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Blanchette: Golf Put Out To Pasture

Tom and Wende Barker of Spokane Valley showed off have their golf cart at their home in Spokane Valley on Saturday. They will be using the cart for Cow Pasture Open, a Montana golf tourney. (SR photo: Kathy Plonka)

Here is the thing about golf: It takes itself very seriously. Dress codes. Arcane rules. Violations of arcane rules spotted by anal-retentive snitches watching on TV and phoned in to tournament officials. Here is the other thing about golf: the Cow Pasture Open. Stuffy as the game can be, it can be every bit as silly. And this is golf being laughed at, and laughing at itself. This is the smallest of small towns in search of a good time and the company of some good folks, and finding it while stepping lightly among the Angus landmines. “A couple of years we caught hell from people because there weren’t enough cowpies,” said Daryll Jacobson/John Blanchette, SR. More here.

Question: Are you a decent golfer?

Blanchette: How Good Are The Zags?

Good thing ESPN set aside 24 hours for its Tip-Off Marathon that started Monday night at Gonzaga’s rollicking Kennel. West Virginia needed nearly that long to make a shot. Does Spokane’s new single-stream recycling program take bent rims and cracked backboard glass? How would a club pro help a 3-point shooter with a slice? Is it possible that Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins actually went out and restocked his team with worse marksmen than he had a year ago? All good questions, but not nearly as intriguing as this: Just how far will the Zags take their peeps in 2013?/John Blanchette, SR. More here. (Jed Conklin AP photo: Zag Gary Bell vs. West Virginia)

Question: How good do you think the 2012-13 Gonzaga Bulldogs are?

Blanchette: Ichiro Trade Good For M’s

Going on record here that the Seattle Mariners shouldn’t have traded Ichiro Suzuki. They should have made him CEO. At least he grasped that he was no longer a fit with the only Major League Baseball franchise he’d ever known at this particular stage of its patented inertia. Howard Lincoln and his right-hand barnacle, Chuck Armstrong, would never have dared come to that conclusion themselves, nor would they have allowed their general manager to take any independent action.  It was Ichiro who asked out. Huck and Chowie have been studiously avoiding any tough decision on the matter – and any matter outside of where to go for lunch – for years now. Just one more reason for the congregation of 29,911 that assembled at Safeco Field on Monday night to murmur some proper amens/John Blanchette, SR. More here. (AP photo of Ichiro for first time in New York Yankees' uniform last night)

Question: I agree with colleague John Blanchette — the trade of declinging Ichiro was great for Seattle. How about you?

Blanchette: Idaho Out Of Options?

It is sad comedy, this dry rot eating at the Western Athletic Conference, the University of Idaho’s happy athletic home. Here’s one of the amusing parts: So many change orders of addition, subtraction and dissection have attended the perpetual remodeling of the WAC that Idaho athletic director Rob Spear some time ago began deflecting requests for his thoughts, at least until the crew takes a smoke break. Then he unfolds an old script about “moving forward,” and awaits the next round of defections. And so it was this week, when more hell broke loose. “Until all this is finalized,” Spear was quoted as saying, “I am not going to comment.” Really? What makes him think “all this” will ever be finalized? Maybe it’s his permanent vow of silence on realignment? Or admission that Idaho has no option but to move back to its old neighborhood?/John Blanchette, SR. More here.

Question: Is it finally time for Idaho to throw in the towel and return to the Big Sky Conference?

Lady Zags Earn Their Spot

Gonzaga fans hold up signs in the sold out arena as the team plays Miami in the second half of an NCAA tournament second-round women's college basketball game in Spokane Monday. Gonzaga beat Miami 65-54.(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Ever so slightly overlooked in Gonzaga crashing yet another Sweet 16 in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament this week was the morsel of the Bulldogs holding the nation’s sixth-highest scoring team 22 points shy of its norm. So the Zags played pretty good defense. And coach Kelly Graves was still playing it Wednesday. Perhaps you can imagine the reason. As was the case a year ago – and as it will be again next year – the Bulldogs bid for and won the right to host the first and second rounds at the McCarthey Athletic Center, though they still had to, you know, earn their way into the tournament itself. Which they did/John Blanchette, SR. More here.

Question: Are you following the Lady Zags now that the men are done with March Madness? Have you followed the all along? Or are you still not following them?

Blanchette: Zags Show Up This Time

Game long over, a Gonzaga operative pushed a wheelchair through a ground-level corridor at the McCarthey Athletic Center and toward the court, where he encountered Randy Bennett – more resigned than cranky – walking off. “I hope that isn’t for me,” the Saint Mary’s coach cracked. Hey, there were stretches Thursday night in which medical conveyances seemed like a prudent precaution. In an atmosphere as electric as it’s been in The Kennel in a good, long spell, the best the West Coast can currently offer up to ESPN for its rivalry week – OK, maybe the second-best – played high-level chicken for the better part of 30 minutes. This time it was the Gaels who blinked – or perhaps balked/John Blanchette, SR. More here. (Dan Pelle SR photo: Gonzaga's Robert Sacre outrebounds St. Mary's Rob Jones Thursday)

Question: Will St. Mary's stumble between now and the end of the year, giving Gonzaga a chance to share another WCC title? Will Gonzaga with home games remaining against Loyola Marymount & BYU win out?

5 SR Sports Staffers Retire, But …

Yes, The Spokesman-Review sports staff lost five members due to early retirement on Saturday. But Sports Editor Joe Palmquist (pictured) points out that most of the five will continue on as part-time help: "(John) Blanchette will average two columns a week over the course of the year and continue to write on local topics. (Vince) Grippi has agreed to take on a part-time gig as our online producer. He will have daily posts in Sportslink, giving readers a gateway to all the interesting sports news in our area. I think you will see (Dave) Trimmer’s name on a lot of Then & Now stories, catching up with former area sports stars, and also covering events when we are shorthanded." You can read about the SR sports department changes here.


Blanchette: Can WSU Land Big Dog?

So if Mike Leach isn’t the next football coach at Washington State, where will the collective emotional crash fall on the Jeff-Tuel’s-shoulder/Connor-Halliday’s-liver scale? We got a taste of it Tuesday, when all the go-to media for preposterous rumor – Twitter, Facebook, iPhone and the backyard fence – had Paul Wulff’s firing augmented by arrival via private jet of Cougar fandom’s most wanted, the charismatic litigant late of Texas Tech. Yes! Bill Moos is going to announce the new coach – Leach – as he dismisses the old one! Raise the flag! Make those 2013 Rose Bowl reservations now! And a private plane from points east did indeed land at Pullman-Moscow Regional shortly after noon. Open swung the cabin door. Out came … well, a couple with more ties to the AARP than the NCAA. Good thing no one made banners and sent out the marching band/John Blanchette, SR. More here. (AP file photo of former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach)

Question: Do you think WSU can attract a big dog to take over football coaching duties?

Blanchette: So Go The Mariners

After each home game, the Seattle Mariners media relations staff issues a page of notes, statistical curiosities mostly – RBI streaks, a hitter who owns opponent pitching, season highs and the like. All as straightforward as junior high math. On Sunday, however, after the Mariners were swept in their home-opening series by the Cleveland Indians, the final note read: “With today’s loss, the Mariners are currently on a seven-game losing streak … this is the first time they have lost seven straight since Sept. 8-15, 2010.” Now, these guys are pros. They have plausible deniability. Just pointing out the facts, they can say. No editorial comment intended. But you know. You just know. The first time since Sept. 8-15?/John Blanchette, SR. More here.

Question: Anyone ready to panic yet re: the potential for the 2011 Mariners?

Blanchette: Zags Glad To Be Dancin’

Greg Gumbel, the Bert Parks of Selection Sunday, hadn’t even taken his first breath when the yowling began drifting in from Bracket Nation. UAB? Clemson? If the NCAA committee was going to put anyone in, why not Northwestern, which has had its nose against the glass for 73 years? The overall No. 1 seed, Ohio State, in a region with North Carolina, Syracuse and Kentucky – while Pitt gets valet parking to the Final Four? More teams – 68 – are in the NCAA basketball tournament than ever before and still the complaints and conspiracy theories topped all previous records, except at Gonzaga University, where both opportunity and perspective have been hard-won. “This is one year,” coach Mark Few said, “I would have crawled on broken glass to Cleveland to play”/John Blanchette, SR. More here.

Question: Who will win opening round game between Gonzaga & Saint John's?

Blanchette: Zags’ Run Continues

In the garden of Gonzaga basketball have grown any number of dubious truths. The Bulldogs are dragged down by a weak league, say. Their thoroughly spoiled devotees take the program’s prolonged dominance for granted. And the players – each recruiting class more highly regarded than the last – are increasingly nonchalant about the whole Zag thing. It doesn’t mean as much to them. Some of these can be weeds, mistaken for flowers. One undeniable truth: The Zags’ run of NCAA tournament appearances will end sometime. Maybe next year’s addition of Brigham Young to the West Coast Conference and another round of young recruits will be the tipping point. But whatever the fears of the fan base were in January, this is not that year/John Blanchette, SR. More here. (SR file photo: Christopher Anderson)

Question: What seed does Gonzaga deserve in NCAA Tournament?

Fresh air and hockey

Wrapping up theSpokane Chiefs outdoor hockey game … it seemed everyone enjoyed the Rockstar Outdoor Hockey Classic, according to columnist John Blanchette, and the Chiefs made it better with an 11-2 thrashing of the Kootenay Ice at Avista Stadium … with Jesse Tinsley providing the pictures.

Blanchette: Eagles Never Blinked

EWU wide receiver Brandon Kaufman stretches out in a full dive to get across the goal line and score on a two yard pass from quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell. The play earned EWU their first touchdown enroute to a 20-19 win in the National Championship game against Delaware in Frisco, Texas on Friday. (SR photo: Christopher Anderson)

“This game wouldn’t be right if this didn’t happen,” said quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, “if we didn’t go down 19-0 and have to make a comeback.” Not just 19-0, but 19-0 with less than 19 minutes to play and no indication that the Eagles would ever get anything going. At that point – with three minutes left in the third quarter – they still had fewer than 100 yards of offense. Delaware had gashed EWU’s defense at will. There was no spark, no tempo, no pulse. So rosy were things for the Blue Hens that spectator Joe Biden, undistinguished as a Delaware undergrad but now our vice president, could probably even envision re-election in two years/John Blanchette, SR. More here. And: Eagles are national champs/Steve Bergum. And: 39 photos of the game/SR photos.

Question: Did you really think the Eagles were going to come back from their 19-0 deficit with 19 minutes to go?

Blanchette: City drops snowball

Our columnist John Blanchette weighed in on the postponement of the semifinal games at Albi Stadium. I suspect a certain city employee has gotten a few nasty e-mails and voice mails the past couple of days. Anyway, here’s Blanchette’s column.

NOTE: I will be tweeting updates from the East Valley/Tumwater and Ferris/Bellarmine Prep games today as I receive them.

SR: Niehaus Called Helluva Game

Before he began narrating our summer nights, Dave Niehaus was third fiddle to Dick Enberg and Don Drysdale in the broadcast booth of the California Angels, owned by the Singing Cowboy himself, Gene Autry. “David, you call a hell of a game,” Autry once told Niehaus. “Not the game I’m watching, but a hell of a game.” Niehaus told that story on himself upon his election to the broadcasters’ wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame two years ago. The occasion called for stories, for humor and humility to leaven the treacly reverence in which the game loves to wallow – but without sacrificing the appreciation and respect due the moment. And this was Dave Niehaus’ specialty/John Blanchette, SR. More here. (AP file photo: Dave Niehaus interviewing Ken Griffey Jr & Griffey Sr. in 1999)

Question: What did you appreciate most about Seattle Mariners Hall of Fame broadcaster Dave Niehaus?

Johnson has big impact for Chiefs

Columnist John Blanchette talked to hometown hero Tyler Johnson (above) about how a small player can play a big role for a Western Hockey League team.

Meanwhile, the WHL suspended Brenden Shinnimin of the Tri-City American for 12 games for a checking from behind penalty that injured Josh Nichols of the Saskatoon Blades (check here for the hit).  The Tri-City Herald story and John MacNeil of the Prince Albert Daily Herald tracked down Shinnimin for a story that noted the players had talked. However, Nichols is a little disappointed with the length of the suspension. The Ams were on their Eastern Divisions swing and Shinnimin, from Winnipeg, missed the “home town stop” in Brandon. He returns Nov. 13 - when the Americans play in Spokane.

Prince George adds goalie Chase Martin, 18, to its roster. Martin was a fifth-round pick by Spokane in 2007 bantam draft and played in one game last year.


Blanchette: Cult Of Pete Gains Backers

Now on sale at the Seattle Seahawks team store: khaki pants and rumpled navy hoodies, essentials from The Pete Carroll Collection. Got to beat that old Pork Chop Womack replica jersey you used to wear on Sundays, right? Does it ever. Beats it badly. Just the way the San Francisco 49ers were beaten Sunday in the Seahawks’ 35th season opener, a turn of events few outside of the war room down at the team’s Renton headquarters saw coming. Despite playing the fashionable pick to win the NFC West – if there is such a thing as fashionable in that Village of the Damned – and running exactly four offensive plays the first quarter, the Seahawks rolled 31-6 and 67,044 at Qwest Field rocked/John Blanchette, SR. More here. (AP photo/Ted S. Warren: Pete Carroll shakes hands with 49ers coach Mike Singletary after the Seahawks dismantled San Francisco 31-6 Sunday.)

Question: Are you ready to jump on the Pete Carroll/Seattle Seahawks bandwagon now?

Blanchette: Idaho Defense Stars

Before the Humanitarian Bowl went all wild-hairs-and- whoopie-cushions last December, Idaho coach Robb Akey had the play of the day – fixing his stare directly into the ESPN camera at halftime and commanding, “Watch the second half – you’re going to love it!” He could have spent halftime Thursday night handing out similar assurances to the 11,466 at the Kibbie Dome, section by section. Little to love up to that point. Much more afterward. But then, that’s the way these things often go, full of halts and hiccups – season opener, playing at home, against a predictably overmatched opponent and with three months’ worth of expectation and possibility attached. Not that the Vandals know all that much about it – this is was the first time in 13 years all those things had dovetailed on the same evening/John Blanchette, SR. More here.

  • Cutline:  Idaho’s Armauni Johnson hauls in the catch between  North  Dakota defenders Dominique Hawkins (30) and Joel Schwenzfeier in the second quarter Thursday. (AP Photo/Lewiston Tribune, Kyle Mills)

Question: Any of you have any complaints about Idaho’s 45-0 whipping of North Dakota?

Blanchette: Greeted w/Missionary Zeal

In case you never thought you’d see it, a Catholic family just invited a door-belling Mormon missionary into their home. Such is the influence of college athletics. Consider this just the first of the jokes, ironies and wonders that will attend the marriage of Brigham Young University and the West Coast Conference, confirmed by both parties on Tuesday as the latest – but certainly not the last – quake to rearrange the intercollegiate furniture. Also confirmed:

  • Latter-Day U. is no longer just a latent Notre Dame wannabe, but an actualized one with its declaration of football independence.
  • Any notion that the WCC remains the scared-of-its-shadow CYO league of yore is severely misplaced.
  • More from SR sports columnist John Blanchette here

Question: Can anyone make up and ending to this joke: What do you get when you mix a Mormon college with a Catholic basketball league … ?

Blanchette: How About Dem … Vandals

Lost in the academic hand-wringing and presidential apology at the University of Idaho this week over assorted vulgarities perpetuated by students and others at the recent basketball cotillion with Boise State was a bulletin of Richter magnitude. There were fans at a Vandals game? Look, not to dismiss any over-the-top grossitude in the undergraduate seats – shame-shame, guys – but the guess here is that the Broncos were considerably less disturbed by the verbal grenades than by the realization that something close enough to competitive basketball is being committed at UI these days to entice 4,731 thrill-seekers into the Cowan Spectrum. There have been years when it took six games to get that many people through the door. OK, it was last year/John Blanchette, SR. More here.

Question: Do you agree with John Blanchette that the basketball being played in Moscow may be the biggest sports surprise in the region this winter?

Blanchette on Zags’ slide

A couple of items for your consumption on a blustery morning in Knoxville. First, John Blanchette checks the Zags’ temperature here. Also, a preview of the GU-Tennessee matchup from the Knoxville newspaper.