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Sharapova Prevails in Key Biscayne Quarters

Key Biscayne, Fla. — The grunts were long and loud in the final game, as if Maria Sharapova was pushing a couch across nearby Crandon Beach.

Trying to win the Sony Open must feel that way to Sharapova, a four-time runner-up. She returned to the semifinals yesterday despite a patchy performance, beating Sara Errani 7-5, 7-5.

Sharapova had 57 unforced errors, including 13 double-faults, and overcame three set points in the second set.

The two sets took 2½ hours, and a flurry of mistakes by both players left spectators groaning. Sharapova had the last laugh, whacking a forehand winner past Errani on match point.

Seeded No. 3, she’ll play today against No. 22 Jelena Jankovic, who beat No. 15 Roberta Vinci 6-4, 6-7 (6), 6-3.

The men’s quarterfinals featured eight Europeans for the first time, and in the opening match, No. 3 David Ferrer of Spain rallied past unseeded Jurgen Melzer of Austria, 4-6, 6-3, 6-0. Ferrer’s opponent tomorrow will be the winner of the match last night between bracket buster Tommy Haas of Germany and No. 11 Gilles Simon of France.

The 34-year-old Haas became the oldest man to beat a No. 1 player in a completed match in 30 years when he upset three-time champion Novak Djokovic on Tuesday night.

Women’s College Hoop

Auriemma Stays at UConn

Storrs, Conn. — Connecticut signed women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma to a new five-year, $10.86 million contract designed to keep him at the school through the 2017-18 season.

The 59-year-old Hall of Famer, who has coached at UConn for the past 28 seasons, will make $1.95 million in salary, speaking fees and media fees in the next year. That will gradually increase to $2.4 million in the final year of the contract.

Baseball

Cards Keep Ace

Adam Wainwright and the Cardinals agreed to a new contract that guarantees the Cardinals’ ace an additional $97.5 million over five years through 2018.

Wainwright had been eligible to become a free agent after the World Series.

A 31-year-old right-hander, Wainwright was 14-13 with a 3.94 ERA last year after missing the Cardinals’ World Series championship season in 2011 because of elbow surgery.

Wainwright was 20-11 with a 2.42 ERA in 2010 and was an NL All-Star.

Fox Analyst to Step Down

New York — Tim McCarver will make his 55th straight season of Major League Baseball his last.

The two-time champion catcher will call the World Series this year and then retire from his analyst job at Fox. McCarver had been thinking about moving on for a couple of years.

This winter, Fox executives visited him at his home in Florida to discuss extending his contract, which expires after the 2013 season.

Diamondbacks Cut Ex-QB

Scottsdale, Ariz. — The Arizona Diamondbacks released Josh Booty, who had earned an invitation to the team’s spring training by winning a televised knuckleball competition among former college quarterbacks.

The Next Knuckler competition was held on MLB Network, with Booty beating out his brother, John David Booty, Doug Flutie, David Greene and Ryan Perrilloux.

Josh Booty has major league experience, playing 13 games for the Marlins from 1996-98. He also played quarterback at LSU.

Football

Falcons Add Umenyiora

Atlanta — The Atlanta Falcons found a replacement for John Abraham by reaching an agreement with free-agent defensive end Osi Umenyiora on a two-year contract.

The Falcons released the 34-year-old Abraham, who led the team with 10 sacks in 2012, on March 1.

With the 31-year-old Umenyiora, the Falcons have a slightly younger replacement at defensive end. Umenyiora had only six sacks for the Giants in 2012. He had a career-high 14½ sacks in 2005, but has reached double figures in only one of the last four years — 11½ in 2010.

Umenyiora, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, was a second-round pick by New York in 2003.

Conference Juggling Continues

Two of the most dominant programs in the Football Championship Subdivision are moving up to Football Bowl Subdivision.

Georgia Southern and Appalachian State announced in separate news conferences on their campuses yesterday their athletic programs are leaving the Southern Conference to join the Sun Belt Conference in 2014.

Georgia Southern’s football team has won 10 Southern Conference titles and six national championships since 1985. Appalachian State has won 10 conference titles and three national championships.

Both schools are slated to begin playing Sun Belt games and will be revenue sharing members of the conference in 2014 and eligible for the Sun Belt conference title, but will not be eligible to play in a bowl game until 2015.

Idaho is joining the Sun Belt Conference as a football-only member, as will New Mexico State.

‘Gronk’ Surprises
N.Y. Student

Lockport, n.y. — Plenty of teenagers have replica jerseys of their favorite NFL player. Tawfiq Baity had his hand-delivered by his football idol.

New England tight end Rob Gronkowski surprised the 17-year-old junior at Lockport High School outside Buffalo by walking into his history class yesterday morning and handing him a New England jersey with Gronkowski’s name and No. 87.

Gronkowski is the teen’s favorite player on his favorite team.

Gronkowski was accompanied by his brother, Dan, a tight end for the Cleveland Browns. The brothers grew up in the nearby Buffalo suburb of Williamsville.

Baity has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. He came to Gronkowski’s attention after appearing in a “get-well” video Lockport students produced for the player after he broke his arm late last season.

Basketball

Ex-Bulls Center
Tom Boerwinkle Dies

Chicago — Tom Boerwinkle, the former Chicago Bulls center who had a franchise-record 37 rebounds in a 1970 game against the Phoenix Suns, has died. He was 67.

The 7-foot Boerwinkle, drafted fourth overall from Tennessee in 1968, averaged 7.2 points, 9.0 rebounds and 3.2 assists in 10 seasons with the Bulls from 1968-69 to 1977-78.

He also worked as an analyst on the team’s radio broadcasts from 1991-94.