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WISCONSIN SPORTS ROUND-UP: Kenseth looks to increase his Sprint Cup lead

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. - Wisconsin driver Matt Kenseth will try to hang onto his slim lead in NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup this weekend. 

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The Cambridge native is up by four points over Jimmie Johnson and 12 over Kyle Busch, as they get ready for the fourth event in the 10-race Chase -- the Hollywood Casino-400 on Sunday in Kansas City, Kansas.  In their first practice run, Kenseth had the 13th-best one-lap speed of 180.711 miles an hour.  Paul Menard of Eau Claire had the fifth-highest speed of 181.763.  Travis Kvapil of Janesville ran 26th, and Beloit-born Danica Patrick was 29th.  The starting order for Sunday's race will be determined this evening, when qualifying takes place at the Kansas Speedway.  Also, the Nationwide Series will have the Kansas Lottery-300 tomorrow.  Kenseth and Menard are both entered for that race as well.  The Camping World Truck Series is off.

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Green Bay Packers' Mike McCarthy says the Detroit Lions are probably the best he's ever seen them coming into a game.  The Packers host the much-improved Lions on Sunday.  The Pack is a seven-point favorite, but they're one-and-a-half games behind Detroit in the NFC North standings.  The Lions have gotten quite a boost from their new running back Reggie Bush -- and as a result, they share the division lead with Chicago at 3-1.  The Packers are 1-2, as they come off a bye week which followed a loss at Cincinnati on September 22nd.  After today's practice, McCarthy said the Lions' offense and defense appear to have the same philosophies they've always had.  He called Detroit a talented team that's "very systematic" in its approach.  The Packers will have two key players on defense coming back from injuries.  Safety Morgan Burnett and linebacker Clay Matthews are both listed as probable for the game, which means there's a 75-percent chance they'll play.  Also probable are tight end Jermichael Finley, running backs Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin, fullback John Kuhn, and corner Jarrett Bush.  Corner Casey Hayward was ruled out earlier, along with running back James Starks and offensive lineman Greg Van Roten.

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The Detroit Lions have signed a receiver who may or may not be ready to play the Packers in Green Bay on Sunday.  The Lions picked up Kevin Ogletree after he was cut by Tampa Bay on Tuesday.  He caught eight passes in four games for the Buccaneers this season for 70 yards and a touchdown.  Ogletree is expected to provide depth to a Lions' receiving corps that's without starter Nate Burleson.  Burleson is out indefinitely after he broke his left arm in a traffic accident last week.  Ogletree had career highs of 32 catches, 436 yards, and four touchdowns for Dallas last year.

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So far, so good for Mason Crosby.  The Green Bay Packers' kicker is 4-for-4 in field goal attempts going into the Pack's fourth game of the season on Sunday against the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field.  Crosby, in his seventh NFL season, has made 16 straight field goal attempts dating back to last season and this year's exhibition schedule.  Crosby has not had pressure situations yet, but special teams coach Shawn Slocum said he's striking the ball well and kicking with confidence.  Crosby went through a rough stretch a year ago, when he had a 12-for-24 string and ended the year hitting just 63-percent of his three-point kicks.  That was enough for the Packers to give him Training Camp competition for the first time since he won the job.  Two undrafted free agents -- Giorgio Tavecchio and Zach Ramirez -- came and went after Crosby proved he still had juice in his leg.  He also started the year with only a-third of his salary from last season, 800-thousand-dollars, hoping to win back the other one-point-six million in incentives.  Like we said, so far, so good.

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Marshfield native Gary Varsho both played and coached for the Pittsburgh Pirates -- but he has mixed feelings about his old team, as continues its first playoff run in 22 years.  Varsho was part of the Bucs' last post-season in 1991 -- and of course, he wants to see the current team succeed.  He returned as a bench coach for three years, but the Pirates fired him in 2010 during a season with 105 losses.  Varsho tells the Wausau Daily Herald he had hoped to stay around to see the current Pirates develop, but life goes on.  Now, the 52-year-old Varsho works as a pro scout for the Angels of Anaheim.  He has said in the past that his greatest day as a player was with Pittsburgh in Game-Six of the 1991 National League Championship Series.  The Pirates were down by one in the ninth inning when Varsho singled as the tying run.  He didn't score -- but had he, there was a chance Pittsburgh could have made the World Series that year.  Finally, after 21 losing seasons, Pittsburgh has a chance to make the Fall Classic.  They'll play Saint Louis starting tonight, as they open their best-of-five NL Division Series. 

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The Big Ten's leading rusher, Melvin Gordon of Wisconsin, says he's just fine after hurting a knee at Ohio State last Saturday night.  Gordon said he dodged a bullet after being hit in the third quarter of the Badgers' loss to the Buckeyes.  He fully expects to play in Wisconsin's next game on October 12th at home against Northwestern.  Gordon, a third-year sophomore from Kenosha, is averaging just under 140 rushing yards a game.  He racked up 74 yards against a solid Ohio State defense -- but his injury prevented him from having a fifth straight game with at least 100 yards on the ground.  The Badgers are on their bye week. 

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Former Wisconsin high school hockey standout Joe Aiken has been added to the Notre Dame men's roster.  Aiken played for the Whitefish Bay/Nicolet/Shorewood high school co-op, before joining a Notre Dame club team a year ago.  His high school coach, Maco Balkovec, said Aiken needed some time to mature physically -- but he never gave up, and he was rewarded with a spot on the Fighting Irish roster.  The coach said it reflects the value of quote, "passion, effort, and commitment."

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UW-Stout will go for its second straight title at the WIAC women's golf tournament that began today near Nekoosa.  The Blue Devils are led by junior Brittany McNett-Emmerich, who was the conference player-of-the-year a season ago.  This year, she's averaging a league-best 77.1 strokes per round.  The league tournament runs through Sunday at Lake Arrowhead. In the Midwest Conference, Carroll of Waukesha is playing for its fifth straight championship at the league meet in Rockford, Illinois tomorrow through Sunday.  A new individual champion will be crowned, since the top-three winners from a year ago have graduated.   The Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference will hold its league tournament Saturday through Monday in Wisconsin Dells.  Concordia-Mequon is the defending champion.

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The University of Wisconsin women's hockey team opens its regular season this weekend with a pair of WCHA conference games against Minnesota State in Madison.  Mark Johnson is entering his 10th season as the Badgers' coach, after taking his team to the NCAA title game twice in the last two seasons where they fell to league rival Minnesota.  In a pre-season poll, Wisconsin was picked to finish second behind the Gophers -- who've won 49 games in a row.  The Badger men’s hockey team will open next weekend at home vs. Northern Michigan.

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Conference play begins tomorrow for WIAC football teams.  The league has three nationally-ranked schools which are all 3-0 in non-conference play.  UW-Oshkosh, ranked eighth by D3football.com, has its league opener in Menomonie against UW-Stout.  Ninth-ranked Platteville is at home against Eau Claire and  No. 12 Whitewater is at La Crosse.  UW-Stevens Point entertains River Falls.  The Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference also has its first full schedule of league games.  Wisconsin Lutheran travels to Sheboygan to play Lakeland.  Maranatha Baptist plays at Aurora.  And Concordia-Mequon hosts Benedictine.  Meanwhile, conference play continues in the Midwest circuit.  Saint Norbert and Lake Forest both lead the way at 3-0 in league contests.  Tomorrow, Saint Norbert is at home in De Pere against Monmouth.  Lawrence hosts Illinois College in Appleton.  Ripon College plays at Knox.  Carroll travels to Lake Forest.  And Beloit is at Cornell.  In the CCIW, Carthage plays at North Park.

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The President's Cup resumes this afternoon in Dublin Ohio.  Steve Stricker of Madison will again be paired with PGA rookie Jordan Spieth on the U.S. squad.   They'll play a foursome competition against the International pairing of Richard Sterne and Branden Grace.  The match will be the third of the day.  Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley of the U.S. will be the first to tee off at 12:10 p-m against International opponents Jason Day and Graham DeLaet.  The U-S has a one-point lead, three-and-a-half to two-and-a-half.  That was after Stricker parred his final hole yesterday to beat Ernie Els and Brendon de Jonge one-u.

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Sean Scallon
Sean Scallon has been a reporter and Sports Editor at the Pierce County Herald newspaper in Ellsworth since 1998. He holds a bachelors degree in communication arts from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He's also worked at newspapers in Glenwood City, Wisconsin; Marion, Illinois and Shawano, Wisconsin. Sean also works as a sports reporter for other newspapers and websites in RiverTown Multimedia from River Falls to Hudson to New Richmond and Red Wing.
(715) 273-4334
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