Notre Dame stays perfect with massive win over Oklahoma

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Notre Dame stays perfect with massive win over Oklahoma

NORMAN, Okla. -- Despite an undefeated record and No. 5 BCS ranking, Notre Dame went into Oklahoma nearly a two-touchdown underdog against the No. 8 Sooners. It was only the second true road game for the Irish in 2012, and it was coming in a venue in which Oklahoma had only lost four times in 83 games under coach Bob Stoops.

But Notre Dame, led by a quarterback making just his sixth career start, went into Norman and beat the Sooners 30-13, a drubbing that vaulted the Irish squarely into the nation's national title race.

"For us, we knew what we could do, so today's no surprise," linebacker Manti Te'o said. "We knew that if we came to work, that if we came into today with confidence and everybody doing their job, we would be fine."

Few thought Notre Dame would be fine, though, heading into the wood chipper that is Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Plenty pointed out Notre Dame's strength of schedule had lost some clout, while others didn't think the Irish offense was good enough to compete with an OU attack that was fresh off a 52-7 torching of Kansas.

All that doubt provided a little extra fuel for Notre Dame on Saturday.

"I kind of like playing away," Everett Golson said. "I think it's because I like when people count me out, that's how I've always been."

"It just shows that everyone doubts us and doesn't respect us," cornerback Bennett Jackson added.

Notre Dame earned plenty of respect on Saturday, though, with what will go down as a signature win for the Irish. But getting to that point was hardly easy.

With the score tied at 13 midway through the fourth quarter, Golson found freshman Chris Brown downfield for a 50-yard completion. He then snuck the ball in from OU's one for what wound up being the game-winning touchdown with 5:05 remaining.

Notre Dame could've been content to try to plod upfield and run the clock, aiming for a field goal attempt. Instead, Brian Kelly, Chuck Martin and Notre Dame's offense made a bold call to throw it deep for Brown.

"I wanted to win the game," Kelly said. "I thought that we needed to throw the football and get a big-chunk play. We wanted to win and there was no way that we were going to turn down that opportunity."

But the key to Notre Dame's win, as has been the case all year, was on defense.

Against a high-powered Oklahoma offense that had scored 156 points in its last three games, Notre Dame's bend-but-don't-break defense held OU to 39 points fewer than that three-game average.

"We were going to give up yards to keep the points down," Kelly said. "We could not let the points get out of reach for us. This was the first time that we showed we could be on our own a bit offensively and put some points on the boards. But we could not have won this football game if the points got up into the numbers that were probably out of reach for our offense."

Blake Bell powered his way in for a rushing touchdown early in the fourth -- the first score of its kind any team has had against Notre Dame this season. That TD tied the game, but Notre Dame's response on both sides of the ball wound up being key in their 17-point margin of victory.

"I think with this defense when somebody scores, we get really frustrated," Te'o said. "And I think it showed our maturity by how we rallied after that touchdown. We just kept going and I'm very proud of our guys."

Notre Dame's defense was aided by a handful of critical mistakes made by the OU offense. Late in the second quarter, it looked like Bell had found the end zone, but his five-yard rush was called back for a holding penalty. OU running back Brennan Clay dropped a pass at the five that might have gone for a touchdown, and all the Sooners could manage was three points.

"I don't think they made a single mistake," OU linebacker Tom Wort said. "We made a couple mistakes. When you go against a good team like that, you can't make mistakes."

Notre Dame hasn't played mistake-free football all season -- just look to Golson's performances against Michigan and Stanford, for example. But facing about as hostile an environment as college football has to offer (Oklahoma's announced crowd of 86,031 was the largest in stadium history), Notre Dame avoided any momentum-shifting turnovers. That was arguably the biggest key to a signature win for the Irish.

Kelly and Notre Dame's players have explained to anyone within earshot about tuning out the noise this year. That will become a more difficult task when Sunday's BCS rankings are released, with national championship discussion shifting toward South Bend (as well as staying in Tuscaloosa, Manhattan and Eugene). So for Kelly, he feels as if Notre Dame stops to admire their position, it'll wind up costing them it.

"If we start listening to national championship and the BCS, we'll lose a football game," Kelly said. "And they're a pretty smart group, and they know if they stick with what we've done and stick with the process of just preparing for Pittsburgh, they'll be fine. But if they start thinking about all those other things and listening, we'll lose.

"It's what I told them in the locker room. Enjoy a great victory against Oklahoma, now let's find a way to beat Pittsburgh next week."

Fire unable to find winner in tie with Portland

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Fire unable to find winner in tie with Portland

The Chicago Fire pushed for a go-ahead goal, but it never came.

In a rare half in which the Fire had extended stretches of possession, they were still not unable to break a halftime deadlock against the Portland Timbers and settled for a 1-1 tie at Toyota Park.

The Fire (2-5-5, 11 points) are now 2-2-3 in seven home matches.

Portland (4-6-4, 16 points) took the lead in the 18th minute when Diego Valeri took advantage of a poor Rodrigo Ramos clearance. Ramos' ball got caught up in the wind and stayed near the box. Valeri won the ball back and beat Sean Johnson from a tight angle, sliding a shot just inside the far post.

Almost immediately the Fire leveled the match through David Accam. Accam, making his first home start since the season opener, redirected a Kennedy Igboananike centering pass to tie things back up.

It was Accam's third goal of the season and his first since March 11. Accam and Igboananike created most of the dangerous chances for the Fire, linking up regularly other than the goal.

Another forward who could have joined the attack, Gilberto, was out for personal reasons. The Brazilian had played his best of the year last week, but was not in the 18.

The Fire had a strong wind at their backs in the second half and used it to keep the ball in Portland's half and extend the lead in shots they took into halftime. Chicago had a 17-8 edge in shots, 6-2 on target. However, the Fire were unable to score a second goal, something that has eluded them since the season opener.

Now the Fire go on break for the Copa America. The next match will be in the US Open Cup on June 15 with both location and opponent to be determined on June 1.

The next MLS match is June 18 at Philadelphia and the next MLS home match will be July 1 against San Jose.

Sale looks to stop the slide as White Sox face Royals on CSN

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Sale looks to stop the slide as White Sox face Royals on CSN

The White Sox take on the Kansas City Royals on Sunday, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins with White Sox Pregame Live at 12:30 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on White Sox Postgame Live.

Sunday’s starting pitching matchup: Chris Sale vs. Edison Volquez

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.  

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— Channel finder: Make sure you know where to watch.

— Latest on the White Sox: All of the most recent news and notes.

— See what fans are talking about before, during and after the game with White Sox Pulse.

Why Cubs believe in Kyle Hendricks and his sneaky-good potential

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Why Cubs believe in Kyle Hendricks and his sneaky-good potential

Maybe Kyle Hendricks would inevitably be overshadowed in a rotation featuring the National League’s reigning Cy Young Award winner (Jake Arrieta), a $155 million All-Star lefty (Jon Lester) and a Texas cowboy who also has two World Series rings (John Lackey). Not to mention a Cubs team identified with zoo animals, dance parties and an explosive offense.

The low-key personality, sense of calm and sharp focus that’s allowed Hendricks to survive in The Show – and also earn an economics degree from Dartmouth College – certainly plays into that perception as well. 

But there’s no denying what Hendricks means to the Cubs as an extremely reliable fifth starter for the team with the best record in baseball – in what’s shaping up to be a very shallow market for pitching at this summer’s trade deadline and this winter’s upcoming class of free agents.  

Hendricks had to become a huge part of the story after almost throwing a complete-game shutout during Saturday afternoon’s 4-1 win over the Philadelphia Phillies in front of 41,555 at Wrigley Field. 

“What you saw today – that’s what you could get out of him,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s 88-89 (mph) with the really good changeup and he broke out the hooks a couple times. But he’s good against lefties and righties when everything’s working. And he can keep the ball on the ground, which is really important in this ballpark. 

“Right now, what you’re seeing, to me, is not a reach by any means. This is what he can look like very, very consistently.”

Hendricks needed only 104 pitches to throw his complete game, allowing five hits and finishing with seven strikeouts against zero walks. The Phillies (26-23) scored their only run in the ninth inning, after second baseman Ben Zobrist and right fielder Jason Heyward lost a flyball in the sun. Freddy Galvis got credited with a double and later scored on the throw to first base to complete a Ryan Howard strikeout, taking advantage of the extreme defensive shift against Philadelphia’s fading slugger.   

Hendricks (3-4, 2.93 ERA) has thrown at least five innings in each of his nine starts so far this season. He made 32 starts last year and finished with a sub-4.00 ERA and a very good strikeout-to-walk ratio (167:43). He’s 26 years old and can’t become a free agent until after the 2020 season.

“Now his confidence is back on, because he knows he can use the curveball as well,” catcher Miguel Montero said. “There were so many ways to go, because everything was working.

“It’s huge (when) it’s not just fastball-changeup. He’s got another weapon to go to sometimes. And, obviously, as a hitter, you know it’s three pitches (now in play). It’s a little bit more uncomfortable for a hitter. You don’t know what you’re going to look for.”  

Hendricks beat Zack Greinke and the Arizona Diamondbacks in his first start this season – and lost a 1-0 decision to Madison Bumgarner and the San Francisco Giants in his previous start. Not that Hendricks is about to start pounding his chest on the mound or running his mouth in the interview room. 

“I’m pretty confident, but it doesn’t really matter much,” Hendricks said. “All that matters is going out there and making pitches. It’s back to work this week, (throw) my bullpen, stay where I’m at in my lane and keep the ball down with some angle.”