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Dodgers Can Catch Colorado With a Series Win This Weekend

| Sports | 18 hours ago

In the span of 10 games from June 7-June 18, the Dodgers swept the Cincinnati Reds twice, and won a series against the World Series runner-up Cleveland Indians. Los Angeles won nine of their 10 games in that successful stretch of the schedule. More importantly, they placed themselves in prime position to pounce on the Colorado Rockies.

The National League (NL) Western Conference-leading Rockies sit only a half game ahead of the Dodgers as the two are set to meet for a weekend series in Los Angeles. Colorado also found success in the same span of games, winning nine of their 12 matches in that time.

The last time the Dodgers faced the Rockies, they split a four game series in Colorado. Los Angeles looks to jump out of the gate by starting their only undefeated pitcher, Alex Wood. The first time Wood faced the Rockies, he fanned 10 batters in a 4-0 shutout. Since then, he has allowed only three runs in three wins, posting an ERA of 1.90.

As good as Wood has been, Clayton Kershaw has been the Dodgers’ shining star, a role the ace pitcher has been in throughout his entire Los Angeles career. He allowed just two earned runs and no home runs in the Dodgers’ 6-2 win over Colorado on May 12. Kershaw finished their successful 10-game stretch with an ERA of 2.23. The nine wins he has amassed in that time leads the team.

The combination of Wood, Kershaw, and Brandon McCarthy will have to find a way to slow down the Colorado batters. Both Mark Reynolds and Nolan Arenado had a total of 55 RBIs after their 12-game span. Charlie Blackmon was only one behind with 54. With this much production, it’s no surprise the Rockies are second in the NL in both hits (679), and runs scored (383).

Fortunately for Los Angeles, their ability to stop runners from scoring is one of their best traits. After their last game with the Reds, the Dodgers had only allowed 250 runners to score, the highest mark in the NL. Catcher Yasmani Grandal leads the way on defense, with 498 putouts as of June 18.

Los Angeles’ offense has been orchestrated by rookie phenom Cody Bellinger. He leads the team in both RBIs, at 43, and home runs, at 19. With the success has come some errors, as Bellinger has also tallied the most strikeouts with 64. Bellinger’s breakout, along with the rest of the Dodgers’ batters has allowed the team to total 592 hits and 348 runs.

Colorado’s defense is built to take on an offense as potent as Los Angeles. The Rockies lead the NL in fielding percentage (.989) and come in third in putouts (1,930). Reynolds proves to be a threat on defense as well as offense, leading the Rockies with a .997 fielding percentage, as well as 568 putouts.

The Dodgers will also have to face the Rockies’ best pitchers in this series. Los Angeles will first see Kyle Freeland, who leads Colorado in ERA with 3.42. Then comes Tyler Chatwood, who has recorded 74 strikeouts, leading the Rockies in this category. The Dodgers end the series against German Marquez, who has allowed just 25 earned runs and only six home runs in 10 starts.

Los Angeles and Colorado are two teams that have very few flaws. Both are likely to make the NL Playoffs, so they are jockeying for the NL West crown to assure home field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Dodgers can take a big step in this goal with a regular season win this weekend against the Rockies.

Baseball fans only have three more opportunities to see these two powerhouses go head to head in the regular season. It’s a matchup that should be must-see TV. When the postseason rolls around, it’s very likely we will see either Los Angeles host Colorado in the divisional round, or vice versa. This weekend will go a long way in deciding who hosts who.

The French Open Offers Twists and Turns to Tennis

| Sports | June 15, 2017

Spectators have seen surprising finishes from recent championship games this past season. The Chicago Cubs kicked it off by overcoming a 3-1 deficit against the Cleveland Indians to win the World Series for the first time since 1908. The New England Patriots followed suit, coming back to defeat the Atlanta Falcons 34-28, after trailing 28-3 in the third quarter.

Tennis fans were treated to a similar set of shocking outcomes with this year’s French Open. The women’s singles saw an upset right out of the gate when top-seeded Angelique Kerber was ousted in the round of 128, losing 6-2, 6-2 to unseeded Ekaterina Makarova.

This left the door wide open for any female tennis player to take the French Open title. So, Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia decided to do just that. The 20-year-old’s road to the championship wasn’t easy. She faced Caroline Wozniacki (11) in the quarterfinals, winning 4-6, 6-2, 6-2. Ostapenko eventually had to take on Simona Halep (3) in the final round, taking a 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory.

Ostapenko made history in several ways with her win. She became the first unseeded player to take home the French Open title since 1933, and the first Latvian player to ever win a major tournament. She also jumped 35 spots in the WTA rankings, where she now sits at 12.

As Serena Williams sits out the rest of the year due to her pregnancy, the WTA leaderboard is becoming a free-for-all for first place. Kerber remains at the top, despite her first round loss. Halep, meanwhile, was rewarded for her trip to the finals with a two-spot jump, where she is now second.

Wimbledon, which begins July 3, will serve as a stage for more potential upsets in the women’s bracket. Ostapenko will no longer be the underdog, and will have to prove her French Open win was more than a fluke. Undoubtedly, she will be facing every players’ best game when she takes the court. If she can make noise at Wimbledon, it will cement her place as tennis’ rising star.

The men’s side of the French Open had a more predictable champion. Rafael Nadal (4) took home his 15th Grand Slam singles title by defeating Stan Wawrinka (3) 6-2, 6-3, 6-1. The rounds before the championship, however, provided many twists and turns.

Wawrinka made it to the final round by defeating top-seeded Andy Murray in five sets in the semi-finals. Novak Djokovic’s (2) Grand Slam slump continued in the quarterfinals, where he lost 7-6, 6-3, 6-0 to Dominic Thiem (6). Djokovic’s last Grand Slam win came at last year’s French Open, where he defeated Murray.

Djokovic’s recent play begs the question, “Is he no longer in his prime?” The concern began in the 2016 Rio Olympics, where he lost in the first round to eventual silver medalist Juan Martin del Potro. This excusable loss was followed by a second-round ousting in the Australian Open to unseeded Denis Istomin, a defeat for Djokovic that is much harder to explain.

All of the chatter of a decline could’ve been silenced if Djokovic had been able to pull off a win at the French Open. His loss to Thiem only served to make the discussion louder and more plausible. Djokovic falls to fourth place in the ATP rankings and needs a solid showing at Wimbledon to dispel any notion that he is no longer the best men’s tennis player in the world.

Nadal’s French Open victory allowed him to slide in to second place in the ATP, a position he hasn’t been in since October 6, 2014. Murray still sits atop the leaderboard with 9,890 points, a full 2,605 points ahead of Nadal.

A win at Wimbledon will only give Nadal 2,000 more points, so it will be impossible for him to catch Murray in the near future. If he can overcome his opponents throughout the rest of the year, however, Nadal will find himself atop the ATP for the first time since June 23, 2014.

It is a tumultuous time in tennis, much to the delight of the sports’ fans. With tournament outcomes so uncertain for both men and women, it is impossible to predict who will be left standing after the final round of Wimbledon. The excitement mounts as everyone waits to see what surprises the tennis season serves up next.

Los Angeles Angels Have an Astronomical Test in Houston

| Sports | June 8, 2017

The Los Angeles Angels had 600 reasons to celebrate last Saturday night. Designated hitter Albert Pujols crushed a pitch from Minnesota’s Ervin Santana, making Pujols just the ninth major leaguer to ever hit 600 home runs.

The historic night ended in a 7-2 victory for Los Angeles. However, they dropped the regular season series to the Twins three games to one, bringing the Angels’s overall record to 29-31. The team has lost six of their last 10 games, but still sit in second place in the American League (A.L.) West Conference.

This would appear to be an ideal situation for Los Angeles, if not for the fact that the Houston Astros are 14 games ahead of them in the standings. This is a tough deficit to overcome, even though the season is still young.

The climb up this mountain begins Friday night, when Los Angeles travels to Houston in the final regular season series between the two clubs before the All-Star Break. Past matchups indicate that this may be a rough three games for the Angels. They have taken just two games against the Astros in seven meetings.

To make matter worse, Los Angeles will have to take on Houston without the aid of current A.L. MVP Mike Trout, who suffered his first major injury after tearing a ligament in his left thumb against the Miami Marlins on May 28. He is expected to miss six to eight weeks.

In Trout’s stead steps Shane Robinson, who was playing for Triple-A Salt Lake before Trout’s injury. In his first three games, Robinson has recorded just one hit and a .167 batting average. The Angels have lost four of seven games in a week since Trout went down.

So what does Los Angeles need to do to start chipping away at Houston’s astronomical lead? It starts with Mr. 600. Pujols has hit at an above average rate, especially for a 37-year-old slugger, coming in third in the A.L. in RBIs with 42.

If Houston has one weakness, it’s in their fielding. They are currently tied with the sixth most errors in the A.L. with 37 — a stat they share with the Angels — and have the sixth lowest fielding percentage with .983.

Although Trout leads the Angels in many batting statistics, they still have players, aside from him and Pujols, who can deliver the kinds of hits necessary to defeat the Astros. Shortstop Andrelton Simmons comes in second on the team in doubles with 10, at a batting average of .267. Left-fielder Ben Revere is tied with Trout in triples with two.

The more the Angels can keep the ball in the field of play, the higher the likelihood of Houston committing an error. Their efforts to do so are boosted, because they will not have to face the Astro’s ace pitcher Dallas Keuchel. He leads the A.L. in ERA with 1.67, and wins with nine, but is not scheduled to pitch in the three-game series against Los Angeles.

The Angels’s pitching staff, however, will have to go up against a Houston team that leads the A.L. in runs with 319, home runs with 92, and RBIs with 300. Their depth chart boasts Jose Altuve, George Springer and Carlos Correa. Each player leads the team in a different batting category, Altuve in batting average with .326, Springer in home runs with 16, and Correa in RBIs with 39.

This diversity of talent could spell trouble for Los Angeles’s pitchers. Matt Shoemaker will make the first start of the series against Houston on Friday night, and is tied for the team lead in wins with five. His 4.12 ERA is a weakness that the Astros will look to exploit, but he has recorded more strikeouts (63) than hits (60), so Shoemaker has the ability to make batters miss.

The Angels need to take this regular season series, not only to cut into Houston’s 14-game lead, but to prove they can play against the MLB’s toughest competition. The only way Los Angeles will be able to make a playoff push at any point this season is if they can join the ranks of the league’s top teams. This series against Houston will be the perfect test to see if the Angels can do just that.

Male Athlete of the Week – Michael Sexton

| Sports | June 2, 2017

A senior at The Master’s University, Michael Sexton is a standout third baseman for TMU’s baseball team. Last week, he went 3-5 with 4 RBIs and scored a home run as the Mustangs defeated Keiser University 9-2 in the NAIA Baseball World Series. For the season, Sexton has 17 home runs and 64 RBIs to lead the team in both categories.

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Cody Bellinger’s Big Bat Begets Bright Future

| Sports | June 2, 2017

Spring has just sprung, and already the Los Angeles Dodgers have found early success in the 2017 season. They are keeping pace in the ultra-competitive National League (N.L.) Western Conference, posting a record of 31-20 after sweeping last season’s World Series Champions in the Chicago Cubs. Third baseman Justin Turner leads the N.L. in batting average at .379, while Clayton Kershaw has collected the most wins at seven, and is second in ERA with a 2.37.

What has come as a surprise in this treasure-trove of triumphs is the immediate impact rookie left-fielder Cody Bellinger has made for Los Angeles. Since making his first start on April 25, Bellinger has batted his way to the top of multiple statistical categories, despite playing fewer games than most of his first-year contemporaries.

With just 118 at-bats, Bellinger has amassed 11 home runs, 29 RBIs, and a slugging percentage of .951. These figures lead all N.L. rookies, and can only be topped by New York Yankees first-year phenom Aaron Judge. Most see Judge as a lock for American League Rookie of the Year, and the time has come to put Bellinger in the same category in the N.L.

At this point, his closest competition for the award resides in San Diego. Hunter Renfroe of the Padres has put up similar stats to Bellinger, knocking 10 pitches out of the park and recording 24 RBIs. However, Renfroe has been unable to generate the same power as his Los Angeles counterpart, hitting with a slugging percentage of just .753.

Another factor that tips the scales towards Bellinger is how his stats have turned into wins for the Dodgers. His “wins above replacement,” a stat that calculates how many wins a player accounts for above a replacement player, is a whopping 1.4. This is a full game higher than Renfroe’s 0.3, whose Padres are in the N.L. West basement with an overall record of 19-33, after going 1-2 in a regular season series against the Washington Nationals.

Fielding further distances the two players. Bellinger has made the most of the 112 chances that have come his way, putting out 106 batters, assisting on four putouts, and committing only two errors on his way to a fielding percentage of .98. Renfroe is by no means a slouch on defense, putting out 85 battles on 97 chances, assisting on five putouts, but committing seven errors for a fielding percentage of .93.

It is fitting that Bellinger could possibly be following fellow Dodgers player Corey Seager as N.L. Rookie of the Year, as Los Angeles is the last team to produce back-to-back award winners, tallying five from 1992-1996. At 21, Bellinger would be the youngest of the most recent Dodgers’ Rookies of the Year, to win the award.

With the emergence of Bellinger, Los Angeles looks to have shored up any flaws in their starting lineup. The top of their depth chart boasts Seager, Turner, Joc Pederson, Yasiel Puig, Adrian Gonzalez, Chase Utley, and Yasmani Grandal. This lineup has allowed the Dodgers to score 261 total runs, good for third in the MLB, while allowing just 179 runs to be scored against them. Their run differential of +82 is the best in the nation.

Los Angeles will have to continue to battle its way in the N.L. West, where the top three teams have more than 30 wins each, to prove that they are true contenders for the World Series this season. They have just two more regular season series remaining against the Colorado Rockies, giving them just a few more chances to overtake the N.L.’s top team.

There’s plenty of time before the end of the regular season, so it’s impossible to predict if Bellinger can keep up his early success. If he can go the distance and help the Dodgers reach the postseason, he not only cements himself as bona-fide N.L. Rookie of the Year, but will also be seen as the sport’s next emerging star, and possibly the last piece to Los Angeles’s World Series puzzle.

Female Athlete of the Week – Abby Sweet

| Sports | June 1, 2017

A new graduate of William S. Hart High School, Abby Sweet recently helped her school’s softball team make it to the CIF semifinals. She hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the seventh inning in the Indians’ 9-8 win over Patriot High School of Riverside last week. The victory moved Hart into the semifinals of the CIF-Southern Section Division 3 tournament for the first time since 2009.

As a sophomore Abby committed to the University of Notre Dame. “She is a great player and teammate,” said Hart High softball coach Stephen Calendo. “It’s been a fantastic four years at Hart and she will be missed.”

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Male Athlete of the Week – Sam Stulman

| Sports | May 26, 2017

A junior in high school and pitcher for the Albert Einstein Academy baseball team, Sam Stulman struck out six batters in five innings in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division 7 Playoffs last week. He also hit two RBIs in the game, helping the Rockets beat Shalhevet of Los Angeles 13-3. Albert Einstein Academy advanced to take on Coast Union of Cambria this week.

“Sam Stulman has been our leader on and off the field for the last couple of seasons,” said Albert Einstein Academy baseball coach Marcelo C. Imbert. “He’s remained humble and coachable, and it’s great to see his hard work paying off. It’s been my honor and pleasure to watch him grow as a true student athlete and young adult.”

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Ike Anigbogu: UCLA’s Forgotten Freshman

| Sports | May 25, 2017

From the onset of the 2016-17 NCAA men’s basketball season, there was much ado made about UCLA’s freshman class. There was Lonzo Ball, the L.A. Native destined for the NBA, and TJ Leaf, the once Arizona commit, who spurned the Wildcats to play in Westwood.

Then there was Ike Anigbogu, a highly touted freshman who got lost in the shuffle, partly due to the hype of the other two recruits, as well as a knee injury that forced him to miss the beginning of the college season.

After finally making his way to the court, Anigbogu displayed a defensive efficiency well beyond his years. Against Michigan on December 10, Anigbogu locked down the paint with four blocks while going 3-4 from the field for six points. The following game against UC Santa Barbara saw Anigbogu tally another four blocks, and by that time it was clear that his defensive prowess would land him in the pros.

What came as an unexpected twist, however, is how soon Anigbogu declared for the NBA Draft. A repeated mantra from both media personalities and fans alike was that Anigbogu would need another year in college to polish his offensive game, despite having NBA-ready defense.

Well, on April 20, with the hiring of agent Jason Glushon, Anigbogu passed the point of no return in the draft process. With the big man now decidedly NBA bound, figuring out which team will take a chance on a project player is the next step.

There truly is no consensus as to where Anigbogu will land. Mock drafts have him going anywhere between the mid-first round to early in the second. With his skill on the defensive side of the ball, it is easy to see why a team would take a chance on such a tantalizing prospect. For the season, Anigbogu averaged 1.2 blocks per game, and led the Bruins in blocked shot percentage, swatting 8.8 percent of the shots he faced while on the floor.

While his four rebounds per game leave a lot to be desired from a player that stands at 6 feet, 10 inches and projects to play forward and center at the next level, he did grab 16.8 percent of all available rebounds when on the court, second only to Thomas Welsh for UCLA. The efficient defense Anigbogu displayed translated to a defensive rating of 98 points per 100 possessions for opposing offenses. Again, only Welsh had the numbers to match Anigbogu in this category.

A team that is in desperate need of shot blocking is the Detroit Pistons, who Anigbogu met with on Tuesday. The Pistons were second to last in the league in total blocks per game, with 3.8. Detroit’s bench, where Anigbogu would undoubtedly find himself if selected by the Pistons, tallied only 1.6 blocks per game all season. Anigbogu’s presence would immediately address that area of need, and with the 12 pick in the first round, Detroit is in a prime position to select him.

The only cause for pause is if the Pistons decide to fix their glaring need for second unit scoring. Their bench averaged just 33.3 points per game, good for 19th in the NBA. The team as a whole averaged only 101.3 points, leaving them in 26th. Anigbogu’s raw offensive abilities are not what Detroit needs to solve this problem. He averaged just 4.7 points per game, which is redeemed by the fact he did so with a true shooting percentage of 56 percent.

Taking and making smart shots is a strength in Anigbogu’s offensive arsenal, however, holding onto the ball is a weakness he must fix. Although his 0.8 turnovers per game is only the sixth most for UCLA, he accounted for 16.8 percent of all turnovers that occurred with him on the court. Of the eight players that averaged more than 10 minutes per game, only three accounted for a higher percentage of turnovers.

Another flaw that requires remedy is his knack for committing fouls. He is tied with Welsh and Leaf for most fouls per game on the Bruins, with 2.5, but he did so while averaging just 13 minutes per game. For the season, Anigbogu posted a blocks-per-foul ratio of .48, meaning he averaged less than half a block to every personal foul he committed.

Detroit’s bench is one of the best in avoiding fouls, coming in third in the NBA with just 7.1 personal fouls committed per game. They would have to decide if bringing in Anigbogu to shore up their defensive front would be worth the risk of his growing pains setting back a somewhat strong second unit.

Of course, there are many teams in need of a defensive-minded center, one of which would allow Anigbogu to stay in Los Angeles, and more likely than not, playing alongside Ball yet again. The Lakers own the 28th pick in the draft, a spot Anigbogu could realistically wind up. Their bench unit, which averages 1.9 blocks per game, has a similarly sized player in Tarik Black, who stands at 6 feet, 9 inches and 250 pounds. However, Black is a lackluster shot blocker, rejecting only 0.6 shots per game, and accounting for just 3 percent of all blocks available during his 16 minutes per game.

Anigbogu has taken a big risk declaring for the NBA Draft, despite being seen as a raw talent, but just as this decision leaves a lot to chance, returning to college would’ve done just the same. There’s always the possibility of a poor sophomore season or injury derailing his dream, so making a leap of faith into the pros while his stock is high makes the most sense.

From starting out as the forgotten third freshman in UCLA’s highly touted 2016 recruiting class, to becoming a possible first round draft choice, Anigbogu has overcome the early obstacles of his career. Where his career continues is anyone’s guess, so let the speculation continue until June 22.

Female Athlete of the Week – Gabby Sanchez

| Sports | May 25, 2017

A junior at Canyon High School, Gabby Sanchez has already broken records for the Cowboys as a discus thrower, plus she’s the track and field team’s top scholar athlete with a 5.0 GPA. Last week, Gabby qualified for the CIF Masters Meet with a discus throw of 137 feet, 5 inches at the CIF-Southern Section Division 2 Finals at Cerritos College in Norwalk. She also ranks sixth on Canyon’s All Time List for shot put.

Gabby was named the varsity girls’ basketball team’s “Defensive Player of the Year,” and was named to the first team in the Foothill League. The Canyon girls’ basketball team finished as runner-up in the CIF Championship game for the last two consecutive seasons.

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Female Athlete – Melanie Abzun

| Sports | May 12, 2017

College of the Canyons sophomore center fielder Melanie Abzun played a key role in the Cougars’ 2-0 series sweep over Southwestern College in the opening round of the California Community College Athletic Association (CCCAA) Southern California Regional Playoffs last weekend. COC defeated the Jaguars 4-3 in game one and 10 -5 in the series finale, with Abzun finishing the series 3-for-7 with two home runs, four runs, three RBIs and two walks to help No. 9 seed Canyons advance to this weekend’s CCCAA Super Regional.

“Mel has been a great competitor all season long,” said COC head coach John Wissmath. “She continues to make solid plays in the outfield and impress us with her bat.”

COC will begin the weekend with a matchup vs. No. 1 Cypress College at 1 p.m. on Friday.

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Male Athlete of the Week – Sam Pica

| Sports | May 11, 2017

In his last year on Valencia High School’s track and field team, Sam Pica set a new league and meet record at College of the Canyons last week when he completed the 400 meter in 48.08 seconds. Sam also set a new personal and school record, jumping 22 feet, 11 inches in the long jump. And in a third win, Sam served as the anchor for Valencia’s first place 4×400 relay team, and was on the first place 4×100 relay team.

“Sam is an amazing athlete who set five Valencia High School records this year and the Foothill League record in the 400,” said Valencia track and field coach Jeff Gilkey. “He is a wonderful young man who raises the spirits of his teammates and the level of competition in any event. Sam is heading to UC Santa Barbara next year and is considering competing in the decathlon.”

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The Dodgers Face the Rockies in the Fight for First Place

| Sports | May 11, 2017

The season is young, but the Los Angeles Dodgers have the chance to make a statement when they take on the Colorado Rockies in a four-game series starting Thursday. The Dodgers can snatch first place in the National League (NL) West Conference with a series win, potentially setting them up for a better postseason position as the year progresses.

Los Angeles’ success comes as somewhat of a surprise, seeing how the team has been decimated by injuries. First baseman Adrian Gonzalez was placed on the 15-day disabled list for the first time in his career due to right elbow soreness, right fielder Andre Ethier’s timetable to return from a herniated disc is still unknown, and their pitching staff has been without Rich Hill since April 18 (finger blisters) and Hyun-Jin Ryu since May 1 (left-hip contusion).

From the ashes of adversity have risen stellar rookies who have received a shot to show what they can do in the major leagues, and have made the most of their chances. Twenty-year-old Julio Urias of Mexico joined the Dodgers’ starting pitching staff on April 27, and has since allowed just one run on his way to a 0.84 ERA.

Cody Bellinger was given the start at first base as a result of Gonzalez’s injury, hitting three home runs and nine RBIs in a two-game series against the San Diego Padres, a performance that garnered Bellinger the NL Player of the Week award. For the season, he is third among all rookies with a batting average of .326 and tied for third in home runs with five.

The Dodgers have also been fortunate for the continued consistency of ace pitcher Clayton Kershaw. Seven starts into the season, Kershaw has recorded five wins with an ERA of 2.40, both good for third in the NL, and his 53 strikeouts put him in second place among all NL pitchers. He starts the first game of the series against the Rockies, a team that has handed him one of his two losses, but also gave him his highest strikeout total of the season, with 10, in Los Angeles’ 4-2 victory on April 19.

Both the Rockies and the Dodgers can score in droves, exemplified by the fact that Los Angeles is third in the NL in total runs at 159, while Colorado comes in eighth, with 152. With scoring potential of both squads sky-high, Los Angeles will need to clamp down on defense to win. This is easier said than done, as they don’t always demonstrate discipline on this end of the field. The Dodgers have the seventh most errors in the NL, with 23, while Colorado is tied with the fourth least, with 17, and has the fourth best fielding percentage, at .986.

The Rockies are far and away the better team in regards to fielding, but Los Angeles’ pitching outpaces their Colorado counterparts. The Dodgers lead not only the NL, but the entire MLB in combined ERA, at 3.25, and total runs allowed, at 110. The Rockies come in 19th for combined ERA at 4.27 and 16th for total runs allowed, at 145. Los Angeles’ prime pitching will help mask their fielding flaws, except for the fact that they face two excellent offensive players in Mark Reynolds and Charlie Blackmon.

The Colorado duo don’t boast stellar batting averages, with Reynolds coming in 14th in the NL at .325 and Blackmon sitting at 18th, with .313, but both have a knack for hitting homers and brining in runners. Reynolds is tied for third with 11 home runs, and both have tallied 26 RBIs, sixth most in the NL.

Los Angeles doesn’t take the backseat when it comes to batting, however. Justin Turner is third in the NL with a batting average of .376. As a team, the Dodgers are in sixth in batting average with a combined .256. This, paired with their 146 RBIs, are both one spot higher than the Rockies (.255 combined batting average, 145 total RBIs).

The bottom line to all of these facts and figures is that both teams are evenly matched, making it hard to predict who will be sitting in first place in the NL West after the weekend’s dust clears. The skill that the Arizona Diamondbacks have demonstrated all season, along with the logjam between the St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinatti Reds, and Chicago Cubs for first place in the NL Central, means that neither Los Angeles nor Colorado are assured a playoff spot come season’s end. So, although this series may seem trivial in the grand scheme of 2017, it may possess more postseason implications than meets the eye.

Salary Cap Constrictions Mean Anything but Clear Sailing for the Clippers

| Sports | May 4, 2017

Since the 2011-12 NBA season, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin helped change the perception of the Los Angeles Clippers, turning the perennial joke of the NBA into a top-5 team in the always competitive Western Conference. The duo was further aided by the emergence of center Deandre Jordan and the signing of sharpshooter JJ Redick in the 2013-14 season.

 

However, another early playoff exit for the Clippers this season may also signal an end to the team’s current make-up. This is because Los Angeles finds itself $24,760,946 over the NBA’s upcoming salary cap, and will need to make tough decisions on who they can afford to keep, and which free agents they can bring in with their current financial situation.

 

Their salary landscape will change when individuals with player options in their contracts decide whether or not to opt-out and become free agents after the NBA Finals. For the Clippers, the two most notable players with this option are Paul and Griffin.

 

Los Angeles fans fearful of losing Paul in free agency have very little to fret over. This is because the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, or CBA, created the Designated Player Veteran Exception, a clause that allows for what has been coined the “super max” contract. It should be noted that Paul, as the President of the NBA Players Association, spearheaded this provision, and is eligible to receive it.

 

This means, if Paul opts out of the final year of his contract, it will allow for him to sign a five-year extension with the Clippers for 35 percent of the the team’s salary cap. For Paul, the outcome will be a five-year $210 million guaranteed contract, a whole lot of cheddar to incentivize him to stay.

 

With Paul more than likely back in the fold, let’s turn to Blake Griffin. He has served as the face of the franchise since entering the league, but has rarely stayed healthy for an entire season. The toe injury Griffin suffered in game 3 of the Clippers’ series against the Utah Jazz was a deciding factor in Los Angeles’ first-round ousting.

 

The Clippers have to decide if it is worth it for them to re-sign a possibly injury-prone player to a max contract which, for Griffin, will come out to five years and $175 million. The free-agency pool of power forwards seems to be quite shallow in 2017, making the choice obvious for Los Angeles; roll the dice and pay Griffin.

 

Due to the projected $35,000,000 and $30,000,000 reserved for Paul and Griffin, the $22,642,350 owed to Jordan, and the $31,953,248 the Clippers inexplicably have tied up in Jamal Crawford, Austin Rivers, and Wesley Johnson, the team will be looking at combined salaries of $119,595,598, which is well above the $102,000,000 salary cap for the 2017-18 season.

 

This is bad news for JJ Redick, who will be entering free agency looking for one last huge deal before his career reaches its end. The 32-year-old shooting guard is expected to earn anywhere from $15-$20 million per season, an amount that may be too rich for the Clippers’ blood, even with ex-Microsoft CEO and current owner Steve Ballmer controlling the purse strings.

 

A solution to this situation may come in the form of a sign-and-trade, sending Redick, once he signs a new contract, and Austin Rivers to the New York Knicks for Carmelo Anthony. This would replace the nearly $30,000,000 that would be owed to Redick and Rivers, and replace it with the $26,243,760 allotted to Anthony. Whether Los Angeles keeps Redick, or replaces him with Anthony, the team looks to be spending well into the luxury tax. This means that, when it comes to signing other free agents, the Clippers won’t make many big splashes.

 

If Anthony ends up in Los Angeles, it will assuredly cement him as the team’s starting small forward, meaning incumbent starter Luc Richard Mbah a Moute will opt out, clearing up $2,302,135 in the cap. This scenario also means the Clippers will be looking for a new starting shooting guard, with very little money to do so.

 

The amount of scoring that will come from Paul, Griffin, and Anthony means that Los Angeles would be able to use this vacancy to sign a defensive-minded guard. If that is the case, 13-year veteran Tony Allen should be high on the team’s list. If Allen is not re-signed by the Memphis Grizzlies, Los Angeles would be wise to offer him a mid-level exception, or MLE, contract of $3.2 million a year.

 

Allen’s defensive prowess may be able to net him more than that in the free agency market. However, he will be turning 36, and teams might shy away from paying a player near the end of his career more than the MLE.

 

If the Clippers are to sign Redick to a substantial salary, they will have under $20,000,000 to play with before reaching the luxury tax threshold. Their goal in this situation should be to either find a more suitable starting small forward than Mbah a Moute, or sign a productive backup power forward to help alleviate Griffin’s workload, which will hopefully keep him healthy.

 

Seeing as the best option to replace Mbah a Moute in the current small-forward free agent market is Thabo Sefalosha, another defensive forward who serves the same purpose as Mbah a Moute but at a higher cost, a power forward is the best choice for the Clippers.

 

Patrick Patterson, who currently comes off the bench for the Toronto Raptors, would serve nicely in the same role for Los Angeles. Defensively, he boasts a defensive rating of 108 points per 100 possessions for opposing offenses. On offense, despite only scoring 6.9 points per game, Patterson has an offensive rating of 115.2 points per 100 possessions.

 

On the Clippers, he would see an increase in playing time, which would more than likely lead to higher points per game. Patterson’s average annual value is only $6,000,000, meaning Los Angeles would be able to sign him and stay under the luxury tax threshold.

 

The last option Los Angeles has in the free-agency game is to not re-sign Redick or trade for Anthony, and to save money to make one more large signing to try and improve the team. This could come in the form of throwing a large contract at restricted free agents such as Otto Porter Jr. (Washington Wizards), Tim Hardaway Jr. (Atlanta Hawks), or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (Detroit Pistons), and force their current teams to have to match the Clippers’ offer, or lose the player.

 

The future for the Clippers is shrouded in uncertainty, a scary situation for a squad so close to championship contention. In times like these, it is best to look at the positives, and hope that any move they make is the key the Clippers need to take home the NBA crown.

 

 

Touting Trout as the ‘Way Too Early’ MVP

| Sports | April 27, 2017

For the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, there was not much to cheer about when the 2016 MLB season ended. The team finished with a record of 74-88 and missed out on the playoffs for a second straight season. The lone bright spot amongst the disappointment was Mike Trout, the six-year center fielder, who took home his second American League MVP Award.

What allowed Trout to take home the trophy as a member of a team with a losing record — the first to accomplish this feat since Alex Rodriguez in 2003 with the Texas Rangers — was by posting a win above replacement (WAR) of 10.6. This statistic represents the number of wins a player adds to their team above what a replacement player would. Trout’s 10.6 wins was the second most in MLB history for a player on a losing team.

Flash forward to the 2017 MLB season, and the Angels appear to be in the same situation they found themselves in last year. They currently sit in fourth place of the AL West Conference, and have a record of 8-12 through their first 20 games. What differs from last season, however, is that Trout is off to a faster start than the one that eventually garnered him MVP honors in 2016.

Again, Trout sits atop the MLB standings in WAR with 1.9. Aside from leading the league in this category, Trout comes in fourth place in the AL in batting average, hitting 35 percent of the pitches tossed his way. After 20 games last year, his batting average was 30 percent in a season where he finished hitting 32 percent.

Trout’s higher hit tally has caused an increase in the RBIs he’s accounted for as well. This time last year, he batted in just nine runners, compared to the first 20 games of 2017, where Trout has brought in 14 runners. His home runs, while not vastly different, have improved from four last season to five this season.

A factor that can be used to explain Trout’s improved performance is power. He is hitting pitches with strength never before seen in his career, posting a slugging percentage of 68 percent. The formula for slugging percentage is (1B + 2x2B + 3x3b + 4xHR)/At Bats, which, in terms non-math majors can understand, takes into account the outcome of a hit and gives more weight for further distances.

The strength Trout is hitting the ball is a substantial increase from his career high (59 percent in 2015), and ranks him number one in the AL and seventh overall in the MLB. Through the same span of games in 2016, Trout’s slugging percentage was just 53 percent.

Defensively, Trout is on par with last year. His defensive chances have dropped from 67 to 53, and in turn, the number of putouts have dropped from 65 to 51. This time last year, Trout also accounted for two assists and no errors, whereas in 2017 he has one apiece.

Seeing as the season has just begun, it is way too early to tell who will win the AL MVP this season. Still, that won’t stop one from speculating if Trout can take home the award again this year. If he is to do it, he’d be the first player to earn back-to-back MVP honors since Miguel Cabrera for the Detroit Tigers in the 2012 and 2013 seasons.

Trout’s first obstacle in his hunt for consecutive MVPs comes from opposition in the AL Western Conference. Khris Davis of the Oakland A’s leads the AL in home runs, with seven. Trout takes the battle WAR with ease — Davis posts only 0.8 in this category — but both are neck and neck in RBIs and slugging percentage. Davis’ 12 runners batted in sits just two behind Trout’s 14, and Davis’ slugging percentage of 65 percent is second in the AL to Trout.

The other hurdle Trout must overcome is the Angels’ losing record. True, Trout was able to win AL MVP under this circumstance last year, but winning it again, despite a poor team performance, will take a lot of generosity from the voters. As a reminder, the last time it happened was 13 seasons before Trout accomplished it.

The A’s are in second place in the AL Western Conference this season, a sight for sore eye to Oakland fans who had to endure a 69-93 record in 2016. The quick turnaround has the A’s one spot out of the wildcard, which doesn’t mean much this early in the schedule. However, if they are to keep up their winning ways, and Davis’ strong start propels the A’s into the playoffs, it would be hard to justify touting Trout as the MVP.

With 162 games in a season, there are almost infinite possibilities of what can occur. Because of this, the MVP puzzle won’t take shape until further down the line. Angels supporters have enough on their plates hoping their team pulls out of the struggles of the past two seasons, without worrying if Trout will be named the AL’s MVP. It’s better to just bask in the abilities of one of the franchise’s all-time greats playing in his prime.

A Surprising Scarcity of NFL First Round Selections for UCLA and USC

| Sports | April 21, 2017

The NFL Draft is less than a week away, and by now the media is saturated with names of top-prospects expected to be selected before the end of the first round. For UCLA and USC fans, there has been a surprising silence when it comes to pre-draft hype, as both schools boast only one player with first-round potential.

Takkarist McKinley, a linebacker for the Bruins, and Adoree’ Jackson, a cornerback for the Trojans, had phenomenal 2016 seasons, but are expected to fall to late in the opening round or early in the second round of the draft. An examination of their strengths and weakness, however, provides context for their projected draft placement.

Takkarist McKinley

McKinley has exceptional speed for a defensive lineman that measures 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds. At the NFL Draft Combine, he ran a 4.59 40-yard dash, which ranked third for players in his position.

Although the 40-yard dash doesn’t give scouts a representation of a prospect’s speed when in full pads, McKinley’s senior season stats back up his 40-yard time. His 10 sacks, good for third in the PAC-12, demonstrate an ability to quickly get to the quarterback. Furthermore, his 18 tackles for a loss, second in the PAC-12, shows McKinley was able to get through the offensive line in both pass and run situations, and disrupt a play before it could happen.

Getting to the quarterback wasn’t the only way McKinley made an impact on pass plays. His six pass breakups had him tied for second on UCLA. Aside from demonstrating a high football IQ, the ability to break up passes also relies on a player’s ability to jump, as they occasionally have to reach the ball at a high point to ensure it doesn’t reach the intended receiver. At the Combine, McKinley proved to be one of the best jumpers in his position, posting a 33-inch vertical jump (tied for 10th amongst defensive linemen), and a 10-foot, 2-inch broad jump (tied for 12th).

Where McKinley falters as a defensive lineman, however, is in strength. In the bench press portion of the Combine, he was able do 24 reps at the NFL regulation 225 pounds. While this feat is definitely impressive — especially to one who just has to write or read about it — McKinley’s results leaves him out of the top 15 at his position.

This weakness in McKinley’s game hurt his tackling ability throughout the season, as he was able to muster just 61 total tackles, averaging out to 5.5 per game. The amount of tackles McKinley tallied left him tied for 34th in the nation. His strength did come in handy, however, in forcing fumbles. For the year, his three forced fumbles were third best in the NCAA.

CBS Sports’ Mock Draft predicts McKinley will fall to either the Seattle Seahawks (26th pick), the Dallas Cowboys (28th pick), or the New Orleans Saints (32nd pick). For Seattle, adding McKinley would be a move more focused on the future, especially with players like K.J. Wright, Michael Bennett, and the NFL’s leading tackler, Bobby Wagner, in the fold.

Dallas and New Orleans selecting McKinley gives him the best opportunity to start in the opening week. The Saints allowed opposing offenses to rack up 375 yards per game, including a league-worst 273.8 pass yards per game. The Cowboys’ 344 yards per game was in the middle of pack at 19th in the NFL, but when it came to collecting sacks, Benson Mayowa led the team with just six. These are both areas in which McKinley can make an immediate impact, making it much more likely he finds himself with one of these squads.

Adoree’ Jackson

Just two pundits on CBS Sports’ Mock Draft predicts Jackson will find his way into the first round, a surprising result for a player that tallied two kickoff return touchdowns and two punt return touchdowns, while also leading USC with five interceptions and 11 pass breakups. However, the 2017 NFL Draft is becoming known for the strength of its cornerback prospects, making Jackson’s stellar stats look somewhat less significant.

As demonstrated by Jackson’s knack for taking kickoffs and punts to the house, he is incredibly fast, which was further proven by his 40-yard dash time at the Combine, where he posted a 4.42, putting him in a tie for ninth place among defensive backs.

Jackson continued to have a strong Combine, posting a 36-inch vertical jump (tied for 13th in his position), while also jumping 10 feet, 2 inches in the broad jump. The results in these categories, along with his 40-yard dash, are what allow Jackson to stay in step with a team’s number one receiver, and make a play on the ball before the offense can.

A knock against Jackson, however, is his size. At 5 feet,10 inches, teams feel he won’t be able to lock down NFL receivers as well as he did in college. The concern has some merit, but fails to take into account that Chargers’ cornerback Casey Hayward led the NFL in interceptions standing at 5-foot-11.The most interceptions a 5-foot, 10-inch player had in the 2016-2017 season was four, accomplished by 11-year veteran Brent Grimes of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The highest Jackson is predicted to go is to the Dallas Cowboys with the 28th pick. The Cowboys are in desperate need for a starting cornerback, as the team was able to corral just nine total interceptions, which was tied for 27th in the NFL. This struggling secondary was dealt another blow in the offseason, losing Morris Claiborne to the Jets, Brandon Carr to the Ravens, and Barry Church to the Jaguars.

The Steelers are also predicted to make a play for Jackson in the last stages of the first round, where Pittsburgh has the 30th overall selection. The Steelers showed a little more promise in the interception category, tallying 13 for the year, but six were split between Ryan Shazier, a linebacker, and cornerback Artie Burns. Only Lawrence Timmons, another linebacker, had more than one interception outside of Shazier and Burns.

Either team will benefit from Jackson’s ballhawking abilities, and seeing as neither Dallas nor Pittsburgh scored on kickoffs or punts, Jackson’s return skills will make him the instant return-specialist.

Female Athlete of the Week – Hailey Aguilar

| Sports | April 14, 2017

This senior at Santa Clarita Christian School is now in her second year as the girls’ softball team pitcher, recording eight strikeouts last week, as the Cardinals defeated Guidance Charter 17-6. The win brings SCCS’ overall record to 4-4, and has them sitting at 1-0 in the Heritage Conference. Hailey has been a 1st Team All Heritage Team member for the last three years, and an All CIF player in 2015. She is batting .478 at this point of the season.

“Hailey has a lot of passion for softball, and is proud of the team she represents. She loves the girls on the team,” said Ali Aguilar, Santa Clarita Christian softball coach. “Hailey has also overcome five ankle surgeries, and continues to play hard for the love of the game.”

Male Athlete of the Week – Cole Kleszcz

| Sports | April 14, 2017

College of the Canyons freshman Cole Kleszcz is the baseball team’s standout centerfielder. He ended the week with a .588 batting average, going 10-for-17 with three walks, six home runs, 12 RBIs, 10 runs and two stolen bases over a four-game span. Kleszcz homered in all four of COC’s games, while also smacking two home runs in back-to-back contests.

In Game 2 of COC’s series with Antelope Valley College, Kleszcz went 4-for-6 with two home runs, three runs and five RBIs. The freshman has now left the yard in five straight games to start the month of April, and leads the state with 13 home runs in the season. He also leads COC with a .397 batting average.

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Dodgers’ Early Season Seems Eerily Similar to Last Year’s Start

| Sports | April 14, 2017

by Keir Chapman, Mr. Sports

The 2016 MLB season offered both hope and disappointment to Los Angeles Dodgers fans. The concerns about the team’s pitching coming into the season were put to rest, but their 4-2 series loss in the National League Championship Series to the eventual World Champion Chicago Cubs left Los Angeles just short of their first World Series since 1988.

In the offseason, the Dodgers worked to keep the team together in order to make another run at a championship appearance. One key re-signing was that of Rich Hill, the left-handed pitcher Los Angeles acquired from the Oakland A’s in August of 2016. After joining the Dodgers, Hill posted an ERA of 1.83 with 39 strikeouts to just seven earned runs and two home runs allowed.

Los Angeles wasn’t finished in keeping their pitching rotation in pristine condition, as they also re-signed closing pitcher Kenley Jansen. His 47 saves placed him third in the National League in this category, and his 9.5 strikeout-to-walk ratio lead all closing pitchers. Jansen’s phenomenal year earned him his first MLB All-Star appearance.

Retaining these key players, along with third baseman Justin Hunter, who hit 27 home runs for 90 RBIs and .275 batting average in 2016, has allotted the Dodgers a 4-4 record through the first eight games of the season, the same mark they had in this span last season.

Poor pitching from Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw can be pointed to as one of the season’s early problems. He was flawless in his first game against the San Diego Padres, allowing just one earned run and one home run in a 14-3 win for Los Angeles. His second game did not go as smoothly, as Kershaw gave up three home runs, including two back-to-back homers, eight hits, and four earned runs in a 4-2 loss to the Colorado Rockies.
In his first two starts of 2017, Kershaw is 1-1 in wins and losses, while posting an ERA of 3.46. He has also allowed four home runs, the most to start a season in his career. Compared to 2016, where Kershaw’s ERA in his first two starts was 1.20, with only two home runs and earned runs allowed, it is clear Kershaw is struggling in the early goings of the season.

While Kershaw is off to a slow start, he is not the only problem in the Dodgers’ pitching rotation. Kenta Maeda led the team in wins, with 16 in 2016, with only 20 home runs and 68 earned runs allowed. In his first start of this season, however, Maeda allowed three earned runs and a home run to San Diego in the Padres 4-0 win against Los Angeles. Despite notching a 10-6 win against Colorado, Maeda allowed another four earned runs to bring his ERA to 6.30. His ERA last year never reached above 3.48.

The pitching problems only seem to get worse, as Hill was placed on the 10-day disabled list due to blisters on his left middle finger. This comes after his lone start against San Diego, in which Hill allowed only one earned run and home run, while striking out five batters and posting an ERA of 1.80 in the Dodgers’ 3-1 win against the Padres.

Batting appears to be Los Angeles’ saving grace to start the year, led by right fielder Yasiel Puig. His performance in the early stages of 2017 is a welcome sight after a 2016 season where he spent time in the minor leagues due to poor play and attitude. Through the first eight games of that tumultuous year, Puig recorded just one home run and four RBIs. Although his batting average of .379 last season tops the .259 he has so far in 2017, his three home runs and five RBIs helped Los Angeles dominate their first regular season series against San Diego.

Turner has also proved to be worth the large contract he received, as the nine-year player leads Los Angeles with 10 hits and a .357 batting average. Shortstop Corey Seager has elevated his level of play as well, hitting two home runs while leading the Dodgers with eight RBIs, compared to his first eight games in 2016, where he tallied just four RBIs with no homers.

Defensively, Los Angeles has played inconsistently, a factor that hurt them in their 3-2 loss against the Cubs on April 10. An error on a dropped foul ball by Puig in the third inning allowed Kyle Schwarber to eventually score the game’s first run. The Dodgers’ seven season errors total the fifth most in the MLB.

Despite posting 209 putouts, seventh best in the league, Los Angeles only has a fielding percentage of .975, which is good for 25th. First baseman Adrian Gonzalez has been the Dodgers’ best defensive player to start the season, committing no errors and collecting 46 putouts en route to a 1.00 fielding percentage.

Offensively, Los Angeles looks like one of the best teams in the MLB, but they will need the other aspects of their game to improve if they are to make the jump to World Series contenders. The problems in pitching can be solved as players get into the flow of their game throughout the season. Defensively, however, the Dodgers need to learn more discipline and focus in order to lower the number of errors they commit.

The Dodgers begin their first season series against the Arizona Diamondbacks tonight, where Los Angeles will face a familiar face in Zach Greinke. They follow this series with two games against the Rockies, before taking on Arizona again. These battles against the top teams in the NL West Conference will be a good measuring stick to see how the Dodgers stack up against other playoff hopefuls. If they make it to the other side of this strong schedule with a winning record, it will be a good first step in Los Angeles’ quest for a World Series win.

The Championship Cycles

| Sports | April 13, 2017

by Lee Barnathan 

Those who pay attention to area prep sports know that certain teams seem to be at the top of the league every year. Those who have been here for decades recognize that teams might enjoy sustained success for a time and then falter.

Call them championship cycles. Every school has them in some sports.

Consider:

  • Canyon won eight football league titles and three straight sectional crowns in 10 years, then finished near the bottom of the league standings before rising again to win consecutive section titles and one state championship. Hart has won nine sectional titles, including four in a row and five in six years – between 1998-2003. But the school’s football team hasn’t won a league title since 2009, although it won the section title and reached the state title game in 2013.
  • Golden Valley stayed near the cellar in most sports, then won back-to-back league titles in boys’ basketball and a state cross country title. Before that, the Saugus girls won five straight state cross country titles from 2006-2010.
  • Hart dominated in cross country for decades (including a national title in 1991), but now hasn’t won a league title since 2009. However, Hart currently won four straight girls’ soccer league titles and has dominated in swimming, having won 32 of 33 girls’ and 18 consecutive boys’ league titles in one recent stretch.
  • Canyon was the area power in boys’ and girls’ volleyball, winning a combined 25 league titles between 1971-2000. Valencia now has won a combined 26 league titles since 2001. That includes a national title in 2008.
  • Saugus dominated softball in the 1990s, wining six league crowns. Then Valencia won nine in a row in the 2000s, including a national title in 2007.
  • Hart dominated in baseball with 16 league titles between 1982-2001 and a section championship in 1999. But West Ranch has dominated lately, winning three of the last five league crowns.

“Things go in cycles,” William S. Hart Union High School District Director of Human Resources and Equity Resources Greg Lee said. “Teams rise and fall. They go in cycles.”

How do these cycles work? What are the factors that go into periods of sustained excellence? In talking to various coaches and athletic directors, the following factors all play a role.

Coaching consistency. Look at any successful program and you’ll see no coaching carousel. Canyon football under Harry Welch, Hart football under Mike Herrington, Valencia football under Larry Muir, Hart swimming under Steve Neale, Valencia girls’ basketball under Jerry Mike, Canyon girls’ basketball under Jessica Haayer, Valencia boys’ volleyball under Kevin Kornegay. And so on.

“All of the coaches have been around a long time,” Valencia’s athletic director, Brian Stiman, said. In fact, since Valencia opened in 1994, Stiman and Muir are the only two to ever coach varsity football.

 

 

 

 

But it’s not just the head coach. For years, Herrington’s brother, Rick, has been defensive coordinator. Brother Dean Herrington, now the head coach at Paraclete in Lancaster, once ran the vaunted run-and-shoot offense that turned Hart into a football factory.

At Canyon, Welch was joined by Stiman and Enrique Lopez (who became Valencia’s first athletic director). Kornegay, who has a football background, learned from people such as Mark Knudsen, who still assists the Valencia girls’ program.

Contrast that with Hart boys’ volleyball, which has had 12 coaches in 13 years. It’s no wonder Hart hasn’t won a league title since 1993.

“Keeping a coach, that’s a huge problem,” Linda Peckham, Hart’s co-athletic director, said.

That special group of kids. Every once in a while, a program will get an influx of talent that will transform a program.

“When I was coaching (basketball), you teach the game to be played the right way, how to play hard,” Saugus athletic director Jeff Hallman said, “and then every couple of years you get that special group. It all comes together and you pop back up to the top.”

Sometimes that talent is one player: Chad Strickland was singularly responsible for Hart’s only two boys’ volleyball league titles, in 1992-93.

Sometimes, the talent is in one sport. Canyon girls’ basketball got what Canyon athletic director Scott Arnold called “a very special group of girls” that has keyed Canyon reaching the sectional final in consecutive seasons (2016-17).

Sometimes, the talent crosses more than one sport. Peckham said that from the moment Hart’s Class of 2013 stepped on campus in fall 2009, “They transformed our programs, boys and girls. They were so strong across the board.”

Sometimes, the talent is home-grown – that is, the kids are at their neighborhood, or home, school; sometimes transfers come in.

“It’s not uncommon to attend three high schools in four years,” Stiman said.

Population pool. According to Hart district spokesman Dave Caldwell, the schools currently have enrollments of between 2,400 and 2,500 students, except for Valencia, which is closer to 3,000. This means Valencia can draw from a larger pool of potential talent.

“There’s strength in numbers,” Peckham said. “That’s when the bigger schools have an advantage.”

Stiman disputes this, saying his school’s special education programs are larger than at any other district school, which “definitely skews our population size.”

But there is some validity to the notion that more schools can potentially dilute the talent pool for any one school. When Valencia opened in 1994, it started to draw kids from Castaic, and Stiman points to a group of football players from Castaic as a factor in the Vikings finally beating Hart in football in 2004.

“You have to look at the enrollment of the school and the size of schools,” Lee said. “Two versus four versus six. We’ll have Castaic soon, and you’ll see a shift. … When Castaic starts, they’ll take students from Valencia.”

Success breeds success. Peckham says it’s a cliché to say so, but it’s nonetheless true. Kids who come into a winning program want to continue the winning tradition. No one wants to be responsible for the winning to end.

Stiman said it’s part of a cycle: A coach on campus who interacts with the kids develops communication and a rapport, which breeds respect, which makes kids want to work hard, “and when they work hard, you have success,” he said.

Another factor is the feeding programs. Club sports, especially in soccer and volleyball, have helped Valencia and Hart stay competitive. Longstanding youth football and track programs have led to sustained excellence in the area.

Peckham points to the four community swimming programs that feed Hart: Old Orchard I, Old Orchard II, Summit and Valencia Hills.

“These kids all get to be decent swimmers,” she said. “You get depth, and depth in league championships is key because (in swimming), they score in the top eight. That has been a factor.”

 

Clippers Look to Claim Regular Season Series Against Spurs on Saturday

| Sports | April 6, 2017

by Keir Chapman, Mr. Sports

 

 For the sixth season in a row, the Los Angeles Clippers find themselves with a playoff berth secured. However, with three games left in the season, the postseason seedings are rapidly changing.

The Clippers are jockeying between the fourth and fifth seed, with the Utah Jazz, a position that will have the two teams playing one another in the first round of the playoffs, if that is where they are to finish. The only advantage of having the higher seed is its home court advantage in the opening round of the playoff series.

Then there is the slim, but ever possible, reality that the Clippers struggle down the stretch, allowing the Oklahoma City Thunder to knock Los Angeles down to the sixth seed. This outcome would have the Clippers taking on the Houston Rockets in the first round, before very likely running into the San Antonio Spurs.

Speaking of the Spurs, after three days of rest, the Clippers will be traveling to San Antonio to take on the Western Conference’s current second seed. It’s a matchup Los Angeles has fared well in, beating the Spurs 116-92 and 106-102, before dropping the third match of the season 105-97.

The lone Clippers loss in the regular season series happened to also be the first game Chris Paul played after recovering from a torn ligament in his left thumb. Despite recently returning from injury, Paul put up 17 points, six rebounds, and five assists.

Garnering a win against San Antonio would serve as a barometer for how prepared Los Angeles is for the postseason, but it will be hard to obtain victory. To get it, the Clippers need to first lock down the Spurs defensively.

Stopping San Antonio from scoring has been a feat the Clippers have been comfortable accomplishing this season. Against Los Angeles, the Spurs average 99.3 points per game, which is well below their season average. The 92-point output by San Antonio in November is a large reason for their low average against the Clippers, and may be due to the struggles of setting a regular lineup early in the season.

Slowing down the Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard will go a long way for Los Angeles’ bid for a win. Leonard is averaging 25 points per game with an eFG percent of 53. His offensive rating is 120.8 points per 100 possessions, all adding up to an incredibly efficient offensive season. There is no way of stopping Leonard from getting his points, but disrupting him and the flow of the offense is the next best thing.

That’s where Clippers defensive specialist Luc Richard Mbah a Moute comes in. His ability to hound the ball handler has earned him a starting spot on almost every team he’s ever been on in his 11-year career, and his defensive performance this season has been one of the best of his career.

Mbah a Moute accounts for 2.29 percent of all steals that occur while he is on the court, his second highest total ever. He also blocks 1.67 percent of the shots opposing the offense put up when he is on the floor, good for third best in his career.

In the season series against Los Angeles, Leonard averages 20.7 points per game, while committing an average of three turnovers. For the year, Leonard only averages two turnovers per game. As a team, the Spurs average 14.3 turnovers per game against the Clippers, well above their season average of 12.9.

One issue Los Angeles needs to overcome if they are to beat San Antonio is rebounding. Although both teams collect around 43 rebounds per game for the season, the Spurs take a clear advantage in the head-to-head matchup, collecting 48.3 to the Clippers’ 39.7.

The problem for Los Angeles is that, outside of Deandre Jordan’s 13.6 rebounds per game, and Blake Griffin’s 8.2 per game, Paul grabs the third most boards, with 4.9 per game. While San Antonio doesn’t have one player that matches Jordan’s output, the team has five players that average more than five rebounds per game. Aside from being more diligent in boxouts, there isn’t a quick fix to this problem, which means the Clippers must take smarter shots.

This is an area in which Los Angeles excels, as they have made 47 percent of the shots they’ve taken this year, leaving them in third place in the NBA. On three-point shots, they make 38 percent, which is good for fourth place. The Clippers’ efficient scoring can be credited to Jordan, who leads the league in field goal percentage, at 71 percent.

Jordan is able to shoot effectively, as he rarely takes shots that aren’t right at the rim. His excellence in the pick and roll offense is what helps Paul average 9.2 assists per game. Despite Jordan’s ability to score effectively, the Spurs have a center that is suitable to stop him in Dewayne Dedmon.

Defensively, Dedmon is having the best year of his career. He allows just 98 points per 100 possessions and blocks 4 percent of the shots that take place while he is on the court. He also accounts for 20 percent of all of the Spurs’ rebounds while he is playing. In his lone start against the Clippers, Dedmon tallied four blocks, but still allowed Jordan to score 14 points on 78 percent shooting.

Depth may be the downfall for Los Angeles in this matchup, however, as the Clippers’ already thin bench took a hit when Austin Rivers was ruled out the rest of the regular season with a hamstring strain. They will still have Jamal Crawford to provide scoring from the second unit, although Crawford has been struggling in stretches during the season. His 101.4 points per 100 possessions and 12.4 points per game both rank fourth lowest in his career, although he’s scoring with a respectable eFG percent of 48. Against San Antonio, Crawford is scoring only nine points per game. With the only other scoring option off the bench being Marresse Speights, Crawford must play better in Saturday’s game against the Spurs.

The final stretch of the Clippers’ regular season doesn’t get much easier, as they face the Houston Rockets on Monday, but this grueling schedule will show if Los Angeles has what it takes to finally make it past the second round of the playoffs. If they stay in the fourth or fifth seed, and beat the Jazz in the first round, the Clippers will be rewarded with a series against the Golden State Warriors.

Making it to the NBA Finals is a tall task for a team – like the Clippers – that has been injury plagued all season, but beating the Spurs on Saturday is the first step for the Clippers’ climb to the top.

Male Athlete of the Week – Steven Arrington

| Sports | April 1, 2017

A standout on Canyon High School’s track team, Steven Arrington won the 100-meter and 200-meter races, and was a member of the winning 4×100 and 4×400 relay teams last week. The Canyon High boys’ track team defeated Valencia High School 74-62.

“Steven Arrington is a senior and has been one of our top sprinters on our track team for the past four years,” said CHS track coach Paul Broneer. “His anchor leg of the 4×400 relay team ran the fastest time in the Foothill League so far this season, at 3:23.0, against Valencia last Thursday. He is considering running next year for The Master’s University.”

Steven Arrington’s personal records are:
100 meters:  10.5
200 meters:  21.96
4×100 meter relay team: 43.6
400 meters:  48.0

Female Athlete of the Week – Shea O’Leary

| Sports | March 31, 2017

A junior at Valencia High School, softball pitcher Shea O’Leary allowed just five hits last week as she pitched the entire game, leading the Vikings to a win, 2-1, over the La Habra High Highlanders. The Highlanders entered the game ranked ninth in MaxPrep’s Xcellent 25. The win brings Valencia to a record of 9-5.

“Shea O’Leary has established herself as a commanding pitcher,” said Valencia High School softball coach Donna Lee. “The ‘Texas commit’ earned the Foothill League 2016 Co-Player of the Year, with 217 strikeouts in 198 2/3 innings and 0.97 WHIP. Shea is excited and ready to lead her team to the championship in 2017!!!”

The Rams are Centered on Finding a Center

| Sports | March 31, 2017

In 2016, the newly minted Los Angeles Rams knew they needed to make a big splash to get their new fan base in L.A. excited for the team’s imminent arrival. So, they traded away five draft picks to move from the 15th spot in that year’s NFL Draft to the first overall selection. With the pick, the Rams did what many believed they would and drafted quarterback Jared Goff out of UC Berkeley, hoping they found the new face of the franchise.

The move was flashy, for sure, but bared little results in the season that followed. Los Angeles went 4-12, and Goff finished the season with five touchdowns to seven interceptions after being inserted into the starting lineup in week 11.

Goff’s struggles can be attributed to two factors. First, it was his rookie season and rookies don’t always adjust to the differences of the NFL right away, even when selected first overall. And second, his offensive line was horrendous, allowing whichever quarterback that lined up behind it to be sacked 3.1 times per game, good for second worst in the league.

Rams’ running back Todd Gurley also struggled behind the porous offensive line, rushing for just 885 yards with an average of 3.2 yards per carry, one season after posting 1,106 yards and 4.8 yards per carry.

Los Angeles has taken steps to fix the problems in their offensive line by signing free agent left tackle Andrew Whitworth from the Cincinnati Bengals. In 2016, Whitworth didn’t allow a sack and was only penalized five times (two false starts and three holding penalties).

This move helps shore up Goff’s blindside, but leaves Los Angeles with a glaring problem in the middle of the offensive line. Their starting center last season, Tim Barnes, allowed 6.5 sacks for the season, resulting in a loss of 38.5 yards. Barnes is currently a free agent, leaving the Rams searching for a new center.

This is where the big 2016 draft trade could hurt Los Angeles, as one of the picks they forfeited to the Tennessee Titans was their first round selection in the 2017 NFL Draft. This means the Rams will make their first choice in the second round, 37th overall.

In that time, first round offensive line talents, like Cam Robinson (Alabama), Ryan Ramcyzk (Wisconsin), and Forrest Lamp (Western Kentucky), will most likely be off the board. However, if the Rams are willing to take a risk on a prospect projected to be taken a bit further down the draft board, they could pick up a starting level center in Ethan Pocic out of LSU.

Pocic has the perfect frame for an offensive lineman, standing at 6 feet, 6 inches and 310 pounds. Despite his large size, Pocic is praised for his quick lateral movement, allowing him to quickly find and block defensive players trying to rush into the backfield. Pocic is also praised for his run blocking ability, as he is able to use his speed to get to the second level and block defenders watching for the run.

Multiple NFL mock drafts have Pocic going between the 52-64 picks in the second round, meaning he won’t be available when Los Angeles picks again in the third round. The best available free agent center is Nick Mangold, who may be a viable option for the Rams if they decide to use their draft selections on other areas of need.

Mangold, however, played just eight games during the 2016 season due to an ankle injury. This, along with the fact that Mangold is 33 years old, may give the Rams pause. Los Angeles will also have competitors for the veteran’s services, as the New York Giants and the Cincinnati Bengals are both rumored to be interested in Mangold. Both teams offer him a better chance of winning now, something that may appeal to a player in his11th year.

Outside of Pocic in the 2017 draft, the Rams will most likely be in position to draft John Toth out of Kentucky, or Pat Elfein of Ohio State. Both are a little smaller than the ideal center, Elfein especially, at 6 feet, 3 inches and 303 pounds, but either option can be groomed to be the center of the future for Los Angeles. Going this route would require the team to pick up a center in free agency to serve as a stopgap while the incoming rookie learns the ropes of the NFL.

The offensive line should be priority number one for the Rams, as they try to provide protection for the quarterback they staked their immediate future on, as well as the third-year running back in Todd Gurley that showed so much promise in his rookie season. If Los Angeles can make the right moves in upgrading their offensive line, fans will finally get a chance to see what the team’s backfield of the future can do.

The NBA Faces Its Fear of Four-Year College Players

| Sports | March 23, 2017

by Keir Chapman, Mr. Sports 

College basketball freshman phenoms are regularly guaranteed a high selection in the NBA Draft, as scouts are searching for potential superstars, and will jump at the chance of drafting a youngster who may not be pro-ready on day one, but shows glimpses of transcendent talent.

This influx of “one and done” players has created a negative bias towards those who choose to stay in school for four years to develop their abilities to NBA standards. Often, four-year students will find themselves selected in the second round of the draft, or not at all, and must earn their way onto a roster.

Because of this view of the more seasoned rookies, two notable players slipped through the cracks, and are making major contributions for their respective teams. They are: Norman Powell out of UCLA and Malcolm Brogdon of Virginia. These two have so far defied what is expected of a four-year college player, and will be all-stars if their numbers continue to trend upwards.

Norman Powell

Bruins fans will remember Norman Powell as the extremely athletic shooting guard, whose emphatic dunks could bring Pauley Pavilion to its feet, or quiet a raucous crowd when UCLA was on the road.

Aside from being a four-year player, there were two major knocks on Powell that caused concerns for NBA front offices. First, at 6 feet, 4 inches, Powell appeared to be too undersized to defend guards at a higher level. And second, his 32 percent 3-point shooting left a lot to be desired for someone in his position.

While the shooting woes were valid, Powell posted a defensive rating of 98.9 points per 100 possessions in his final year at UCLA. His defense was pivotal in allowing the Bruins to hold their opponents to 68 points per game in the 2014-15 season.

However, due to these concerns, as well as the fact that Powell would be entering the league at 22 years old, he went to the Toronto Raptors with the 16th pick in the second round of the NBA Draft.

Powell’s first year found him riding the bench for most of the season, until March of 2016, where he registered 21 minutes per game. In his extended time on the court, Powell posted eight points per game on 42 percent from 3-point range. This led to more minutes in the month of April, where his scoring average sky-rocketed to 15 points per game.

Despite glimpses of Powell’s potential, he still found himself struggling for minutes, as incumbent backup shooting guard Terrence Ross was still the more trusted scoring option off the bench for coach Dwane Casey.

This caused Powell’s numbers to dip back down at the start of the 2016-17 season, where he averaged just seven points per game before the All-Star break. That’s when Toronto made a move that strengthened its starting five, while also allowing Powell to break free.

The Raptors picked up power forward Serge Ibaka from the Orlando Magic in exchange for their first round pick in 2017, and Ross. With the move, Powell became the go-to option off the bench, posting 11.7 points per game post All-Star break, and improving his rebounding from two per game, to 3.5, since becoming the primary backup.

Powell’s advanced stats, while promising, show that there have been some growing pains in his transition to an everyday player. His eFG percent sits at slightly under 50, while his defensive rating has dropped from 106.7 points per 100 possessions in his rookie season, to 109.9.

His offensive numbers, however, have already improved from a season ago. Powell scored 1.24 points per field goal attempt, and has an offensive rating of 109.1 points per 100 possessions, almost two points higher than the 107.4 he held last year.

Since the beginning of March, the first full month after trade that sent Ross away, the Raptors have struggled to replace Ross’ ability to score. The team averages just 99 points per game, the first time its scoring has dipped under 100 all season, and makes 44 percent of their shots, which is the lowest for the year as well.

Defensively, the Raptors have made vast improvements in March, allowing opponents to score just 97.5 points per game, Toronto’s best total since October, and grab just 41.4 rebounds per game, five less than the 46.4 the Raptors collect per game in the month.

With the postseason more or less a guarantee for Toronto at this point, Powell’s biggest test will come in the playoffs. He will be tasked with stopping the likes of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Isaiah Thomas, John Wall, Bradley Beal, Paul George, and many other big name players that can get on a role offensively.

If the Raptors can make a deep playoff push due to contributions from Powell, he will likely earn a starting spot for next season, and the chance to grow even more.

Malcolm Brogdon

Despite being at the helm of a successful Virginia Cavaliers team, Malcolm Brogdon didn’t always receive the national attention some of the younger college stars did.

Even after putting up 18 points per game with an eFG percent of 53, an outstanding offensive rating of 122.7 points per 100 possessions, and an even stouter defensive rating of 98.9 points per 100 possessions, Brogdon slipped to the sixth selection of the second round, where the Milwaukee Bucks were glad to take him.

The main concern that caused Brogdon to fall so far was the fact that he had redshirted during his 2012-13 season of college, meaning he would be 23 at the time he would be drafted. With the average peak years of an NBA player being 27-30, Brogdon’s proximity to his maximum potential without ever playing in an NBA game was cause for concern.

After acquiring Matthew Dellavedova from the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Bucks felt comfortable using a second round selection on a project guard like Brogdon, who might not have panned out, but would make Milwaukee look like geniuses if he did.

So far, so good for the Bucks, as Brogdon has continued where he left off at Virginia, efficiently scoring the ball while dishing out a high number of assists. The only difference from college to the pros is that Brogdon is producing from the bench in 26 minutes per game.

Aside from Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid and Dario Saric, both playing in the NBA for the first time despite being drafted in 2014, Brogdon leads all rookies in scoring with 10 points per game with an eFG percent of 51. He is also the leader in the 2017 rookies class with 4.1 assists and 1.15 steals per game.

For Milwaukee, Brogdon accounts for 23 percent of the assists generated while he is on the court, and scores 1.2 points per field goal attempt en route to an offensive rating of 110 points per 100.5 possessions.

These efficient numbers in limited minutes help mask the flaws that Brogdon has had in overall defense, as well as turning the ball over. Among all rookies, he is fifth in turnovers with 1.5 per game. As a team, the Bucks sit right in the middle of the NBA on points allowed to opponents off of turnovers, with 16 per game.

Brogdon also allows opponents to score 111.9 points per 100 possessions while he is on the court, numbers that suggest he is still learning to lock down the bigger players that populate the NBA. However, in just his rookie year, he has already logged 20 games as a starter, showing the Bucks he has the potential to be their point guard of the future.

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