Mike Szostak

Sports Blogger

Mike Szostak covered sports for The Providence Journal for 36 years until retiring in 2013. His career highlights included five Winter Olympics from Lake Placid to Nagano and 17 seasons covering the Boston Celtics. His beats  also included tennis, skiing and college sports, especially Brown and URI football.

Ways to Connect

They could have won. They could have beaten third-seeded Oregon and earned a trip to the Sweet 16. Victory was so close they could certainly see it, feel it, taste it.

But in the end, victory Sunday night was not to be for the University of Rhode Island Rams. Oregon was a three-point basket better than URI and left Sacramento with a 75-72 triumph in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The Ducks (31-5) moved on while the Rams (25-10) came home to reflect on their best season in 18 years.

They can do it. They can win. The University of Rhode Island can beat Oregon Sunday night at Sacramento.

Sure, Oregon (30-5) is seeded No. 3 in the Midwest Regional and URI No. 11. Sure, the Ducks have Dillon Brooks, the Pac-12 player of the year, and Jordan Bell, the Pac-12 defensive player of the year. And they have a former blue chip recruit in sophomore shooting guard Tyler Dorsey, who scored 24 points in Oregon’s 93-77 rout of Iona in the first round Friday.

We weren’t supposed to be there. We weren’t supposed to be there.

Repeat it, PC basketball fans.

We weren’t supposed to be there. We weren’t supposed to be there.

Say those words every four hours – Friday, St. Patrick’s Day, wash them down with a Guinness – and you should feel better.

If you are a college basketball fan in Rhode Island, it doesn’t get much better than the thrills URI provided its long-suffering fans on Sunday. The fourth-seeded Rams stymied a late rally by second-seeded Virginia Commonwealth and won the Atlantic-10 Championship, 70-63, at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh.

As balloons descended from the rafters, Rhody players pulled championship T-shirts over their uniforms, hugged each other and hugged the impressive championship trophy. The real prize, though, was the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

This is how it was supposed to be, back in November when the Rhode Island Rams were ranked nationally and considered a virtual lock for the NCAA Tournament. This is how it was supposed to be come the second weekend in March, the Rams playing for the Atlantic-10 Conference Championship.

I really, really hope the University of Rhode Island beats Davidson in the Atlantic 10 semifinals Saturday afternoon in Pittsburgh and then defeats Virginia Commonwealth or Richmond on Sunday for the championship.

There, I’ve said it. After close to 40 years of no cheering in the press box while I was a newspaper guy, I can take sides now that I am a blogger.

Two teams from Rhode Island in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament? With a little luck, and another victory or two in conference tournaments this week, it could happen.

Now that the Patriots have established without a doubt that they are THE dynasty of the Super Bowl era, let’s pause to cheer another New England dynasty, University of Connecticut women’s basketball.

Never in six decades of playing, watching and writing about sports have I seen anything like the dramatic comeback the New England Patriots mounted in Super Bowl LI Sunday night.

N-E-V-E-R.

Tom Brady’s start at quarterback for the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI Sunday night will bookend an unforgettable week for aging champions.

The Patriots are going to the Super Bowl for the seventh time in the B&B Dynasty. That’s Belichick & Brady, if you hail from somewhere other than New England.

Think about it. Seven Super Bowls in 17 seasons. Seven! That’s a trip to The Big Game every two years or so. How awesome is that? Most players and coaches consider themselves fortunate to appear in one Super Bowl. Come Feb. 5, B&B will have gone seven times. That’s insane!

Barring an Ivy League championship next fall, the highlight of Brown University’s football season will be the Nov. 10 game against Dartmouth at Fenway Park. That’s right, Fenway Park, the iconic home of the Red Sox.

The Bears and Bruins will kick off on Friday night as the first of three college football games scheduled for the 104-year-old ball park during the 2017 season. The University of Massachusetts and the University of Maine will play on Saturday, Nov. 11, and the University of Connecticut and Boston College will meet a week later on Saturday, Nov. 18.

Bryant University hired a new football coach this month, and thanks to the generosity of two trustees, he will send his players on to a new artificial turf, lighted field next season.

Bryant will be the first of Rhode Island’s three Division I programs to play home games on artificial turf with the option of playing night games. The University of Rhode Island and Brown University play on grass, and Meade Stadium at URI and Brown Stadium in Providence do not have lights. Brown has rented portable lights for one game per season in recent years.

Apologies to the Brown University men’s lacrosse program and attackman Dylan Molloy for not including them among the top sports stories of 2016 posted on Dec. 30. They absolutely deserve a spot in the lineup, and kudos to the sports staff at The Providence Journal for recognizing them on their list of top stories.

Championships eluded New England’s Big Four this year, but the Patriots, Red Sox, Celtics and Bruins still provided us with memorable moments. So did Providence College, Bishop Hendricken and Johnson & Wales. Here, then, are my choices for the Top 10 Local Sports Stories of 2016, assuming you agree that whatever happens with the Pats, Sox, Celts and Bs is of local interest.

TOM BRADY RETURNS

Pages