Saturday, March 26, 2016

Herd Shooting Goes South As Cajon Captures D-2 Title, 55-36

An invisible lid was covering the basket. They lost their shooting touch. They couldn't buy a basket.  Their shooting went south on them. They looked like deer in the headlights. The other guys played great defense. 

Or perhaps the explanation should be: All of the above.

For three quarters of the CIF Division II Girls State Championship game at Sleep Train Arena, Elk Grove looked every bit the Northern California Regional champion that they are. The great team defense combined with quick ball movement and crisp passing and good shooting. The Thundering Herd led Cajon High School, 32-31, going into the fourth quarter.

Then something happened. Take your pick from the list in paragraph one.
Mira Shulman drives for two of her 15 points

The Cowgirls went on an incredible 19-0 scoring run. Incredible not so much with how well Cajon played, but incredible that Elk Grove couldn't make a basket the entire fourth quarter.

"We didn't do anything different," winning coach Mark Lehman claimed. "We just started to play like we can."

Cajon cruised in the fourth quarter to a 55-36 state championship win, that school's first CIF title. 

The Cowgirls outscored Elk Grove 24-4 in that decisive final period. Mira Shulman finally got her team some points on a pair of free throws with 1:32 left in the game. Her 15 points led Elk Grove, but she had to fight for many of those buckets.

"(Shulman) was absolutely going off on us for three quarters," Lehman said. "But, Tyla (Turner) shut her down."

Elk Grove coach Larry Price, like his players, struggled to explain what happened in that final period of play.

"We have to take our hats off to Cajon for they played excellent defense against us," Price said. "A NorCal Championship is nothing to sneeze about. The nay-sayers didn't think we'd win any championship."
Coach Larry Price talking to his team during a timeout

The Herd had a 20-11 lead with 2:50 left in the second quarter, but Shulman picked up her third foul and went to the bench. Cajon finished the first half on a 10-0 run and led 21-20 at intermission.

"We had to take Mira out and that threw our balance of things off and we couldn't make up for it," Price explained.

The Cowgirls then started using their height advantage and took control of the boards in the second half. Their leading scorer, Kayla Washington, finished her high school career with 17 points and 15 rebounds. She's on her way to play collegiately at Washington State.Tyla Turner also had 17 for the Cowgirls and Taylor Goldsberry added 12 points and 16 rebounds. The Cowgirls out-rebounded Elk Grove, 44-21.

Elk Grove senior guard Madison Wong made her first three-point shot of the game and later had another one to go with four free throws to finish her high school career with ten points. With tears in her eyes she tried to thank her teammates for four great years at Elk Grove.

"I am really proud for all the work they've put in," Wong said. "This outcome is not what we wanted, but the journey here was really great. We're kicking the door in for years to come."
Wong is the school's all-time leading scorer.

Price thanked his girls for a great season, his first at Elk Grove.

"They came out last summer and worked hard, came back in the fall and worked hard, " he said. "We didn't really come together as a team until November. We had some players who were playing two sports and that contributed to cohesiveness and we didn't jell until the conference started. From there we took off."
The post-game news conference with Mira Shulman, left, Madison Wong and Coach Larry Price

"There is a rich tradition at Elk Grove in sports, in football, in softball and in baseball and we're just now the new kids on the block," he continued. "They set the bar and we're ready, we'll be back."

 Game Notes:
*This was Elk Grove High School's first basketball team to play for a CIF State Championship. However, prior to 1981, the first CIF state title game, the Section champions would play at the Oakland Arena in what was dubbed, "The Tournament of Champions." In 1975 Elk Grove, coached by Dan Risley with seven-foot center Bill Cartwright leading the way, won the TOC.
*Pleasant Grove boys remain the only state basketball champions from the Elk Grove Unified School District. They won the Division I trophy in 2013. The next season the PG girls won the NorCal Division I championship, but lost in the state championship game to Canyon Springs.
*Elk Grove finished the season with a 24-11 record and were second place in the Delta League. St. Francis, the Delta champions, won the Division I NorCals, but lost the state championship to Brea Olinda, 64-51, Thursday.



Friday, March 25, 2016

Days After Hard Crash, NASCAR's Larson Rolls Sushi

Same guy, but two very different venues.

Elk Grove NASCAR driver Kyle Larson went from a hard head-on crash at Fontana Sunday to a sushi restaurant in Sacramento on Thursday. His Sunday crash on lap 48 of the Auto Club 400 was shown over and over on SportsCenter for the next 24 hours. The cameras were on him once again Thursday as local chef Taro Arai invited Larson to his downtown restaurant to roll sushi.

With his Kyle Larson T-shirt on under his kitchen jacket, Asai was all smiles and full of help as Larson put the fish and all the ingredients all together, rolled it up and then sampled his dish.

"I might be the only Asian that doesn't like sushi," the soft-spoken Sprint Cup driver admitted. However, he gladly took a few bites of his handiwork.
Kyle Larson's car moments after hitting the wall last Sunday

Arai called Larson's concoction the "#42 roll." Larson drives the No. 42 Target Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing.

The whole event was an opportunity for Sonoma Speedway to promote NASCAR's annual visit to their road course. This summer the event will be June 24-26 at Sonoma. The Toyota/Save Mart 350 is one of the very few road courses the pro stock cars drive every season.

Larson is glad he gets the weekend off. He's still aching from the effects of the crash that was the result of a blow rear tire that cut the brake line to his car. After hitting the outside wall, the car turned towards the infield and, at speeds estimated around 160 mph, went right into the SAFER (Steel And Foam Energy Reduction) barrier protecting the inside retaining wall.

"When you realize you don't have brakes, you just brace yourself to get ready to hit the wall," he explained. "That wasn't my worse wreck but was probably the hardest hit I've taken."

Though the on-track doctors gave him a clean bill of health, Larson said he felt soreness in his neck and shoulders. It bothered him enough that the lunch appointment with Arai was delayed by two days. Plus, Larson bowed out of driving Wednesday in the Short Track Outlaw Showdown at Placerville Speedway.

"I wanted to get more rest," Larson said.
Kyle Larson, right, has a few words for Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson

His next date with NASCAR's Sprint Cup racing is coming next weekend at Martinsville, VA. He says he'll be ready to go.

After finishing eighth overall in his rookie season, 2014, he slipped last season to 19th. Part of that was because NASCAR re-tooled the Spring Cup cars from 900 horsepower to 750 horsepower engines.

"For guys like me, Kasey Kahne, Tony Stewart, that are used to more horsepower, it was an adjustment," Larson said. "But, by now we should adapt to that. But, we got to keep working hard and learn to work together as a group."

In his third season on the Sprint Cup circuit, Larson is 24th in the points standings. He is very disappointed with his performance through the first eight races. He has a new crew chief in the pits, Chad Johnson, who was with Stewart the past two seasons.

"I like Chad a lot, he's a great crew chief," Larson said. "The way he communicates is a little bit different. He came from Stewart-Haas (Racing) and he has a few different ideas."
Larson finishes his sushi rolls with Chef Taro Arai

Larson and his #42 crew have plenty of time in the 2016 season to make up some ground. He says in his brief experience in NASCAR he's seen an improvement in the overall racing.

"I think most drivers are pleased with the quality of racing and the current rules package," he said. "NASCAR is going in the right direction."

Larson says he'll have to do more preparation for the race at Sonoma than he'll typically do at other tracks. He'll be spending time watching videos of the races at Sonoma to familiarize himself more with the track.

"The wheels fall off the track, there are more switches and knobs and where there are pockets," he said. "That's the hardest thing, to memorize where there is all that stuff."

His son, Owen, and girlfriend Katelyn Sweet travel with the 23-year-old Larson from track to track throughout the season.

"Owen is 15-months now, has lots of energy, is a crazy kid and is a lot of fun," Larson said.

The "#42 Sushi Roll"
Most NASCAR tracks provide play areas for children because so many drivers have young families and bring them with them as they travel around the country.

"We stay in our RV's for about half the week and they become our second homes," Larson said. "There's a lot of time to kill at NASCAR races so having a playground and your RV is good."

The rest of their family time is spent in Charlotte, N.C., where the couple have purchased a house. Most drivers and their crews live in that general vicinity because that's the headquarters for NASCAR. But Larson loves it there and thinks that's where he and Katelyn will raise their family.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Elk Grove Girls Win NorCal Championship

How did these girls win?

The 12th-seeded team in the CIF Division II girls bracket defeated #7 seed Saturday, 46-45, for the Northern California Regional Basketball Championship at Sleep Train Arena.

"Amazing! Who would have thought a 12-seed would win it all?" Paiton Demps exclaimed leaving the floor.

Elk Grove celebrates a NorCal Championship Saturday
On the same weekend college's March Madness saw 13-, 14- and 15-seeds pull out upset wins, Elk Grove's girls basketball team took some of the same magic with them into Sleep Train and knock out a seven-seed in Sacramento, a team that had won four NorCals over the past ten years. Both teams were beaten in the semi-finals of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II playoffs.

En route to Saturday's NorCal championship, Elk Grove defeated a five-, a four- and a one-seed. Now they prepare for a CIF State Championship game Saturday at 2 p.m. against Cajon High School of San Bernandino at Sleep Train Arena. In its school history, the Herd have never made it this far in basketball.

(See photos from Elk Grove's thrilling win on our Facebook site)

But, in the talented Dragons, the Lady Herd faced an bigger opponent, not afraid to throw their weight around and bounce the smaller Elk Grove girls out from under the bucket. And, in the opening quarter, it appeared as though Sacramento would run away with the game. They scored the first nine points while Elk Grove managed only one bucket in the first quarter.

It was 11-4, Sacramento, after the opening quarter and 22-15 at halftime. The Herd's top outside shooter, Madison Wong, was 0-for-8 from the floor in that half, Demps 0-for-6 and Mira Shulman 3-for-11. As a team the Herd made 15.2 percent of their shots and only one three-pointer.

Wong admitted afterwards the bigger arena played some tricks with her.

"Yeah, it took some getting used to," said Wong, who was two-for-17 shooting in the game. "But, it's the same court and the basket is at the same height. It's a mental thing."

"I tried to compare it with (University of the Pacific), " said Shulman who was just five-for-21 in her field goal attempts. "It was similar and I had to compare it to UOP, been there and done that."

At the same time, Sacramento didn't convert opportunities to run the Herd back to Elk Grove. The Dragons committed ten turnovers in that opening half and 25 for the game. That latter stat would mean doom to Sac High's attempt to win a NorCal title for the first time since 2006.

Mira Shulman who led Elk Grove with 14 points
The second half things got better quickly for Elk Grove. On its first possession, they got six offensive rebounds in a row and then hit a bucket and after that the Herd got itself back into the game.

"Coming out for the third quarter we knew we had to have a four-minute stance of stopping them while scoring the ball ourselves," Price said. "Collectively we had that burst of second chance rebounds."

They got the lead when Wong hit a short jumper with 1:13 left in the third quarter, 29-28. Coach Larry Price had Shulman work one-on-one offensively against her defender and, usually getting a pick from Tierra Martin, Shulman would dart down the lane and convert on either short jump shots or layups.

Shulman's two final drives in the third period gave Elk Grove the lead, 33-32, heading to the final quarter. Her three-pointer with 4:55 left in the game tied everything up at 37 apiece.

After Sacramento called a time out to talk about how to try to stop Shulman, it was Arianna Daniel's turn for some key baskets. Her fast break layup gave Elk Grove a 39-37 lead. After a free throw by Sacramento's Richelle Turney, Daniel hit another layup to make it 41-38, Elk Grove, with three minutes exactly remaining on the clock.

Adriana Avent made one of two free throws for the Dragons to make it a two point game, 41-39 and 2:27 left. After an Elk Grove turnover, Sacramento had the ball and called a time-out. The Herd's defense came through on the inbounds and forced a five-second whistle to give Elk Grove the ball. Demps converted on a line-drive jumper in the paint to make it 43-39 and 2:02 remaining. 

Larry Price during a third quarter time-out
Turney made a basket and then Shulman was fouled on a drive to the bucket, converting two more free throws. Elk Grove led 45-41 with 1:32 remaining.

Quayonna Harris hit a field goal to make it 45-43 at the 1:15 mark. Demps missed a three-pointer on the next possession and Sacramento got a fast break layup by Avent to tie the contest at 45 with :45 left.

Shulman was fouled in the act of shooting by Aliceah Hernandez and she made the first free throw to make it 46-45, Elk Grove. The second toss was missed and Demps tipped the rebound to Wong. Price then called a time out to discuss the final :39.2 seconds. In the post-game interview afterwards the girls tried to remember what happened in those final moments.

Shulman got off a shot that missed and there was a tie-up for the rebound. The possession clock was  pointing to Elk Grove and it was still Herd ball with :16 remaining.

The Herd worked the ball to Wong who was fouled by RyAnne Walters. The Herd was in the bonus and Wong stepped to the line for the one-and-one. She missed the free throw, Sacramento rebounded and quickly moved up the floor without a time-out.

"I ran back on defense after I missed the free throw," Wong recalled. "I was looking for Aliceah Hernandez because I knew they were going to try to get her the ball. Then she threw up some shot."

Hernandez got off a shot with three seconds left missed it and the rebound came to an unguarded Dragon who tried an off-balance banker that plunked off the rim at the horn.

"My heart dropped," Shulman said, knowing that shot could have won the game for Sacramento. "There's no way she should have had that, but it bounced that way."

The celebration began on the court for the Herd, a club that was 24-10 this season and finished second place in the Delta League.

Dripping with perspiration and toweling himself off in the media room afterwards, Price could only commend the performance of his girls.

"Resilient, resilient, " he said. "They are family and they fight and they strive together."

Saturday, March 05, 2016

Tonge Gets 3rd, Turner 8th at CIF State Wrestling

BAKERSFIELD – It was same thing all over again last weekend. Buchanan and Clovis, the two Fresno-area rivals fighting over the CIF State Wrestling championship. Clovis had won three titles in a row and Buchanan was trying to knock them off.
In the end it was Buchanan’s turn to take home a state championship scoring a whopping 260.5 points with ten wrestlers placing in the top eight.
Clovis ended up 214.5 points and eight grapplers medaling.
Finishing third and fourth was San Diego-area wrestling power Poway along with Gilroy from the Central Section.
But, this year the Sac-Joaquin Section was pretty well represented by Elk Grove, Vacaville and Folsom.
Elk Grove’s Kelani Tonge finished third at 132 pounds. He made it to the quarterfinals on Friday then lost 7-3 to Durbin Lloren of Buchanan. Tonge then mowed through the competition on Saturday and defeated Alex Felix of Gilroy, 5-4, to win the third place medal.
Terrell Turner, who placed second the week previous at the Section Masters, won his first bout at 145 pounds with a 8-4 decision over Michael Neves of J.W. North. But, Turner dropped a 7-4 decision to Beau Bradley of Monache in the next round.
In the consolations Turner picked up three straight wins then lost in the medal round to Josh Kim of Santiago. In the 7th place match he was defeated by Luis Enloe of Poway, 6-3.
Perhaps the Herd’s best chance for a medal going into Bakersfield was 113-pounder Jacob Seto, but the junior lost his opening match to Javier Alanz of Clovis West, 10-3. Then in his next match, Seto lost to Angelo Martononi of Folsom, 1-0, and was out of the tournament.
At 126 pounds Lokahi Tonge dropped his opening match, a 12-3 major decision to Chris Deloza of Clovis North. Then in consolation he won three matches in a row, but opened Saturday with a 8-1 loss to Adrian Marrufo of Dos Palos.
Todd Alexander, Elk Grove’s 152-pounder was pinned by Evan Wick of San Marino in his opening match Friday. He then was decisioned by Christian Chacon of Castro Valley and was out of the state championships.
As a team, Elk Grove finished in 27th place.
Vacaville heavyweight Mike McCauley made it to the semi-finals on Saturday and ended up in fourth place. His Vaca teammate, Jake Levengood, was a semi-finalist at 220 pounds and ended up in fifth.
Folsom’s 132-pounder Curtis Booth finished fifth, losing to Tonge in the medal round, 3-2. Jason Berquist ended up with a third place at 160 pounds.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Rarity: No Elk Grove-area Team In A Basketball Section Championship Game!

Sheldon lost to Modesto Christian Wednesday, 74-67, in the Sac-Joaquin Section's Division I semi-finals. With the Huskies' loss, the Elk Grove girls loss Tuesday and the Bradshaw Christian boys loss last Friday Championship Saturday at Sleep Train Arena will be absent an Elk Grove-area basketball team for the first time since 2002.

Sheldon' vaunted shooters and ball handlers did play a good first half against the second-seeded Crusaders, had a 12 point lead in the second quarter and led 34-29 at halftime. But, the talented Crusaders became in the second half the team that won Division II last year, Division III in 2013 and 2014 and won a Division IV championship in four of the five seasons between 2008 and 2012.

Crusader forward Christian Ellis was unleashed and he was constantly on the attack, typcially knocking Huskies' defenders to the floor as he headed to the basket. The 6-3 senior ended up with 32 points on 11-of-22 shooting and collected eight rebounds. 

"We got beat by Christian, we just couldn't stop him," Huskies' head coach Joey Rollings said.

At the same time Modesto Christian put a lid on Sheldon's top scorer Matt Manning. After scoring ten points in the first half, the 6-7 senior hit a lay-up and an ensueing free throw on a three-point play with 5:56 left in the third quarter. He didn't have a basket the rest of the game, except for one free throw.

"We didn't get the shots to drop in the second half," Rollings said.

Meanwhile Sheldon Rollings tried just about everyone on the roster to guard Ellis with little success.

One impressive play Wednesday was the job Huskies' 6-3 Drew Cobb did on Modesto Christian's 6-10 center Robinson Idehen on both ends of the court. Cobb was constantly keeping Idehen away from the boards and several times did some pretty spins and moves on the man seven inches taller than him.

"Drew does a good job defensively at all times," Rollings said.

Idehen ended up making only one of six field goal attempts and collected nine rebounds.

Rollings said his appeals to the game officials to start calling offensive fouls on Modesto Christian seemed to fall on deaf ears and as a result, the Crusaders began to physically move Sheldon under the basket pretty successfully in the second half.

"They had just 12 fouls against them? Come on," Rollings exclaimed. "In these big games you need some calls and we just didn't get them. Well, that just the game."

The Huskies, along with the Elk Grove girls and the Bradshaw boys, will now wait for Sunday night for the brackets for the CIF State Basketball Championships.

Box Score: Modesto Christian 74, Sheldon 67

Sheldon (24-5)
E.Duplechan 5-10 5-6 15, Cobb 5-9 2-3 12, Brooks 9-13 1-1 21, Manning 5-10 2-3 14, Greene 1-6 0-0 2, I.Duplechan 1-2 0-0 3

Modesto Christian (29-1)
Grays 3-6 0-0 9, Ellis 11-22 9-11 32, Chen 2-5 7-8 12, Dawkins 5-6 0-2 10, Idehen 1-6 3-4 5, Williams 1-2 0-0 2, Rojas 2-4 0-0 4

Halftime Score: Sheldon 34, Modesto Chr. 29