Cal baseball looking for storybook ending at CWS

488249.jpg

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."

Warriors complete Phase 1 in preparation for trilogy Finals vs Cavs

Warriors complete Phase 1 in preparation for trilogy Finals vs Cavs

OAKLAND -- The Warriors studied video and practiced for nearly two hours Saturday, completing Phase 1 of the plan they’ll take into the NBA Finals.

Everybody on the roster is healthy, including starting center Zaza Pachulia, who missed Games 3 and 4 of the Western Conference Finals with a heel contusion, and seldom-used forward Kevon Looney, out for seven weeks with a hip strain.

“We had a great film session with the team, a great discussion with the team and put our keys up on the board for our guys and went over that stuff with them before practice,” acting head coach Mike Brown said after practice.

Defending Cavaliers star LeBron James surely was among the topics to generate considerable dialogue. It provides some relief that Andre Iguodala says he feels fine after battling knee soreness in the Western Conference Finals.

It was Iguodala, after all, who earned the NBA Finals MVP award after doing such a fine job as a primary defender of James in 2015. It’s an altogether different test now that the Cavs are healthy and have a surplus of shooters surrounding James.

“You still try to watch film, any new sets or anything that they try to implement for their team, because he’s the type of player that is so dynamic he can hurt you in different ways, especially with his passing ability,” Iguodala said.

When facing elite scorers, the Warriors typically vary their defensive looks. In addition to Iguodala, James will see some Kevin Durant, some Draymond Green and probably some Matt Barnes.

Nearly as important as Iguodala’s health is that of Pachulia. Though Cleveland is more willing to go small than in the past, there will be times when a big body, such as Pachulia, will be needed to keep Cavs big man Tristan Thompson off the glass.

Thompson had five of Cleveland’s 18 offensive rebounds last Christmas Day, when the Cavaliers came back for a 109-108 victory over the Warriors in Cleveland. The Warriors lost the rebounding battle by nine (60-51).

When the teams met three weeks later in Oakland, the Warriors pulled off a 126-91 rout largely on the strength of outrebounding Cleveland 58-35. Thompson had two offensive rebounds and five overall, while Pachulia gobbled up 13 rebounds -- 10 on the defensive glass.

The Cavs outscored the Warriors 17-8 in second-chance points in the first game, but the teams tied, 12-12, in that category in the rematch.

“It’s part of their strength,” Pachulia said. “Second-chance points are a killer. It’s something we have to take away. That’s one of the keys for us.”

 

Klay's next assignment: Slow down Kyrie...and he's got a gameplan

Klay's next assignment: Slow down Kyrie...and he's got a gameplan

OAKLAND -- Klay Thompson spent nearly eight minutes Saturday answering a variety of questions, many of which were related to his diminished offense this postseason and his primary defensive assignment in the upcoming NBA Finals.

Mired in a shooting slump, by his standards, the Warriors guard now has to confront the fabulous offensive arsenal of Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving.

As much as Thompson would love to rediscover his shooting touch in Game 1 on Thursday night at Oracle Arena, the Warriors may be more delighted if he can prevent Irving from finding his.

“I take pride in (playing) both sides of the ball, defense as equally as offense,” Thompson said after practice at the team’s downtown facility. “Whether or not my shot falls, I can always control that part of the game.”

The Warriors are undefeated (12-0) this postseason despite Thompson averaging only 14.4 points (compared to 22.3 in the regular season) on 38.3-percent shooting from the field (46.8 in the regular season), 36.4 percent beyond the arc (41.4 in the regular season).

That spotless postseason record is, in part, a reflection of Thompson’s work on defense. In all three rounds, he has guarded the opponent’s most dangerous backcourt player.

“I couldn’t be happier with how he’s helped us win games,” acting head coach Mike Brown said.

Next up for Thompson is Irving, who has hit game-winning shots in each of the last two times Cleveland has beaten the Warriors, a 3-pointer in Game 7 of the 2015 Finals and a midrange fadeaway jumper last Christmas Day at Quicken Loans Arena.

Irving has played well this postseason but lately has lifted his game to another level. In the five-game Eastern Conference Finals against Boston, Irving averaged 25.8 points per game, while shooting 62.2 percent.

He was particularly dazzling as the Cavs finished off the Celtics in Games 4 and 5, averaging 33.0 points on 64.9-percent shooting.

Irving’s recent run prompted Cleveland teammate LeBron James to label him one of the best one-on-one players of all time, a compliment Brown did not argue.

“There are a lot of guys that can shoot the 3, but that’s all they can do,” he said. “There are a lot of guys that can dribble drive and finish at the rim, but that’s all they can do. Here’s a guy that can shoot the 3 off the catch-and-shoot, he could shoot the 3 off the dribble. He has medium-game pull-up. He has medium-game floater. And then he can get to the rim. And when he gets to the rim, he can finish in traffic among 7-footers.

“The way he puts English on the ball, how high he gets it off the glass when he needs to, all those things play into a factor of why he is one of the greatest one-on-one players of all time.”

Thompson said Irving’s offense “easily” belongs in the discussion with the league’s best, a group including the likes of MVP candidates Russell Westbrook and James Harden, as well as Thompson’s teammate, reigning MVP Stephen Curry.

“He’s done it in big moments, so you’ve got to give him credit,” Thompson said of Irving. “Not only have I seen him do it in the pros, but I’ve seen him do it with the USA Team, too. Kyrie’s a very tough guard. We’ve got a game plan for him, and it’ll be fun.”

Thompson said he will try to crowd Irving, contest every shot and not be outhustled. Still, he concedes that may not be enough.

There is, however, one other thing Thompson cited that could impact Irving’s offensive production. Make him work on defense, something both Warriors guards have the ability to do.

For Thompson, that means finding his stroke.

“I’d like to see the ball go in the basket,” he said. “It has, just not as frequently as I want. But that means nothing now. That’s in the past. It wouldn’t have mattered if I shot lights-out if we didn’t finish the job off.

“Now that we’re here, it’s a clean slate. It’s time to go. Can’t be worried about a few bad shooting games or the percentages when you went 12-0. You’ve just got to do what you can and have the intentions to win the game, not to go out there and score a number of points but to just go out there and win the game and make winning plays. That’s what I’m focused on.”