Houston Sabercats rugby kicks off tonight at Constellation Field

The Sabercats open play tonight. Courtesy photo

Rugby is officially here in Houston. Tonight the Houston Sabercats will have their inaugural match at Constellation Field in Sugarland. I believe a Rugby team here can be successful because Houston is such an international city; there is going to be a demand for almost every sport you can imagine. The season also starts after football has wound down so you can get your fix for testosterone fueled action. The newly formed Major League Rugby currently has six teams, with the Sabercats playing nine exhibition games before the season starts in April. They’ve also got a deal with CBS Sports to broadcast the matches on television and an apparel deal with XBlades, so you can purchase some Sabercats gear.

On Tuesday I was able to go to the Sabercats practice. It was 30 degrees and sleeting so I know these guys are tough! Coach Justin Fitzpatrick and fly-half/assistant coach Sam Windsor are both excited about the opportunity to start up a new league. When I spoke with Sam on Friday afternoon he said the guys are ready to go for tonight. Windsor has been playing rugby since the age of seven when he competed in an “under 9’s” league and later played for two of the oldest rugby clubs in the world – The Blackheaths in England and Trinity College in Dublin, which are both over 150 years old. “I’m excited about starting up a whole new club from the ground up here after playing for older, well established clubs.” Windsor said. Many people compare rugby and football due to the similarities of the field, the scrum being the precursor to the line of scrimmage and the tackling and seemingly violent nature of the sport. However, rugby also has a lot in common with basketball – a sport that actually was invented as an indoor alternative to rugby during the cold months. In rugby, like basketball, players participate on both offense and defense so the play is continuous with very little stoppage time. I asked Windsor about the toll this can take on the players’ bodies – “let’s just say I’m not very mobile on a Sunday,” he said. However, because players are taught proper tackling techniques from a young age, injuries are not as common of an occurrence in the sport as you might imagine even though most players are wearing little to no protective gear.

Rugby gets a reputation as a hooligan’s sport, but there are actually very strict ethical guidelines that players must adhere to. Windsor told me that only the captain can speak with the referee and back chat from other players can earn them a yellow or red card and could ultimately lead to an ejection. And even though players are competing hard against each other while on the field, it’s a common occurrence for them to share a pint afterwards. A player doesn’t want to have to leave the field of play, hurting his team, so referees are treated with a respect in rugby that you don’t often see in other sports. Windsor defined a successful rugby player in three words: “strong, aware, and communicative. Players have to have the strength to play the full match, be aware of the field and what’s going on around them, and be able to communicate effectively with teammates to be successful.” he said. The Sabercats will also be starting a rugby academy for young children up to teenagers to teach them about the sport, what it can provide them for the future, and as an opportunity to really foster rugby in young people.

Why should Houstonians give rugby a chance? “You’ll definitely be getting your money’s worth at a Sabercats game” Windsor says. “We’re playing with a high skill level, there’s going to be non-stop action, beer sales, a fan experience, an area for kids, and much more.”

Tonight the Sabercats take on the Seattle Saracens – the team head coach Fitzpatrick and Windsor were with before starting the Sabercats – and the weather is shaping up for a beautiful afternoon and evening. Tailgating starts at 3:30 p.m. with the fan experience at 4:30. Kick-off is at 7 p.m. Tickets are still available at www.houstonsabercats.com/tickets.

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After rallying in the ninth inning in Game 1 to take the pivotal opener of this best-of-three ALWC series, the Astros were in the driver's seat to try and end the series on Wednesday with another win at Target Field. Here is a quick rundown of Game 2:

Final Score: Astros 3, Twins 1.

Series: HOU Wins 2-0.

Winning Pitcher: Cristian Javier.

Losing Pitcher: Cody Stashak.

Houston gets the first hit and first run in the fourth

Through the first three innings, neither team could get a hit off of Jose Berrios or Jose Urquidy, though the Twins did load the bases in the bottom of the first on two walks and an error, but Urquidy would strand the runners before getting 1-2-3 innings in the second and third.

Meanwhile, the Astros lineup was retired in order in three perfect innings by Berrios. That changed in the top of the fourth when Houston would get back-to-back two-out walks to set up the first hit of the game, an RBI-single by Kyle Tucker to give the Astros a 1-0 lead.

Dusty Baker makes another early call to the bullpen before Twins tie it up

Urquidy was able to keep the 1-0 lead by working around a two-out single in the bottom of the fourth, the first hit for the Twins. He returned in the fifth, allowing a leadoff single before a strikeout for the first out. Dusty Baker would pull another early hook, like Greinke the day prior, dipping into his bullpen early to end Urquidy's day at just 76 pitches in the fifth. His final line: 4.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 76 P.

Brooks Raley was who Baker called on to face the top of the Twins' lineup. He would walk his first batter, putting runners on first and second, get a strikeout for the second out, then allow an RBI-double to Nelson Cruz that almost scored a second, go-ahead run. Instead, the runner was out at home thanks to a terrific defensive play by Carlos Correa, bulleting the ball to Maldonado at home, who made a great tag to save the run and keep it tied 1-1.

Correa homers, Astros advance to ALDS

After Raley completed the fifth inning for Urquidy, Cristian Javier was the next reliever out to begin the bottom of the sixth. He would toss a 1-2-3 frame, sending the tie game to the seventh. In the top of the seventh, Carlos Correa broke the tie with a long, loud two-out solo home run to center-field, putting the Astros back in front 2-1.

Javier held on to the one-run lead in the bottom of the seventh by working around a leadoff walk, then returned for the eighth. He would get through it scoreless, despite allowing a one-out walk to Nelson Cruz, who would be pinch-ran for by the speedy Byron Buxton. After a strikeout for out number two, Javier would catch Buxton between first and second base in a rundown, getting the big final out of the inning.

Houston added insurance in the top of the ninth, getting two on base before an RBI-single by Kyle Tucker, his second of the day to make it 3-1. That left things up to closer Ryan Pressly, making his first appearance of the postseason. He would notch the save, advancing the Astros to the ALDS for their fourth-straight year.

Up Next: The Astros will now have a few days off to travel to the west coast before starting their ALDS with the winner of the A's / White Sox ALWC series. Game 1 of their ALDS will be on Monday, October 5th, at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, with start time TBD.

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