Thursday, June 30, 2016

Larson Mistake Costly At Sonoma

Sonoma - The thunder of the cars revving up in the garage area at Sonoma Raceway was deafening. These powerful machines glistened in the morning sky. The car surfaces were dotted all over with the logos of the race team’s sponsors. Each crew member almost methodically moved around the garage and they seemed to have a role in the preparation of the NASCAR Sprint Cup car. Each man knew that it was his job to tweak, adjust or make something in that car exactly right.

It was still three hours before the green flag would start the Toyota/SaveMart 350, but these racing machines needed to be tuned to the smallest mark to negotiate what is perhaps one of the more tolling races annually for these cars. Sonoma Raceway is a road coarse with big changes in elevations, not the traditional ovals or tri-ovals these cars run much of the NASCAR season.

The engines revved for several minutes while a couple mechanics looked at read-outs on their laptops, plugged into the complicated wiring installed in these cars. One mechanic said they can see almost everything that moves internally in the car. 
The pit crew of Kyle Larson's #42 Target Chevy do their work
during a green flag stop. Larson was penalized on this
pit stop for speeding in the pits and cost him a likely
top five finish at the Toyota/SaveMart 350 Sunday.

The engines were then turned off and their crews, all wearing their matching team colors, pushed them into the pit area. Then the pageantry began; a rock band plays on a portable stage at the start/finish line, jets fly overhead in formation, drivers are introduced one at a time to cheers from fans from all over the sprawling grounds of Sonoma. Then it’s time for God Bless America and the National Anthem. A couple jets from the 114th Fighter Squadron at Kingsley Field in Oregon zoomed in about 500 feet over the track and rumbled the ground. Parachutists dragging flags and colored smoke bombs drop in.

Finally, after about an hour of all the hoopla, it was time for racing.

Drivers got into their cars and Sonoma State University president Ruben Arminana announced, “Drivers, start your engines.”

Crowds cheer, drivers flip their switches and the engines once again come to life. The roar was again deafening. If you didn’t have ear plugs, you had a headache when it was all over three hours later.

Then, in an entertaining race with no collisions and only six caution flags, mostly for debris on the track, there was a two-man dual. Retiring Sprint Cup driver Tony Stewart grabbed the lead coming out of a caution period with 22 laps remaining. He was hounded by Denny Hamlin the rest of the way. In fact, Hamlin grabbed the lead briefly on the final lap but in the final turn, a hairpin right turn that turns back towards the finish lane, Hamlin slid wide and Stewart took advantage and snuck the nose of his car inside and floored the accelerator to the checkered flag.

“I couldn’t believe as good as he was braking going into (turn) 11and I was shocked he missed the corner,” Stewart said. “I was shocked he left the door open like that. You can’t crack the door open with me on the last lap like that. I’ll take it.”

It was Stewart’s first win on NASCAR’s biggest circuit since June 2, 2013 and his 49th in 598 career NASCAR Sprint Cup races.

The other race teams quickly pushed their cars back to the garages while Stewart, his crew and sponsors and family celebrated in the Sunoco Winners’ Circle. The shiny surfaces of these racers of three hours earlier were, well, gone and dirty. They all needed a car wash, badly.

But really these machines weren’t going to see soap and water. They needed to go to the body shop first. Just about every one of them was dented in on both sides of the car. That’s because negotiating the 1.99 mile, 11-turn road coarse means you will bump and grind against your competitors throughout the 350 kilometer race.

Tires, some with large chunks in the surface, but all showing great wear, were removed. The cars were lifted into their elite 18-wheel haulers and in a matter of what seemed like a few minutes tools and equipment were all packed away. The crews stripped off their special one-piece suits, most drenched in perspiration and were tanking down cold water. Their next destination, Daytona Beach, Fla., was on most of their minds.

One driver very disappointed was Elk Grove’s Kyle Larson. He started fifth at the start and slowly moved his way up the ranks. His strategy was to pit early before anyone else and then recover when the others pitted. With 50 laps gone, Larson was in second place, chasing Hamlin. Once again, Larson came into the pits on a green flag. It looked like a quality pit stop, but right away NASCAR slapped him with a penalty for coming into the pit area at more than the prescribed 45 mph. He dropped back to 14th place and finished in 12th place.

“But I had fun, I’m excited.” he said.

Larson acted like he didn’t want to talk much, once again searching for his first win on the Sprint Cup circuit.

The fans, some 90,000 is what was estimated, all tried to leave, but the roads around the Raceway are just two-laned. Most folks were inching along Highways 121 and 37 for a couple hours trying to go home. Many people spend the weekend in their RV’s in a large field east of the Raceway. There had to be hundreds of them.

They sit outside the RV’s while others fight the traffic. They’ll go home Monday. They’ve made it a weekend in wine country watching the world’s best drivers.

See photos from the Toyota/SaveMart 350 on John’s facebook,

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Carlson A Surprise MLB First-Rounder

As Major League Baseball was ready to wrap up the end of the first round with a pair of selections by the St. Louis Cardinals a familiar name was announced by Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred: "With the 33rd pick in the first round of the Major League Baseball Draft, the St. Louis Cardinals select Dylan Carlson, outfielder, from Elk Grove High School, Elk Grove, California."

The 6-3, 220-pound all-around player for the Sac-Joaquin Section's Division I champions jumped out of the pile of prospects on the lists of baseball brass and into the opening round of MLB's 2016 Draft Thursday night. 
Dylan Carlson, drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the first round

The selection, the second of three first round picks by the Cardinals, took many of the experts by surprise because MLB.Com didn't even have Carlson rated in the top 200 prospects.

"It is a bit of a surprise," John Manuel of Baseball America said during the live telecast on Thursday. "He's a guy with a ton of intangibles. He may be the best make-up guy in the whole draft. It's a baseball family, his dad is a coach, a baseball program that has produced high draft picks like Rowdy Tellez and J.D. Davis. It's a well-regarded program. So, he grew up around that program, switch hits and last year at the Area Code Games he played first base, but this spring moved to the outfield. He's shown scouts average run times and will likely stay in the outfield, probably not center, likely left. He pitches as well and has arm strength, but what you are buying is a sweet swing and projectable power."

Other experts said the choice of Carlson was good for the Cardinals, but surprised he would be selected in the first round. They surmise it was because team officials think they can sign Carlson this summer.

Carlson, who drilled ten home runs this season for the Thundering Herd and batted .394, has signed a National Letter of Intent to play next season for Cal State - Fullerton. 

Harold Reynolds, a former Seattle Mariner infielder and MLB Network commentator loved the pick of Carlson.
"A switch-hitter, his dad is a coach, he's got great size, the things you look for," Reynolds said. "I love the fact he slipped under the radar."

Carlson is a four-year starter who was on Herd baseball teams that won three of the last four Section Division I championships. His father, Jeff, has been the Herd head varsity coach for 15 seasons and has won seven Section titles.

Manning Drafted 1st Round - Ninth Overall - By Tigers

Sheldon High School's multi-sport star Matt Manning has been selected in the first round by the Detroit Tigers, the ninth selection overall, of Major League Baseball's Draft.

Manning, a 6-6 right-handed pitcher who throws fastballs regularly at 92-95 mph, was 2-1 with a 1.91 ERA and struck out 77 batters in 40 1/3rds innings for the Huskies who finished second in the Delta League. He also batted .493 at the plate, leading the league in that category amongst regular starters.

Named this season as the Delta League's Most Valuable Player in basketball, Manning has signed a National Letter of Intent to play baseball and basketball at Loyola Marymount. But, with the potential of signing a pro baseball contract with a signing bonus that could be as high as a $3-$5 million, it's likely he'll pursue baseball professionally.

With that aside, Manning was being discussed thoroughly by baseball draft insiders as a real solid baseball prospect because of his ability to consistently throw a 92-95 mph fastball, plus his athleticism as shown this year not just on the mound, but at the plate. Tonight on MLB Network commentator Dan O'Dowd liked the choice.

"A well-above average fastball with a a ton of late life, secondary pitches are still developing," O'Dowd said. "He's one of these picks where you are going to have to slow his development time down a little. Taller guys take a little longer to get to the big leagues. That starts at there initial level and getting their foundation right."

If Manning does indeed sign, he will join his father, Rich, with a career in professional sports. The Atlanta Hawks of the NBA in 1993 drafted the elder Manning in the 2nd round, the 40th overall. He played eight seasons of professional basketball, including two years with the Vancouver Grizzlies and a year with the Clippers.

The younger Manning is the second Elk Grove resident drafted out of high school in the first round. In 2014 the Tigers took Derek Hill of Elk Grove H.S. 23rd overall. He's currently in High-A baseball in the Midwest League, playing centerfield. Laguna Creek's Casey Weathers was a first round draft choice of the Colorado Rockies in 2007, 8th overall, after his senior year at Vanderbilt University. He is now playing with Double-A Akron in the Cleveland organization.

The highest Sacramento-area player selected in the first round was Butch Edge of El Camino H.S., selected sixth overall in 1974. 

Friday, May 27, 2016

Herd Win SJS Div. 1 North With Two Wins

Maybe it's because baseball coach Jeff Carlson has been there and done that ten times before, but Elk Grove came into Sacramento City College's Union Stadium Friday night with a real confidence that they would beat Sac-Joaquin Section Division I top-seed Oak Ridge two times in the North Section championship.
Just ask Riley Lamb.
"I was beyond confident," he said. "I knew if we just showed up, we'd win."
The Herd used solid pitching, timely hitting and quality defense to beat the Trojans, 6-2, twice, to put themselves into next week's Division I final against Tracy at the University of the Pacific.
The guy who was key to the clinching win in the nightcap was pitcher Christian Scott, who for the first time ever pitched six consecutive innings of baseball in high school.
Elk Grove won its 11th North Division I championship Friday
"It was a memorable experience," Scott said shyly.
He allowed just two runs and ... hits to help Elk Grove wrap up its 11th North Section championship. Scott knew Thursday he and Dylan Carlson would be called upon to start on the mound.
"Dylan and knew it would be our turn and we'd have to do it to wrap this up," Scott said.
Carlson threw a complete game in the opener on Friday. Alex Zalasky came on in relief of Scott to pitch the seventh inning of game two.
The only rocky inning Scott encountered was the second inning where Oak Ridge scored two runs and had the bases loaded but Carlson, who played centerfield in game two, ran down a screaming line drive for the final out of the inning.
"I just tried to keep my composure," Scott said. "I knew I had a great defense behind me  and they made some plays."
Scott has been watching Herd baseball since he was little hoping for his chance to contribute to a championship. Friday night that came true.
"To fill this role and pitch a pivotal game was great for me and I just loved it," he said.
Three double plays turned by shortstop Josh Urps and second baseman Aaron Wong helped Elk Grove greatly in the second game.
Friday marked the fourth straight year the Herd played in this game.
"You see how you did it and then go back to that when you prepare for the (North Section Championship)," Carlson said.
He also claimed that playing a tough non-league schedule of schools with good baseball programs also prepares the Herd for nights like Friday. In the first game, Elk Grove faced Oak Ridge ace Trenton Denholm who was 10-0 with a 0.55 ERA, having surrendered only two earned runs all year. But, in the third inning Erek Bolton doubled off the leftfield fence to drive in two runs for the Herd off Denholm. And, for the first time this year, Denholm didn't last an entire game.
"When we see a big (NCAA) D-one guy like we saw tonight, we won't be scared," Carlson explained. "We've seen those guys early on in the preseason so it's nothing we haven't seen."
Now, there's one more hurdle between now and Elk Grove's tenth Section championship in baseball. It's the Tracy Bulldogs, who wrapped up its first-ever South Section championship Friday by defeating St. Mary's, 6-4.
The Bulldogs and the Herd played once this year and that was in the opener of the Scott Boras Baseball Classic in March. Tracy won the game, 5-4 in eight innings.
The pair will play in a best-two-out-of-three series beginning Friday at 7 p.m. at Klein Family Field on the University of the Pacific campus in Stockton. Game two will be Saturday at noon with a third game, if necessary, to follow.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Secton Champions, Again! Sheldon Beats Tracy, 2-1

Taliyah Miles was kind, cordial and looks you right in the eye when you talk to you. On the pitching mound, it’s a different story. Just ask the batters of Tracy, Gregori, Chavez and all the other teams that fell victim to her blazing fastball during the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoffs.
Or for that matter, ask the batters she faced during a 14-0 run of Delta League play or any assortment of non-league opponents that were brave enough to face this year’s Sheldon squad.
On Thursday, Miles was her usual self, keeping batters off balance, collecting easy fly balls and ground balls for her teammates to field. Throw in there a few strikeouts and the junior lefthander was leading her team to a second consecutive Section championship. This day Sheldon needed several key defensive plays behind Miles to wrap up a 30-2 season with a 2-1 win over Tracy.
Taliyah Miles allowed just five runs in five playoff games

Miles had allowed just one hit through the first six innings and the furthest any Tracy runner got was second base.
In the seventh, though, Miles needed some help from her defense and they came through – in a big way.
The inning started by Tracy getting just its second hit of the game. Miles then walked one and with runners at first and second, a single was stroked to center. Up came Jaciana Vasquez with the ball and wisely threw to third baseman Shea Moreno to tag out the runner trying to move from first to third rather than try for a play at the plate.
With one out then the next batter stroked a crisp ground ball right down the third base line and Moreno made a nifty backhanded grab of the ball and threw out the batter at first for the second out.
Then the next Tracy batter stroked a Miles’ fastball up the middle. Sheldon second baseman Maci Fines dove to stop the ball from going into the outfield and quickly hopped to her feet. The Tracy base coach was sending his runner at second home to try to tie the game. Fines threw a bullet to Huskies’ catcher Jessica Scott who applied the tag. The runner was called out and the championship celebration was underway.
Miles said afterwards she had every intention of wrapping up a win in that deciding seventh inning.
Mary Jo Truesdale with the 2016 Section Championship banner, her 7th at Sheldon
“I knew my team would have my back no matter what,” she said. “Tracy is probably the best competition we’ve seen out here. They wanted to go to a second game. I knew this was going to be a real championship game.”
Miles, who had an older sister play at Sheldon, was looking forward to this moment since she was a young girl.
“I’ve been wanting this opportunity since I was eight,” she said. “I’ve been preparing and wanting to have that moment – the seventh inning, get that last out and everybody just so happy because I helped win the Section.”

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Season's Over: Elk Grove Loses To Del Campo

It's been quite a spring for Amanda Buck. The Elk Grove High School softball coach barely threw out the first pitch on the season when she had to take a few weeks off to give birth to a baby boy. Former head coach Jeff Alexander filled in quite well, thank you, and the Herd started its march back to the Sacramento Softball Complex, site of the Sac-Joaquin Section's playoffs.
Those few weeks off actually turned into just a few days. Buck just couldn't stay away too long from the softball dirt.
"I enjoy being out here and I love this team," Buck said. "This team was young and I think they learned a lot. They grew in just a couple months and I am proud of them."
Elk Grove coach Amanda Buck
The Herd finished in second place in a competitive Delta League and was handed a number nine seed in the Division II playoffs. Just last season Elk Grove was the runner-up to Benecia in D-2. This time, the road was a bit tougher.
Elk Grove lost last Saturday to No. 1 seed Rocklin, 1-0, but came back in the losers' bracket of the double-elimination tournament with big wins over St. Francis and No. 2 Roseville.
Wednesday they needed two wins to return to the D-2 finals, but in the early game that evening Elk Grove just didn't have much offense against pitcher Brea Larsen and Del Campo and exited the post-season with a 3-2 loss. Miranda Rodriguez and Miranda Menees-Miles drove in Herd runs. Elk Grove finished with a 18-12 record, a mark Buck said was okay.
Now, she'll take the summer to be a mom to her two girls and son and return in the fall as a P.E. teacher and softball coach. She expects Alexander to be in the dugout with her.
"We'll lose a big pitcher/catcher duo (Courtney Riley and Jazmine Moreno) that had a lot of chemistry together," Buck said. "If we can find something comparable, we'll be okay."
And, figures to be around Elk Grove long enough to coach her girls.
"I have one seven years old and she's playing (softball)," Buck said.