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Top-ranked American Mardy Fish at the Western & Southern Open. (AP Photo)
By  AJ Mazzolini

MASON, Ohio — Many of his fellow countrymen might not recognize his face or his name, but Mardy Fish insists he’s fine with that.

It actually has helped his rise in the tennis world from consistently strong veteran to upper-echelon elite.

The Los Angeles resident is playing the best tennis of any American on the men’s tour, and has been for most of the year. A string of victories and deep runs in tournaments has vaulted him into uncharted territory in the world rankings. He currently sits at No. 8, amid a slew of European players, and he’s the only American in the top 20.

Fish is seeded eighth for the U.S. Open, which begins Monday in New York.

“I don’t necessarily feel like I’ll be the top American,” Fish said. “I will maybe be ranked the highest. I’ve sort of gone under the radar pretty comfortably and haven’t had to answer too many critics.”

 
 
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Davidson RB Alex Mickley (11). (Photo by Kyle Robertson)
By  AJ Mazzolini

The Alex Mickley show might have a new co-star.

The senior running back ran for 143 yards and four touchdowns, but E.J. Jennings added 97 yards last night for Hilliard Davidson, which stomped Grove City 28-7 in a season opener.

The Wildcats dominated on both sides of the ball. Their offense repeatedly produced long, methodical drives, totaling close to 300 yards on the ground, and the defense limited Grove City to just 30 yards of total offense.

Davidson’s running game was in full force, coach Brian White said, and the maturation of Jennings will only make it more dangerous. Jennings adds another layer of powerful pop in the backfield and will help feed the near-unstoppable running onslaught.

“E.J. is a good complement,” White said. “He had some mop-up duties for us last year, but he’s getting better. He’s buying into our system.”

 
 
By  AJ Mazzolini

A group of high-schoolers filed into a room lined with computers, an athletic trainer and other medical personnel leading the way. The athletes sat down and began clicking away, matching words, colors and images on the screens.

While not the usual setting for a preseason football practice, the 45-minute session could become more valuable than any other team meeting during the season. Computer game-like tests are among the latest tools being used in high schools and beyond as athletic trainers and physicians continue to wage a war on concussions.

ImPACT, or Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing, is now used in 27 central Ohio high schools, as well as hundreds more around the country. The tests give doctors a clearer understanding of how the brain functions under normal conditions.

By testing athletes before any brain trauma, doctors have a baseline point for comparison if an injury occurs, said Jeff Sczpanski, an athletic trainer with OhioHealth who works with Hilliard Bradley athletics. A post-concussion test comparison can help determine whether it’s safe for an athlete to return to play.
 
 
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Bengals.com photo.
CINCINNATI — When All-Pro cornerback Johnathan Joseph left for a big paycheck in Houston in July, the Bengals needed to fill a gaping hole in a defense already expecting to struggle this season.

Just days later, the Bengals signed former Ohio State player Nate Clements. It’s like being home, Clements said with a smile, even though his hometown of Shaker Heights, Ohio, is still more than 200 miles away.

But at least it’s like home, he said, especially compared with San Francisco, where he played the past four seasons.

“It feels good,” the 31-year-old said. “My family’s a lot closer. I think they’re just as excited as I am.”

After the San Francisco 49ers dumped Clements in a salary-cap move in July, the Bengals pounced on him, signing him to a two-year, $10.5 million deal.

 
 
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Andy Murray (AP photo)
By  AJ Mazzolini

MASON, Ohio — Novak Djokovic watched Andy Murray return a strike over the net, a floating entree ready to be devoured. The usual Djokovic, who reeled off 43 straight wins to capture the world’s top ranking earlier this year, would have crushed the ball off the court for a point.

Yesterday though, the Serb’s forehand put the ball into the net and left a grimace on his face.

Soon after, Djokovic opted to retire from the match due to a right shoulder injury, handing Murray the championship at the Western & Southern Open. Murray was up a set, won 6-4, and was leading 3-0 in the second when play ended.

“I would have obviously liked to have won by finishing the match,” said the fourth-ranked Murray, who won the tournament in 2008. “But sometimes it happens.”

The loss was only Djokovic’s second of the season, dropping his record to 57-2, a mark that’s earned him nine titles on the year, including two Grand Slams. He had been a perfect 33-0 on the hard court before yesterday.

“I apologize to the tournament; I apologize to the people who came here today to watch the match,” said Djokovic, 24, who had been experiencing shoulder pain for about 10 days.

 
 
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Williams announces her withdrawal from W&S Open. (AP photo)
By  AJ Mazzolini

MASON, Ohio — Serena Williams returned to tennis with a blaze this summer after a long injury layoff, but she might have pushed herself too hard on her recently healed foot.

Williams withdrew from the Western & Southern Open yesterday because of a toe injury. The former No. 1 player in the world was riding a 12-match winning streak and was due to face 10th-ranked Samantha Stosur in the second round, a rematch of the Rogers Cup final that Williams won Sunday.

The withdrawal is precautionary, she said, and should not affect her playing in the U.S. Open, which begins Aug. 29 in New York.

“It’s not as bad as it was before,” Williams said of the injury, which she suffered in July 2010 after stepping on glass in a restaurant in Germany. “It’s just more of an aggravation.”

The cuts required two surgeries and put her tennis career on hiatus for nearly a year. She returned to the court in June.

 
 
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By  AJ Mazzolini

DELAWARE, Ohio — Although still not quite a mainstream sport, lacrosse has developed solid roots in central Ohio at the high-school and college levels.

Now, Major League Lacrosse will learn whether the pro game can find a niche here, as well.

MLL officially welcomed the Ohio Machine into the fold yesterday, naming Ted Garber the team’s coach and announcing that home games in 2012 and ’13 will be played in 9,100-seat Selby Field at Ohio Wesleyan University, beginning in May.

Professional lacrosse’s arrival in Ohio has been a long time coming, league commissioner David Gross said. Columbus played host to the first game on the MLL Summer Showcase Tour — the league’s traveling platform in 2000 to gain attention for its launch the following year — and the league championship game was played in Crew Stadium in 2002.

“Major League Lacrosse was really born here in Ohio,” Gross said. “So, ‘Why here?’ should be answered as ‘Why did it take us so long, why were we kicking the tires all these years, why didn’t we just plant the flag?’ ”


 
 

Whatever It Takes: Harrison Ringel

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By  AJ Mazzolini

A boy lay in a hospital bed with medicine pumping into his body. The sanitary white sheets and mattress were becoming as familiar to Harrison Ringel as his own bed at home in Galloway.

Doctors said the boy had acute lymphocytic leukemia. He would receive some form of chemotherapy treatment for the next 3 1/2 years — if things went well.

But Harrison wasn’t thinking about the cancer. Or why he was the one getting sick, a 12-year-old just starting to really live. His mind wasn’t even in the hospital room.

His mind was at the track, on the back of his road-racing motorcycle ripping down the pavement and hugging the tight turns, his favorite parts.

“(Racing) has always been something that I’ve used to look past everything else,” said Harrison, now a 15-year-old incoming freshman at Ready High School. “It’s a motivator to get past these things, to say, ‘OK, I’ve got to do this so I can get back on the bike.’ ”
 
 
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Tigers closer Jose Valverde recorded his 33rd save. (AP photo)
By  AJ Mazzolini

CLEVELAND — The Detroit Tigers finally overcame whatever spell Progressive Field had cast on them for well over a year.

The Indians dropped the third in a three-game series with the Tigers 4-3 last night and fell three games behind them in the American League Central. Detroit had lost 13 straight games in Cleveland dating to last season.

The important thing for the Indians, manager Manny Acta said, is that the Tigers’ lead shrunk during the series.

“I thought it was a great series,” Acta said. “We came into this series trying to shorten up the distance and we did. The goal was to sweep them, but if you can’t sweep them, two out of three’s not bad.”

Detroit starter Justin Verlander (17-5) managed seven innings of three-hit ball and struck out 10 to become the first major leaguer to reach 17 wins this season. He also walked three Indians, two of which came around to score.

“I felt the worst I’ve felt all year,” Verlander said. “But overcoming that to still win, that’s what our job is as a starting pitcher.”

 
 
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Jason Kipnis went 5 for 5 to help beat Detroit. (AP Photo)
By  AJ Mazzolini

CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Indians crept to two games back of the Detroit Tigers after beating the American League Central leaders 10-3 last night to take the first two games of a three-game series at Progressive Field.

The Indians unleashed a hitting barrage on Detroit starter Rick Porcello, with rookie Jason Kipnis leading the charge. The recent call-up from the Clippers went 5 for 5 for a Tribe team that collected 18 hits, eight for extra bases.

“He’s been very, very good,” manager Manny Acta said of Kipnis. “We’ve liked him since spring training. He’s a gamer, he’s a dirt bag. We’ve found our own (Dustin) Pedroia or (Chase) Utley or a mix in between. Those are the type of guys we want around here.”

Kipnis cracked a two-run homer in the second inning. He had three RBI and scored four runs to become the first Cleveland rookie to get at least four hits and score four runs in a game since Coco Crisp in 2003.

The second baseman continues his impressive run since arriving in the majors in July. Since July 31, Kipnis has hit all six of his home runs and is batting .363.