Harris' 19 points lead Virginia past Tar Heels

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Harris' 19 points lead Virginia past Tar Heels

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) Joe Harris scored 19 points and sparked a 15-2 second-half run and Virginia rallied to beat North Carolina 61-52 in the Atlantic Coast Conference opener for both schools on Sunday night.

Harris' 3-pointer sparked the game-changing burst for Virginia (11-3, 1-0), which had just gone behind 34-26 after North Carolina opened the half on a 9-2 run.

Reggie Bullock scored 22 points for the Tar Heels (10-4, 0-1), who lost for the first time in five visits to John Paul Jones Arena.

Bullock's final basket came with 3:11 to play, pulling the Tar Heels within 51-50, but Harris scored on a short bank, Paul Jesperson made a driving layup and Virginia hit 6 of 8 free throws before P.J. Hairston scored again for North Carolina, making a free throw with 20 seconds left.

North Carolina scored on its first four possessions of the second half, and Bullock's 3-pointer capped a 9-2 run that gave the Tar Heels a 34-26 lead. After an exchange of baskets, Harris came free for a wide-open 3-pointer, sparking a 10-0 run for Virginia, and when Evan Nolte soon followed with back-to-back 3-pointers, Virginia's lead was 46-40 and the Tar Heels never quite caught up again.

The game marked the return of Virginia captain and point guard Jontel Evans, who had missed nine of the first 13 games with a foot injury. Teven Jones started in his place and made two early 3-pointers as Virginia hit four of its first five baskets from behind the arc, and Evans played in short bursts.

He finished with eight points and six assists, and had a steadying influence.

North Carolina led 25-24 after a very physical, but bizarre first half. Neither team led by more than five, and the Cavaliers were whistled for seven personal fouls before the Tar Heels got their first.

Once North Carolina got called for one, five more quickly followed, to the delight of a near-sellout crowd, but the Tar Heels finished 7-for-12 from the line, the Cavaliers 2-for-4.

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Dusty Baker drops hints about playoff roles for Nationals rookies

Dusty Baker drops hints about playoff roles for Nationals rookies

The Nationals beat the Diamondbacks in their series finale on Thursday and by doing so inched closer to securing home field advantage in the NL Division Series. They earned the win despite playing without Daniel Murphy and Bryce Harper, who remained out with injuries.

In order to make it happen, they needed contributions from unexpected places. Catcher Pedro Severino homered and walked. Second baseman Wilmer Difo also hit a home run, the first of his young MLB career. Michael Taylor had three hits and drove in two runs. Those three led the way on offense on a day their regulars - Trea Turner, Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, Danny Espinosa and Anthony Rendon - went a combined 2-for-16. 

Rookie Reynaldo Lopez also chipped in with 3 2/3 innings of relief work. The coincidence that he, Severino and Difo all made their mark was not lost on them or manager Dusty Baker. The trio are all young players from the Dominican Republic.

"It was Dominican Republic Day," Baker said. Our Dominicans hit two home runs and pitched well... Maybe they had it mixed up, they thought today was Latin Day instead of yesterday."

Baker was referring to a special pregame ceremony at Nationals Park on Wednesday that featured Latin American flags on the field and a representative from the D.R. to throw out the first pitch. 

The players picked up on it, as well.

“It was very fun and exciting," Lopez said through an interpreter. "He said as I came into the dugout to Dusty having known that Difo had hit a home run as well as Severino already and they’ve been doing a good job and I was pitching very well, he said ‘I guess today is really Latin day.’ It was just very humorous, but it was fun. And he kept repeating that because we were all performing so well for him, so it was great.”

"Very excited that all three of us were able to do a great job for the team today," Difo said through an interpreter. "Just keep working hard to show everybody that we deserve to be here and that we can contribute and help the team win. I’m just very excited about today."

Severino knows he will be on the playoff roster at this point. With the loss of Wilson Ramos to a season-ending injury, Severino is the next man up.

Difo and Taylor would need an injury or two to clear room for them. They are unlikely to make the final 25.

[RELATED: What will Joe Ross' role be for Nationals in playoffs?]

Lopez, though, is in a battle for the bullpen. Depending on how many pitchers they keep, Lopez could definitely find himself in that mix. And Baker is already talking like Lopez will be pitching in October.

"He's been working on some things," Baker said. "He picked up his tempo. He throws strikes. He appears unfazed by the situation or having to come into the game. And I'm just hoping that he continues that same mindset when we get to the playoffs because it's the same game. More at stake and the world's watching, but it's the same game."

Baker also dropped a hint about Severino that should be kept in mind over the next week. 

"All of our young guys dont appear to be intimidated at all by being young. They're about to venture into territories that they haven't been before. And I told him, 'Hey, man, I want you to do the same thing as [Clayton] Kershaw if you're starting in L.A.' And he said OK and left it at that."

It sounds like Severino has at least a decent chance of starting Game 1 on Friday.

[RELATED: Matt Belisle sounds like safe bet for Nats playoff roster]

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David Ortiz's image being mowed into outfield at Fenway Park

David Ortiz's image being mowed into outfield at Fenway Park

Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz will be handing up the cleats after this season. Given his status as a sports legend for the New England area, it's only fitting that the home town send him out with style.

Fenway Park will have a very different look in the outfield as the Red Sox close out their regular season in a three-game series against Toronto starting on Friday. Here is what fans have to look forward to seeing:

Considering how much time I spend just trying to get my lawn to look green and grow grass, this is pretty darn impressive.

RELATED: Orioles give David Ortiz hilariously appropriate, shade-filled retirement gift