A countdown of the 10 most memorable sporting events I attended this year.
10) Redbirds 4, Iowa 3 (June 19) — It’s easy to sulk when you’ve been demoted. After a season-and-a-half as the St. Louis Cardinals’ primary centerfielder, Randal Grichuk found himself in the starting lineup at AutoZone Park on Father’s Day. That’s what a .206 batting average in mid-June will do to you. Instead of pouting, though, Grichuk began his climb back to The Show. He drilled a three-run homer onto the leftfield bluff in the third inning, then made a diving catch to end an Iowa threat in the eighth and preserve the Redbirds’ one-run lead. Grichuk soon returned to St. Louis and finished the season with 24 homers and 68 RBIs for the Cardinals.
9) USF 49, Tigers 42 (November 12) — The result wasn’t pleasant, particularly an overlooked pass-interference call in the end zone that would have set up the tying score for Memphis in the final minute. But what a show. The Tigers chewed up 608 yards of offense, 153 of them through the air to junior wideout Anthony Miller, who broke Isaac Bruce’s 23-year-old record for receiving yards in a season (he finished the regular season with 1,283). But this was a night for college-football greatness as displayed by USF quarterback Quinton Flowers: 263 yards passing with two touchdowns and 210 yards rushing (and three more scores). The Tigers fought back from an early 14-point deficit and there were four lead changes in the third quarter alone. Great football game, sadly off the radar of the “Power Five” chatter hounds.
8) Tigers 67, Temple 65 (January 13) — “Blood and guts” are reliable metaphors for sportswriters. On this night at FedExForum, though, they were all too vivid in the person of Tiger point guard Ricky Tarrant Jr. In the frantic final seconds of a tie game, Tarrant took an inbounds pass from Shaq Goodwin and collided with Temple’s Daniel Dingle, absorbing a blow to his mouth with 1.5 seconds left on the clock. Dingle was charged with a foul, but there was some question about whether or not a bloodied Tarrant — an 88-percent shooter from the foul line — could attempt the decisive shots. In the words of Memphis coach Josh Pastner, “Ricky took a big gulp, drank all of his blood, licked his lips. And he shot the free throws.” Tarrant made both. Blood. Guts.
7) Grizzlies 108, Bulls 92 (April 5) — With old friends Pau Gasol and Derrick Rose in villain garb — and Marc Gasol watching from a luxury suite, crutches in hand — the Griz ended a six-game losing streak and clinched a sixth straight winning season, all the while clinging to a spot in the NBA playoffs. Vince Carter shaved 10 years and scored 17 points in 24 minutes to help the cause while Mike Conley’s replacement at point guard, Jordan Farmar, added 15 points and four assists. But it was an old warhorse who carried Memphis this night. Zach Randolph scored 27 points (one shy of his season high) and pulled down 10 rebounds. Bryce Cotton made his FedExForum debut, the 28th player to take the floor for the Grizzlies in a season that will be remembered more for myriad injuries than any wins or losses on the court.
6) Redbirds 8, Fresno 1 (May 22) — Prospects were hard to come by last season at AutoZone Park, but on this bright, sunny Sunday afternoon, a future Cardinal star was born. Alex Reyes, 21, took the hill for Memphis, having just completed a 50-game suspension for marijuana use. He wobbled at times over four innings (85 pitches, three walks), but struck out eight and didn’t allow a run while teasing 100 mph on the radar gun. (Reyes joined the Cardinals in August and put up a 1.57 ERA over his first 46 big-league innings.) First-baseman Jonathan Rodriguez starred at the plate for the Redbirds, drilling a home run and driving in four.
Check back next week for the Top Five.