Shaq to perform at American Family Insurance Championship concert

DJ Shaq is coming to Madison.

Officials with the American Family Insurance Championship announced Tuesday morning that as part of the Champions Tour event, Basketball Hall of Fame member Shaquille O’Neil will perform at Breese Stevens Field on June 22.

According to the press release, Shaq will have two 20-minute performances. One will take place after the opening act — A Thousand Horses — with the second coming after country singer Sara Evans takes the stage. The night will be capped off by headliner REO Speedwagon.

“Shaq is truly larger than life, and we’re sure his personality and performance skills will add a fun and exciting presence during his visit to Madison and participation in our events,” American Family Insurance Championship tournament director Nate Pokrass said in the release. “For the price of one ticket, concert-goers will be treated to not only one act, but four, and we’re sure Shaq will help us raise even more money for charity.”

Shaq is a brand ambassador for The General, which is an affiliate of American Family Insurance.

You can find more information about tickets to the concert and to the tournament here.

Mallards beat Kalamazoo 7-4

The Madison Mallards went back above .500 on the season with a 7-4 win Monday night at Kalamazoo.

It was a 0-0 game in the third inning when first baseman David Vinsky drove a pair of runs in with a single to center. The Mallards added five more runs between the sixth, seventh and eighth innings in winning their second-straight game.

Centerfielder Jayse McLean had a three-hit night, while Tyler Plantier raised his batting average to .462 with two more hits.

Dalton Morrow got the start for Madison and was solid. He went four innings, giving up one earned run on six hits and striking out two. Though he gave up three runs over 4 2/3 innings, Jimmy Perkins got the win before the Mallards turned to Jonah Smith for a one-out save.

Madison improved to 4-3 on the year and will close out the two-game series with Kalamazoo Tuesday morning. First pitch is set for 11:05 a.m. and can be heard on 96.7 FM and 1670 AM ‘The Zone.’

Mallards take care of Fond du Lac 3-1

The Madison Mallards earned a 3-1 win over the Fond du Lac Dock Spiders on Sunday at Warner Park.

A 0-0 game through five innings, Fond du Lac broke the tie in the top of the sixth only to see Madison answer in its half of the inning. The Mallards would then take the lead their next time up, getting what proved to be the game-winning double from Tyler Plantier.

Brian Martinez got the win for Madison, going 2 2/3 innings and not allowing a hit, before Trace Norkus came on in the ninth to get the save. Those two were only in the position they were due to the effort from Ryan Kutt. He went 5 1/3 innings, giving up one run on five hits and striking out four.

Offensively, Garrett Kueber went 2 for 3 from the leadoff spot with one RBI, while Plantier was 3 of 4 on the night with one RBI.

Madison improved to 3-3 on the year and now hits the road for two games at Kalamazoo.

Mallards Drop First Game Against Green Bay

The Mallards hit the road for the first time this season after splitting their two game series against Wisconsin Rapids. Madison recovered from their offensive struggles the night before, but ended up dropping the first game of the road trip 9-6.

Tyler Plantier (Richmond) hit a solo home run for Madison in the second inning, and Trevor Schwecke (UW-Milwaukee) stayed hot to start the year after driving in a run in the third. In the bottom of the fourth, Green Bay put up four runs that Madison never matched. Although the Mallards had several chances with the bases loaded, they would only score one off of a sacrifice fly by Jayse McLean (NDSU).

The Mallards return to action against the Green Bay Bullfrogs tonight at 6:35, before facing Fond Du Lac Saturday. You can catch Mallards baseball all summer long on 96.7 FM/1670 AM The Zone.

Check out the post-game interview here:

Pro soccer coming to Madison

Professional soccer is coming to Madison.

During an event held at Breese Stevens Field on Thursday night, it was announced Madison had been awarded a franchise in the newly formed third division of the USL. They are one of four teams so far, with the others being based in Georgia, Arizona and South Carolina.

“We’re proud to welcome Madison to USL Division III and to have Wisconsin’s state capital leading Midwest expansion for USL Division III,” USL CEO Alec Papadakis said in a release. “The future of professional soccer in the Midwest lies in markets as strong and vibrant as Madison, making the city an ideal pillar for our league in the region.

Big Top Soccer, led by Vern Stenman, Conor Caloia, Jim Kacmaricik and Steve Schmidt, will serve as the ownership group. If those names sound familiar, they should, as Stenman and Caloia oversee the management of the Madison Mallards and three other clubs in the Northwoods League, while Schmidt is the owner of the Mallards and three other teams.

The games will be played at Breese Stevens Field, but not before significant renovations are completed. The Madison City Council approved a new year 10-year contract with Big Top Events, run by Stenman and Caloia, with $1.3 million in improvements for the facility.

Though passionate about the game, the ownership group decided to go outside the family for a talent evaluator, hiring Peter Wilt as managing director.

“We’re building this from the bottom up,” Wilt said. “It’s the world’s game, but this will be Madison’s team.”

The team will start playing games in March of 2019, and Wilt hammered home the idea that the team belongs to the fans and they’ll fight to put the best product they can on the field.

“Together we will build the club. Together we will make this club known and respected throughout the land,” Wilt said. “Together we will live Wisconsin’s motto through this club — Forward!”

You can find more information here about the team, including what the renovations will look like at Breese Stevens and to buy tickets.

Last strikes: Brewers 8, Diamondbacks 2

PHOENIX – Fifteen last strikes for the 15 pitches thrown by Milwaukee reliver Matt Albers in the Brewers’ 8-2 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Wednesday afternoon.

1. After a couple of nights in the desert without a ball leaving the yard, the Brewers certainly made up for the lack of fireworks with the offensive explosion on Wednesday afternoon.

2. The Brewers hit a season-high four home runs with blasts from Travis Shaw, Domingo Santana, Christian Yelich, and Tyler Saladino. The first three home runs came within the first two innings of the game, giving the Crew a 5-2 lead after two.

3. In the first inning Shaw and Santana sent back-to-back pitches deep. Shaw’s was high off the right field foul pole and Santana’s was a no-doubt shot to left-center where Arizona outfielders David Peralta and Jerrod Dyson didn’t bother moving once the ball left the bat.

4. “We had a nice day today. We had four homers and I thought we had some kind of near misses too,” manager Craig Counsell said. “We swung the bats well as far as getting a pitch to hit and getting a pitch to drive. A bunch of our hitters did a nice job today with that.”

5. None of the home runs the Brewers crushed could be considered cheap ones, either. Only Yelich’s registered at less than 420 feet, but his was the hardest hit off the bat. Saladino’s and Santana’s both were hit 429 feet, while Shaw’s was a 423-foot blast.

6. Milwaukee starter Brandon Woodruff gave up a home run as well, but it was the only hit he allowed.

7. “It was a little bit of a strange appearance. I mean he gives up one hit. It didn’t feel like he was ever completely locked in, but I thought he battled through it really well,” Counsell said. “I thought there were times when he was a little out of sync but eventually he made a pitch in the at-bat to get the guy out.”

8. Arizona’s Daniel Descalso put a 2-2 fastball into the seats in right field to get back two of the three runs the Brewers scored in the first inning. After that the offense was quiet for the Diamondbacks. Arizona only had three more baserunners against Woodruff, all of them reaching via walks.

9. Woodruff exited the game after pitching five innings allowing only those two runs on Descalso’s home run while walking four and striking out six on 94 pitches. The bullpen had yet another strong outing, as well. Matt Albers, Dan Jennings, and Jorge Lopez combined to pitch four innings allowing only three hits while striking out five.

10. The Brewers have opened up this season-long 10-game road trip almost as well as they could have hoped for. After taking three-of-four from Colorado heading to Arizona to take two-of-three from the Diamondbacks was no small task.

11. “I would say these two series, we’ve won the series because we’ve played well here. These are games that we’ve played well,” Counsell said. “[We’ve] gotten contributions from kind of a lot of the units, a bunch of the units have performed really well. I think we’re playing really high-level defense all over the field and I think that’s been evident for a while now. Very well positioned, Tyler Saladino made some very nice plays today, outstanding plays. Lorenzo Cain has been playing a great centerfield. We’re doing a great job in that area as well.”

12. Saladino has been a player that has certainly stepped up since he made his debut for the Brewers. As Counsell said, he’s been tremendous in the field, but he’s hit the ball extremely well also.

13. On this road trip – which is the extent of his playing time on the Brewers – he’s 5-for-12 with a double and a pair of home runs and scored four runs.

14. “[Saladino] has played exceptionally well. We’re not getting him frequent starts, he’s produced in both starts significantly with some extra base hits,” according to Counsell. “He’s played wonderful defense, he really has. Impressive defense at shortstop.”

15. The Brewers now travel to Minnesota for an off-day on Thursday before beginning a three-game set with the Twins on Friday night. Brent Suter (2-3, 5.14 ERA) is slated to start for Milwaukee and Kyle Gibson (1-1, 3.43) is set to be on the hill for the Twins. First pitch is at 7:10 p.m. CT from Target Field.

NBA playoff predictions

After a regular season to remember in the NBA, the playoffs finally begin. We at The Zone took a look at each of the eight first round playoff matchups and gave our predictions.

Enjoy!

No. 1 Toronto Raptors vs No. 8 Washington Wizards

| The Raptors had their best season in franchise history this year, finishing with 59 wins and at the top of the conference for the first time ever. Toronto changed the style of play from previous seasons in hopes of being more competitive in the playoffs.

| Washington was one of the NBA’s more disappointing teams this season, partly because star guard John Wall missed half the season due to a knee surgery. They’ve got more talent than the average No. 8 seed but have been unable to put everything together.

| Toronto has struggled in the playoffs previously, as the Raptors have notoriously lost nine consecutive series opening games. It wouldn’t come as a shock if that trend continued, and the Wizards have a punchers chance in this series, but I think it’s one that ultimately goes the Raptors way in six games.

| Raptors in five | Zach Heilprin

| Raptors in six – Joe Miller, Nelson Raisbeck

| Raptors in seven – Ebo Thoreson

No. 3 Philadelphia 76ers vs No. 6 Miami Heat

| The 76ers are the youngest group in the playoffs, with most of their key players lacking playoff experience of any sort. Joel Embiid is going to be out for the beginning of the series due to facial surgery to repair a fracture suffered late in the season. Ben Simmons is in his first year on the court, and first overall draft pick Markelle Fultz missed most of the season due to injury. With all that being said, the Sixers enter the playoffs as winners of 16 straight games and are arguably the second-best team in the Eastern Conference at the moment.

| Miami has no star power. The Heat run a great system offensively and play terrific defense. Erik Spolestra is a great coach in this league and is a big reason as to why the Heat are in the position they’re currently in. Miami is going to be able to dirty this series up and make things difficult for the Sixers. Things typically slow down in the playoffs and that’s what Miami is going to try and do.

| Miami is probably the scariest first round matchup for Philadelphia because of how well they play defense. With Embiid’s status unknown, the Heat have a puncher’s chance in this series, and it helps Miami’s cause that the Sixers have little postseason experience. I think the Heat make this really interesting but not enough. Sixers in seven.

| Philadelphia in four – Thorseon

| Philadelphia in five | Heilprin

| Philadelphia in six –Raisbeck, Miller

No. 4 Cleveland Cavaliers vs No. 5 Indiana Pacers

| The Cleveland Cavaliers enter the playoffs with the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference, but make no mistake, they’re the favorites to reach the Finals for the fourth consecutive season. LeBron James is playing at one of the highest levels of his career, and the Cavs enter the playoffs having won 10 of their last 12, with the last loss being a throwaway game to the Knicks on the regular season’s final day.

| The Indiana Pacers were expected to be on the outside looking in of the playoffs this season after this summer’s trade of Paul George for Victor Oladipo. Instead of that being the case, Oladipo turned into a player that deserves to be named to an All-NBA team this season and the Pacers find themselves as the No. 5 seed. Indiana had a terrific season and overachieved everyone’s expectations.

| Typically, the matchup between the fourth and fifth place teams is the one regarded as a toss-up. That’s not the case here. The Cavs are playing their best basketball of the season right now, and James hasn’t lost a single first round game since 2012. While that streak may very well end, James also has never been on a team that lost in the first round of the playoffs. This version of the Cavaliers won’t be the first. Cleveland in five.

| Cavs in four – Thoreson

| Cavs in five | Heilprin

| Cleveland in six – Raisbeck

| Cavs in seven – Miller

No. 1 Houston Rockets vs No. 8 Minnesota Timberwolves

| Houston wasn’t a hot pick to finish with the best record in the NBA at the beginning of the season as the Golden State Warriors were coming off their second championship in three seasons. But the Rockets came out on fire this season, overtook the Warriors for the best record on the final night before the all-star break, and never looked back.

| On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Minnesota Timberwolves needed to win a game on the final night of the regular season over the Denver Nuggets to earn the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Minnesota was sitting comfortably in playoff position for much of the year, however star guard Jimmy Butler needed knee surgery and missed 17 games.

| The key thing to watch in this series is the disparity between 3-point shooting by these two teams. Minnesota is dead last in the NBA in number of 3s made during the regular season and Houston is first in the league with 1,256 made 3s. The Wolves made 658 this year. You can do whatever math you want, but that adds up the Rockets winning this series in four games.

| Rockets in five – Miller, Thoreson, Heilprin

| Rockets in four – Raisbeck

No. 2 Golden State Warriors vs No. 7 San Antonio Spurs

| For the second consecutive year the NBA will be giving us a series between the Warriors and Spurs, and for the second straight year it almost promises to be a disappointment. This year the Warriors have been one of the best teams in the NBA, but nowhere near reaching full-potential (what an insane sentence to type, but it’s undeniably true). Stars Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green have all missed time due to injury. But the latter three will all be healthy enough to participate in this series, giving the Warriors the clear talent edge.

| The Spurs have now made the playoffs for 21 consecutive seasons, which is remarkable to think about. This year was one of the more impressive runs because all-star forward Kawhi Leonard has only played in nine games this year due to a quad injury and an all-around weird situation. Gregg Popovich reaffirmed that he’s the best coach in the league with what he was able to accomplish with this team this season, but this is a tough draw for them.

| The Warriors just have too much talent. The Spurs will be able to grab a game, maybe two, but an upset here would be an all-timer. Golden State in five.

| Warriors in five – Thoreson, Miller, Heilprin

| Warriors in six – Raisbeck

No. 3 Portland vs No. 6 New Orleans

| Portland got a great year from MVP candidate Damian Lillard, an emerging star in CJ McCollum, and a late season run that solidified them as a playoff team towards the end of the season. The Blazers didn’t close the season as strong as they would’ve liked, but they finished in third place regardless.

| New Orleans is a great story to be able to find a way to reach the playoffs after a devastating injury to center DeMarcus Cousins in late January that ended his season. The Pelicans changed the style they played, ramping up their pace over the last two and a half months of the season to finish first in that category in the NBA. Oh, yeah, and they have the best player in this series in Anthony Davis. He’s relatively unstoppable on both ends, and has come into his own and an undeniable top five talent in the NBA. Guard Jrue Holiday is also one of the more underrated in the NBA.

| The best method I use to try and predict series winners is judging which team has two of the three best players in the series. Portland has Lillard and McCollum, both of whom are better than Holiday of the Pelicans. With that being said, Davis is undoubtedly the best, and Holiday the fourth best. I think Davis has a monster series here. New Orleans in seven.

| Pelicans in six – Thoreson, Miller

| Pelicans in seven – Raisbeck

| Trailblazers in seven | Heilprin

No. 4 Oklahoma City Thunder vs No. 5 Utah Jazz

| The Thunder have the edge in talent here, but the fit hasn’t always been great between Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony. Oklahoma City is an excellent team when Anthony is treated as a third, or even fourth best player behind Steven Adams. Things go sour when Anthony reverts back to playing a similar iso-heavy style to what propelled the Knicks for so many years.

| The Jazz are a team that wasn’t expected to be a playoff competitor, and early on it looked like they weren’t going to be one. The Jazz were propelled by Rookie of the Year candidate Donovan Mitchell and Defensive Player of the Year favorite Rudy Gobert. Utah finished the season on a 29-6 tear to reach the playoffs after starting 18-29. Mitchell is the first rookie to lead a playoff team in scoring since Anthony back in 2003-04 with the Denver Nuggets.

| Mitchell has been great as a rookie, but I think that the playoff atmosphere may be a bit too much for him. The Thunder have the talent, including the two best players in the series. I think it’s closer than it should be on paper, but the Thunder win in six.

| Thunder in six – Thoreson, Heilprin

| Thunder in seven – Miller

| Jazz in seven – Raisbeck

No. 2 Boston Celtics vs No. 7 Milwaukee Bucks

| The Celtics enter the postseason in a bit of an odd situation. While Boston owns the No. 2 seed, they’re not the typical championship threat that is usually the owner of such a seeding. Boston lost all-star guard Kyrie Irving for the season with a knee injury on March 11 and has been relying on rookie forward Jayson Tatum as the primary scoring threat since. The best way to say this is Boston is vulnerable in the first round, far more vulnerable than any No. 2 seed in recent memory. The last No. 2 seed to lose in the first round of the playoffs was Dallas in 2010. It hasn’t happened in the Eastern Conference since 1998.

| The Milwaukee Bucks, like the Washington Wizards, have been one of the more frustrating teams to watch in the NBA this season. Giannis Antetokounmpo is one of the 10 best players in the NBA, and Milwaukee does have talented pieces in Eric Bledsoe, Khris Middleton, and Jabari Parker, but the Bucks have struggled to piece it all together and reach full potential.

| For being the No. 7 seed, Milwaukee couldn’t ask for a better situation to try and advance past the first round for the first time since 2001. I think it happens. Bucks in six, for the culture. More on this in Sunday’s series preview.

| Bucks in six – Thoreson, Miller, Heilprin

| Celtics in five – Raisbeck

Milwaukee Bucks defeat New York Knicks 115-102

The Milwaukee Bucks were without all-star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo on Saturday night in New York, but it didn’t matter as the Bucks came away victorious with a 115-102 win.

Guard Eric Bledsoe and forward Khris Middleton each had a team-high 22 points in the win. The Bucks trailed at half, but were able to use a strong fourth quarter from Bledsoe and guard Brandon Jennings to earn the victory.

Antetokounmpo missed the game with right ankle soreness. The Bucks also listed guard Malcolm Brogdon as probable as he waits to return from a torn quad muscle suffered earlier this season. Brogdon is expected to play on Monday night against the Magic.

The Bucks remain in seventh place in the Eastern Conference with the win. Milwaukee and Miami are tied in the standings, but the Heat hold the tiebreaker. The Washington Wizards are a game back of the Bucks in the standings.

Twitter reacts to Wisconsin’s impact on the Super Bowl

The Philadelphia Eagles won Super Bowl LII by beating the New England Patriots 41-33 on Sunday night. But the Wisconsin football program was also a big winner thanks to the performances of several former players.

A year after scoring three touchdowns in a Super Bowl win over the Atlanta Falcons, running back James White was back in the end zone for the Patriots. He led New England with 46 yards on the ground, including an impressive 26-yard touchdown in the second quarter. It was his eighth playoff touchdown in eight playoff games.

But he was overshadowed by a guy he shared a backfield with at Wisconsin — Eagles running back Corey Clement. The undrafted rookie free agent had four catches for 100 yards and a touchdown. It meant him and White make up two of the three running backs in Super Bowl history to have at least 100 yards receiving.

As you can imagine, the success of the two Wisconsin backs didn’t go unnoticed on social media. Here’s a sampling of what was being said.