal.

The takeaway

Pitt: Everybody talks about Josh Heupel’s big-strike, uptempo offense. The Panthers proved that they can put some big numbers on the board if need be.

Tennessee: Even without Milton, the Vols’ offense can be effective. Hooker, the Virginia Tech transfer, was productive through the air and on the ground.

QB scores

Pickett’s 1-yard third-quarter sneak for a touchdown gave him 16 career rushing TDs, tying him with Rick Trocano (1977-80). Trocano was under center when Pitt beat Tennessee in 1980.

Personnel issues

Last week, in a lopsided win over Bowling Green, Tennessee running back Tiyon Evans rushed for 120 yards and a touchdown. An undisclosed injury kept Evans from playing against Pitt.

Center Cooper Mays, who left the opener with a lower leg injury, was also unavailable. Two key components of the Vols’ defensive line – tackle LaTrell Bumpus and rush end Byron Young – also didn’t play. Bumpus had an undisclosed injury and Young is waiting to be cleared by the NCAA regarding his prep school credentials.

Up next

Pitt: Mid-American Conference member Western Michigan will visit Pitt next Saturday. The Panthers have two more games before they begin their Atlantic Coast Conference schedule.

Tennessee: Tennessee Tech next Saturday will be one last tuneup before the Vols start their Southeastern Conference competition at Florida Sept. 25.

Effective Corbin helps Nationals avoid sweep vs. Pirates
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PITTSBURGH – Patrick Corbin gave Washington’s overworked bullpen a bit of a break, working seven strong innings as the Nationals beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 6-2 on Sunday to avoid a three-game sweep.

Corbin (8-14) allowed two runs on four hits, striking out four with two walks to improve to 3-0 against the Pirates since joining Washington in 2019.

Lane Thomas hit a three-run homer in the fourth off Bryse Wilson (2-7) to put the Nationals in front to stay. Luis Garcia and Alex Avila also homered for Washington. Juan Soto doubled and tripled and is hitting .407 (22 of 54) over his last 16 games.

Pittsburgh fell to 0-13 when going for a series sweep and is the only team in Major League Baseball without a sweep with just three weeks left in the regular season.

Wilson fell to 0-4 with the Pirates since being acquired in a trade that sent closer Richard Rodriguez to Atlanta. His numbers since arriving in Pittsburgh were OK if not great – a 4.35 ERA in six starts – but he was undone by the long ball. Wilson had allowed four home runs in 31 innings with the Pirates but gave up three in just 4 1/3 innings against the Nationals.

Wilson appeared to be in good shape entering the top of the fourth and quickly retired the first two batters he faced. Avila, batting seventh, then drilled a long home run to the seats in right field. Adrian Sanchez followed with a double and moved to third on Corbin’s single to left.

Pirates pitching coach Oscar Marin came out to talk to Wilson. It didn’t work. Thomas turned on a 91 mph fastball over the heart of the plate and sent high over the 21-foot high Roberto Clemente Wall in right for his fourth home run of the season.

Kevin Newman’s leadoff triple in the third was Pittsburgh’s only extra-base hit. While Newman scored on Bryan Reynolds’ sacrifice fly to put the Pirates up 2-1, Corbin shut the door from there. The 32-year-old, in the midst of a forgettable season, retired the final 13 batters he faced.

Up next

Nationals: Return home to begin a three-game set against Miami on Monday. Washington has won 8 of 13 meetings with the Marlins this season.

Pirates: Are off Monday before starting a three-game series against Cincinnati on Tuesday. Dillon Peters (0-2, 3.38) faces Wade Miley (12-5, 2.89) in the opener.