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Sports briefs, Dec. 6



Terry Francona joins ESPN as baseball analyst

BOSTON — When he left the Boston Red Sox, Terry Francona said the players needed to hear from a new voice.

ESPN thinks his voice will be an excellent fit for its baseball coverage.

The network hired Francona to replace analyst Bobby Valentine after he replaced Francona as manager of the Red Sox.

“The one thing I do know is I’ll probably sleep better next year than Bobby,” Francona said during a conference call Tuesday. “It’s probably win-win for everybody and that’s the way it’s supposed to be.”

After eight years as manager, Francona and the Red Sox parted ways two days after the regular season ended without a playoff berth. The Red Sox went 7-20 in September, but Francona made it to the postseason anyway as an announcer on Fox for the first two games of the AL championship series. He replaced Tim McCarver, who had a minor heart-related procedure.

“It was an incredible experience,” Francona said. “I actually did have fun.”

Fox had a “very serious” interest in hiring him again, but the ESPN job “was too good to pass up,” he said. “There’s just a comfort level that I know I’m going to enjoy it.”

ESPN announced the hiring Monday night.

It said it plans to use Francona on its Sunday night baseball games with Dan Shulman and Orel Hershiser, “Baseball Tonight” and the Little League World Series. Francona was at baseball’s winter meetings in Dallas on Tuesday where several trades have been made.

“We pulled off the biggest trade of all in getting Terry to the position now where he will have Bobby’s role on our coverage,” said ESPN senior vice president Jed Drake. “What we’ve got is a guy who has great candor, great wit, great insight and ultimately all the skills to be a great broadcaster.”

UMaine to honor baseball team

The University of Maine baseball team, which won the 2011 America East championship, will be honored for its accomplishments during the first intermission of Saturday’s 7 p.m. Black Bear men’s hockey game against Boston University at Alfond Arena in Orono.

Coach Steve Trimper’s team posted a 33-24 record and advanced to the NCAA Chapel Hill Regional, where it earned a victory over Florida International.

Departed players Joey Martin of Portland, Keith Bilodeau, Taylor Lewis and Joe Miller, all of whom played roles in the Bears’ success, are expected to return and join the 2012 team for the ceremony, which will include a highlight video of the 2011 season.

Pep rally set for UMaine football

ORONO — A pep rally for the University of Maine football team will be held at noon Wednesday in the Memorial Union.

The Black Bears will play at Georgia Southern in an NCAA Football Championship Subdivision tournament quarterfinal Saturday at 2 p.m.

Head coach Jack Cosgrove and one of the seniors will speak at the event. The band and cheerleaders will also appear.

Murchison bowls 300 game

BANGOR — Gary Murchison of Bangor registered his first ever 300 game during Dunnett’s Monday Night Men’s League action at the Family Fun Bowling Center. The 55-year-old Murchison, who has been bowling for 47 years, sandwiched games of 178 and 143 around his 300 for a 621 series.

DA to address sex abuse claims against ex-Syracuse coach

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — An upstate New York district attorney will speak publicly about claims a former Syracuse University assistant basketball coach molested boys.

A federal investigation is continuing into accusations Bernie Fine sexually abused three boys, including two former ballboys.

Fine has denied the claims. He was fired Nov. 27 after a Maine man came forward to say he was abused as a boy and an audiotape was aired in which a woman identified as Fine’s wife told one of the accusers she knew what went on.

Onondaga (ahn-uhn-DAH’-gah) County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick says he’ll speak to the media Wednesday. A spokesman declined to comment Tuesday.

The accusations against Fine once appeared to threaten the job of Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim (BAY’-hym), who has said he’s unaware of any abuses.

Mass. title lost when player celebrates winning TD

BOSTON — A Massachusetts high school lost a state championship game because a player raised his arm in triumph as he ran for what would have been a go-ahead touchdown.

The penalty for the gesture by Cathedral High School quarterback Matthew Owens in Saturday’s Division 4A Super Bowl left the losing team Tuesday waiting for an official report from the state association to determine whether the school could challenge the referee’s decision.

Blue Hills Regional Technical School athletic director Ed Catabia told The Boston Globe on Sunday that the referee made “a great call, the right call.”

“We try and play by the rules, and the rule is ‘no celebrating,'” he said.

The referee was enforcing a sportsmanship rule that prohibits players from celebratory or taunting behavior while scoring a touchdown.

The 18-year-old senior was racing for a score as time wound down in the game against Blue Hills. Video shows Owens briefly raising his left arm as he approaches the end zone. The penalty nullified the touchdown, and Cathedral lost the game 16-14.

Cathedral’s athletic director James Lynch said the quarterback’s instinctive move to raise his hand for a few strides as he approached the end zone could not be reasonably interpreted as excessive celebration, taunting or malicious.

“I just give people the analogy: imagine a basketball player making a clutch three-pointer right at the end of the game, and he turns around and he just kind of shakes his fist in the air kind of thing,” Lynch told The Associated Press on Tuesday. “And it was simply just that and it was nothing else … I don’t think it was anything further than just excitement on the player’s behalf.”

JGR to replace Hamlin’s crew chief

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Mike Ford was let go Tuesday as crew chief for Denny Hamlin after a disappointing season in which the duo failed to contend for the championship.

“I’m kind of relieved,” Ford told The Associated Press. “It had been dragging on for so long, I’m actually relieved there’s finally a resolution.”

Ford’s future with the team had been subject to speculation most of the season, largely because of how far Hamlin’s performance had dropped from 2010, when he nearly dethroned Jimmie Johnson for the Sprint Cup title.

Even though Hamlin repeatedly insisted there was no imminent crew chief change, the speculation never ceased and actually intensified once the season ended. Tony Stewart followed through in firing Darian Grubb a week after Grubb led him to the championship, and Grubb’s sudden availability has teams scurrying to sign him.

JGR is at the top of the list, and team owner Joe Gibbs met with Grubb last week in Las Vegas, the day after the season-ending awards ceremony. Grubb also has toured the JGR facility.

Ford said JGR officials made no mention of Grubb in telling Ford he was out late Tuesday and the team said it had no immediate announcement about a replacement.

“Everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing appreciates what Mike has done for our organization over the past six seasons as crew chief with our No. 11 team,” Gibbs said in a statement. “We’ve decided it was best to make a change with the team now to allow Mike the opportunity to pursue other opportunities.”

Ford had been with Hamlin since Hamlin’s 2006 rookie season, and guided Hamlin to 17 victories and a spot in the Chase for the championship in all six seasons.

Hamlin battled Johnson down to the wire in the 2010 season finale, and even held the points lead heading into the race at Homestead. But Hamlin struggled the entire weekend, finished 14th, and lost the title by 39 points to Johnson.

He never recovered, either.

Hamlin was off most of this season, and won just one race. He had to claw to make his way into the Chase, but never contended and finished ninth in the standings. He also ended the year with career lows in top-fives (five) and top-10s (14) — but the numbers were skewed by a rash of engine failures and other mechanical issues at JGR.

Hamlin supported Ford as late as last week, when he was asked about Grubb’s availability last week in Las Vegas.

“It’s hard to say. Right now, Mike Ford is my crew chief and we’ve had a lot of success together,” Hamlin said. “He’s been the guy who has been the rock on our race team and kept our group of guys together.

UCLA suspends Nelson from basketball team again

LOS ANGELES — Reeves Nelson has been suspended indefinitely for a second time from the UCLA basketball team, a situation that coach Ben Howland described Tuesday as “very difficult.”

“It’s definitely a distraction,” the coach said.

Howland said the junior forward displayed conduct unbecoming a member of the team. It’s the same reason given when he was suspended for five days last month.

“He has to be able to control his actions,” Howland said.

There is no specific timetable for Nelson’s status to be re-evaluated. Howland said Nelson won’t practice the next few days and it was unlikely that he would play in the Bruins’ next game on Saturday against Pennsylvania in Anaheim.

Howland said Nelson has a finite number of chances to rectify the situation, adding, “I’m not sure what that is.”

“There’s a point where enough is enough. Are we there at this point yet? We’ll see,” Howland said.

Howland has kept Nelson off-limits to reporters recently.

The coach said the latest suspension continues a trend of “very disappointing behavior” by Nelson, who didn’t play in the second half of last weekend’s loss to Texas. He was laughing on the bench as some fans chanted his name and the Bruins lost by 10 points.

“His behavior on the bench Saturday was totally against what UCLA basketball and our program stands for,” said Howland, who met with Nelson on Tuesday.

Asked what they discussed, Howland said, “That’s a difficult situation, a sensitive thing.”

Forward David Wear said, “In general, I don’t think that’s something that you want to do. You don’t want to be laughing when your team is losing.”

Nelson’s attitude has varied greatly during his career, ranging from high-energy team player to petulant and pouting.

“He’s just a passionate guy. You can take it the wrong way sometimes,” starting guard Lazeric Jones said. “He shoots it straight. He wears his emotions on his sleeve.”

In their conversations, Howland said, “Reeves is more apologetic than anything. That’s after you sit down with him. On the floor it’s a little different. When he gets into competition, sometimes the adversity of the situations are things he has difficulty working with for sure.”

Nelson is averaging 5.7 points and 4.5 rebounds for the Bruins, who at 2-5 are off to their worst start since the 2002-03 season.

“All of our energy needs to be spent on trying to get things right,” Wear said. “It’s a little bit of a distraction, obviously, because it’s just time and energy spent in a place where it doesn’t need to be.”

Nelson has fallen out of the starting lineup after being a key returning player. Last season, he was the Pac-12’s top rebounder and fourth-leading scorer while playing without problems.

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