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NORWICH, Conn. — When Connecticut Tigers manager Howie Bushong told Patrick Cooper on Friday that he would make his first career pro start, the right-hander had no idea how badly his team would need an outstanding performance from him.

With the bullpen shorthanded from 6 2/3 innings of service the night before, Cooper — who had thrown just one inning this season — was given a 60-pitch limit and needed to make every one count.

He exceeded the Tigers’ wildest expectations.

Cooper used 63 pitches to get through five innings, allowing one run on two hits while striking out four in a 6-1 win over Mahoning Valley at Dodd Stadium.

“I was just happy to get the start,” Cooper said. “I just went out there with a different approach than I did in college. I was pitching more for contact. I was on a pitch count and tried to get the most innings that I could.”

The philosophical difference in college ball asks the pitcher to make batters miss rather than play for contact. Catcher Eric Roof, who played American Legion with Cooper in their home state of Kentucky, also caught his pitcher in a summer league.

Roof, who gave his friend the game ball, didn’t manage the game to the pitch count.

“Usually I don’t like to think about it because it ruins your game plan for that day,” Roof said. “But since I played with him for a year and know him as a person, I really wanted him to get five (innings) just to get that first win.”

Cooper had some difficulties locating his fastball in the first inning, and aside from a lead-off triple in the second, made few mistakes. Usually relying upon his slider as his out pitch, Cooper instead worked his fastball all over the plate, getting first-pitch strikes. He retired the last 11 batters he faced, including the first five of those on 12 pitches.

“Cooper was the name of the game (Sunday),” Bushong said. “We were expecting three, hoping for four. … That’s just an absolutely fantastic job on his part and such a big boost for us.”

A 2009 Cape Cod League All-Star as a closer, Cooper relished the opportunity to get back to starting, something he did last season at Bradley University. The 20-year-old went 4-3 with a 3.08 ERA in eight starts as a college junior.

Cooper was a two-time All-State selection in high school and was drafted by Arizona in the 34th round of the 2009 draft. He was a 14th-round pick last month by Detroit.

Patrick Lawson came in and pitched three scoreless innings and Kevan Hess closed the game in the ninth.

Connecticut (10-7) scored a run in the first on Matt Perry’s sacrifice fly. After the Scrappers (8-9) tied the game in the top of the second, the Tigers scored three unearned runs off of two errors.

Chao-Ting Tang walked and Ryan Soares’ double in the left-field corner was misplayed, allowing Tang to score. Ryan Enos (3-for-5, two runs) singled, and then with two out, Josh Ashenbrenner’s grounder was thrown away, allowing two runs to score.

Perry hit a solo home run, his second, in the fourth. Connecticut added another run in the eighth.

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MOHEGAN, Conn. — Drawing comparisons between movie titles and his team’s blockbuster trade Tuesday, Connecticut Sun coach Mike Thibault said there were few better ways to describe what transpired.

The Sun dealt six-year veteran and fan favorite Lindsay Whalen to the Minnesota Lynx with the No. 2 overall pick in April’s WNBA college draft to Minnesota for former UConn star Renee Montgomery and the top overall selection.

Connecticut is expected to use the pick on UConn senior center Tina Charles.

Coach Mike Thibault said the movies, “It’s Complicated” and “The Perfect Storm” best summed up the trade.

The Sun wanted the No. 1 overall pick, and until the Sacramento Monarchs folded in November, the probability of acquiring the pick was slim. With Connecticut moving up to the second slot and Whalen telling Thibault that she would only consider a trade to her home state of Minnesota — which now had the top pick — the stars aligned.

“With free agency still out there to make another addition or two, this is our once-in-a-lifetime — maybe once in the period that we’ve been here — (chance to) change the course of what we do,” Thibault said.

Montgomery, the fourth overall pick last year, averaged 9.0 points, 2.1 assists and 1.9 rebounds as a rookie for the Lynx, primarily off the bench. After she scored 24 and 18 points, respectively, in two games against the Sun, Connecticut had a good idea of what they were getting with Montgomery.

There had been speculation for more than a week that this deal would eventually go down. Montgomery, who called the deal the year’s “worst kept secret,” doesn’t expect to replace Whalen.

“It’s exciting just to be part of the way the program is moving,” Montgomery said. “I got a chance to talk to Coach (Thibault) for a while, he picked me up at the airport. I love the way he thinks and the way things are moving.”

Montgomery finished with 1,995 points and 626 assists at UConn en route to a pair of Final Fours and last season’s national title. She was also a member of the WNBA’s All-Rookie Team in 2009.

But because of Montgomery’s inexperience and the need for depth in the backcourt, the Sun are expected to chase a veteran point guard, possibly ex-Sacramento standout Kara Lawson. The team can begin talks with unrestricted free agents Friday, and those players can’t sign until Feb. 1.

But first things first, Montgomery had to select a new number. Gone is the familiar No. 20. Montgomery will be wearing No. 21.

Giving this deal a dose of irony, Whalen urged Thibault to position the Sun to grab Charles.

“Then I get a call from her and Asjha (Jones) at the U.S.A. Basketball camp (last summer) — Renee and I were talking about this today,” Thibault said. “Lindsay says, ‘You’ve got to get the first pick.’ There was a girl up at UConn, kind of a big center, playing down there. They said, ‘Tina’s pretty good.’ And I said, ‘What do we have to give to get the first pick?’ She said, ‘I don’t know.’ And over the course of a couple months, discussions begun.”

Talks between Whalen and Thibault eventually drifted toward the 2008 MVP runner-up, saying that, should the team need or want to trade her, the preference was Minnesota.

A University of Minnesota grad, who married her college sweetheart, professional golfer Ben Greve, Whalen now finds many of her personal and professional goals in line with each other in her return to her home state.

“Well, I think it’s always been in the back of my mind,” Whalen said. “Some day I would love to play professionally in Minnesota. … Obviously, being that I’m from there, … I thought that it would work out some day, but wasn’t sure when. It happened to work out this year. I’m really excited about the chance and really looking forward to it.”

Thibault likened any criticism of giving up a proven player for the inexperienced and unknown to that of when the team dealt Shannon Johnson. In 2004, the Sun traded away the popular point guard and Olympian in order to acquire the No. 4 overall draft pick that landed Whalen.

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Have you ever wondered why it’s OK to have teams that reflect Irish or Indian heritage but yet there are none for any other ethnicity?

We have the Notre Dame Fighting Irish — they are both Irish and violent. Could this be alluding to the stereotype of the Irish being drunks? What about the Boston Celtics? They have a leprechaun as their mascot. That’s offensive. Now every Irish man, woman and child has a pot of gold?

And our Indian friends? We tread lightly there. If we handled Indian-themed team names like we do the Irish ones, we would have had a Cleveland Smallpox a long time ago. Rather than go over the top, we just have the blatant Washington Redskins. At least the Atlanta Braves sounds good, strong, complimentary.

I propose the New Jersey Devils are renamed the New Jersey Guidos.

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You have two minutes, down by seven and surrounding talent is equal. Who leads your drive today, Brett Favre or Jay Cutler?

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Why bother? Just end the season now.

Wednesday’s matchup between No. 1 UConn and No. 2 Stanford in Hartford was supposed to be Act I to this season’s national championship. A rematch from the past two Final Fours, which the teams split.

This was supposed to be the next step in the development of the next big rivalry in the sport. Instead, it sucked the air out of the season, depriving everyone of whatever drama that March might have in store.

Even a UConn-Tennessee meeting would lose its luster upon the opening tip-off. Remember, the Cardinal did to the Lady Vols last weekend what the Huskies did to them Wednesday in their 80-68 drubbing.

Any talk of this being of the same ilk as UConn-Tennessee is on hold for a few more years.

Even before the game, members of UConn’s 1999-2000 national championship team, which was honored at halftime, questioned whether the expectations may be too big.

“I think it is great that there are other rivalries,” said Husky legend Sue Bird. “There’s a lot to be made of the UConn-Tennessee rivalry. It’s one of those that may never get matched. That’s just the way it was.”

There was so much riding on this game.

Putting these teams together on Christmas Eve eve prompted a national television broadcast on ESPN2 despite not having a primetime slot because of the 5:30 p.m. start.

Halfway through, the folks in Bristol had to love what they were seeing: Stanford up by two and both teams playing as the other’s equal, exchanging blows and even runs that gave false impressions of control.

The XL Center was packed — all 16,294 seats filled — a first since UConn battled, you guessed it, Tennessee on Jan. 6, 2007.

Clearly, this was a big deal to the sport and its broadcast partner.

Stanford was universally considered the field’s greatest chance at grounding UConn (10-0), which has now won 49 straight games. The last team to beat the Huskies? The Cardinal (9-1) in the Final Four two years ago. Stanford even held a winning record against UConn entering Wednesday’s game.

That’s a lifetime ago, unlike UConn’s 34-10 run to start the second half.

“They’re head and shoulders above us, and they play just at a different pace than anybody,” Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer said.

UConn-Stanford was to have a ripple effect through not just the college game, but the pros, too.

Maya Moore, UConn’s National Player of the Year, may have been the marquee name, but there were two others who were drawing the most attention.

Moore’s teammate, Tina Charles, and Stanford’s Jayne Appel, are viewed as the top two players available in April’s WNBA Draft. How each performed could influence who is taken by Minnesota with the first overall pick. The Connecticut Sun have the second selection.

It looks like Charles will be joining former teammates Renee Montgomery and Charde Houston in a UConn spin-off, Huskies North

She distinguished herself as the head of the class, finishing with 20 points on 8-for-11 shooting and 12 rebounds in what Huskies coach Geno Auriemma called “one of her best games” at UConn.

Appel’s line: 12 points, six assists and four rebounds. However, she was invisible, scoring five of her points after UConn was up by 20 points.

“I feel like she’s probably the one post player I know everything about; what she likes to do, she likes to shoot more with her left hand going to the middle,” Charles said. “Probably every little key thing about her game just (from) the fact that I’ve been playing against her since I was 12. I think it’s vice versa.”

Charles and the rest of the Huskies did exactly what you’d expect from UConn in a Nos. 1 vs. 2 matchup: They won. UConn has played 13 such games and are 11-2 and 8-1 when in the top spot.

“Our staff does a good job of telling them, ‘What’s the big deal?’” Auriemma said. “‘You’re at Connecticut. Are you surprised that No. 1 is playing No. 2?’” I said this to the guys (Tuesday), ‘Everybody runs for cover when it’s going to snow 10 inches. This is Connecticut. What do you think is going to happen in the winter time?’ ”

Stanford found out first hand that snow would have been the better option.

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Sunrise may be two hours away, but my new day starts here.  At Sports Charcuterie, I’ve brought my worlds in sync with one another to create one big mess. And who doesn’t like a mess?

We’ll explore the world of sports — not just the topics I cover for my employer — but what interests me and you.

Sport is as much about who we are as anything else. For some of us, we live and die by our teams. And when our team loses, we eat our sorrows away. Don’t be surprised if along the way I share with you some of my adventures. They aren’t always sport related, but  hopefully I will leave you hungry for more.

Sit back, relax and enjoy!

Thanks for stopping by.

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