Morelli OnLion: Odds & Ends

The dog days of summer have definitely arrived.

There’s very little news coming out of University Park over the past several days. Therefore, in this week’s edition of Morelli OnLion, we’ll take a look around the world of sports as we venture out of the Happy Valley comfort zone.

Consider this installment a serving of Morelli OnLion’s odds and ends.

World Cup Aftermath

While all of the soccer “experts” were quick to blame U.S. goalie Hope Solo for Sunday’s upset loss to Japan in the World Cup Final, I found it hard to criticize the U.S. keeper. While I’m no expert, I’ve coached enough soccer to know that the goalie isn’t always to blame for a loss. That was especially the case on Sunday. While Solo didn’t play her best game, her defense certainly did her no favors.

Penn State product Ali Krieger did not perform well in the World Cup final.

Too many times, her last line of defense failed to clear the ball, hanging her out to dry on both Japanese goals. One of the defenders who had a downright lousy game was Penn State product Ali Krieger. She failed to clear the ball with the Japanese swarming around the U.S. goal on Japan’s first goal of the day. Krieger went from scoring the game winner on penalty kicks in the semis to not performing well in the final.

Solo certainly deserves some of the blame for the loss, but there’s plenty to go around.

PSU Lands QB

The Nittany Lions landed their first skill position recruit in the Class of 2012 when Philadelphia (Pa.) St. Joseph’s quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg gave Penn State a verbal commitment.

Mornhinweg is a 6-foot-3, 190-pound prospect. He selected the Lions over Tennessee, Alabama, Illinois and Stanford. The commitment came on Tuesday afternoon. He visited the University Park campus at the beginning of July.

He also plays defensive back and could slide over to the defensive side of the football if there’s no room on the depth chart for a QB.

If Morninweg’s name sounds familiar, it should. He is the son of Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.

He completed 110 of 229 passes last season for 1,546 yards and 13 touchdowns, earning first-team all-Catholic League Class AAAA honors. For his career, he has racked up over 3,000 yards passing. He’s tossed 32 touchdowns. On the ground, Mornhinweg has rushed for more than 500 yards in his career. He has an added dimension on the ground, scoring 13 TDs.

Offseason Storm Brewing

Although the NFL is locked out, the Pittsburgh Steelers have been in the spotlight this offseason for all the wrong reasons. First, star running back Rashard Mendenhall got in trouble for a series of Tweets regarding Osama bin Laden. Then, future Hall of Famer Hines Ward was arrested on a DUI charge in Georgia. Finally, former Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison aired some not-so-popular views during an interview that ran in Men’s Journal magazine.

As a native Pittsburgher, I can say that I am not bothered by any of this.

While their views may not be popular, Mendenhall and Harrison are entitled to their opinions. While it appears that many have forgotten, there’s a thing in this country called freedom of speech. Certainly, Harrison should not have used a gay slur when referring to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, but his criticism of the big boss is certainly justified. After all, what NFL team is punished is more often than the Steelers?

As for Ward, he will go through the proper legal channels, pay the fine and clean up his act.

However, be prepared for some suspensions. After all, they are the Steelers.

Battlin’ Bucs

In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a sports story brewing in Pittsburgh and it’s not the Steelers or Penguins. The Pittsburgh Pirates are atop the National League’s Central Division.

The Pirates posted a 1-0 win over the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday night, their 51st victory of the season. They posted just 57 wins during the 2010 campaign.

So what has been the key to the Pirates’ success? Well, there are a number of storylines. First and foremost, there’s manager Clint Hurdle, who appears to be pushing all the right buttons. He has these young Pirates believing in themselves.

Then, there’s the pitching. The rotation of Charlie Morton, Kevin Correia, Jeff Karstens, Paul Maholm and James McDonald has performed above and beyond what anyone envisioned at the start of the season.

Closer Joel Hanrahan has been money, slamming the door whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Centerfielder Andrew McCutchen has been unbelievable this season and his late addition to the NL All-Star squad was well deserved.

As of this writing, the Pirates are in first place by themselves in the NL Central. On ESPN Tuesday night, the analysts talked about what would be a “successful” season for the Bucs. Make no mistake about it, this season has already been a success. However, with fans pouring into PNC Park night in and night out, fans are expecting this squad to contend for a division title. Anything less than that will be disappointing.

As we roll into the dog days of summer, it’s hard to imagine the Pirates being able to sustain this success. They’re young and that will probably wear on them.

But if there’s one thing we’ve learned throughout the years, it’s that anything is possible when it comes to sports.

Let’s Go Bucs.

Chris Morelli is an award-winning writer/editor who lives in Centre County and covers Penn State athletics for gantdaily.com. He’s also a regular on “Sports Central,” which airs on ESPN Radio in Altoona and State College. E-mail him at morellionlion@gmail.com. Also, be sure to check out Morelli OnLion on Facebook!

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