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Rainy-day blues

Most local softball coaches are used to checking out the boxscores in the morning paper. Lately, it seems, they’ve been getting into the routine of checking out the weather page as well.

It’s hard to remember a year where rain has affected the softball season as much as it has this season. First the Queen of the Mountain was canceled because of wet conditions, then the start of the DFAL and BVAL seasons were delayed. I was at the College Park-Northgate game on Tuesday (the first game I’ve been able to cover this season) and it was clear that the lack of game action has affected the players, simply because some routine plays became adventurous.

But the rain affects more than the players. Coaches have to get together to reschedule and find a date that works for both teams. Then they have to scramble to find transportation. Umpires looking to make a little extra scratch are having to do without their strict hot dog and Pepsi diets. The list goes on.

The Carondelet-Freedom season opener slated for March 14 was originally rescheduled for March 25. But BVAL rules state that a team cannot play more than four games in a week. And because the Falcons are playing two games on Saturday in addition to playing their regular BVAL schedule, the game was moved to March 29.

And what’s this, there’s rain in the forecast for this weekend? Before you know it, teams will be going into the NCS playoffs with only 14 or 16 games under their belt, instead of the normal 22 or 24.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure this rain is helping somebody. Like farmers and, well, farmers.

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BSAL softball predictions

Not much separates the top six teams in the BSAL this season. That can’t be said for many leagues in any sport, but any of these six teams could finish in first.
I picked St. Patrick-St. Vincent for a couple main reasons. The Bruins have two pitchers back who combined for 21 wins and only two losses last season and they have six starters returning, including three first-team all-leaguers. That’s a powerful combination, in my opinion.
Piedmont also has a couple of pitchers that will give opponents problems in the heat-throwing Mina Duffy and the off-speed pitcher Jessica Bixby. The Highlanders’ 16-1 win over Campolindo in a scrimmage this season also caught my eye.
St. Mary’s has a veteran pitcher returning in Bijou Felder and a good foundation with Paige Freiberger, Courtney Moore and others. Albany has nine starters back from last year, and the Cougars have shown they can score runs this season with 11 in a win against Acalanes and four in a 5-4 loss to Campolindo.
John Swett has a pitching ace back in Kelli Bailey, but just three returning starters. Salesian is a mystery team, as the Chieftains have not played yet this season. Allison Donnelly logged a lot of innings on the mound for Salesian in the past four years, so it will be interesting to see how the team does without her this season. They do have six returning starters and a coach in Dolores Bonds who has had a winning program year in and year out.
What do you think of this order? How do you see the BSAL title race shaping up?

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BSAL baseball preview

This year’s Bay Shore Athletic League baseball perhaps is best described as a three-tier league. And only a minimal difference exists between the first two tiers.

The only thing definite about BSAL baseball this season is that weakest teams are Kennedy and St. Elizabeth. The other seven teams can be competitive. Depending which BSAL coach one talks to, the league shapes up as a three- or four-team race. But which teams?

St. Mary’s has many returning players and some promising newcomers. The Panthers have a year’s more experience than they did in 2005, when they went 11-5 in league. Coaches around the league seem impressed with the Panthers, and St. Mary’s coach Andy Shimabukuru expressed much confidence. Call it a hunch, call it a gut feeling, but I picked the Panthers to finish first in the league.

Still, Albany is talent-laden, too. The Cougars surely should vie for the top spot. St. Mary’s and Albany should finish 1-2 in the league. Given their talent and depth, the Cougars are the team most likely to scuttle the above prediction as to which team will take first place.

Among the rest, John Swett should be improved with the transfer of 2005 league MVP Jonathan Van Looy from Salesian. But Van Looy can’t pitch every game.

Salesian loses Van Looy as well as the graduated Jordan Jackson. So pitching is a concern for the Chieftains. But look for the defending league champions to compete for another league title.

Piedmont has pitching depth. But hitting and defense are concerns. Teams that are strong on pitching but weaker on hitting often can thrive. But only prayers and miracles (such as a ton of hitting combined with a staff of strikeout pitchers) can save a team with suspect defense.

St. Joseph and St. Patrick-St. Vincent make up the remainder of the top seven teams.

This is just one man’s opinion of 2006 BSAL baseball. Perhaps you can share yours.

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BVAL softball

The beginning of the Bay Valley Athletic League softball season was (mainly) a wash as most games had to be postponed because of the rains early this morning. That gives us a little time to give a more in-depth look as the league’s eight teams.

Freedom:

The Falcons are the unquestioned favorite to win the league, and not just because of Williams. Nearly all of their starters return, including infielders Sam Bias and Jessica Gardner. Last year a lot of Freedom’s players got extended playing time as the stellar class of 2004 graduated. They lost a league game to Carondelet and were really tested in the NCS playoffs. Those experiences should help this year’s team, making them that much more difficult to play against.

Carondelet:

Clayton Valley:

Deer Valley:

Liberty:

Antioch:

Pittsburg:

Ygnacio Valley:

Anyway, I know there’s a lot of passionate softball fans out there, so let us know what you think.

The last time the Warriors won a BVAL game, George W. Bush was still the governor of Texas and there was an actual budget surplus. Well, there won’t be a budget surplus anytime soon, but Ygnacio Valley may actually get back in the win column. The main reason will be the development of pitcher Chelsea McEachran, who, according to coach Nathan Vasarhely, has added 5-10 miles an hour to her fastball. That may not be a big difference when the Warriors play the league’s elite, but it could help when facing other teams that are rebuilding. The Pirates were a playoff team in 2004 but a lack of experience cost them in 2005. The key will be finding an everyday pitcher. If they do find such a player, then the Pirates could contend for the top half of the league standings. That’s because several offensive stars such as Fachon Jones, Kendra Carmouche and Jasmine Battle are back. Panthers coach John Luis said the youth of his team is both their strength and weakness. That is, the players will be very good in time, but there may be some growing pains along the way. Pitchers Dani Foster and Chance Imholtz will be relied on to carry the load in the meantime. Infielder Katie Pace is a three-year starter who should provide stability, as will catcher Justine Watson. Antioch is right now without third baseman Brandee Fisher, who was injured during basketball season. The Lions have a mix of youth and experience. The youth comes from pitchers Shelbie Raposa and Ashley Bouslog, and the experienced players include Lauren Flores, Rachel Boone, Brittany Gray, Heather Foisy and Lauren Rodrigues. Even though Liberty will rely on their returning starters, the bottom line is Raposa and Bouslog will have to grow up quickly if the Lions are to compete. 2005 was a disappointing year for the Wolverines but they may be on their way back. They were roughed up by Monte Vista in their season opener, but a 4-3 loss to Foothill over the weekend was pretty respectable. The pitcher in that game was freshman Emily Allard. She’ll get a lot of work this season as Deer Valley hopes to get back to the playoffs. There are some position players that have to be replaced, including third baseman Morgan Siegel, whose at Cal. But if the Wolverines can cut back on the errors and get consistent pitching, there’s no reason to think they can’t finish in the top half. There were times when the Eagles used to be BVAL also-rans, but those days are over. Clayton Valley returns a solid nucleus of players, which includes pitcher Courtney Alvarez and third baseman Kelsey Chambers, and it should be able to build upon the success of last year. Seeing as how her team has the experience, first-year coach Jennifer Arnold wants her team to be more aggressive. If they stay healthy, the Eagles should make a return to the postseason. The Cougars were the only BVAL team to beat Freedom last year as then-freshman Kyle Lamet matched Williams pitch-for-pitch. Lamet is back and should be stronger than last year, but the Cougars will need to be more creative when it comes to scoring runs. Their two big bats from last season, Candace Curtis and Ashley Nichelman, have graduated. That said, other players such as Katie Cross, Nikki Yee and Caitlin Luquet are capable of getting on and getting around the bases. The first thing you think of when you think of the Falcons is pitcher Amanda Williams. The second is the four straight NCS titles. The third is the seemingly endless supply of talent. The fourth is, well…, you get the point.

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BVAL Baseball

The word around the Bay Valley Athletic League is that this is Deer Valley’s championship to lose.

But don’t tell De La Salle that. The Spartans have won the past two BVAL titles, and won the North Coast Section 3A East Bay title last year. They return a healthy complement of talent from that squad, despite the departure of Times Player of the Year Eric Massingham.

Clayton Tanner takes on the ace mantle, and Michael Cipolla, Nick Hom, Nathan Carter and Tyler Hess should provide plenty of offense.

Still, Deer Valley is stocked with lively arms and solid hitters. Taylor Stanton, Matthew North, Gabe Tafoya and Javier Biagas are part of a staff that coach Dennis Luquet calls “the best pitching I’ve had.”

This from a guy who coached Dan Denham a few years ago. If Luquet admits he’s got a squad, pay attention. No pressure, but the Wolverines are my early prediction to win the NCS 3A East Bay title.

Coach Bob Ralston always does such a great job over at Clayton Valley that the Eagles can’t help but be in contention. SS Randy Wells is one of the best players in the area, not to mention the league, and will be relied upon to spark the offense.

As mentioned on a recent (albeit brief) contracostatimes.com discussion board, Liberty has some great talent returning from a team that just missed the playoffs last year.

The Lions are off to a rocketing start, largely due to the big three of Mike Gonzales, Mike McCarthy and Jason Smith. Look for the Lions to make some serious waves in the league, and get back to the playoffs.

After Liberty, things theoretically drop off a bit. But Antioch has a way of inserting itself into any BVAL title conversation, so don’t be surprised if the Panthers claw their way into the top half of the league.

Ygnacio Valley, Pittsburg and Freedom all should show improvement, but this is going to be one tough league to compete in this year, and the Warriors, Pirates and Falcons likely will struggle to move into the upper echelon.

As always, my predictions are my own. I base them on discussions with coaches in the league, my past experience, gut-level thinking and magic.

So if you would like to quibble with them, quibble away. But don’t say I didn’t warn you about the magic.

Post a comment, or read on for a list of some of the league’s …

Players to watch:
Antioch
— Bub Comages, Kacy (Roach) Comages, Brian Fiore
Clayton Valley — Wells, Trevor Barrow, Bill Burmeister
Deer Valley — Stanton, Travis Higgs, North, Tafoya, Biagas, Simeon Maldonado, Justin Manci
De La Salle — Tanner, Cipolla, Carter, Hess, Hom, Tillman Pugh
Freedom — Dane James, Brandon Alexander
Liberty — Gonzales, McCarthy, Smith
Pittsburg — Kenny Evanson, Jared Mourning, Dominic DiSibio
Ygnacio Valley — Matt Liubicich, Garry Graffort, Kyle Lawson, Brett Butterfield

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CIF wrestling aftermath

Two state champs and 11 top eight finishes in all. It doesn’t get much better than that.

It was a banner wrestling season for the North Coast Section over the weekend, as it placed 16 wrestlers overall, more than in any other year. In particular, it was a best for wrestlers in the Times region. Eleven locals medaled.

Campolindo’s Nikko Triggas (112 pounds) and Las Lomas’s Jason Welch (154) were the recipients of those state titles. San Ramon Valley’s David Christian (140) took home a CIF championship last year, the first in the Times region to do so in 10 years. Welch, a sophomore, placed second at 145 last year. He still has a chance to be the fifth ever to reach the finals all four years. Stay tuned.

Las Lomas’s Jason Swisher (215) placed third, Freedom’s David Prado (119) and De La Salle’s Nate Spangler (135) fourth, Foothill’s Phil Boyer (125) fifth, Foothill’s Kellen Aura (103), California’s Jason Welsh (140) and Clayton Valley’s Ronnie McCoy (171) seventh and Liberty’s David Klingsheim (103) and Northgate’s Ryan Stirm (130) finished eighth.

Las Lomas was the top local team in the state, placing 10th, despite having just two wrestlers in the tournament.

A total of 19,499 saw the championships at Bakersfield’s Rabobank Arena. Friday, the attendance was 5,871, jumped to 6,394 on Saturday, and Saturday’s championship round increased to 7,234. The tournament will continue in that venue for at least three more years.

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NCS boys championship breakdown

Well we’re finally at Championship Saturday, and this year’s matchups in Division I-IV aren’t likely to disappoint. Here’s a quick breakdown of each matchup.

DIVISION I
(7) Deer Valley vs. (1) De La Salle: How about the Bay Valley Athletic League? Seriously. Between four teams, the league will finish with nine NCS wins after this one is over. DV (20-9) has played some inspired basketball, but there is nothing to suggest that it will be able to solve the De La Salle defense that has held them it to 23 and 22 points in their first two meetings. Perhaps the margin won’t be 30 points this time, but De La Salle (27-1) should have little trouble locking up its sixth NCS title in eight years. Prediction: De La Salle 47-31.
DIVISION II
(4) Richmond vs. (2) Montgomery: The free-wheeling, high-flying attack of the Oilers (20-7) is certainly capable of winning this one. But to do so, they will have to be take care of the basketball. Richmond committed 12 turnovers in the fourth quarter of its semifinal against Clayton Valley. That can’t happen against Montgomery (22- 7), which will exploit those mistakes. All the same, the Vikings have nobody who can guard the Oilers front line of Wendell McKines and Orlando Arnold. Prediction: Richmond 68-64
DIVISION III
(2) De Anza vs. (1) Campolindo: Similar to the Division II matchup, it will be the run-and-gun attack of the Dons (23-5) against the controlled and efficient offense of the Cougars (25-3). If Campolindo wins the battle on the boards, it will be in good shape. Also, if the Cougars shoot as well from outside as they shot against Bishop O’Dowd (Pat Lawrence had six 3-pointers), the Dons will be in for a real uphill battle. Prediction: Campolindo 57-52
DIVISION IV
(2) Salesian vs. (1) Cardinal Newman: This may be the most even matchup of the four. I gotta believe that fourth time is finally going to be the charm for Salesian (25-5) and its coach Bill Mellis. Cardinal Newman (28-3) trailed St. Mary’s by two with just over three minutes to go, but put together and strong run to finish and won by 10. Cardinal can’t afford to fall behind against the Chieftains. Outside shooting will be the key for the Salesian. Prediction: Salesian 65-64.

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Crunch Time

Before action gets underway tonight, I thought we’d take a quick look at each of the NCS boys basketball semifinal matchups for Division I through III.

DIVISION I
(5) Monte Vista vs. (1) De La Salle: As well as the Mustangs (21-7) have been playing, I just don’t know what they have left after another emotional game against rival San Ramon Valley. Monte Vista should be able to stay with the Spartans (26-1) for a half, but will likely be worn down by De La Salle’s pressure defense. Prediction: De La Salle 55-41
(7) Deer Valley at (3) Newark Memorial: Whoa! What got into the Wolverines? Deer Valley (19-9) lost four of five to close out the season, and suddenly they’re knocking off the San Leandro team that everyone figured had the best shot at De La Salle. Suddenly Eric Bamberger’s team has rallied, but how long will it hold up? Newark Memorial (22-7) has now won 18 straight and would love another shot title shot against De La Salle — which beat them at the Arena in 2004. Prediction: Newark Memorial 50-46
DIVISION II
(9) Clayton Valley at (4) Richmond: Think that No. 9 seed may have inspired the Eagles (19-9)? Drew Menez is playing his best basketball of the season, and Clayton Valley is playing with some serious purpose. To beat the Oilers (19-7), though, Clayton Valley must control the pace and hope for a low-scoring game. If they are successful in doing that, this one will be really close. Prediction: Richmond 59-58
(6) Eureka at (2) Montgomery-Santa Rosa: I know very little about either program, but Montgomery (22-7) beat a very good Casa Grande team on Wednesday and gets to return to its home floor, where it rarely loses. Eureka (25-5) has the most wins in the bracket, but the travel really takes a lot of out of the Humboldt teams. Prediction: Montgomery 65-55
DIVISION III
(4) Bishop O’Dowd at (1) Campolindo: The Dragons (19-8) are the toughest team the Cougars (24-3) have seen since December. That being said, Campolindo has the talent and the schemes to beat O’Dowd. Rebounding will be the key. If the Cougars win the battle on the boards, keeping the Dragons to one shot each time down the floor, then Campo will be playing for its second straight NCS title. Prediction: Campolindo 53-49
(6) Sir Francis Drake-San Anselmo at (2) De Anza: Drake (21-9) was probably seeded a little too low, so it’s no surprise to see them reach the semifinals by beating No. 3 Del Norte-Crescent City. The Dons (22-5) have the talent and athleticism to win, and should look to pressure the ball and get as many fast breaks as possible. Prediction: De Anza 64-62

Due to time constraints, I wasn’t able to get to full Division IV breakdowns. But I’ll still throw out predictions.
(4) St. Mary’s 60, (1) Cardinal Newman 58
(2) Salesian 58, (11) Arcata 46

Come back tomorrow morning for breakdowns/predictions on the four championship games.