Cal baseball looking for storybook ending at CWS

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Cal baseball looking for storybook ending at CWS

June 15, 2011

COLLEGE PAGE

BERKELEY (APCSN) -- This season has already included the biggest save in California baseball history. Now the Golden Bears are hoping to cap it with one of their biggest wins.

A season that started with the Cal baseball program on the chopping block because of budget problems is concluding at the College World Series in what can only be described as a storybook ending.

"It's been a roller coaster ride," catcher Chadd Krist said. "We were cut, we weren't cut, we weren't playing very well and lost some of our focus and energy. We were kind of a bubble team for the playoffs but we made it. We deserved to make it and now we're going to the College World Series. It's been a unique ride but it's been special."

It's been an emotional year for the Golden Bears (37-21), who found out in September just before the start of fall practice that the program would be eliminated after the school year as part of a cost-cutting move by cash-strapped Cal.

REWIND: Cal tops Dallas Baptist, headed to World Series

Then hopes for reinstatement spurred by private fundraising were dashed just over a week before the season when the school announced that the men's rugby, women's lacrosse and women's gymnastics programs would be saved, but baseball and men's gymnastics would be eliminated after the year.

But the program's supporters never stopped working, raising more than 9 million to persuade Chancellor Robert Birgeneau to announce in April that the program would avoid the chopping block.

The players did the rest. They made it to the NCAA tournament, staged a dramatic rally to beat Baylor to win a regional, then swept Dallas Baptist in the super regional to earn the program's first trip to the College World Series since 1992.

The Bears open play Sunday against top-seeded Virginia, looking for their third title overall and first since 1957.

"They weren't going to take no for an answer in terms of competing and we weren't going to take no for an answer in terms of reinstatement," said former Cal and major league pitcher Doug Nickle, who was heavily involved in the group Save Cal Baseball. "To see both reached was almost surreal. The pure joy was like a release."

The players celebrated the super regional victory with a dog pile on the infield, expressing as much joy as they had disappointment and anger just a few months earlier.

But the Cal team is now bigger than the 36 players and four coaches on the roster. More than 1,000 supporters including former major leaguers like Jeff Kent, parents and former Cal players donated money to the cause and are an integral part of the program.

"They're the reason we are still here," Pac-10 player of the year Tony Renda said. "I'm forever grateful for them pledging all their money to save us. ... We have our team on the field, but they're on our team too. They're Cal baseball like we are. They mean a lot to us."

There are quite a few people on the Cal bandwagon these days, from the season-ticket holders at Oregon State who gave coach David Esquer a check to help the program, to the boosters at rival Stanford who helped raise money to the legions of fans who have attached themselves to this feel-good story.

And then there are the former Cal players in the majors, who contributed money to the cause and are now admirers of the current Bears.

"They've had a 50-pound weight on their backs all season with the cards they were dealt," Oakland Athletics outfielder Conor Jackson said. "This is definitely a movie script. I hope the people who were involved in making that decision have their heads between their legs now."

The trip to the World Series has been a difficult one. Three players transferred after the bad news in the fall, but the core of the team stayed together for one last run behind a strong pitching staff led by Erik Johnson, Justin Jones and Kyle Porter.

Jones left Game 1 against Dallas Baptiste when he felt tightness in his throwing biceps while warming up for the seventh inning.

While preparing for the season, the Bears also had to prepare for their futures. Assistant coach Dan Hubbs asked every player with eligibility remaining for a list of three schools they'd like to transfer to in case the reinstatement bid failed and called the coaches at those schools on the players' behalf.

"If you can imagine running your program, saving your program and dismantling your program all at the same time, it's all day, every day," Esquer said. "There's not one piece of that that doesn't stop. It was difficult, but my assistant coaches played a big role in doing all those things at once."

The Bears started the season off well, using the anger over their slated elimination to fuel a 19-7 start. Then came the good news in April that the program had been saved, but Cal stumbled down the stretch, going 12-13 the rest of the regular season before getting an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.

The Bears lost the first game of their regional to Baylor before following it up with victories over Alcorn State and No. 8 seed Rice to set up a rematch with Baylor. Cal won the first game 8-0 and then overcame a 7-1 deficit in the finale, scoring four runs in the bottom of the ninth to win 9-8 on Devon Rodriguez's two-run single.

That was followed by the two straight wins last weekend over Dallas Baptist that sent the Bears to Omaha.

"We feel like there's no obstacle that can get in our way," outfielder Austin Booker said. "We have the opportunity to beat any team we play against because of the way we battle and the way we keep fighting. No matter the situation we feel like we can go out and win."

Despite loss, Sharks 'in a good spot' headed into bye week

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USATSI

Despite loss, Sharks 'in a good spot' headed into bye week

SAN JOSE – Despite what was technically their sixth loss in the last eight games, the Sharks seemed to put more stock in the point they gained in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Bruins on Sunday night at SAP Center, rather than the one they left on the table.

They have that luxury. 

The Sharks will enter their bye week five points ahead of Edmonton and Anaheim for first place in the Pacific Division, and figure they’re due for some time off after a short summer followed by a World Cup for some, and a brutal condensed NHL schedule for all.

“[We’ve] showed up and played hard,” Joe Pavelski said. “We’ve been in a lot of games. Games we’ve lost, we’ve battled. There hasn’t been any cheat in [our] game. Defensively, we’ve been strong. There’s a lot of good areas in our game that we like right now.”

Playing in the second of a back-to-back against a Bruins team had was coming off of its own bye week, the Sharks fell behind 1-0 on a first period goal by Ryan Spooner, but notched a Patrick Marleau equalizer in a second period in which they outshot the Bruins 16-9. An evenly played third period gave way to overtime, where Brad Marchand scored on a breakaway to give the Bruins their fourth straight win since changing head coaches.

The Sharks spoke before the weekend about finishing the final two games strong before the respite. They ended up gaining three of four points, including Saturday’s 4-1 win in Arizona, and were pleased with their effort against the Bruins as they capped off 10 games in 20 days since the All-Star break.

“It was an important push into this break,” Pete DeBoer said. “To go in up [five points] on the next closest team is a real testament to our group.”

Paul Martin said: “I thought we played pretty well, considering the back-to-back with some travel, and a team that was waiting for us.”

Perhaps the most encouraging performance came from Martin Jones, who was one of a number of Sharks players that was looking particularly fatigued lately. The goaltender entered the game with a 1-0-2 record, 4.46 goals-against average and .837 save percentage in his last four starts, including getting pulled after the first period in Boston just 10 days ago.

Jones was impressive, though, making a vital pad stop on the dangerous David Pastrnak in front of the net midway through the third period to keep it a 1-1 score.

“It was a good game. Two teams playing hard,” Jones said. “We can take a lot of positives from that one. It was a good hard game, just didn’t go our way tonight.”

Overtimes have been an issue lately, though. The Sharks have lost their last four games decided during the three-on-three, all coming within the last two weeks. As satisfied as they are with their cushion in the division, it could have been cushier.

Against the Bruins, Tuukka Rask denied Brent Burns on a two-on-one in overtime, and Marchand scored off of the ensuing faceoff, blowing the zone past Pavelski and Marc-Edouard Vlasic and corralling a long toss from Torey Krug before sliding it home.

“We get to overtime, shootouts – we expect to get that extra point,” Pavelski said. “We haven’t found it lately. We’ll just keep looking for it.”

DeBoer said: “The points are critical, they’re valuable. I don’t read a lot into [overtime decisions], we’ve won our share over the time I’ve been here. We had a chance to win tonight, too. … I concentrate on the effort, and I thought we got better as the game went on.”

Being focused and energized, as they have been most of the season to this point, shouldn’t be a problem when the season resumes next Saturday in Vancouver. The Sharks are in prime position to win their first division title since 2010-11, and a return trip to the Stanley Cup Final is a distinct possibility.

Losing six of eight won’t be nearly as acceptable coming out of the break as it apparently is going into it, but that’s not something to worry about now, even after another defeat. 

“There are some games you wish you could get back and get those points, but we’re still in a good spot,” Marleau said.

Trading Cousins is the ultimate Kingstastic move

Trading Cousins is the ultimate Kingstastic move

There was a lot of complaining about the lack of defense in this year’s All-Star Game, as though last year’s All-Star Game didn’t happen.

But the Most Valuable Player, which was putatively Anthony Davis for scoring a record 52 points in front of his home crowd, was actually the man with the fewest minutes of all.

Yes, the man, the god, The DeMarcus Cousins. The Very Definition Of A Sacramento King, By Becoming An Ex-Sacramento King.

Cousins, now the second-best player on the New Orleans Pelicans, played only two minutes Sunday, the lowest total by any All-Star since Connie Hawkins in 1971, ostensibly because he told head coach Steve Kerr he was a little ouchy, but more likely because the Kings were frantically trying to trade him and didn’t want him hurting himself in a game with even no contact whatsoever.

Not during the All-Star Break, mind you. DURING THE ALL-STAR GAME ITSELF! Adam Silver must have been vomiting hedgehogs into a bucket at the very thought.

As it turns out, the Kings, who have sworn up and down that they would never consider trading Cousins, did that very thing, closing a deal to send Cousins and forward Omri Casspi to the New Orleans Pelicans for a first and second-round pick in the upcoming draft, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway (who is likely to be waived in true Kings fashion) and 2016 first-rounder Buddy Hield.

You remember Buddy Hield. He’s the guy who clocked Cousins in the joy division going around a Cousins pick during the last Pelicans-Kings game, and got tossed for doing so.

In other words, the Kings prefer the guy who punched their best player in the goolies to their best player. This is so Kingsy.

But on the back end, Cousins’ agent, Jarinn Akana, said Cousins is disinclined to sign a long-term contract with his next team, making him a rental who could some day return to Sacramento in a Groundhog's Day remake that would cause the Oroville Dam to get up and walk off the job.

This too is so Kingsy.

This is the greatness of the Kings. They blew up the All-Star weekend during the game itself. They blew it up trying to get rid of their best player when they are within fighting distance of their first playoff spot in 11 years. They blew it up after saying they weren’t considering trading the dynamite at all.

Kingsy, Kingsy, Kingsy. It’s Kingstastic!

And the best part of it all is that the trade leaves everyone deflated and confused and ultimately angry, while the Kings undervalued their only marketable player to invest in a future they have mocked for decades.

You know what we;’re talking about. Gimme a K! Gimme an I! Gimme an N-G-S, throw an extraneous Y on the end of it what does it spell?

Yeah. Right.

It’s remarkable thing, being a King. While we have all amused ourselves with the machinations of the thick-as-two-short-planks New York Knicks and Carmelo Anthony, the Kings have been Kinging this way for most of the last 35 years.

And now, they have decided to feed their obsession with the Golden State Warriors by running even further away from them, by tossing their only bargaining chip for a future player or players that they typically ruin, and Buddy Hield, who just found out that even at these prices life can still be cruel.

Give them their due, though. The Kings could win the NBA title and hock the trophy. They could be invited to the White House when the President is off playing golf. They could increase their Forbes valuation to $5 billion and declare bankruptcy.

Because they are the Kings, and that sentence has rarely meant more than it does now.

Not because they traded Cousins. Trades happen all the time. Wilt Chamberlain got traded twice.

But the Kings handled this with all the skill of a pickpocket with feet where his hands should be. They lied unconvincingly. They talked hard business and ended up with a nebulous deal that guarantees nothing except more speculation come summer. And they have nothing else to trade between now and . . . well, whenever they stopped being so damned Kingsy.

For New Orleans, it is a roll of the dice, an attempt to make the playoffs with a two-headed monster in Cousins and Davis. It may be too much to giver, but without knowing how the Kings will screw up those picks, it remains speculative at best.

Indeed, this is subtraction by subtraction, the standard Kings deal. And whatever the Kings have gained in this trade (hey, you never know), we remain safe in saying that they did it in such a Kingsy way that they may never top this.

Until the next time they do anything at all. Never doubt the power of Kingsiness.