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When It Comes To Halifax County Athletes, He's Seen It All

One of the highlights for me this week was the opportunity to speak with Tucker McLaughlin, a longtime sportswriter for the News and Record of South Boston in Halifax County.

A phone call to the News and Record office confirmed what I had heard about McLaughlin's undergoing three rounds of chemotherapy as the result of a brain tumor.

"He's still working" a colleague told me and I spoke with Tucker (at right) later in the afternoon -- twice in fact, including a second call in which we discussed the Major League Baseball draft, where University of Virginia pitcher Andrew Abbott had been selected by the Cincinnati Reds in the second round.

Abbott was a baseball standout at Halifax County High School, where he also was a swimmer of some distinction.

Some of the outstanding Halifax County athletes covered by McLaughlin included UVa running back Barry Word, the 1985 ACC rushing champion; and Tyrone Davis, whose 2,153 receiving yards rank third in school history. Three Words played at Virginia and earned a combined nine varsity letters.

AS BEST AS I CAN REMEMBER, McLaughlin didn't start covering Virginia athletics until 1990, the year that Virginia was ranked No. 1 in the country. We were headed down to the field from the parking lot one day when he shared a little bit of his background.

He had not attended Virginia but had UVa ties. I'm not sure what he was covering at the time but two of his major beats were high schools and auto racing, which was big in his part of the state. It wasn't long before he started to show up regularly at Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Duke and N.C. State., as well as NASCAR races.

To his credit, he didn't hesitate to hire "stringers" when he had a conflict. He didn't work in a particularly large market but didn't want his "beats" to go uncovered.

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Recent Comments
Dave Fulton

Tucker

When I research the ancient archives of the South Boston News and Record for South Boston Speedway stories, Tucker McLaughlin's by... Read More
Thursday, 15 July 2021 08:24
Dave Scarangella

Thanks for this, Dave

Via comment or replies on social media, I find myself regretting more and more that I never met Tucker. Maybe I can convince Doug ... Read More
Friday, 16 July 2021 11:17
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Forget The Record; Mullins and Mancini Make O's Fans Smile

The Baltimore Orioles are bad. I know this, you know this, heck, even Maggie The WonderBeagle knows this.

But for just two days, the Orioles’ struggles were outdone by their excellence. More specifically, the excellence of Trey Mancini and Cedric Mullins.

At 28-61, the Orioles’ ineptitude has somewhat covered up the individual greatness that we’re seeing from Mancini and Mullins. But that all changed in Denver at the Home Run Derby and the All-Star Game.

Let’s start with Mullins, the former 13th-round draft pick who was demoted to Double-A in 2019. All Mullins has done is turn himself into one of the best center fielders in baseball, hitting 16 home runs, totaling a first-half OPS of .921 and playing elite defense in center field.

Mullins wasn’t voted in as a starter, but with Mike Trout still on the mend, Mullins got the nod in center. And nobody deserved it more.

Seeing an Orioles’ All-Star there because he earned it, not because Major League Baseball requires that all 30 teams be represented, was a beautiful sight for sore eyes. Mullins would reach on a hit later ruled as an error, and score a run in the American League’s 5-2 victory.

As great as it was seeing Mullins be recognized for his stellar first half, Mancini stole the weekend.

Mancini kicked off the Home Run Derby in dramatic fashion, knocking off well-known slugger Matt Olson in the opening round before beating hometown favorite Trevor Story in the semifinals. Mancini ultimately fell to Derby animal Pete Alonso, but not before Mancini slugged another 22 home runs.

In all, Mancini deposited 59 baseballs over the Coors Field fences. He outpaced everyone’s expectations, maybe even his own.

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Future Looks Bright, But VT's 2020 Vision Is Fading...

It sure is a good thing that Virginia Tech’s Class of 2022 *seems* to be heading in the right direction.

Because the Class of 2020 continues to be doing the exact opposite.

Alec Bryant and Robert Wooten (right), the two highest-rated signees from the Hokies’ 2020 class, both announced their decisions to transfer from Virginia Tech on Monday. While neither Bryant nor Wooten were expected to see the field a lot this season, they had the potential to slot in the two-deep the following year and served as necessary depth for Tech in 2021.

Alas, that is no longer the case.

We knew after National Signing Day that Tech’s Class of 2020 didn’t have a lot of promise, but things have gotten significantly worse for that group of players.

Bryant, the class’ top-rated prospect, is now leaving the program. Wooten, No. 2 in the class, is in the same boat.

Tyree Saunders, an athletic receiver from Jacksonville, Fl. that many expected to fight for snaps immediately, is already enrolled at East Carolina. The class’ No. 4 prospect, Justin Beadles, is transferring to Houston.

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Washington Nationals Stars Will Be On Display in Colorado

The Washington Nationals didn’t have a spectacular first half of their season, but a few of their players were rewarded individually, as Juan Soto will compete in the Home Run Derby tonight, and Soto, Trea Turner and Max Scherzer will each participate in the All-Star game tomorrow night.

Home Run Derby

Soto was one of the final players to accept an invite to the derby, which makes sense, considering he’d only hit 10 home runs at the time of the announcement.

There might be a reason why others with similar qualifications decided to not participate, though – and not just the theory that swinging for the fences can negatively impact a hitter’s swing.

Soto will be the No. 8 seed in the tournament-style event. His first opponent will be Japanese two-way sensation Shohei Ohtani, who enters the break with a league-high 33 home runs.

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Mike Elias Sticking To His Guns In Drafting Colton Cowser

You’ve got to give Mike Elias credit for sticking to his guns.

The Orioles’ general manager has developed a strong modus operandi through his first three drafts as Head Oriole — use your first-round draft pick on an uber-productive college player, particularly productive hitters.

Elias followed his rubric again Sunday night, drafting Sam Houston State outfielder Colton Cowser.

Don’t tell Elias that he reached for Cowser, because you’d be wasting your time. Cowser more than earned his slot with the Orioles as a college center fielder, sporting an OPS higher than 1.000 in both of his two full seasons as a collegiate player.

Cowser’s always been good with the bat, batting .361 in 2019 and .374 in 2021. He slugged over .600 both of those seasons and in 2021, Cowser hit 16 home runs. He hit just seven in 2019.

The scouts agree with the numbers.

“One of the best bats in the college class, Cowser has a pure left-handed stroke and repeatedly finds the barrel,” according to his MLB Pipeline profile. “His quick hands allow him to pepper line drives all over the field as he executes a very controlled approach.”

The Southland Conference Player of the Year should be able to stick in center field too, increasing his value.

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Kicking The Can Down The Road On A New Name. Again.

There are certain phrases in history people have learned to be skeptical about. Like I’ll pay you tomorrow. Or the check is in the mail.

Then there’s the one we all hear when football season is about to start: The NFL team in Washington is going to soon announce its new nickname.

That happened this weekend when team president Jason Wright – who from everything I’ve seen and heard is an extremely intelligent good and honorable man – said the team nickname would be decided by 2022. I believe he meant this and has every intention of seeing that it happens.

I just don’t believe it.

Instead, it smacks of kicking the can down the road – again – and that the team doesn’t really want to announce a new name. I said this the day the team announced it was retiring the Redskins name, and I based it on the belief Dan Snyder would like to have things both ways.

With the absence of any new name, people continue their habits of the past. In my house when the team scores a touchdown, we sing “Hail To The Redskins.” When we talk about the primary game to watch on TV on a Sunday, we talk about the “Redskins” game. The mountain of shirts, sweatshirts, jackets and other objects accumulated from over 50 years of being a fan of the team all use that name and have the previous logo all over it.

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Recent Comments
Dave Fulton

Titans

You're right. Of course I doubt fans of any persuation forget the Washington Redskins as quickly as they forgot the New York Titan... Read More
Monday, 12 July 2021 11:18
Dave Scarangella

That's a good example

That first year some people probably still called them the Titans, as it takes a couple of years for the old name to die out and t... Read More
Monday, 12 July 2021 11:33
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Brady House Finds New Home In Nationals Organization

With the No. 11 pick in the MLB First-Year Player Draft, the Washington Nationals selected shortstop Brady House from Winder-Barrow High School in Georgia.

House, a University of Tennessee commit, doesn’t fit the description of the typical Mike Rizzo first-round pick – a right-handed college pitcher who throws hard and has tons of upside. Perhaps they made an active effort to steer away from a negative trend with those types of prospects, but regardless, House is an intriguing talent.

In their early years, the Nationals had a lot of picks near the top of the draft, which makes their track record somewhat deceiving. They selected Stephen Strasburg (2009) and Bryce Harper (2010) with No. 1 overall picks, followed by Anthony Rendon at No. 6 ten years ago. Since then, they’ve been unable to draft star players.

Here’s a look at Washington’s first-round selections since Rendon:

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Hokies Reloading The Wagon On The Offensive Line

Virginia Tech added another commitment to their Class of 2022 on Monday, earning a pledge from South Carolina offensive lineman Xavier Chaplin.

Chaplin’s a big guy — the 370-pounder stands at 6-foot-6 and likely will need a year or two before he can seriously compete for a starting spot. But he does not lack the size necessary to play, that much is for certain.

Chaplin is now the fourth commitment along the offensive line for the Hokies, a sure sign that Vance Vice is trying to backfill some of his misses over the years. That number could go to five if Braelin Moore plays offensive line instead of defensive line.

There was a point in time where Tech looked locked and loaded on the offensive front for the foreseeable future. Tech added four offensive linemen in 2018 — Christian Darrisaw, Luke Tenuta, Walker Culver and John Harris — but only one remains in the program. Vice brought in four-stars Doug Nester and Bryan Hudson for the 2019 cycle, but both have since transferred.

William Pritchard, another offensive lineman from that class, medically retired from football last season. Only Jesse Hanson remains from the Class of 2019.

So to recap, Tech lost five offensive lineman over two seasons to medical retirements and transfers. That’s enough to decimate a program’s depth.

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Decision Day Is Rapidly Approaching For DC Teams

Two teams in Washington find themselves reaching a critical point toward the future of their organizations.

The Nationals are in the midst of a tough seven-game West Coast road trip, after having lost four straight home games to the Dodgers. And of course, they’re also riddled with injuries

As for the Wizards, the NBA Draft is drawing near, but they haven’t hired a new head coach yet. It’s tough to imagine they’ll let this drag out much longer, but it isn’t entirely clear what direction they’re leaning.

The National Disaster

Let’s start with some quick good news: Kyle Schwarber, Trea Turner and Juan Soto were each named first-time All-Stars earlier this weekend. Max Scherzer was a noticeable omission, despite posting a 7-4 record, 2.10 ERA and 127 strikeouts through his first 16 starts of this season. Keep in mind there is a rule that grants every team in the league at least one All-Star, and the benefactors from that stipulation were disproportionally pitchers. Taking them (particularly German Marquez of the Rockies) out of the equation, Scherzer’s “snub” isn’t egregious, and he’ll certainly make his way onto the roster – as either an injury replacement or a substitute for someone who pitches the day before the All-Star break, which a couple guys always do.

Now for the on-field stuff: As discussed late last week, the injury rat – as Scherzer so eloquently described it – has struck the Nationals, and it feels like it’s still hiding somewhere in the attic. Schwarber and backup catcher Alex Avila were both placed on the 10-day Injured List, and Washington was forced to turn to Yadiel Hernandez, Tres Barrera and journeyman shortstop Alcides Escobar – who started in place of Trea Turner (finger) after being acquired from the Kansas City Royals and replacing Humberto Arteaga (designated for assignment) on the active roster.

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Injuries Highlight Nationals’ Depth, Roster Construction

Even with as well as June went for the Nationals, adversity was bound to strike them at some point.

It now has. The surprising aspect, however, is how quickly it came.

In addition to a quartet of high-leverage relief pitchers who are already on the Injured List, Trea Turner (finger) and Kyle Schwarber (hamstring) are currently day-to-day, and Jordy Mercer (quadriceps) will be sidelined for a longer period. Although injuries of such magnitude are difficult to withstand, they also raise questions about roster construction – specifically, whether the Nats have the right types of players on their team.

For most of this season, Washington has been carrying 14 pitchers (nine relievers) and 12 position players (four bench bats). That’s one more pitcher and one fewer hitter than most teams keep at a given time.

Although that probably seems negligible, it’s compounded by some other variables. For example, the Nationals also have two players (Josh Bell and Ryan Zimmerman) who can only play one position (first base), and obviously catchers are catchers. That leaves two bench players (Mercer and the fourth outfielder – a rotation of Andrew Stevenson, Yadiel Hernandez and Gerardo Parra) who can provide some degree of versatility, although Josh Harrison can also play in the outfield if needed.

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One Of Roanoke's Most Colorful Characters Is Retiring

The University of North Florida has announced the retirement of Lee Moon, the athletic director at UNF since 2009, and one of the true characters to come out of the Roanoke Valley.

Moon played football at William Fleming High School in Roanoke before heading to VMI, where he was an offensive lineman between 1966-69.

Moon later served as a graduate assistant at Virginia from 1972-73 and as a full-time assistant to then-UVa coach Dick Bestwick.

Moon later had full-time coaching stints at Duke, UVa, Mississippi and Kansas State, where he was the interim head coach.

Moon later served as the interim athletic director at Kansas State and was the AD at Marshall and Wyoming.

Moon's decision to retire, announced earlier in the spring, became official this week

"For the past 12 years, Coach Lee Moon has served the university with great distinction, integrity and devotion to our student-athletes, coaches and athletic programming," UNF President David Szymanski said in a statement. "Under his leadership, UNF Athletics has fostered a strong culture of athletic excellence, high academic achievement and great respect that has directly contributed to the remarkable growth and success of UNF's sports programs. His legacy will leave a long-lasting impact on our Osprey community."

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Ricky LaBlue

A longtime sports fanatic, Ricky is now channeling that passion into the world of sports media. Meet Ricky LaBlue.

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Stephen Newman

The only things he loves more than following Virginia Tech and Washington sports teams are dogs. Meet Stephen Newman.

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