David Driver is a native of Harrisonburg, Va., and played baseball (bad field, no hit) at Turner Ashby High School and Eastern Mennonite College (now University). He graduated from EMC in 1985 with a degree in English, and a minor in journalism. He has lived in the Washington, D.C. area for more than 20 years and has covered sports in the region for weekly and daily newspapers. He has covered NFL, MLB, NBA, college football and basketball and high school sports during that time. He has been the sports editor of Laurel (Md.) Leader and Baltimore Examiner.. More >>
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Taylor Hill aims to get back to the Nats

July 28, 2015

By David Driver
Used with permission

Taylor Hill ALLENTOWN, Pa. – Taylor Hill, 26, has been bouncing back and forth between Triple-A Syracuse and the Washington Nationals this season.

His latest move on Syracuse-Washington shuttle came July 9 when he was sent back to the International League by the Nationals after veteran Major League reliever David Carpenter came off the paternity list.

Mt. Juliet High graduate Hill has pitched out of the bullpen for the most part while in Washington during the past two seasons. But he is used as a starter at Syracuse.

Hill is 3-5 with an ERA of 4.92 in 15 starts going into his scheduled start on Tuesday for the Chiefs. In 82 1/3 innings for the Chiefs he has given up 107 hits and 15 walks with 44 strikeouts.

This year for Washington he is 0-0 with an ERA of 3.75 in six games and 12 innings. Last year in three games for the Nationals, with one start, he was 0-1 with an ERA of 9.00.

In his last start for Syracuse he allowed four hits and two runs in six innings against Buffalo and was tagged with the loss. He has given up 11 hits in two starts for the Chiefs this year.

“The stats would say it is not going well,” Hill said before a recent game here against the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, the top farm club of the Philadelphia Phillies. “But my arm feels good and I feel my location is getting better. A couple of unlucky breaks and some bad pitches. When it goes bad it goes bad.”

Hill said one problem since he came back to Syracuse was the first inning in some of his starts.

“After that I have been all right. My next start I want to focus on being locked on and making it click,” said Hill, slated to start at home tonight against Buffalo, the top farm team of the Toronto Blue Jays.

Hill was drafted in the sixth round out of Vanderbilt in 2011 by the Nationals and made his big league debut in 2014. He began this year as the No. 16 prospect in the Washington system, according to Baseball America.

Some may feel there is less pressure pitching in the minors than in the majors, where winning is paramount. But players in the minors also having the pressure of wanting to get back to The Show.

“I wouldn’t say it is relaxing. That is not the right word,” Hill said. “It is definitely easier to work on stuff here. Sometimes it is hard to work on stuff when you are in a pressure situation and you want to get out of (a tough inning) and do what you do best” to do that.

Hill said he did not get a mandate from Washington manager Matt Williams or pitching coach Steve McCatty the last time he was sent from the Nationals to Syracuse.

“They really didn’t say anything. I was the odd man out and that is part of it,” Hill said of being dropped from the active 25-man roster. “Just go down and pitch and hopefully I will get to go back.”

Editor’s note: David Driver can be reached at www.davidsdriver.com

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Albany gets little respect in CAA football

July 28, 2015

By David Driver
Used with permission

UAlbany's Cole King carries the ball during their football game against Delaware on Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014, at Bob Ford Field in Albany, N.Y. (Cindy Schultz / Times Union) For the Times-Union

BALTIMORE - The UAlbany football team didn't get a lot of respect here Tuesday, as the Great Danes were picked in the preseason poll to finish 10th out of 12 teams this year in the Colonial Athletic Association.

"It gives us a chance to prove everyone wrong," said sophomore wide receiver Josh Gontarek, speaking at the annual CAA media day at M&T Bank Stadium.

"None of that stuff matters. We obviously think we are better than that," redshirt junior linebacker Michael Nicastro said.

"Predictions go by reputation in the league," said Greg Gattuso, ready to start his second year as head coach. "It is kind of where we were picked last year. We have work to do to crack the top four or five."

The Great Danes were ninth last year in the CAA at 3-5; they were 7-5 overall.

But UAlbany, which reports to camp Aug. 6, could surprise some teams with the addition of transfer quarterback DJ Crook, a redshirt sophomore.

"DJ has been great. He has a leg up on the job," Gattuso said. "It will be an interesting battle. Somebody needs to seize it and hopefully DJ can do that for us."

A 6-foot-1 redshirt sophomore, Crook was the backup quarterback for Penn State last year as a redshirt freshman and completed 6 of 9 passes for 57 yards and a touchdown on Sept. 20 against former CAA team UMass.

"He picked up on the system a lot quicker than most people," said Gontarek, who was named to the 2015 CAA preseason all-conference team here Tuesday. "We have a great competition going on right now" at quarterback.

Others listed on the depth chart at quarterback are freshman Will Brunson, redshirt junior Dan Harding, freshman Neven Sussman and redshirt freshman Steve Shanley.

"It is good to have some of that big-level experience," Nicastro said of Crook.

Last year quarterback Will Fiacchi, who has graduated, completed 207 of 377 passes for 2,636 yards and 24 touchdowns with eight interceptions.

UAlbany begins its second season under Gattuso on Sept. 5 at Buffalo.

"We have one year under our belt," Nicastro said of Gattuso. "All the players got to know the coaches."

UAlbany plays its first CAA contest and first home game Sept. 12 against Rhode Island, pegged to finish 11th in the conference.

The CAA produced four playoff teams last year and has had four national title teams since 2003.

Gontarek was the only UAlbany player named to the preseason all-CAA team. He was the only sophomore named to the offensive team.

"It means I have high expectations," said Gontarek, who had a team-high 58 catches last year. "I have to prove I am worth it."

Nicastro had a team-high 120 tackles with two interceptions and two fumble recoveries in 2014.

"I think we have a real good offense," Nicastro said. "We have experience on both sides of the ball."

Gattuso said he has made very few changes as he gets ready for his second season.

"We believe in what we do and how we do it," he said. It will take play on the field to convince opposing CAA teams of the same.

David Driver is a freelance writer who can be reached at www.davidsdriver.com.

CAA preseason poll

Here is the annual Colonial Athletic Association preseason poll, which is voted on by coaches and media relations staff:

1. Villanova (14)

2. James Madison (5)

3. New Hampshire (5)

4. William & Mary

5. Richmond

6. Delaware

7. Maine

8. Stony Brook

9. Towson

10. UAlbany

11. Rhode Island

12. Elon

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