Lace up the sneakers

With the first games tipping off as early as this weekend, it’s time to start talking about hoops.

I don’t need much to get fired up about an upcoming basketball season, but I did attend Cal’s exhibition game against Humboldt State on Monday. As an alum of HSU, the 106-62 drubbing was a tad difficult to swallow (Curse you, Ayinde Ubaka!). On the other hand, as the Times boys basketball writer for the past four years, it was exciting to see five former players who I covered competing in the game. Cal featured Theo Robertson (De La Salle) and Steve Panawek (Miramonte), and HSU featured Devin Peal (Kennedy), Kevin Johnson (Liberty) and Chris Blackwood (Miramonte). All saw time on the floor and made key contributions. In a way, I felt proud. Though I didn’t have any hand in their development as a player, it has become very enjoyable to watch these players grow and succeed.

So now that I’m fired up about a new season of boys hoops, I say we look at the preseason rankings. Most of the boys rankings have been released already, the Bay Area was shut out on the StudentSports.com Fab 50. However, that was not the case with the USA Today Super 25, which was released on Monday with De La Salle at No. 12 overall and No. 3 in the Western region. The Spartans, who will feature three-year starting point guard Justin Joyner, won’t be in action until their own Chris Vontoure Tournament begins Dec. 8.

In the meantime, let’s get some discussion on going on what teams you expect to be strong this season. Feel free to post a comment and sound off.


Second round knockout

Ok, so two of my predictions were wrong.

But were they??? (cue dramatic music here)

I said Granada would have a tough time playing Monte Vista — ya know, with the whole spiel about how the Mustangs beat Granada in their last league-meeting and it seemed ironic that they were lined up to face each other in the second round — Well, Monte Vista goes into hostile territory and takes out the No. 3 seeded Matadors. Wow. I guess if you set Stephanie Browne 54 times only good things can happen. (Ok, it doesn’t take away the fact I picked Granada)

My other pick was bounced when Sonoma Valley eliminated Carondelet in three games. I said this was "possible," but I guess anything is possible. The Cougars are young and will be back next season. Northgate is still alive, and I’m not jumping on the Sonoma Valley bandwagon just yet.

All my other picks (Amador Valley, Liberty, Foothill, Campolindo and St. Mary’s) advanced easily.

On a side note: Expecting the Amador Valley/Deer Valley match to go five, I was surprised to see the Wolverines exit with a three-and-out. Deer Valley hung tough. Still, Amador Valley showed it plays well under pressure. That will come in handy tonight against Liberty in a re-match of last season’s NCS final.


Vball Playoffs

We know players and coaches don’t like to get ahead of themselves on the court, but here in the "blogosphere" we don’t play one match at a time. So we’ll go ahead and make some quick predictions. Let’s see what happens. Or you can check out the pairings here, and comeback to make your own predictions.

Division I

No offense to Berkeley or James Logan, but we’ll just go ahead and pencil in No. 1-seeded Liberty into the semifinal match on Thursday. Amador Valley and Deer Valley should be a great battle with the winner trying to knockout the Lions in the semi’s. It’s the BVAL vs. EBAL in the top half of the bracket. Everyone at the NCS seeding meeting on Sunday talked about how strong the EBAL was this year. Hey, they’re right. Down two games to Foothill, Amador Valley made a furious comeback to force a game five for the ages. The Dons came very close to being the EBAL champs and this is why I’m picking the Dons over the Wolverines.

Liberty won the BVAL for the first time ever and are battle tested (made it to the Northgate Invitational championship before losing to Campolindo) Plus, does two-time defending NCS champion mean anything to you? Liberty over Amador Valley in the top half of the bracket.

Foothill will take on the winner of Granada and Monte Vista (assuming the Mustangs get past Rancho Cotate) Foothill showed during the regular season they could handle both of those teams. Granada gets passed Monte Vista and plays the Falcons. Wouldn’t it be amazing if the Matadors exorcise their demons by beating the two teams that denied them a league title? Or is it tragically ironic that those two teams could stand between them and a chance to be NCS champs?

Foothill beats Granada to advance to the championship with Liberty completing the three-peat.

Note: From here on out, things get fuzzy, because I’ve seen about five of the reamining teams. Hey, you can’t see everybody.

Division II

Despite fizzling in their second meeting with Campolindo this season, the Broncos will reach the semifinals to play Carondelet. The Broncos beat Carondelet at the Wolverine Invitational, but the Cougars are facing a Northgate team that lost their middle blocker Brittany Thomas to a shoulder injury. Still Carondelet can be inconsistent, evident with their two losses to Liberty and Deer Valley in the final week of BVAL play, so a breakdown against Sonoma Valley is possible.

Congratulations to Concord for making NCS for the first time in a "LONG" time. But this bracket will come down to whether or not Carondelet or Northgate can knock off the winner of Maria Carillo and Redwood. Judging by what happened at the Northgate Tournament, I’m going with Maria Carillo.

Division III

This ones easy. Acalanes, Albany and Analy will have their moments, but I’m picking Campolindo and that libero Cary Whittaker to play Bishop O’Dowd in the final with Campolindo winning in four.

Division IV

Natalie Bogan and Tarah Murrey will lead St. Mary’s to its second straight NCS championship appearance. But they’ll most likely face Justin Siena again. We know what happened last year, although Panthers coach Jon Segal said his team is better than last season’s despite losing BSAL MVP Brittney Murrey.


Water polo fever

For the past week, Bill Kruissink and I have been busy lounging by the pool and getting our fill of NCS water polo. Yes, it’s a tough life we lead here at the Times.

The quarterfinals wrapped up last night, and since my main beat falls on the girls side, I’ll gear my comments toward that half of the bracket (although that De La Salle/Campolindo match sure was exciting!). But I digress… We’ve got four teams left: No. 1 San Ramon Valley vs. No. 4 Miramonte; No. 2 College Park vs. No. 6 Carondelet. Since NCS decided to split up the girls games (go figure), I’ve been forced to pick which semifinal I’d like to attend. I haven’t seen the Mats play, so that’s where I’ll be (though the CP/Carondelet match is looking better and better).

Talking with College Park standout Melissa Seidemann a while back, she predicted a Falcons/Wolves matchup in the final. I think she’s right. It’s hard to imagine those two teams not making it to the championship game after the seasons they’ve put up. Of course, this is the playoffs, so anything is possible. What do you think? 

See you poolside!


Appel’s big day

I’ll be the first to admit it.
I wasn’t thrilled when my alarm went off today at 6:30 a.m. Knowing me means knowing I am NOT a morning person.
But today was different. I knew the momentary discomfort of my interrupted  slumber would be worth it. I knew I was going to be a part of something special.
After all, it’s not every day girls basketball players from this area sign with national powerhouses, and that’s exactly what was happening. Carondelet’s Jayne Appel was signing with Stanford. I was going to see that happen — even if it meant being at Carondelet at 8 a.m.
When I wandered into the main office, Jayne was already there with her parents, Joe and Pam, who were all decked out in Cardinal red. Clearly, this was a big day for them as well.
A small group of family and friends, which included Carondelet coaches Margaret Gartner and Lexy Tamony (a former Cal hoopster, who admitted Wednesday to being a "closeted Stanford fan"), gathered in the nearby conference room to watch Appel’s big moment unfold.
“Who knew at age 10 with AAU it would come to this?” Pam Appel said. “That’s when it all started. It just snowballed.”
The process was actually really quick (unlike Jayne’s yearlong recruiting adventure). She signed four pieces of paper, posed for a series of photos and it was over. Jayne was officially headed to The Farm.
“It really feels like I’m signing four years of my life away,” Jayne told me with a laugh.

Wednesday may have been all about Stanford, but as Gartner said, "We still have to get her on the court." Carondelet’s hoops season (Jayne’s last one) starts later this month.


Eating Crow

I don’t care what people say, everything does not taste like chicken. I should know. My words are tasting pretty salty right now and have been for the past six weeks.

When the prep football season first started a certain prep writer – that would be me – picked the Pinole Valley High School Spartans to finish fourth in the Alameda Contra Costa Athletic League.

Boy was I wrong.

The Spartans responded to the slight by clinching at least a share of the ACCAL title.

Pinole Valley won another high-scoring affair Friday, beating El Cerrito 44-41 on a late 29-yard field goal by Dustin Crenshaw. http://www.contracostatimes.com/mld/cctimes/sports/high_school/13089886.htm.

Pinole Valley can clinch the title outright and finish ACCAL play undefeated at 7-0 if it beats Hercules this week. Pinole Valley ’s lone blemish on an otherwise exciting season was 35-28 loss to Vallejo in Week 2. It should be noted that the Spartans nearly came back and won that game against Vallejo, scoring 21 fourth-quarter points.

Since that point, West County ’s best show on turf hasn’t had any problems, scoring 40 or more points four times, including a comeback 54-51 win over Alameda on Oct. 21. So fellas disregard the slight because I am officially on the Spartans’ bandwagon.

Pinole Valley ’s potent offense is averaging 40.6 points per contest.


Curtis’ forecast

I took a beating last week with my forecast, and now I’m mired in last place. There’s only a few weeks left to make up some ground and, well, I’ve got a good feeling that things are going to start going my way. So here we go.

(5) Foothill over Liberty: The Lions’ win over Pittsburg last week made me think of the classic Bill King line, "Nothing is real in the world anymore!" But things get back to normal this week with the Falcons winning in a walk.

(4) Pinole Valley over El Cerrito: The Spartans can just about taste the ACCAL title. Thanks to a week off, a rested Pinole Valley team will be one step closer to going unbeaten in league play.

(3) Acalanes over Alhambra: The Bulldogs have been somewhat inconsistent at home this season, going 1-2. Besides that, four of their five wins have come against, ahem, struggling teams. Acalanes has all the momentum after last week’s huge win over Las Lomas.

(2) Pittsburg over Casa Grande: The Gauchos could be the second coming of the ’85 Chicago Bears for all I know. But chances are they haven’t seen a team with as much speed as the Pirates.

(1) Amador Valley over Monte Vista: Remember when Ben Crenshaw, then the captain of the 1999 Ryder Cup team, said, "I just got a good feeling about tomorrow." Of course you don’t. You’re football fans. But trust me, the U.S. went on to trounce Europe in the final day of competition to win the event. Well, I just have a sneaky suspicion that the Dons can pull off the upset.

Swing away: Livermore over Granada — Cowboy Up, baby.


Comeback Kid

The Dizzy got rope-a-doped in last week’s Forecast, hitting on just one of the five games he picked, plus his swing game, and scoring just 4 points. And with Chace’s big week (5-for-6, 11 points), the Dizzy now trails Chace in the season standings, 60-54. Ben, who went 2-3 for 3 points, now stands at 43, just one point ahead of Curtis (who missed the first week of the Forecast and went 2-3 for 5 last week).

He’s going to stop talking about himself in the third person now, though, and hopes it will spark a late-season rally.

5) Pinole Valley over El Cerrito: Look, we’ve already accepted as fact that, outside of Berkeley some weeks, there is no defense in the ACCAL. The Spartans proved it when they scored 54 points and BARELY beat Alameda, 54-51 two weeks ago. Last week, a generally low-scoring Encinal team scored 34 in a two-point win over the scuffling Gauchos. What do you think that means for high-flying Pinole? Personally, I think it means big offense, big points and a big win to clinch the ACCAL title.

4) Foothill over Liberty: It’s tough to pick against a team riding the emotional high the Lions are on after rallying around their grieving coach and knocking off Pittsburg last week. But Foothill gave unbeaten Monte Vista all it could handle in a 35-28 loss in Danville last week, and I just don’t know if Liberty is gonna have the horses to keep pace with the Falcons.

3) MV over AV: Last year, when the Dons were at the Mustangs, this game featured one of the most bizarre endings to a game that I have ever seen. Monte Vista missed a game-winning field goal as time expired, but Amador Valley was called for running into the kicker.
The 5-yard penalty was never marked off, Monte Vista kicked again (from the same spot), and AV’s Nate Young shot through the line and blocked the kick to save a 16-14 Dons win, and their undefeated EBAL championship season.
If you don’t think the Mustangs have been chewing on that one for the past 12 months, you’re crazy. And this year, they have the beef up front to push the Dons around a little bit. I don’t think this one’s going to come down to a late-game field goal…

2) Alh over Aca: Not to knock Dublin’s Mike Plimmer, a fine back in his own right, but if Plimmer can go for 253 against the Acalanes defense, what can we expect from Alhambra’s Mr. Everything, Brandon Rutley? Here’s guessing more than his average of 191 yards and 2.5 touchdowns per game on Homecoming Night for the ‘Dawgs.

1) Pitt over Casa Grande: Pittsburg (5-3) hasn’t lost four regular-season games since 1998. It hasn’t lost four games in a season, period, since 2001, which was also the last time it lost three games in a row. I don’t think any of those streaks is coming to a close at a tough Gauchos squad, despite the fact that Casa Grande has yet to lose a home game this year. This could be a good one…

SWING TIME: California over SRV. I hate to kick the Wolves while they’re down, but as we established last week, I picked the Griz to win this league. Gotta stick by my pick, however wrong it ended up being…


FRIDAY FORECAST: No time for a letdown

Finally! After another strong week, the upper hand is on the other foot. I have surged into a six-point advantage, but I’m not letting it go to my head. A few missed extra points and a careless turnover could lead to a tragic final-week downfall. But I’m still confident, and there will be no "playing it safe". As Don Henley once sang, "Kick ‘em when they’re up, kick ‘em when they’re down."

And with that said, here are this week’s games.

(5) Foothill over Liberty: The Falcons came within eight minutes of upsetting Monte Vista last week, and they have had to chew on that for a six days. Oh, those poor, poor Lions.

(4) Monte Vista over Amador Valley: Over the next two weeks, we’ll finally get to the heart of Amador Valley. What will we find? My guess is a group of overachievers who will play hard enough to stay in games against the Mustangs and rival Foothill, but won’t have the firepower to get it over the top and pull off an upset.

(3) Pinole Valley over El Cerrito: The Gauchos’ stumble at Encinal last week makes this a little more interesting, especially since the Spartans were idle due to a Richmond forfeit. Still, I have to figure that Pinole Valley isn’t going to leave anything in doubt for Week 10 and will make sure to clinch a share of the ACCAL title this week.

(2) Acalanes over Alhambra: The confidence of Acalanes must be soaring this week after going into Las Lomas and taking a convincing 16-7 win. That confidence, in addition to Alhambra having its troubles at home this season, could lead to another big win for the Dons. Plus, the Bulldogs defense is going to look like welcome mat after facing the Las Lomas defense.

(1) Casa Grande over Pittsburg: What happened to the Pirates last week? Geesh!! Perhaps some of the youth on the team is beginning to show. If that’s the case, they could have a hard time getting back on track against a very experienced Gauchos group.

Swing time — Miramonte over Campolindo: The Lamorinda rivalry bragging rights return to the green and silver this season. The Matadors defense will be the difference.


Steroids in baseball

Last Friday, the Head-Royce School in Oakland held a panel discussion entitled, "Steroids in Professional Baseball." Head-Royce senior pitcher/first baseman Alexander WeberShapiro did fine work as organizer and moderator of this event. The panelists were S.F. Chronicle writer Lance Williams, one of the journalists who broke the BALCO story late last year; Jon Cannon, a pitcher in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization; and Elliot Peters, an attorney with much knowledge of the subject.
Though most of the discussion centered on the major leagues, Williams did bring up a good point: “If you don’t have some sort of regulation, you’re going to have some meathead coach telling your kid that he has to take this stuff to make the (high school) JV team.”
Though there seems to be scant evidence of steroid use in high school baseball, the California Interscholastic Federation has laid out a firm anti-steroid policy for high school sports.
Those of you who are players, former players, coaches, parents or just general fans: Has anybody ever gone to a high school, summer baseball or fall baseball event and seen a kid that you suspected might be on steroids?