St. Joe's Takes on La Salle as Big 5 Title Picture Comes into Focus

St. Joe's Takes on La Salle as Big 5 Title Picture Comes into Focus

The La Salle Explorers and St. Joseph's University Hawks are set to do battle from inside the Palestra on Saturday.

It will be the first and only meeting between the programs this season; as such, it is both an Atlantic 10 and Big 5 contest, one that will have profound ramifications on this year's city title.

Tip-off is set for 12 p.m. (The Comcast Network / 610 AM (SJU) / 990 AM (La Salle).

Full game preview after the jump...

How We Got Here
In the tale of the two city rivals, it's not quite the best and worst of times, but it isn't that far off either.

Picked to finish second-to-last in the A10 preseason poll, the La Salle Explorers (17-6, 6-2, 1-1) now lead the conference. They have won their last four in the a row and 10 of their last 12. They are 15-3 since opening the season 2-3 following a Nov. 25 loss to Robert Morris. That said, very few of those wins have come against quality opponents (an obviously arguable distinction). Based on how tough they played both Temple and Dayton, there's no doubt La Salle can hang with the best in the A10, but it remains to be seen whether they can hold on to that top spot in what's become a very competitive conference. As the saying goes, "you can only beat the teams on your schedule," something La Salle done and done well. Now, they just need to prove that their early season success in sustainable both down the stretch and, most importantly, with the confines of Boardwalk Hall in March. Given the individual play of Earl Pettis, Ramon Galloway, Tyreek Duren and freshman Jerrell Wright, all indications are that the Explorers are built for the long-haul in 2012.

St. Joseph's (14-9, 4-4, 1-1), on the other hand, opened its season to a decent deal of fan fare. The young Hawks showed promise toward the end of last season with their unexpected mini-run in the A10 tourney and started out especially strong eight months later. Dominant performances over #17 Creighton and Holy War rival Villanova painted the team as a force to be reckoned with out of conference. In conference, however, it's been a different story. The new calendar year has not been kind to St. Joseph's, as the team has gone just 4-6 since their Dec. 28 win over Morgan State. At 4-4 in conference play, they are currently tied for seventh in the A10. Still, despite many a recent setback, the Hawks have found away to keep themselves afloat with key wins to stem their bleeding (1/25 vs. Dayton and 2/1 at Richmond). They'll need more than just the occassional breakout performance moving forward so as not to put themselves at an even greater disadvatage in what could be an absolute bloodbath of Atlantic 10 tournament.

The Matchup: Let's Play a Little Inside-Outside
The Explorers will take the floor with their four guard offense while the Hawks figure to counter with solid height and tremendous leapers C.J. Aiken and Ronald Roberts under the basket.

If there was an early preview of this game already played, fans may only need to look back to last weekend's Temple-St. Joe matchup for an idea of how this one could (not should) play out.

Sure, the Hawks rank second in the nation in blocked shots as a team with 7.9 per game, but it could be hard to have those contested takes prove meaningful if La Salle seems content to shoot over the SJU defense from the perimeter. The Explorers lead the A10 in both field goal and three-point shooting percentage per game at 47.7% and 40.8%, respectively. Though the Hawks are no slouches themselves with both Carl Jones and Langston Galloway more than capable of shooting the ball (Galloway is emerging as one, if not the best jump shooter in the conference), both have also been inconsistent this season, with Jones especially struggling as of late.

At the opposite end, La Salle is defending the perimeter just over 3.5 points better than Joe's (31.9% to 35.5%). In that sense, 31.9% isn't a great average from beyond while 35.5% in certainly closer to respectable. Add in La salle's abnormally high percentage from three and SJU could face their share of troubles on the perimeter.

In the event they choose to over-pursue the pursue the perimeter, they'll certainly have Aiken and Roberts under the basket -- who have no doubt helped to lead the Hawks to second-best defensive FG% in the conference -- but their struggles against the Owls make it hard not to predict similar issues against La Salle. The Explorers and Owls are actually somewhat similar in their styles and rotations (especially before the return of TU's Micheal Eric) in that both teams are deep at the guard position and rely on team defense for a sense of self-identity. Again, Temple's success against St. Joe's doesn't guarantee how this game will play out, just how it could.

Big 5 Ramifications
With Villanova and Penn already settled at 2-2 and 1-3, both St. Joe's and La Salle at 1-1 and neither having played Temple (as part of a Big 5 game), Saturday's game is of the utmost importance when it comes to a shot at this year's city title. Big 5 standings and remaining schedules below:

Temple         2-0
St. Joseph's   1-1
Villanova       2-2
La Salle         1-1
Penn             1-3

Feb. 22 -- Temple at La Salle (Gola Arena)
Feb. 25 -- Temple at St. Joseph's (Hagan Arena)

Relevant History
All-Time Series: St. Joe's leads 62-53
Streak: La Salle has won three of the last four and the last three in a row at the Palestra.
Martelli vs. La Salle: 14-8
Giannini (at La Salle) vs. St. Joe's: 3-4
Last Meeting: La Salle won 76-72 on Jan. 27, 2011 at The Palestra. Saint Joseph's Carl jones posted a game-high 24 points, while Aaric Murray led the Explorers with 19 and 14 double-double.

Late-Night Homework
You kids meet for an en masse rollout party in Manayunk last night?

Phillies Prospect Notebook: Franklyn Kilome, Jose Taveras anchoring Clearwater's strong rotation

Phillies Prospect Notebook: Franklyn Kilome, Jose Taveras anchoring Clearwater's strong rotation

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Prospect Franklyn Kilome is the second-highest rated pitcher in the Phillies' organization, and the right-hander lived up to the billing Sunday, as the Clearwater Threshers, the Phillies' Class A Advanced affiliate, closed a three-game series at St. Lucie.

The right-hander twirled seven sparkling innings, shutting down the Mets’ hot bats, as the Threshers blanked St. Lucie 1-0 behind an unearned run at First Data Field to salvage the final game of the series.

Kilome, 21, allowed five hits, struck out six and didn’t issue a walk in winning for the first time since April 27. Only one St. Lucie player managed to reach second base against the 6-foot-6, 175-pound pitcher.

The Dominican pitcher is ranked No. 7 overall by Baseball America among Phillies' prospects. Only 18-year-old Lakewood hurler Sixto Sanchez (fifth overall) is rated above him in the organization.

“He’s got a chance to be a workhorse. Good body, very good arm, but still learning how to pitch a little bit,” pitching coach Aaron Fultz said of Kilome, who improved to 3-2 with a 3.02 ERA.

“He’s up to 97 (mph) with a good curveball and slider. He’s learning a changeup. He’s learning the game, but he’s got a huge upside.”

Jose Taveras (4-2, 2.26) has been another reliable arm on Clearwater’s staff. He led the South Atlantic League in strikeouts last season and has 54 in 55 2/3 innings this year.

Taveras also handled St. Lucie on Saturday, but he was left with a no-decision after the bullpen gave up three runs in a 4-3 loss in 10 innings. The 23-year-old worked six strong innings and yielded just a run on four hits.  

“Taveras is just a very good competitor," Fultz said. "His fastball is average, pretty decent breaking ball and his changeup is good, but the thing that makes him good is he’s just a competitor. He studies the game and the hitters and is very advanced with that.”

Added Threshers manager Shawn Williams: “There are times when he may not have his usual command, and he’ll change an arm angle, which shows he’s got a good feel for what he’s doing. He’ll crossfire, has deception … he’s got something where they don’t pick up his fastball and are always late.”

A third Dominican right-hander, Seranthony Dominguez (3-0, 2.02), has been a big part of the rotation as well and has won three times in six starts but is currently sidelined with shoulder soreness. An MRI returned a clean report.

“The first three or four weeks we were ridiculously good," Fultz said. "We’ve had a few bumps in the road since then, but we’re getting the job done.”

Zach, not Francis Ford
Zach Coppola has a famous Hollywood last name, but the Clearwater corner outfielder has spent 2017 making a name for himself with his defense, at the plate and on the bases.

Coppola, 23, was 5 for 12 with two runs scored in the St. Lucie series, including Sunday’s lone run. He made a pair of outstanding run-saving catches in the outfield over the weekend and raised his average to .346, second to Chris Paul (.351) of Fort Myers.

“Zach has been doing a great job as a leadoff hitter,” Williams said of the Iowa native. “He gets big hits, bunts, but the thing for me is he does something every night to help you win, whether it’s a bunt hit or a great diving play in left-center. He’ll throw a guy out or get a great dirtball read and score the winning run.

“He’s a very good baseball player who does all the little things.”

Good contributors
The Threshers (28-23) have sat atop the FSL’s North Division for most of the first half, but a series loss at St. Lucie over the weekend left them trailing Dunedin by one game after both clubs won Sunday.

Williams said his first season skippering the club has been highlighted by a full-team effort.

“It’s been a little bit of everything,” Williams said. “Early on our pitching was very, very good. Cole (Irvin) was really dealing (see more on Irvin). Dominguez, everybody was. We were getting the big hits, and our defense has been very consistent. Overall, we’ve just played good baseball.”

One standout playing good ball has been 5-foot-5 middle infielder Grenny Cumana, who went 7 for 10 in the series and made a spectacular catch-and-throw on the grass behind the bag while playing second base to rob St. Lucie’s Vinny Siena of an infield hit Sunday.

Tenacious P
Fultz said one immeasurable he likes in his pitchers is a bulldog-like tenacity that has them wanting the ball in key moments, regardless of previous outcomes.

“I don’t have to have the guy who’s always going to succeed in the big situation, but I always want the guy that wants to be out there in that situation. To me, that’s the selling point,” he said. “It’s not always being successful; it’s always wanting to be in that situation, which is a big plus.”

Fultz said his favorite battler was Jamie Brewington, a teammate of his in the San Francisco farm system, who appeared in 40 games over two MLB seasons.

“He went right after hitters, and it was fun to watch,” Fultz said.

Andrew Knapp's long homer a bright spot for skidding Phillies as rookie pushes Cameron Rupp

Andrew Knapp's long homer a bright spot for skidding Phillies as rookie pushes Cameron Rupp

Hidden in the Phillies' sub-par Sunday was one bright spot: Andrew Knapp.

The young backup catcher blasted a long home run into the Phillies' bullpen that gave them an early lead they would soon relinquish in an 8-4 loss to the Reds. The long ball comes on the heels of Knapp's first back-to-back starts earlier in the week.

"The more playing time you get, the better you feel," he said. "That's just the way it goes. I'm just trying to take my opportunities and take advantage of them. Unfortunately, we didn't win today, but the more at-bats I get, the better I feel."

The 25-year-old rookie was handed a prime opportunity in the second inning with two men on and one out. Starter Scott Feldman put him behind 0-2 with consecutive fastballs and tried to put him away upstairs. Knapp stayed poised and laid off both pitches, waiting for a mistake.

And the mistake came with a belt-high curveball that Knapp barreled 434 feet for a three-run homer.

"I wasn't really looking for it," he said. "I knew he liked to throw it with two strikes. It was kind of in the back of my head. But I was just looking for something out over the dish. He was pounding me in, but I was going to make him beat me away. I thankfully got that one out in front a bit."

Knapp is now 53 at-bats into his MLB career and has an impressive .264/.371/.509 batting line with three home runs and seven RBIs. He's played well enough to push starting catcher Cameron Rupp for more playing time and earn himself some extra starts beyond day games after night games.

"I feel good," Knapp said. "I'm learning a lot. Each at-bat in itself is its own thing and you can't really have much rollover. At the same time, the more I get in there, the better I feel and the more experience I get. So I feel good so far."

Rupp has been solid at the plate, although he dealt with some issues defensively last week. As Knapp got consecutive starts, Rupp sat out both Tuesday and Wednesday against the Rockies. He rebounded with a three-walk game Thursday afternoon.

With Knapp swinging the bat well, manager Pete Mackanin hopes it will only push Rupp to level his game up.

"Competition is great for pitchers and for position players and I think it's good," Mackanin said. "Knapp hit that home run today. He's been swinging the bat pretty well, catching pretty well and that's only, in my opinion, going to make Rupp better."

On Friday, Mackanin said he would give Knapp more playing time, looking to possibly split starts between Rupp and Knapp at four and three starts, respectively, per week. That's how it worked out during this past homestand.

The manager was unsure what the upward limit on Knapp's starts could be, but he was pleased about his catching situation despite the team's overall issues.

"Cam hasn't been swinging the bat that well lately, but they're both going to get playing time," Mackanin said. "Cam will get the brunt of the playing time. For me, it's a great situation. Now we have two guys that we think a lot of."