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Raheel Ramzanali: 5 things I’m excited about in April

Villanova should make the Final Four entertaining. Elsa/Getty Images

October always gets the headlines for being the best sports month, but lowkey, April is making a solid push. Here are the 5 events (Spoiler: I feature no NFL related events so if you’re an NFL sheep, please move along and spare me the “NFL is king!” crap) I’m excited about in April and why it makes this month the best in the sports calendar:

1. NCAA Final Four April 1

Technically the Final Four starts in March on the 31st, but the title game will be on April 2 so this is an April event. Don’t let dates interfere with this being the marquee event in April. This will decide the World Champion of College Basketball and put to bed all of our crappy brackets. This year is also special because we get two different types of matchups in the Final Four: The Cinderella story with Loyola Chicago and the heavyweights with Kansas and Villanova. Side note: Is Villanova the Clemson of basketball? To be back in the Final Four two out of the last three years and winning it all in the greatest title game ever is starting to feel a lot like what Clemson is doing in the College Football. To me, Final Four weekend is one of the best sporting events to watch and I’m glad we get it in April.

2. NBA Playoffs April 14

 While a champion will be decided in this tournament, it won’t happen for another two months so the NBA gets second place with the playoffs. The official start of the playoffs means we get plenty of important games every single night and locally, we finally get the start of the journey for the Rockets. This has been an interesting season for Houston because they clearly have the best team, but until they beat the Warriors in the playoffs, it won’t feel like a success of a season.

3. Wrestlemania April 8

Skim down, check out the other two. Welcome back. There is no way I’m putting golf or baseball ahead of the single most important entertainment event of the year, Wrestlemania! Is that Ronda Rousey beating up on the most powerful woman in Sports Entertainment? SURE IS! I’m sorry, is that the Undertaker dominating in April at Mania? SURE IS! Oh look, here is John Cena getting over again. Get your index fingers ready, because that SURE IS a YES chant breaking out.

4. The Masters April 5

Ugh, the only reason I’m including this on my list is so I don’t have to hear it from my SportsMap colleague John Granato. John is the protector of golf and would spike my alkaline water with molly and percs if I didn’t include The Masters. Total minutes of golf I’ll watch from April 5-8? Probably six minutes. However, I will record every day and play it back in the summer for the ultimate nap background noise.

Baseball opening Day March 29-April 2

Again, don’t let the dates trip you up. Baseball Opening Day might be on March 29th, but it really doesn’t start until our World Series champs receive their rings on April 2 in Houston. The only reason I’m pumped for this is because the Astros will sweep the Rangers to start the season in Arlington and that will be the last time we hear from Rangers fans for the season. The fact the MLB is starting the World Champs on the road just shows you why baseball is so off. In fact, I think next week I’ll write about why baseball messed up by not starting the Astros at home on the 29th.


 

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Houston loses first game to Oakland

A's end losing streak against Astros with late homers

Lance McCullers Jr. went five innings of one-run ball Friday night. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

After maintaining their stronghold against the A's in Thursday's home opener, the Astros had the chance to lock up the three-game series victory against Oakland with a win on Friday night. On the mound, Lance McCullers Jr. hoped to improve upon his first start against this same team, a five-inning one-run outing.

Instead, he would have the same outcome, once again lasting five innings while allowing one run, before a big tie-breaking home run late in the game would push Oakland out of their losing skid against the Astros.

Final Score: A's 6, Astros 2

Astros' Record: 6-2, tied for first in AL West

Winning Pitcher: Yusmeiro Petit (2-0)

Losing Pitcher: Bryan Abreu (1-1)

McCullers Jr. makes it through five

McCullers Jr. looked sharp through the first three innings, allowing just two baserunners, one on a second-inning single, then a walk in the third. Oakland did better against him the second time through their order in the fourth, with Jed Lowrie leading the inning off with a solo home run to put Oakland in front 1-0.

They went on to load the bases with one out on an error and two walks, but McCullers would strand them all. He returned for the fifth, a much cleaner inning where a caught stealing by Martin Maldonado would help him face just three batters. His final line: 5.0 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 6 K, 88 P.

Oakland gets homer-happy to even the series

McCullers Jr. would leave the game without being eligible for the winning or losing decision, as an RBI-groundout by Kyle Tucker in the fourth would have it tied 1-1. Bryan Abreu was the first out of Houston's bullpen, and he would attempt to eat up multiple innings. He had perfect innings in the sixth and seventh, retiring six A's in order to maintain the stalemate.

Abreu remained in the game in the top of the eighth, allowing a single before getting a strikeout, ending his run as Dusty Baker would bring in left-handed Blake Taylor. Taylor would give up a single against his first batter, then a loud go-ahead three-run home run to Matt Olson to push the A's back in front 4-1. They'd add two more insurance runs off of Joe Smith in the top of the ninth, getting a two-run home run by Mark Canha to extend the lead to 6-1.

Oakland's bullpen would hold on to the newly created lead, allowing just one run on a sac fly by Jose Altuve in the bottom of the ninth, finally ending their losing streak against Houston and setting up the rubber game on Saturday to be for the series victory.

Up Next: This series's finale will be a Saturday afternoon start, with first pitch scheduled for 3:05 PM. For the Astros, Jose Urquidy (0-0, 4.15 ERA) will look to get a win on the board, while Oakland will hand the ball to Frankie Montas (0-1, 23.63 ERA).

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