Bay Area college boxers begin national title chase

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Bay Area college boxers begin national title chase

March 17, 2011

Ryan Maquiana
CSNBayArea.com

College boxings answer to March Madness features fighters from Cal, San Jose State, Santa Clara, and USF.

These often overlooked student-athletes seek their own version of One Shining Moment in the ring this spring. Their bid for greatness begins Thursday in Reno with the National Collegiate Boxing Association's Far-West Regional Tournament.

The winners will advance to the national championships an the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., April 7-9.

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Cal's Andrei Vasilj, San Jose State's Pablo Diaz, Pat Welde of Santa Clara University and USF Ramsey Ayloush represent the Bay Area contingent. Here's a sketch of each fighter:

Andrei Vasilj, light middleweight, Cal
Its been a rebuilding year for the Golden Bears, and head coach Jim Riksheim pulls no punches regarding that feeling.

With the tournament coming up, I feel like Im going into a tiger hut with a pea shooter, he said. Were all brand new, and as far as bout experience, our most veteran guy heading into this season only had three bouts under his belt.

One bright spot has been Vasilj, a 156-pound junior with a penchant for combat, having past experience in Muay Thai. For an international development studies major with designs on joining the Peace Corps after graduation, the 22-year-old junior from North Hollywood is quite the walking dichotomy when the gloves are on.

We practice twice a day, so Ive been able to learn faster than usual, Vasilj said. I love boxing because I love to be active, and it helps me get through my studies.

Hes got a unique style, said team captain Mike Hastings. He comes out hard and fast in every fight, which is surprising for being one of the new guys on the team.

Styles make fights, and such a maxim has carried Vasilj to the regionals in only his first year of competition.

Im aggressive when I need to be, Vasilj said. I have a really long jab, and I use it to set up my opponents for the left hook and straight right.

Andreis a very unusual fighter in that hell catch you off-balance with his footwork or uppercuts at unpredictable times, said Riksheim. You can never figure out what hes going to drop on you.

Nonetheless, due to his lack of experience, Vasilj acknowledges that he will be a bit of an underdog to make it to West Point.

I trust the coaches, and weve worked on a couple techniques these last few weeks, he said. Id say Im the underdog, but Ive got a lot of heart.

Pablo Diaz, welterweight, San Jose State
When he first laced up his gloves last September, Diaz never thought hed find himself competing in Reno this year. That is, until the Fremont native surprisingly outdueled teammate Oscar Gomez in a box-off to be the Spartans 147-pound entrant on Tuesday.

Oscar was a bronze medalist in last years nationals, said SJSU head coach Candy Lopez, who doubles as the lead trainer at the San Jose PAL. However, what Pablo lacks in experience, he makes up for in enthusiasm and technique.

Unbeaten in three bouts this season, the humble first-year graduate student was quick to credit his teammates for his rapid development.

Oscar and a lot of team members have showed me the ropes, Diaz said. He and I both wanted to go to regionals, so we had a box-off. It couldve gone either way.

The 26-year-old American High School has tried to liken his style to light middleweight world champ Miguel Cotto as a nod to his Puerto Rican heritage.

Im half-Mexican, too, but Ive always been a fan of Cottos, because of his poise and confidence in all situations, he said. Hes a warrior when he has to be, though.

The former green belt in Krav Maga chose to attend San Jose State not only for its masters program in counseling, but for the boxing club as well. Upon closer inspection, however, Diaz has a lot more on his plate than books and boxing.

I work at Smart & Final in the morning, then at Durham Elementary School where I tutor second graders, he said. Then I have boxing and then class from until 10 p.m.

While pugilism is undoubtedly a passion Diaz would like to continue after his time at SJSU, he hasnt lost sight of his goals outside the ring.

For the longest time, Ive wanted to participate in the Golden Gloves, he shared. Ultimately, however, I want to be a high school or college counselor. I want to help others reach college and return the favor to the community Im from.

Pat Welde, light welterweight, Santa Clara
Veteran leadership has been the mantra of this seasons Bronco squad, and head coach Pierre Moynier has enjoyed the luxury of having two senior co-captains in his roster.

Its pretty rare to have a boxer all four years in college boxing, said Moynier. To have two like Pat Welde and Luis Sierra has been great for our team.

Welde, a 139-pounder from the fighting city of Philadelphia, has boxing in his blood, even if he didnt want to admit it at first.

Growing up, I wasnt a huge boxing fan, but I started training in fifth grade with my dad, he said. He trained with Robert Hines, who was the light middleweight champion of the world back in 1989. Hes become a great mentor and I do love watching fights now.

Despite being an avid fan of former light welterweight world champ Ricky Hatton, Welde doesnt regularly employ a face-first approach.

Im a southpaw, so that brings an advantage, said the 22-year-old finance major. I can brawl if my opponent wants to brawl, but my game is more working on the outside.

Weldes boxing skills were on full display last Thanksgiving when he defeated a favored fighter from the Naval Academy at the prestigious New York Athletic Club Invitational. This weekend, he looks to make amends for dropping last years regional final.

He lost to a fighter from Cal last year in a pretty bad decision, so this is kind of like redemption for him this time around, said Moynier.

Ramsey Ayloush, middleweight, USF
As the Dons send their contingent to Reno, one of them has been steadily building a reputation for finishing his opponents.

Ramsey Ayloush is 7-0 with six technical knockouts, said USF head coach Angelo Merino. Hes knocked out fighters with three times his experience with body shots. The kid is gifted. Hes like the Energizer Bunny out there.

Ayloush, a 21-year-old senior from Fullerton, has gone from a 190-pound out-of-shape junior to a 165-pound powerhouse in his final campaign.

Ive just always had a chip on my shoulder, he said. Ive always trained super hard. My dedication has been the reason behind my record.

In fact, Ayloushs work ethic has impressed his coach more than the actual results.

Ramseys the first one in the gym waiting for me, and he wont leave until I say hes done, said Merino. Hes always asking me for more work even after my other students leave.

Such drive has fueled his march toward a degree in international business, where he plans to get into the aerospace field someday. However, those dreams can wait for now.

Something Im battling every day is if I want to take a serious shot at pro boxing or go into business, said Ayloush. But as of this moment, my main concerns are doing well at regionals and finishing school.

Freelance writer Ryan Maquiana is a regular contributor to CSNBayArea.com.

A's find themselves in decent shape with Graveman, Gray possibly returning

A's find themselves in decent shape with Graveman, Gray possibly returning

OAKLAND — Some 10-9 records are better than others, and so it is that the A’s can hit the road for a nine-game trip feeling pretty good about themselves.

Their just-completed homestand began with Opening Night starter Kendall Graveman leaving a game early and landing on the disabled list. That was coupled with news that shortstop Marcus Semien would be lost for two months or more with a fractured wrist.

The A’s responded to those developments with a five-game winning streak that was halted by Sunday’s 11-1 rout at the hands of the Seattle Mariners.

The A’s went 5-4 on the homestand, holding their ground after a heavy dose of injury misfortune, and now the outlook changes just a bit. The focus shifts from the players joining the D.L. to those that could soon return to provide a boost.

Graveman, who has a strained right shoulder, is scheduled to throw off the mound Monday. If that goes well, expect him to be activated sometime in the early portion of the upcoming trip. Sonny Gray, who has been out since injuring a side muscle early in Cactus League games, is set to throw Thursday for Triple-A Nashville after an encouraging rehab outing Saturday for Single-A Stockton.

If Gray comes out of Thursday’s start well, look for the 2015 All-Star to join the active roster and pitch sometime against Minnesota in the final series of this road trip. Nothing can be taken for granted until both pitchers actually return healthy, but it’s a promising scenario to possibly add two starters of their caliber as April turns to May.

“I think any time you look up and you’re over .500 and you’ve had a great homestand and you’re missing your best two pitchers, that’s something to be pleased about,” catcher Stephen Vogt said. “Getting Kendall back is huge. And Sonny obviously did great last night, and felt great, which is more important than the results.

“We’re excited to get those two guys back but in the meantime, we’re gonna continue to keep playing the way we are because we’re playing really good baseball and we’ll just keep things rolling.”

It was clear early on Sunday that a five-game winning streak wouldn’t reach six. The Mariners led 2-0 in the third when Andrew Triggs missed location on a 1-0 sinker and Taylor Motter launched a grand slam over the wall in left-center.

Triggs, who excelled at missing the fat part of bats over his first three starts, didn’t have the feel for his cutter Sunday. When he fell behind to Motter, the cutter is normally a pitch he would have gone to had it been working for him.

“I wasn’t commanding well,” he said. “I didn’t wanna go 1-0 to 2-0. I felt better going with the sinker. I got it down, but missed location in and out. In a perfect world, the cutter would have been great to get a groundout.”

But to this point, the A’s rotation has held firm without Gray and with the short-term absence of Graveman. Perhaps the biggest test moving forward is whether an offense that is tied for the American League lead in extra-base hits can continue to produce consistently with Semien’s absence, particularly without anyone having established themselves as the regular leadoff man.

A’s manager Bob Melvin likes what he’s seen from his team in light of the injuries.

“Every game we go out there there’s an expectation to win,” Melvin said, “and when you win multiple games in a row, you get that feeling and it’s a little more significant. So hopefully we can carry that on to the road trip. As a group, we’ve been able to manage these injuries here recently, and once we start getting guys back it’s gonna be a good thing for us.”

Instant Replay: Mariners mash Triggs, A's win streak ends at five

Instant Replay: Mariners mash Triggs, A's win streak ends at five

BOX SCORE

OAKLAND – That pristine ERA wasn’t going to last forever for Andrew Triggs, and it was no secret why things took a wayward turn for the A’s right-hander Sunday.

His command deserted him in the top of the third against Seattle, and that led to a disastrous inning that told the story in an 11-1 loss that halted the A’s five-game winning streak.

Triggs, who hadn’t allowed a single earned run in winning his first three starts of 2017, walked Robinson Cano to load the bases in the third, then issued another free pass to Nelson Cruz that forced in a run and put the Mariners up 2-0. After striking out Daniel Vogelbach, Triggs caught too much plate with a 1-0 pitch and Taylor Motter drilled it for a grand slam that made it 6-0 and put this one out of reach with the way Yovani Gallardo was pitching.

Gallardo (1-2) gave up just four hits over 6 1/3 innings as the Mariners prevented the A’s from completing their first home sweep of a four-game series since July 3-6, 2014, when they took four from Toronto.

Seattle turned it into a rout as Nelson Cruz belted a three-run homer in the seventh off Raul Alcantara, who was left in to eat up innings and surrendered two***more runs in the ninth.

Triggs (3-1), in a season-opening rotation for the first time in his major league career, opened the year by throwing 17 2/3 innings without allowing an earned run. That was the longest such season-opening streak by a starting pitcher in Oakland history. His ERA went from 0.00 to 2.42 with Sunday’s outing.

The A’s (10-9) finished 5-4 on their nine-game homestand that was shortened by one game due to a rainout Easter Sunday.

Starting pitching report

The first batter of the game was a bad omen for Triggs as he hit Jarrod Dyson to put the speedster on base. Dyson stole second and Cano knocked a run-scoring single to right field that quickly brought Triggs’ earned-run streak to an end. The right-hander was charged with six earned runs over 4 2/3 innings. He gave up five hits with four strikeouts and the two walks.

Bullpen report

Daniel Coulombe entered in relief of Triggs in the fifth and provided 1 1/3 scoreless innings. Then Alcantara, who was replaced in the rotation by Jesse Hahn on the last road trip, was left in to soak up three innings to save the bullpen any more wear and tear in a lopsided game. He gave up five runs in three innings and walked two.

At the plate

The A’s, after falling behind early, couldn’t muster anything against Gallardo, who the Mariners acquired in an offseason trade from the Orioles. Their only run came in the seventh, when Ryon Healy led off with a double, moved to third on Trevor Plouffe’s single and scored on Matt Joyce’s sacrifice fly off reliever Tony Zych.

In the field

Neither team committed an error, making it five games in a row that the A’s have gone errorless. Gallardo was aided by an outstanding diving snag by third baseman Mike Freeman in the sixth. Matt Olson, drawing a start in right field for the A’s, made a sliding catch that turned into a double play when Daniel Vogelbach wandered too far off first base.

Attendance

The homestand finale drew 24,165 fans.

Up next

The A’s take Monday off and then begin a nine-game road trip against the Angels on Tuesday. The opener pits Jesse Hahn (1-1, 3.00) against J.C. Ramirez (2-2, 6.46). On Wednesday, it’s Sean Manaea (1-1, 4.43) against Matt Shoemaker (0-1, 4.98). Then Jharel Cotton (2-2, 4.76) matches up against Ricky Nolasco (1-2, 4.76) in Thursday’s finale. All three games begin at 7:05 p.m. and air on NBC Sports California.