WISCONSIN SPORTS ROUNDUP: Mike Neal will stay in Green Bay
GREEN BAY -- Mike Neal will stay in Green Bay. The Packers' free-agent outside linebacker announced on Twitter yesterday that he agreed to a two-year deal. Neal, a four-year veteran, had his best season in 2013 when he moved to the linebacking corps after an injury-riddled three years at defensive end. He lost 25 pounds to prepare, and had five sacks and 30 quarterback pressures. There was talk yesterday that the Chicago Bears were interested in Neal, and that he might return to his old defensive end spot. The Bears did end up signing Packers' starting safety M-D Jennings to a one-year deal. He became an unrestricted free agent after the Pack refused to extend a one-year tender offer. Meanwhile, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says the Packers are about to audition former Wisconsin Badgers' tight end Owen Daniels. He's an eight-year N-F-L veteran, all with the Houston Texans who cut him on Tuesday for salary cap purposes.
Germantown and Whitefish Bay Dominican will go for their third consecutive state titles, when the W-I-A-A boys' high school tournament begins today in Madison. Only five schools in the 98-year history of the boys' tournament have back-to-back-to-back championships. Randolph and Racine Saint Catherine's have both done it since 2000. Beloit was the first to take three straight crowns, ending in 1934. Marathon and Milwaukee Vincent are the others. Division-One Germantown won 69 games in a row before falling to Brookfield Central earlier this year. Whitefish Bay Dominican begins its bid for history tonight, when it takes on Brillion in the Division-Four semi-finals. Unity and Blair-Taylor are in the other D-Four semi. The tournament opens at 1:35 this afternoon with the Division-Five boys' semi-finals. Sheboygan Lutheran will face Green Bay Northeast Wisconsin Lutheran, and Thorp will then take on Cochrane-Fountain City. Germantown and the other semi-finalists in the top three divisions will play tomorrow. Five divisional championship games are set for Saturday at Madison's Kohl Center.
Marquette men's basketball coach Buzz Williams says his team will probably have to win the Big East Conference Tournament to make the N-C-A-A field. It's unchartered territory for Williams, who has made the Big Dance in each of his first five seasons as Marquette's head coach. The Golden Eagles will play their first conference tournament game around 8:30 tonight against Xavier, in a Big East quarter-final at New York's Madison Square Garden. Marquette has the Number-six seed, while Xavier -- who will be without injured center Matt Stainbrook -- is seeded third. The Eagles come in at 17-and-14. Xavier is 20-and-11. The winner faces either DePaul or second-seeded Creighton tomorrow night. This is the first conference tournament since the Big East revamped itself a year ago, gaining tough teams like Creighton and Butler while losing powerhouses like Syracuse and Louisville.
Top-seeded U-W Green Bay won its quarter-final game last night in the Horizon League women's tournament, 72-to-55 at home over Number-eight Valparaiso. Seventh-seeded U-W Milwaukee lost at Number-two Wright State, 73-to-64. Green Bay will host Illinois-Chicago in the semi-finals tomorrow night. Milwaukee ends its second year under coach Kyle Rechlicz at 8-and-22.
Green Bay was down 11-to-3 early, and then went on an 11-0 run to take the lead for good. Four Phoenix players scored in double figures, led by Megan Lukan with 12 points as Green Bay out-shot Valparaiso 46-to-38 percent. Jessica Carr had 18 for Valpo, which ended its season at 6-and-25. Green Bay improved to 21-and-8.
Milwaukee kept its game close for most of the way. The Panthers trailed by two at the half. They were within three with six minutes left before Wright State pulled away. Senior Angela Rodriguez led U-W-M with 17 points. Kim Demmings scored 25 for Wright State, which improved to 24-and-8. Wright State will play Youngstown State in tomorrow night's semis at Green Bay.
The Milwaukee Bucks will play at Atlanta tonight. And emotions are running high for coach Larry Drew and Bucks' center Zaza Pachulia -- both of whom had long tenures with Atlanta until the end of last season. Drew coached for nine years with the Hawks, the last three as the head man. The 6-10 Pachulia was a fan favorite in Atlanta for several years. Milwaukee assistant coaches Nick Van Exel and Bob Bender also spent time with Drew's Atlanta teams. And if Bucks' general manager John Hammond had his way, more ex-Hawks would have played in Milwaukee this year. The Bucks pursued Atlanta three-point-specialist Kyle Korver and point guard Jeff Teague, but both stayed put. The Hawks have won their last five games against the Bucks. That includes a 112-to-95 victory at Milwaukee on January 25th. The Bucks are 13-and-51. Atlanta is 27-and-35.
Matt Garza had his third rough start of the spring, as the Milwaukee Brewers got crushed by the Angels of Anaheim yesterday, 12-to-2 in Tempe Arizona. The Angels, playing with a split squad, scored eight times in the second inning. David Freese broke out of a spring slump by going 3-for-3. Garza, who signed with Milwaukee in the off-season, lasted just one-and-two-thirds innings. He gave up ten runs -- six earned -- on nine hits with a walk and a strikeout. His defense didn't help, as Milwaukee infielders Rickie Weeks and Jean Segura committed errors. Ryan Braun sat out, but is expected to return this afternoon when the Brewers play an exhibition against San Diego. Marco Estrada is scheduled to start for the Crew, who is now 6-and-9 in Cactus League play.
Brewers' reliever Francisco Rodriguez needed treatment yesterday, after he stepped on a cactus while barefoot earlier in the week in Phoenix. Manager Ron Roenicke says K-Rod will still try to make his Spring Training debut this afternoon against San Diego. He arrived at camp late because of visa issues during political turmoil in his native Venezuela. Rodriguez was not available to talk about his freak injury. Roenicke said doctors removed quite a few cactus spines -- and he can imagine that K-Rod was pretty sore. Brewers' veteran Rickie Weeks says it's not the weirdest baseball injury he can remember. He recalled when former Milwaukee pitcher Matt Wise cut the middle finger on his throwing hand in 2006 with salad tongs while preparing a dish for himself.
In hockey, the Milwaukee Admirals lost at home to Iowa last night, 3-to-2. The Wild scored three times in the first 14 minutes, and hung on from there. The Admirals ended a season-high four-game winning streak to remain in fourth place in the Midwest Division, eight points ahead of last-place Iowa. Miikka Salomaki and Joe Piskula scored for the Admirals.