Tragedy strikes, Mendez keeps fighting

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Tragedy strikes, Mendez keeps fighting

Programming note: Watch Paul Mendez on Chronicle Live at 5 p.m. PT Thursday, with replays at 11 p.m. and 1 a.m.

Boxing is a sport that tests one’s limits.  Whether the task at hand entails incurring nonstop punishment to the skull and ribcage, or convincing the mind that enduring another three minutes of it is possible, a professional practitioner of the sweet science is often lauded for his valor under such severe conditions.

Middleweight Paul Mendez (10-2-1, 4 KOs) has battled through bruised limbs and bloody cuts gushing down his face.  Without even blinking, however, he’ll tell you that it all pales in comparison to the fight that 10-year-old Sy Sherman of Salinas faces every breathing second.

“No doubt Sy’s the bravest member of our team,” said Mendez, who takes on Lester Gonzalez at the Salinas Storm House Saturday night (TeleFutura, 11 p.m.).  “I don’t know how he does it, but he’s just got so much heart.”

For the past two years, Sy has had to live with hepatocellular carcinoma, the most common form of liver cancer.  The vibrant former youth league shortstop would soon lose copious amounts of weight and his hair, the latter mainly a result of countless rounds of chemotherapy at Stanford Hospital.

“Around Thanksgiving, his health declined even worse than before, and he can’t walk anymore,” said Matt Sherman, Sy’s father.  “His respiratory system’s real bad now and his heart is struggling.”

According to the California Department of Public Health, the five-year relative survival rate for liver cancer is a shade over 19 percent.  Two weekends ago, doctors gloomily told his parents, Matt and Veronica, that their son’s time had come.

But Sy has continued to show the unrelenting tenacity of a champion, staring death in the face with his signature smile and informing Mendez that he would be in attendance cheering him on against Gonzalez.

“Doctors don’t even know to what to say anymore,” Matt said. “They’ve given him about 10 expiration dates and Sy just keeps beating them.”

Mendez has been regularly visiting Sy since June, when he left his home in Walnut Creek to train in Salinas at the Garcia family’s gym, which is conveniently located across the street from the Sherman household.

“Sy’s a big boxing fan, and our relationship with Garcia Boxing first started with another of their former fighters, Eloy Perez,” Matt said.  “After that, the whole team has been visiting him all the time.  There aren’t any cameras here.  I think they’re the reason why he’s still alive.”

One of those team members is Sam Garcia, who assists his father Max Garcia and Dean Familton with training duties.  He also aids his mother Kathy, who manages Mendez on the business side.

“One thing about Sy is that he’s such a caring kid,” said Sam, who also spent a lot of his childhood at Stanford Hospital getting treatment for a congenital heart defect.  “He’s lying there in bed going through the fight of his life, but he’s always asking us about how my mom and dad are, or my baby niece, or how our other fighters are doing.  He’s just so mature beyond his years.”

Mendez draws inspiration from his adolescent friend in his daily endeavors.

“It’s so hard to see him like this, but I know he wants me to see him, so I do,” Mendez said.  “Whenever I have a rough day training, or I feel like I can’t do an extra round of sparring, or run that extra mile, I think of Sy surviving every day and I remind myself that I have no excuses.  If he can get through that, I can’t let him down.”

So far, the 23-year-old, 160-pounder has shown vast improvement under the Garcias’ tutelage with his handspeed and combination punching.  He holds a 3-0 record during this period, including a knockout win over DonYil Livingston in September where Mendez seemed to have landed a low blow to end the contest but was still ahead on the cards.

“Gonzalez is going to be a good test for Paul to end the year,” said Mendez’s promoter, Hall of Famer Don Chargin.  “Paul’s also fighting for a [minor] title belt for the first time.  With everything that’s gone on recently, he definitely has a lot to fight for.”

In the midst of preparation for Gonzalez (12-7-4, 6 KOs), a rugged southpaw who once took 2011 CSNBayArea.com Prospect of the Year Brandon Gonzales the distance, Mendez suffered even more cancer-related heartache last month.  Mike Dallas Sr., Mendez’s amateur coach in Bakersfield, passed away after a long bout with leukemia.

“Man, that was tough,” Mendez said.  “[Mike] was a mentor to me.  He was always there to talk about anything, not just boxing, and you knew he really cared…We’re all going to keep on doing what we learned from him and keep his memory alive.

“It’s crazy.  You just never know when it’s over.  You have to make the most of your life every day.  I guess now you can say I have two causes to fight for on Saturday.”

According to Chargin, the spectators are expected to pack the Storm House close to its 1,200-seat capacity.  When they enter the venue, there will be no mistake about the guest of honor’s identity.

Mendez will don a green ribbon for liver cancer awareness adorned with Sy’s name on his robe and trunks.  The ring’s corner cushions will have a similar design.  Finally, the entire Garcia Boxing team will sell T-shirts emblazoned with their slogan, “From the Ground Up.”  The proceeds will go toward helping pay for Sy’s ongoing treatment.

“100 percent of the sales will go toward helping Sy,” Sam Garcia said.  “We want him to know that he’s a part of our family and that we’re proud of him for never giving up.”

Although Saturday’s less than 48 hours away, Sy’s parents don’t want to get ahead of themselves.

“I hope no one has to go through what he does,” Matt said of his courageous son.  “I’m more scared than he is about everything. I look forward to Saturday, but I can’t think of it until the day of.  We look at it one day at a time.”

The little slugger did give his father a prediction for Mendez-Gonzalez.

“Sy says Paul will knock him out,” Matt said.

Learn more about Sy’s story and how to donate to his cause.

Participate in Garcia Boxing’s t-shirt fundraiser on their Facebook page.

CSN Bay Area Boxing Insider Ryan Maquiñana is a voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and panelist for Ring Magazine’s Ratings Board.  E-mail him at rmaquinana@gmail.com, check out his blog at Norcalboxing.net, or follow him on Twitter: @RMaq28.

NBA Gameday: Warriors must summon intensity for early start vs Magic

NBA Gameday: Warriors must summon intensity for early start vs Magic

Having destroyed three highly regarded opponents in their toughest week of the season, the Warriors on Sunday face an altogether different kind of challenge.

This time, it’s simply waking up.

The Warriors will pursue their seventh consecutive win, facing the Orlando Magic at Amway Center. Tipoff is scheduled for 9 a.m Pacific., the earliest game of the season for the Warriors.

The last time the Warriors (37-6) played such an early game in the Eastern Time Zone was March 26, 1995, also in Orlando.

The Magic (18-27) will want to be on alert for Warriors star Stephen Curry, who torched Orlando for 51 points last Feb. 25, his last visit to Amway Center.

BETTING LINE:
Warriors by 12.5

MATCHUP TO WATCH:
Kevin Durant vs. Aaron Gordon: It’s the most efficient high-producer on offense (Durant) vs. one of the top five athletes in the league (Gordon). Durant is taking apart all defenders, and Gordon isn’t known for his D. No, the South Bay native is most known for his ability to fly. Durant’s task will be to minimize lob attempts while keeping him off the offensive glass for easy put backs.

INJURY REPORT:
Warriors: F/C David West (L thumb fracture) is listed as out.

Magic: G Evan Fournier (R foot soreness) is listed as questionable. G Jodie Meeks (R thumb sprain) and G C. J. Wilcox (L Achilles tendinitis) are listed as out.

LAST 10:
Warriors: 9-1. Magic: 3-7.

SERIES HISTORY:
The Warriors have swept the Magic in each of the past three seasons, compiling a six-game win streak during which they’ve won by an average of 10.8 points per game.

THREE THINGS TO WATCH:
EARLY FOCUS: After such astonishing success in a grueling week, with three emotional games, the Warriors may be susceptible to a letdown against inferior competition. Will they be able to summon the intensity from the start?

THE BIG MEN: Zaza Pachulia will have his hands full with Nikola Vucevic, the USC product who is one of the league’s more skilled scorers in the paint. Vucevic is not much of a defender, though, so Pachulia may find a few opportunities via the back cut or the pick-and-roll.

INSIDE D: If ever there were an offensive team begging to be defended by a zone, it is the Magic, who are 25th in field-goal percentage and, even worse, 28th in 3-point shooting percentage. The Warriors should be in good shape if they limit penetration.

Rahon's season-high paces Saint Mary's rout of Pepperdine

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AP

Rahon's season-high paces Saint Mary's rout of Pepperdine

BOX SCORE

MORAGA -- Saint Mary's guard Joe Rahon shook his head in disbelief and shrugged his shoulders while running back on defense after getting blocked by Pepperdine's Chris Reyes midway through the second half.

It was one of the few things that didn't go Rahon's way in the Gaels' second straight blowout win.

Rahon scored 17 of his season-high 22 points in the first half and No. 23 Saint Mary's beat Pepperdine 85-65 on Saturday night.

"Our team's all about the open guy takes the shot and tonight I was able to get in the lane and make a few layups to get a rhythm going," Rahon said after shooting 9 of 13 with three 3-pointers. "That's kind of what makes us good offensively. We're unselfish and we don't really care who gets all the credit."

Rahon had plenty of support while helping Gaels coach Randy Bennett to his 350th career win.

Calvin Hermanson added 19 points and Jock Landale had 15 points and 10 rebounds as the Gaels (17-2, 7-1 West Coast Conference) led by double figures nearly the entire second half.

It was also a nice bounceback for Saint Mary's, which lost to Pepperdine twice during the regular season in 2016 before knocking the Waves out of the postseason conference tournament.

"Our guys definitely knew that," Bennett said. "We respected them because they'd gotten us three times in the last three years. Not many teams have. They have."

It wasn't as close this time around despite another big night from Pepperdine's Lamond Murray Jr., who scored 29 points on 12-of-20 shooting. It's the fifth consecutive game in which Murray has had at least 23.

The Waves (5-15, 1-7) couldn't keep pace with the Gaels' big three of Rahon, Hermanson and Landale. The trio accounted for 66 percent of Saint Mary's points and teamed for 18 rebounds and 11 assists.

After Pepperdine pulled within 72-63 on Murray's basket with 4:48 remaining, Rahon made one of two free throws, Emmet Naar had a 3-pointer and Rahon scored on a driving layup to help the Gaels to the win before a packed house at McKeon Pavilion.

"That's where playing together all last year helps," Rahon said. "You've been in the situation so many times that you look around and no one's rattled, no one's losing their confidence. We just have a lot of composed guys on our team."

Rahon, whose previous season high was 14 points, made seven of his first nine shots to eclipse that mark before halftime. Hermanson added 15 points, including an emphatic dunk on a baseline drive while Landale scored 11 points to give Saint Mary's a 47-33 lead.

MURRAY'S GROWTH:
Bennett has never coached Murray, only against him, but the Gaels coach sounded like a proud father after watching the Waves' leading scorer repeatedly torch his team's defense. "He's a really good player now," Bennett said. "He's as good a scorer as there is in our league. I think he's the best scorer in the league. It's just fun to see guys improve like that. He's made a big jump."

BIG PICTURE:
Pepperdine: The Waves have lost five straight and 14 of 15. ... Nolan Taylor's 3-pointer in the first half was the first of the season for the 6-foot-7, 250-pound freshman forward. ... Two days after becoming the school's career assists leader, Major was held without one for the first 14 1/2 minutes against Saint Mary's.

Saint Mary's: The Gaels responded to last week's loss to No. 4 Gonzaga with a pair of blowout wins at home, exactly the way Bennett expected. They have one more home game before playing four straight on the road. ... The 85 points are the Gaels' second-most this season.

POLL IMPLICATIONS:
Saint Mary's is likely to move up a few spots after three of the eight teams in front of the Gaels lost at least once this week.

UP NEXT:
Pepperdine: Returns home to host Portland on Thursday night.

Saint Mary's: Closes out its three-game homestand against San Francisco on Jan. 26. The Gaels won the first matchup between the two teams earlier this season 63-52 at Memorial Gym.