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Li, Parr hold off field to win AJGA tournament

CANONSBURG – It was a long day for Katie Li.

Coming into the day on the verge of her first American Junior Golf Association girls golf tournament win with a four-shot lead, her initial tee time was scheduled for 7:20 a.m.

Mother Nature pushed that back several hours.

Despite not finishing her final round until after 5 p.m., the 14-year-old Li held off the field by shooting a 1-over 73 and finish at even par to win the three-day tournament.

“I literally can’t stop smiling,” Li said. “I’m so happy, and super relieved. Really relieved.”

Jean-Philippe Parr, who is also 14 years old, shot even par in his final round to cruise to victory. The teenager from St-Celestin, Quebec, won by five strokes.

The reason Li was so relieved was because of several near misses. She already had seven top-10 AJGA finishes.

In late April, Li finished second at the AJGA Junior All-Star tournament in York, ending one stroke back of champion Chloe Johnson. At the KPMG Stacey Lewis Junior All-Star Invitational in late June, Li finished 7th after shooting six over par in the final round.

“I choked twice before this, so I was really scared already,” she said. “But I (told myself), ‘If it’s supposed to happen, it will happen. Just stay calm, and it will all work out.’”

It worked out for the Basking Ridge, N.J., native. She held off a solid final round from Jennifer Cleary, who shot 2-under 70. Li ended up winning the tournament by three strokes.

“(I discovered) that I can handle pressure, for once,” Li said. “And that I can pull through and shoot a good round under so much pressure. It’s a huge confidence booster. Like all my work hasn’t been for nothing.”

For Parr, it was a day where all the stars aligned.

“I was putting really well, pretty much everything was working,” he said.

Parr started fast with six birdies to finish the front nine of his final round at 4-under. He built enough of a lead to stay in first place, despite five bogeys on the final nine holes.

Fox Chapel’s Adam Lauer finished second.

Like Li, Parr entered the final round in command. After Tuesday, he had a two-shot lead but had to keep his composure as he also was in search of his first AJGA victory.

“I just took a couple of breaths,” he said. “That’s pretty much how I (kept my composure). Just trying not to look at the score.”

Parr’s mother, Veronique, didn’t look at the scoreboard at all while her son was playing. She didn’t follow him around the course, either.

After travelling 10 hours from Quebec to Canonsburg, Veronique waited for her son to tell her himself how he did.

“I like a full story instead of just the numbers,” she said. “He can tell me, ‘Oh, I did that on that hole.’ It’s more fun for me, I think.

I’m pretty proud of him,” she continued. “He worked hard and it finally paid off, so that’s nice. He’s only 14, so a big win here is very nice.”

Canonsburg’s Rocco Salvitti finished the tournament at 10 over and tied for 5th place. South Fayette’s Luke Lestini finished seventh on the boys side, while Caroline McConnell tied for 22nd in the girls tournament.

“I played really good this tournament, it’s just there’s no defense in golf,” Salvitti said. “So when kids are making six birdies, five, four in a row, it’s hard to come back from that. When Jean-Philippe shot four under on the front end, that’s hard to beat.”


Sports
AP
Party of 5? Competitive NL Central in for taut second half

PITTSBURGH – Joe Maddon didn’t let the free time created by a rare ejection go to waste.

Shortly after getting tossed by home-plate umpire Joe West on July 4 following an outburst in which the Chicago Cubs’ manager appeared ready to take on any and all comers from the Pittsburgh dugout after taking exception to the way the Pirates kept pitching up and in to his players, Maddon retired to the visiting manager’s office at PNC Park. He eased into a chair, opened a bottle of wine, flipped on the television and watched his wildly uneven team put the finishing touches on an 11-3 victory that avoided a four-game sweep.

Veteran move. Opportunities to relax over the next two-plus months will be scarce in the most competitive division in the majors.

The National League Central enters the second half with the first-place Cubs and last-place Cincinnati separated by just 4 ½ games, an outlier during an otherwise yawn-inducing first half in which five divisions reached the All-Star break with at least a 5 ½-game gap between first and second.

There are no front-runners in the NL Central. No room to breathe either, something Maddon saw coming long ago.

“I’ve been talking about this for the last two years how teams are getting better in our division,” Maddon said. “It’s not going to go away. It’s going to be really difficult to really separate, especially by the fact that everybody is catching up right now. The second half is going to be very similar to what you’ve seen in the first half.”

Exactly what the Reds had in mind when they retooled over the winter in an effort to stop a streak of four straight 90-loss seasons. Cincinnati upgraded its starting rotation over the winter, added a dash (OK, maybe more than a dash) of swagger when it acquired outfielder Yaisel Puig from the Los Angeles Dodgers and overcame a shaky 1-8 start to stay within striking distance in a division in which sustained momentum has been nonexistent.

“We’re in it,” Reds second baseman Scooter Gennett said. “It’s pretty close, pretty tight. There’s plenty of time to make a run.”

Maybe, but that will require one team in the Central finding a way to get the better of the other four on a consistent basis. That didn’t happen in the first half. Milwaukee is the only NL Central team with a winning record within the division (24-18) but has been unable to create any separation.

“It doesn’t make me comfortable that we’ve been spotty,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “The division, we haven’t, nobody has jumped out. Somebody will. It almost has to happen that some team is going to start playing really well. Nobody has dug a hole for themselves, and I think every team feels good about that in our division for sure.”

First-place, after all, is only a week-long hot streak away. Not so much in the NL West – where the Los Angeles Dodgers have smashed their way to a 13 ½- game lead – or the NL East – where Atlanta’s young core has given the Braves a healthy six-game cushion over Washington.

“You can slow it way down knowing that we’re only a few games back,” Cardinals infielder Paul deJong said. “Today’s important, so we’re focusing on today. We’re not thinking, ‘Oh, we’re 7 ½ back and we’ve got to win 10 in a row.’ All of a sudden you’re thinking 10 games ahead and not focusing on winning today. For us with the small deficit or small lead, every game’s important so it locks us in the now.”

And leaves each team with some interesting decisions to make as the trade deadline approaches.

The resilient Pirates entered the break just 2 ½ games behind the Cubs despite having 80 percent of its starting rotation spend time on the injured list at some point over the last three months. All-Star first baseman Josh Bell’s breakout season has helped. So has the impact of rookie outfielder Bryan Reynolds and rookie infielder Kevin Newman.

“We feel like we’re here for the fight,” Bell said. “We’re ready for it. I like the guys that we have. We trust ourselves to be celebrating at the end of the season.”

Then again, so does everyone else, which is one of the reasons the Central is so competitive. No one is rebuilding or transitioning from one core to the next.

“Each of us has our flaws, but there’s a deep level of talent in this division, and you do, you have five teams that their ambition is to make the postseason,” Pittsburgh general manager Neal Huntington said. “That’s not the case in some of the other divisions. That’s not criticism. Teams cycle in and cycle out. It’s part of the industry. It’s part of the game. It’s been part of the game for decades.”

So have pennant races. The Central’s figures to go right down to the wire as it did a year ago, when Chicago and Milwaukee needed a 163rd game to determine a division winner. The Brewers emerged and eventually reached the National League Championship Series. The Cubs had to settle for a wild card berth.

There may not be any sort of consolation prize for the runner-up this time around. The four teams running behind Chicago are as close to the division lead as they are to the second wild card, leaving all five clubs potentially vying for one postseason spot.

It’s why Maddon – whose job status is tenuous at best just three years removed from leading the Cubs to their first World Series in more than a century – wants his players to buckle up and block out the noise.

“You have to circle the wagons at some point,” Maddon said. “Because today’s world, the way the speed of information and the way it’s generated and the vitriol that’s carried with it and the promotion of vitriol, you’ve got to get beyond that at some point and you have to insulate yourself.”

And are they circled in Chicago?

“They’re circled,” Maddon said with a smile. “Circled.”

Considering what the Cubs are up against in baseball’s tightest division, they better be.


Sports
editor's pick
An early look at 5 high school football teams to watch

It’s OK.

You can begin the countdown to high school football season.

Today marks one month until teams across Western Pennsylvania will begin football camp. Teams will be together for activities even sooner than that with heat acclimation week starting Aug. 5.

But while we are still in July, here’s five local teams that might make noise in the months ahead.

1. Peters Township: There was plenty of success last year for Indians’ coach T.J. Plack to build on.

Peters Township was able to string four wins together for the first time in eight years. A playoff appearance, which ended in the semifinals in a narrow 22-14 loss to eventual Class 5A WPIAL and PIAA champion Penn Hills, marked the first time the Indians made the playoffs in back-to-back years since 2012-2013.

Quarterback Logan Pfeuffer, who took big strides last year, returns for his junior season. He has plenty of weapons on offense returning to help, including standout senior wide receiver Josh Casilli and running back Ryan Magiske.

Casilli has a long list of scholarship offers after 51 catches, 892 yards and 11 touchdowns last year. He was named to the Observer-Reporter Fabulous 15 team. Aidan McCall also returns at wide receiver and cornerback.

Magiske, a senior, brings a powerful running style to balance the high-flying offense. He ran for 1,133 yards and scored 19 touchdowns.

Junior linebacker Corban Hondru will lead what was a dominating defense last year.

The one question mark for the Indians is finding competent replacements on both sides of the line of scrimmage, where they took a big hit with the graduation of several key players.

2. Washington: Success might start on the offensive and defensive lines for the Prexies, who are anything but little up front.

Lineman Gerald Comedy (6-3, 295 pounds), Chase Mitchell (6-5, 340 pounds) and Zakhi Marshall (6-0, 285 pounds) will help Washington win most battles on the line of scrimmage.

The combination of quarterback Zack Swartz and wide receiver Zahmere Robinson will give opposing defenses headaches. Swartz was ninth in the WPIAL with 2,285 passing yards. He threw 28 touchdowns and ran for another 13. Robinson exploded onto the scene a season ago with 53 catches, 1,120 yards and 10 touchdowns, averaging more than 21 yards per reception.

Both were members of the Fabulous 15 as juniors.

The Prexies will be even more of a threat if running back Dylan Asbury can stay healthy.

3. South Fayette: The defending WPIAL Class 4A champions have pieces back from last year’s team.

The biggest question, similar to last year, is what they are going to do at quarterback. Transfer Jamie Diven provided nothing but convincing answers to those questions and went from limited time before arriving at South Fayette to getting ready to start his freshman year at West Liberty University in a couple of weeks.

Charley Rossi, coach Joe Rossi’s son, is back at receiver. He had 38 receptions for 613 yards and nine touchdowns last year as a sophomore. Leading rusher Andrew Franklin and leading tackler Nolan Lutz both return. Offensive and defensive linemen Dom Thomas and Quentin Franklin are back, so is wide receiver/defensive back Joey Audia.

The Lions’ first four games are against teams that all made the playoffs last year.

4. West Greene: First-year coach Brian Hanson will walk into a great situation left by Rodney Huffman at West Greene, which was one of three teams to share the Tri-County South Conference crown last year.

The Pioneers won a coin flip with those they split the conference, Monessen and California, to earn a home playoff game that was eventually moved because of flooding.

Hanson, who spent the last three seasons as the head coach at Wicomico High School in Salisbury, Md., will take over a program that has made the playoffs the last two years.

The Pioneers only lost six seniors. Both quarterback Gavin Scott and Ben Jackson will return behind an experienced offensive line. last year, Jackson became the sixth running back in Greene Country history to eclipse 4,000 career rushing yards before his season ended due to an injury.

If Jackson stays healthy, especially into the playoffs, could West Greene be looking taking another step and winning a postseason game?

5. Burgettstown: When the Blue Devils opened camp last year, head coach Mark Druga beamed with excitement talking about his offensive and defensive lines. Inexperience had him pause for those at the skill positions.

Now, after an undefeated season and first home playoff win in a long program history, it might be the opposite.

Druga will be tasked with replacing Angelo Fratini, Colby Green and Ethan Brothers on both sides of the ball, key members to a ground-and-pound offense and defense that limited opponents to 5.5 points per game.

So what’s the bright side?

Riley Kemper still is a dominant force up front. Shane Kemper returns to the backfield after 650 yards and eight touchdowns. With a season under his belt, Jake Lounder, who combined to throw and run for 1,020 yards and 16 touchdowns, is back at quarterback.

In Druga’s back pocket might be one of the best specialists in the entire WPIAL in kicker and punter Seth Phillis.


Sports
AP
'Not about 24': Williams to face Halep in Wimbledon final

WIMBLEDON, England – Hours before her Wimbledon semifinal, Serena Williams spent some time deep in thought and arrived at a couple of conclusions.

For one thing, she shouldn’t focus too much on trying to raise her Grand Slam title total to 24, a number achieved by just one other player in tennis history. And for another, she needs to stay calm on the court.

With that in mind, Williams went out Thursday and made it all look so easy, overwhelming Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic 6-1, 6-2 in 59 minutes to once again put herself on the verge of an eighth championship at the All England Club and major No. 24 overall.

“It’s really not about 24 or 23 or 25. It’s really just about going out there and giving my best effort, no matter what. No matter what I do, I will always have a great career,” said Williams, who at 37 is the oldest woman to reach a Grand Slam final in the professional era. “Like, I just kind of let it go this morning.”

On Saturday, she will take on No. 7-seeded Simona Halep of Romania, a 6-1, 6-3 winner over No. 8 Elina Svitolina of Ukraine under a cloudy sky at Centre Court.

It’s the 11th final at the All England Club for Williams, the first for Halep, whose only major trophy came at the French Open last year.

They’ve played each other 10 previous times, with Williams winning nine, including a three-setter at the Australian Open in January.

“I respect a lot what she has done and what she’s doing,” said Halep, who, like Williams, used to be ranked No. 1. “But now I feel stronger, mentally, facing her. We will see what is going to happen. It’s just a big challenge for me.”

For anyone, really, when Williams is at her best.

And after an up-and-down first half of the year, due in part to injury and illness, she sure does appear to have lifted her level considerably.

Williams was limited to 12 matches in 2019 until last week. After a third-round loss at Roland Garros on June 1, she stayed in France for medical treatment and finally felt pain-free while preparing for Wimbledon.

“Well, if she will play like this in the final,” said Strycova, 33, the oldest first-time Grand Slam semifinalist in the modern era, “it’s going to be very hard for Simona.”

After a three-set struggle against Alison Riske in the quarterfinals Tuesday, Williams was dominant against Strycova, who was limited by a leg muscle problem that cropped up in the very first game.

Strycova would repeatedly flex or shake her legs between points or try to stretch in her sideline chair by pulling her right foot onto her left knee and rocking her leg.

Not an ideal situation. Especially when facing Williams if she’s this dialed-in.

Williams played cleanly, accumulating nearly twice as many winners as unforced errors, 28-10. She was at her usual court-covering best, which helped limit Strycova to 10 winners.

“I just need to ... relax and do what I can do,” Williams said, referring again to her deep thoughts from the morning.

“I was calm today,” she said, then rolled her eyes and added: “It’s a day-to-day basis with me. We all know that. I’m far from perfect.”

Williams has been this close to adding to her title total before: In 2018, her first season back on tour after the birth of her daughter, Olympia, Williams reached the finals at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open but lost each time.

That has left her Grand Slam total at 23, a record for the professional era that she established when she won the 2017 Australian Open while pregnant – but one fewer than Margaret Court accumulated while playing part of her career against amateur competition.

At the All England Club, she was beaten by Angelique Kerber. At Flushing Meadows, she was outplayed by Naomi Osaka in a match that descended into chaos after Williams was docked a game for a heated argument with the chair umpire. She said in a first-person essay she wrote for Harper’s Bazaar that she met with a therapist and wrote to Osaka to apologize for the whole episode.

A rare show of emotion from Williams on Thursday could have been the semifinal’s turning point.

Ahead 2-1 in the first set while Strycova served at 30-all, Williams sailed a backhand return way long and let out a cry of “Aaaaah!”

Maybe that got her going. Williams seized seven points in a row and 16 of 20 to close out that set.

Halep seemed headed for a long day when her semifinal against Svitolina began with a pair of games encompassing 32 points across 20 minutes. Five of the first 11 points lasted at least 10 strokes; two went 23.

Soon enough, though, Halep was in control.

Now comes a tougher task: beating Williams.