Saturday, November 10, 2018

Voting, Football, Smoke & Racing

Most of the mail-in and drop-off ballots in Elk Grove have been counted now by the Sacramento County Elections department and Steve Ly will get four more years as Mayor. He outdistanced city councilman Darren Suen by 3,705 votes. Tracie Stafford was a distant third.

Though the city is beginning to see some economic growth with the promise of new development in Old Town, the looming construction of the casino near Grantline and Highway 99 and the I-5 corridor on the west side of Elk Grove, Ly's initial term as mayor has been generally without much fanfare. The widely-promised city sports complex at Grantline and Waterman still hasn't turned any dirt and there are many empty retail locations. The long-planned city aquatics project, for some reason, has been delayed to sometime next year.
Scenes such as this are becoming very common in northern
California. The Camp Fire in Butte County is now the
most costly fire in California history with more
than 6,700 structures burned.

Maybe it's the fact the City has several new housing developments and there are enough plans for business growth that  has given voters enough confidence in Ly to give him the mayoral seat for another four years. Let's hope those who did go to the polls didn't vote for him because of the airplane-pulled banner that flew over Elk Grove the past month.

A big concern has to be the realism that very few of our citizens are voting. The latest numbers show 28, 312 Elk Grovians marked a ballot for mayor. In fact, county-wide just 33% of eligible voters did so, according the California Secretary of State's office.

My dad used to say, "If you don't vote, you don't have the right to complain."

Monterey Trail hosts Oak Ridge Friday

The football season is over for Elk Grove and Sheldon following second round playoff losses on Nov. 9. Sheldon once again had issues with beating St. Mary's, dropping a 30-29 decision in Stockton while the Thundering Herd were thumped, 49-7, at Central Catholic.

In a sport where depth is necessary, the fairly thin squads at Elk Grove and Sheldon are really no match for the private schools. Only Folsom, which everyone knows opens its doors to any decent football player that lives in Northern California and Nevada, remains alive - with the exception of Monterey Trail, a school that highlights this season some of its best football players they've ever had.

Coach T.J. Ewing annually has had one of the area's toughest squads, but this year he's mixed in some homegrown talent to run to that school's first-ever 11-0 record. On Friday, the rolled right by Pitman, 63-7. Next up is another of those big foothill schools, Oak Ridge. The Mustangs have to go into that game as a favorite, which will likely set up a showdown the following week against top-seeded Folsom.

If any area team has a chance to give the Bulldogs a competitive game, it is Monterey Trail. But, first things first - beat Oak Ridge this Friday.

Smoke makes for orange sunrise

The fire that consumed all of the quaint town of Paradise has its remnants drifting south with smoke filling the skies over Elk Grove Saturday. If you didn't smell it you saw the orange twinge to the sun. What is very concerning is the reports, at the time of this writing, that the blaze is headed south to Oroville, a town that a couple years ago almost drifted away if it weren't for the last minute warnings of the Army Corp of Engineers when Lake Oroville began to flow over its dam. 

Fires in the area the past few years has made Oroville a spot for evacuees. Now, those fine folks may be headed south or west to escape this huge blaze.

The Camp Fire, as it is now called by Cal Fire, has destroyed more than 6,700 structures, most of them homes, and has the ominous moniker as the state's most destructive fire in history.

Larson to start eighth Sunday

Elk Grove NASCAR driver Kyle Larson will start eighth in Sunday's Can-Am 500 at newly-remodeled ISM Raceway in Phoenix. It's the next-to-the-last Monster Energy Cup event of 2018 in a year where Larson has yet to win.

After a four-win 2017 on NASCAR's premiere circuit this season Larson's #42 Chevrolet team has seen weeks of inconsistency and some tough breaks. He's finished second six times this season and has been in the top ten in 20 races. That's put him 12th in the points standings for the season.

One issue that Larson has encountered this year - and few are talking about it - is that Chevrolet has  provided his and the Chip Ganassi Racing team a different car model for 2018, a Camaro ZL1, and the results of all the Chevys have been poor. Only Chase Elliot (sixth in points overall) and Larson have had any measure of success. Elliot with two wins this season is the only Chevrolet to find the winners' circle. 

Naturally, this is a discussion being held behind closed doors between GM and the NASCAR race teams.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Hunter-Reay grabs Indy Car win at Sonoma

By Diana Brennan, Sonoma Raceway

SONOMA, Calif. – Ryan Hunter-Reay knew what he had to do to win the INDYCAR Grand Prix of Sonoma. Scott Dixon knew what was needed to wrap up a fifth Verizon IndyCar Series championship. Mission accomplished on both fronts.

Hunter-Reay led 80 of 85 laps at Sonoma Raceway in a commanding performance to win the 2018 season finale from the pole position. Dixon started second and finished there, which was more than enough to secure the season crown.

“Man, this is so awesome!” said Dixon, whose five championships leave him behind only another legend, A.J. Foyt with seven, in Indy car annals. “I can’t believe that it’s actually happened. I can’t thank everybody enough for this, it’s so cool!”  
Scott Dixon and his family celebrate winning his fifth Indy Car
season championship on Sunday at Sonoma Speedway (photo by
Mike Finnegan)

Dixon entered the race with a 29-point lead, knowing he essentially only had to finish ahead of second-place Alexander Rossi in the double-points race. When Rossi damaged the front wing on his car and punctured a tire in first-lap contact with teammate Marco Andretti, it tipped the scales clearly in Dixon’s favor. From there, the driver of the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda was content to trail Hunter-Reay and bring home the crown that earned Dixon another Astor Cup and $1 million prize.

“The whole race I was thinking about things that were out of our control, cautions that were going to flip the field,” said Dixon, whose 44 race wins rank third in Indy car history. “None of that happened.

“It was a very smooth race, but mentally it was tough and draining. Yeah, it's amazing to be in this situation, fifth championship. What we've achieved, what this team has achieved, I'm a very small piece in that whole wheelhouse of what's going on at Chip Ganassi Racing. I feel very lucky to work with the people that I do.”

With the achievement, Dixon moved ahead of Mario Andretti, Sebastien Bourdais and Dario Franchitti – each of whom has four titles. All of Dixon’s championships have come in his 17 seasons with Chip Ganassi Racing, which laid claim to its 12th Indy car driver’s title.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

Tellez sets modern-day record in Majors debut

Rowdy Tellez did something Thursday no one in modern-day baseball has ever done - hit an extra base hit in each of his first three Major League at-bats. That's according to the Bleacher Report who claims that the Toronto Blue Jay rookie slugger made the mark by stroking the first pitch he'd ever seen in a MLB game to right center field Wednesday night for a pinch hit RBI double, then followed that with back-to-back doubles in his first two at-bats Thursday in Toronto's 9-4 loss to Cleveland.

   Greg Tellez, who missed his son's first MLB at-bat Wednesday, was in the stands
Thursday in Toronto to see Rowdy set a modern-day baseball record.

To add to the emotion of the event, Rowdy pointed to the sky after his second at-bat of the game to honor his mother, Lori, who passed away just a month ago due to brain cancer.

(Watch Tellez make MLB History)

The 23-year-old's father, Greg, unfortunately missed his son's MLB debut Wednesday because of airline delays, but was in the crowd Thursday to watch Rowdy make history. Uniquely, the television announcer calling Tellez' feat was Buck Martinez, also a former Elk Grove H.S. baseball player.

Tellez has spent the past two seasons with Triple-A Buffalo and was called up last weekend to the parent Blue Jays. He graduated from EGHS in 2013. Tellez signed with Toronto right out of high school.

Larson 'dominant' in Southern 500, but finishes third

Elk Grove NASCAR driver Kyle Larson has had a great 2018 with three wins on the Xfinity series and a handful of wins on the dirt tracks driving sprint cars. But, he is still looking for win number one this year on the Monster Energy Cup series.

Late Sunday, though, it appeared as though Larson would be driving into the winner's circle with his performance in the Southern 500 in Darlington, S.C. He led 284 laps, taking first in both of the initial two stages of the race. But, a late caution light sent Larson and the leaders into the pits and in the race out onto the track he was edged out by Brad Keslowski. The driver of the No. 2 racer jumped on the pack on the restart and drove away with the checkered flag.

“We didn’t get beat off pit road by much, but it was enough,” Larson said. “Being the control car at any race track is huge, and we just didn’t have that. I was just really loose that last run, trying to run hard to stay with him.”

NASCAR now moves onto the famed track in Indianapolis this weekend for the Brickyard 400.

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Davis, Freitas, Tellez called up to MLB

Three Elk Grove-area baseball players got the September call-up to their respective Major League teams this weekend. J.D. Davis (Astros), David Freitas (Mariners) and Rowdy Tellez (Blue Jays) joined David Hernandez (Reds) giving our city four of its own playing at the highest level of pro baseball at once.

All of them were students of Jeff Carlson at Elk Grove High School.

Davis and Freitas have been making the trip between Triple-A and MLB all season because of injuries on their respective clubs. This will be Tellez' first appearance in the Bigs during the regular season.

David Freitas
It's actually bittersweet for Davis who ended his Triple-A season Monday with a Pacific Coast League-leading .342 for the Fresno Grizzlies. That's also the best batting average in all AAA baseball. Instead of helping the Grizzlies run for a PCL championship, Davis will likely be a fill-in for the defending World Champion Astros this month. Houston's regulars are now all back in the lineup after several of them spent time on the disabled list.

Freitas has also seen some time this year in Seattle when Mariners' starting catcher Mike Zunino was suffering from some injuries, but most of the year he's been with the Tacoma Rainiers. He, too, will likely do some filling in as Seattle has a pretty good chance at making the playoffs, battling with the A's and the Astros in the American League West.

After two seasons with the Buffalo Bisons in the International League, Tellez will likely get an opportunity for a few starts, especially because the Blue Jays are out of the post-season race. He had a good year in Buffalo, batting .270 with 13 homers, playing a solid first base.

Madrigal goes 4-for-4 in season finale

Nick Madrigal (a 2015 graduate of Elk Grove H.S.) had already won a title in 2018, helping lead Oregon State to its third College World Series crown in June. So it shouldn't have been much of a surprise that with another one on the line Monday afternoon, the former Beaver stood tall.
The No. 4 White Sox prospect went 4-for-4 with a double, two runs scored and two stolen bases to lead Class A Advanced Winston-Salem to a 5-3 win over Down East at Grainger Stadium. With the win on the final day of the season, the Dash (43-25) finished with the same second-half record as Carolina League Southern Division rival Buies Creek but took home the second-half division title with a superior overall record (84-54 vs. 80-57). After securing the first-half crown, this marks the first time since 2012 that the Dash have won the division in both halves of a season.
"Everyone's really happy over here," Madrigal said. "We were trying to do it yesterday, but it just didn't work out. But overall, it's a great feeling, especially for the guys who have been around all season. It's a relief for them to set a goal like this and actually achieve it. I'm just really happy we could come together and pull this out for everyone on this team. 
Nick Madrigal ends his first minor league season Monday
by going four-for-four. He struck out only five times in
156 plate appearances this season.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Goodbye, Amy Hello, Marcus

Coming out of last week's activities and lost a bit under the news of Trump defectors and legal issues were two stories worth talking about.

First is the sudden departure of one of the top radio personalities in the market, Amy Lewis, from KFBK. For years she has graced the morning airwaves on AM 1530 and FM 93.1. She was reportedly told she was gone after she left the air last Wednesday. Replacing her is another familiar name in local broadcasting, Cristina Mendonsa, who for 21 years was the late night news anchor at News 10 (or ABC 10 as it is called today).

A few years ago, Amy came to talk to my journalism class at Burbank and was so graceful and kind. I had worked with her husband Stuart during my days as a traffic and news reporter at Metro Traffic more than 10 years ago. The two of them were very supportive of our Titan Media Productions career pathway.

Though her presence will be greatly missed, I bet she finds another place to land in radio here in Sacramento. I hope Capital Public Radio grabs her.

The broadcasting field, unfortunately, is a shaky area in which to work. Owners and managers way too often make programming decisions for the short-term, frequently reacting abruptly to down ticks in audience ratings. Dips in advertising revenue also figure into hasty decisions. I was blessed in my 27 years in broadcasting I was never fired, yet had many sessions with owners where I felt heat.

In today's broadcasting landscape, though, those who call the shots have never been behind a mic, produced a commercial, spun a disc or programmed a station. They peer into spreadsheets way too often.

Bagley's brother arrives

When Marvin Bagley III was drafted by the Sacramento Kings after one season at Duke, his dad said the whole family would be moving to town. Included in the family is a couple younger brothers. One of them, Marcus, a 6-7 forward, will be donning the turquoise and black of Sheldon High School, according to a report on Friday by the Bee's Joe Davidson.

I talked to a couple other high school basketball coaches over the past couple days who lamented that it's a matter of the rich getting richer with the arrival of Bagley. One coach said he thought the Huskies, state runner-ups a year ago in the CIF Open Division, would have been a better team this coming season, even without Bagley. Now, they definitely are in the discussion about who may have the best boys basketball team in the State, let alone Northern California.

Two years ago Marcus and Marvin were teammates at Sierra Canyon H.S. in Chatsworth. Reportedly, Marcus didn't play last year as the family moved to North Carolina when Marvin enrolled at Duke.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Davis tearing up PCL; Thoughts on prep football's Zero Week

J.D. Davis is showing baseball he's just too good for Triple-A. The former Elk Grove High School star drilled a three-run homer, was three-for-four Tuesday in the Fresno Grizzlies' 9-2 win over Sacramento in Pacific Coast League action.
J.D. Davis batting Tuesday at Raley Field, was the
Pacific Coast League's player of the week

His homer was another of his now-patented sky-high shots that landed atop the batting cage in left field at Raley Field. His family and friends, which included girlfriend Shelby Wisdom and former EGHS coach Zach Leach, let out a big roar which echoed across the silent River Cats' faithful (by the way, it's becoming a bit of a "thing" now in the minors to change uniforms and team nicknames for a game or two. The River Cats were the "Dorados" Tuesday and used a logo of the head of a masked wrestler. Even "Dinger" the River Cats' mascot worn a pro wrestling mask and had a cape on.)

WATCH J.D.'s 16th homer of the year and 8th in his last nine games

In the last nine games, since returning to the Grizzlies after his third stint this season in the Majors with Houston, Davis has eight homers. Last week he was named the PCL's player of the week for hitting a pair of homers in back-to-back games in Tacoma.
He's now played in 74 games for Fresno and has 74 RBIs after driving in three on that dinger Tuesday. Davis is on a seven-game hitting streak in which he is 15-for-27 (.556) with seven home runs and 16 RBI's.
Ben Davis

His dad Greg thinks J.D. will return to Houston for the fourth time this season come Sept. 1 and likely help the Astros who are battling the A's and the Mariners for the top spot in the American League West. Greg and wife Mary Jo will be racking up more airline mileage this fall not just following oldest son J.D. Younger son Ben should see plenty of action on the offensive line for the Minnesota Golden Gophers this fall.

It was good, too, on Tuesday to see former EGHS and CRC pitcher Ray Hernandez, now a developmental coach in the Astros' organization. He's spent much of the season with Fresno and he coached first base in Tuesday's game.

Ray Hernandez, on his way to the first base coaching box
for the Fresno Grizzlies

Prep Football's Zero Week

High School football kicked off the 2018 season last Friday, one earlier than usual due to a scheduling issue with the CIF State Bowl games in December. However, emotions were high as just about all locals played.


1. The margin of victory (41-6) of Monterey Trail's win over Sheldon. The Huskies may be in a rebuilding mode after a couple good senior classes, but the Mustangs have some really great players led by Ethan Larrier. Sheldon should have a better outing Friday when then host Burbank, however, the Titans looked solid in a 21-20 loss to Christian Brothers.
2. That Valley beat Laguna Creek. The 25-13 score indicates that the Vikings may be really good in the new Greater Sacramento League.
3. That Folsom was shut out for the first time since 2004. De LaSalle won 14-0, but no surprise, really that they won. Folsom is still good, folks.

No Surprises:

1. Inderkum beat Elk Grove, 37-13. The Tigers will be one of the best teams in the area and, frankly, the Herd, Cosumnes Oaks, Franklin and Pleasant Grove will be just ordinary teams this season. 
2. That Capital Christian came from behind to beat the Wolfpack, 47-39. Jacob Trach is our best running back and returner in Elk Grove Unified this season and showed it, but Cosumnes Oaks couldn't stop a club that now with Casey Taylor as the head coach, will be drawing outstanding players from all over Sacramento to play there, hoping to become another De LaSalle.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Media Day: Briggs named to SJ Section Hall of Fame

by John Hull,

Former Elk Grove High School linebacker and fullback Lance Briggs will highlight the 2018 class of honorees in the Sac-Joaquin Section's Hall of Fame. Briggs, along with former Philadelphia Phillies' pitcher John Vukovich of Amador H.S., Jesuit H.S. and MLB pitcher J.P. Howell, Laguna Creek H.S. discus thrower Chaniqua Ross and eight others, will be inducted Sunday, Oct. 21 in ceremonies at the Sacramento Hyatt Regency.
Lance Briggs, a 7-time All-Pro linebacker with the
Chicago Bears, will be added to the Sac-Joaquin Section's
Hall of Fame Oct. 21

This announcement along with some major changes in prep football playoffs were announced Thursday during the Section's annual Media Day. Will DeBoard, assistant Section commissioner, added that prep basketball playoffs, staged the past two seasons at University of the Pacific in Stockton, will be moved to Sacramento's Golden One Arena.

Those were two of many new nuances that will start with the 2018-2019 sports season, which begins Friday with a full slate of football and volleyball games.


Athletic Transfers

Click HERE to find out who relocated to
a new high school this season in the Sac-Joaquin Section


Section officials announced there will be 12-team brackets in Divisions I through VI football playoffs beginning this season. Division VII will be a six-team playoff. In a major change over the playoff system used the past five seasons, only first-place teams are assured of making the post-season. Section officials will use power ratings compiled by to populate the remaining slots to form the 78-team field.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Sports Corner Podcast: Mark Tennis

by John Hull,

Mark Tennis has for more than 35 years been covering prep sports throughout the state of California. On Aug. 7, he released his new book "High School Football in California" which recounts the many great players and coaches that have started their careers in the Golden State. On Monday, Mark joined the Sports Corner Podcast to talk about the book, a preview of the coming prep football season and some of the issues facing football in the State.'s Mark Tennis new book, now
available through

Friday, August 10, 2018

Notebook: Great to be back home to, uh, 100 degrees & smoke

by John Hull,

Yes, I missed my home, Elk Grove, but loved my few days in Wisconsin with family this past week, as we married off a nephew in Milwaukee, and then headed north to the old family resort just outside of Eagle River.

If you are a fisherman, you know what clear, clean water and biting fish mean to an outdoor experience. The quiet of the Northwoods is incredible and a hot day there is 80 degrees. Best place to vacation, if you ask me.
A foggy sunrise over South Twin Lake in Wisconsin

So, we're back and writing just one week away from the start of the high school football season. If you didn't know, CIF didn't want their State Football Championship games running into Christmas vacation any longer, so the 11-week regular season (ten games maximum, with a bye week) kicks off Aug. 17.

The big game regionally will be defending Division I champion Folsom playing at perennial power De LaSalle. Other interesting openers will be Elk Grove at Inderkum, Sheldon at Monterey Trail, Placer at Pleasant Grove and Franklin at McNair in Evan Boylan's coaching debut with the Wildcats.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Post No. 1000 - 14 years of sports blogging

by John Hull

Hard to believe I've been doing the Sports Corner for 14 years now, but that's what my archives tell me. What else it told me is that this is post No. 1000. Thanks for your reading and your support and feedback!

Armstead injured, again

Each of his two seasons in the NFL, former Pleasant Grove Eagle and Oregon Duck Arik Armstead has finished out the year on the injured reserve list. He's not exactly starting the San Francisco 49er training camp very well, either. The Athletic's Matt Barrows writes today that Armstead will be held out of drills for an indefinite time because of a hamstring pull. 

In six games in 2017, Armstead had eight tackles and one-and-a-half sacks.

His P.G. teammate, Cole Hikutini, a Niner tight end in his second season, will be held out of action for a couple days with a groin pull.  
Cole Hikutini

"I think he's going to be week-to-week," San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan said today.

Because of that the 49ers today signed Wes Saxton to be the team's fifth tight end, according to Barrows. 

Hikutini came off the 49er practice squad last season, saw action in four games, caught two balls for 15 yards.

Westbrooks may face NFL discipline 

Ethan Westbrooks
In Los Angeles, the Rams' defensive end Ethan Westbrooks (Franklin H.S.) may be awaiting discipline from the league for a gun possession charge dating back to last September. He was initially pulled over for speeding Friday night, and the officer found a handgun inside the vehicle that was loaded with 13 rounds of ammunition. Records later revealed that the handgun was reported stolen in 2009, according to records from the California Highway Patrol. The Rams player was booked in Kern County Jail in Bakersfield and later posted bail. 

In April, a judge placed him on three years probation and now he awaits what the NFL may do under the league's player conduct policy.

Last year he played in all 17 games for the Rams and had 23 tackles and four assists.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Notebook: MLB Trade deadline nears

By John Hull,

I regularly follow Major League Baseball's "At-Bat" app and I've been watching intently for any familiar names that may prop up on the app notifications, especially since the trading deadline is less than 24 hours away. Locals like the Astros' J.D. Davis, the Mariners' David Freitas and the Reds' David Hernandez are all possible trade material as each one of their clubs position themselves for the remaining 55 to 60 games this season.

Davis may be needed badly in the Houston lineup now that Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa are both on the injured list. He's been starting the past few games at third base while Astro All-Star Alex Bregman has shifted over to shortstop in Correa's spot. Though he was leading most of Triple-A baseball in several offensive categories this year in Fresno, Davis has struggled a bit while in Houston. Going into tonight's game at Seattle he's batting .190 with a homer and five RBIs.

With a talent log-jam in Houston, Davis may be better off in the long run elsewhere, but he's been a good fill-in this year and proved the same at the end of last season when the Astros made their run to the World Series.

Hernandez on Sunday posted on Twitter he hoped teammate Matt Harvey would NOT be making his last start in a Reds uniform that afternoon. Though his team sits at the bottom of the National League Central Division, Cincinnati is really playing some good baseball right now and Hernandez is in the middle of a very good bullpen. 
The Reds' David Hernandez

And, he's having his best year statistically in the bigs. Hernandez is 4-0 in 34 games for Cincinnati with a 1.79 ERA and 40 strikeouts in 40.1 innings. His WHIP is a very impressive 0.99.

Seattle has recently been very active in the trade market acquiring RHP Sam Tuivailala from St. Louis and LHP Zach Duke from Minnesota to help make a run at the playoffs. They are doing quite well in second place in the American League West behind Houston, yet battling with the A's for that spot in their division. Freitas has been making the run between Seattle and Triple-A Tacoma all year. Since July 22 he's been with the Rainiers and has done quite well at the plate and behind the plate in 2018. He's batting .351 in Triple-A and just .192 in his 29 games with the Mariners.

Freitas is no newcomer to trades, having been shipped by the Nationals to the A's, and a couple years later, from the A's to the Orioles. He may be stick with the Mariners' organization because he may be insurance. Regular catcher Mike Zunino has been on the DL twice this season which caused the Mariners to ship in Freitas from Tacoma.

Another former Elk Grove H.S. player that is awaiting at the MLB doorstep in Rowdy Tellez. In 85 games this season with Buffalo, the Triple-A affiliate of Toronto, Tellez is batting .262 with 10 homers. Toronto has been shopping some of its players, since at 48-56 and well behind Boston and New York in the American League East, the Blue Jays may be looking for more prospects. That may give Tellez a chance to come up to the big club before the end of this season.

On Monday, Toronto sent RHP Roberto Osuna to Houston for pitchers Ken Giles, David Paulino and Hector Perez.

Madrigal yet to K?

Someone tweeted a couple days ago quite an amazing stat - that the Chicago White Sox' top draft choice in June, Elk Grove H.S.'s Nick Madrigal, has yet to strike out in his first 53 plate appearances as a pro.

My reply: "He may not strike out this year unless he runs across a near-sighted ump."

Alexander grabs Top Fuel win at Sonoma

California native Blake Alexander brought home the second Top Fuel victory of his career in front of a sellout crowd at the 31stannual Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals at Sonoma Raceway.

Robert Hight (Funny Car), Jeg Coughlin Jr. (Pro Stock) and LE Tonglet (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were also winners in their respective categories at the 15th of 24 events on the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.

Alexander powered to the winner’s circle with a run of 4.004-seconds at 287.41 mph in his Pronto Auto Service Center dragster to take down the winningest driver in Top Fuel history, Tony Schumacher, in the finals. Despite having competed at only six events on the season, Alexander now has three final round appearances as he is now one of four Top Fuel competitors with multiple wins on the year.

“We may be a part-time team but we come out to the track trying to win every race, and so far this year we have had a lot of success with that,” Alexander said. “My life has changed this year with how well we have been running, and the opportunity that Bob [Vandergriff] has given me to drive his racecar has been paramount in my career to take me to higher levels.”

Alexander took down Mike Salinas, three-time world champion Antron Brown and Scott Palmer as he continues to make a bid to qualify for the Countdown to the Championship.

Schumacher’s third runner-up finish of the season helped vault him into second in the point standings as he continues to close the gap on points leader Steve Torrence.

Schumacher was also one of four Top Fuel competitors to join Torrence by clinching a position in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs, as he, Clay Millican, Doug Kalitta and Leah Pritchett fill out the first half of the 10 available Top Fuel spots in NHRA’s six-race postseason championship clash.

Robert Hight took first place Sunday in the Funny Car division at the Toyota NHRA Sonoma
Nationals at Sonoma Raceway (photo by Randy Jones)

Photo by Mike Finnegan

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Millican, Force, Anderson top Sonoma Nationals qualifying

Clay Millican (Top Fuel), Courtney Force (Funny Car), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) locked in No. 1 qualifying positions  in their respective categories at Sonoma Raceway on Saturday.

In other racing, Matt Smith raced to his first career NHRA Mickey Thompson Tires Pro Bike Battle win during the Toyota NHRA Nationals at Sonoma Raceway on Saturday. Smith earned a $25,000 payday in the all-star bonus race featuring eight top riders in the Pro Stock Motorcycle category.

Making his fourth appearance in the Mickey Thompson Tires Pro Bike Battle, Smith had his best career showing on his Victory Magnum, defeating LE Tonglet and Andrew Hines to meet up with Eddie Krawiec in the finals. Smith was quicker off the starting line, scoring the holeshot victory with a pass of 6.793 at 196.93 mph.

“This is huge for our team,” Smith said. “We’ve got a great bike and we’ve got a bike that can win this championship. I saw my win light come on and, man, I was excited. This is big for me.” 

Courtney Force was the top qualifier Saturday in the Funny Car
division at Sonoma Raceway. The finals of the Toyota NHRA Sonoma
Nationals are Sunday.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Sonoma NHRA Nationals rumble this weekend

SONOMA - The hills of Sonoma Valley will rumble  as the 10,000-horsepower machines of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series return for the Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals this weekend, July 27-29.

As 300-mph runs hit the track, there will also be plenty for fans to enjoy off the drag strip. For the fourth year in a row, a collection of nostalgia dragsters will light up the night, as they fire up their engines for a can’t-miss Cacklefest on Friday night in front of the Main Grandstand. These dragsters and many more will also be on display in the 9th annual Nostalgia Get-Together throughout race weekend. 

As always, fans are encouraged to enjoy the open pits, get autographs from their favorite drivers and enjoy all the activities in store. Below is a glimpse at what fans can enjoy during race weekend:

The Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals begin Friday at Sonoma Raceway.
A collection of nostalgic dragsters will be lined up in front of the
Main Grandstand Friday and Saturday.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

What? Summer's Over? It is for Prep Football

Hard to believe Monday, July 23 will mark the end of summer for some high school students, coaches and administrators. Because of a decision by CIF to avoid pushing its 13 State Bowl games into Christmas vacation, the entire prep football season has been moved up a week. That means the first games will be played this season on Friday, Aug. 17 and the initial opening practice sessions start this Monday.

"We will have half our season played before the end of summer," Sheldon third-year head coach Joe Cattolico laughed.

He's right. Week Six games are scheduled for Sept. 21, two days prior to the autumnal equinox - the first day of fall in 2018.
Joe Cattolico begins his third season at Sheldon on Monday
with the first day of football practice

The Huskies' head mentor appears to be ready, though. His veteran coaching staff will once again include his father, Butch, along with others who together have brought the word "winning" and "playoffs" to Sheldon from the day they arrived in 2016. In those two seasons since, the Huskies finished second in the Delta League and both years made it as far as the second round of the Sac-Joaquin Section's Division I playoffs. Last year, they dropped a close 31-28 decision to St. Mary's. The year before that the Huskies were knocked off 41-14 at Folsom.

Cattolico, once again, thinks his team will compete at or near the top of the Delta.

"It's hard to say how good we'll be until we get to pads," he said Saturday. "Like most teams we'll be about 50-50 returning starters to new kids coming in. But, those new kids are pretty good football players."

The Huskies' offense will be led by talented running back Tyrell Smith (5-11, 170) and quarterback Francisco Salinas (5-9, 160). There's also plenty of size up front with guys such as juniors Reggie Brooks (6-2, 310) and Elijah Taulani (6-1, 295) along with seniors Nick Garcia (6-1, 297) and Ben Sutherland (6-2, 300).

The level of football at Sheldon grew a notch when Cattolico brought his reign of success in high school coaching from Pleasant Grove, and before that, in San Jose. Though the Huskies should be one of the teams to beat in the Delta this year, Cattolico knows Jesuit, the defending Delta League champion, will have the squad with plenty of talent, and thus, the team to beat once again.

"Jesuit, at least on paper, is in its own league with what they have coming back," Cattolico said. "They have perhaps the best five to six kids in the league."

Another factor that comes into consideration, especially over the past ten seasons with the rise of quality football programs through the Sierra Foothill League, led by Folsom, Del Oro and Oak Ridge, is depth. All the Elk Grove Unified teams during that span have been met with major opposition from those schools.

"I don't think (the SFL teams) have better players, necessarily," Cattolico said. "I think they just have more good players."

The typical EGUSD football squad over the past few years have dressed about 35-45 guys. Look across to the other sideline and teams such as Folsom will be suiting up 60-plus players.

"If we have an injury to a key guy, we may be in trouble," Cattolico said.

The Huskies open with a scrimmage at Folsom on Aug. 11 so they will have a great idea exactly how good the defending state champions are - along with going through a great self-litmus test. The regular season opens Aug. 17 at Monterey Trail. The Mustangs are now in the Metro Conference with Cosumnes Oaks taking their spot in the Delta League.

Other league re-alignments this season will have Grant football competing in the SFL and the other Pacer sports playing in the Metro Conference. Valley and Florin have have left the Metro and joined Johnson, West Campus, Natomas and Cordova in the brand new Greater Sacramento League. The new Metro Conference includes Monterey Trail, Laguna Creek, Burbank, Kennedy, McClatchy and River City.

Cervellin replaces Sanchez at Franklin

Longtime area softball coach Ron Cervellin will take over for recently-departed coach Jill Sanchez at Franklin. Sanchez coached Wildcat softball for 15 seasons and her 2006 team won the Section Division I championship.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Sabbatical OVER! Time to write again

UPDATED July 19, 2018

About six months ago I wrote that I was stepping away from sportswriting here on the Sports Corner.
I was taking a sabbatical. That time to return to a labor of love is now.

I will be returning to these pages to tell the stories about our local athletes, teams and those who are continuing their sports careers away from the Elk Grove area.

It's time to be that "other" voice of sports that isn't a part of the traditional media in and around our area. I'm working on some relationships that will add to the quality of reporting you'll read here on this sports blog. Check back here for some of those features to come.

NOW, to some quick comments on a few recent stories that broke during my time away from these pages:

Jeff Carlson will, as we expected about a year ago, step away as baseball coach at Elk Grove H.S. after 19 seasons, most of those as Delta League/Delta Valley Conference champions, and with eight Sac-Joaquin Section Division I championships. Twice his teams won three Section banners in a row (05-07 and 15-17). But, what may be more impressive is how many of those players went on to play in college and/or the pros.
Jeff Carlson, center, who will step aside as baseball coach at
Elk Grove H.S. Longtime assistant Joey Bellotti will take over
the head coaching helm.

I don't think anyone in Northern California (and, perhaps, anywhere else) can brag that three of his baseball players were drafted in the first round by the Major League Baseball clubs. Derek Hill ('14-Tigers) and Dylan Carlson ('16-Cardinals) were selected just days after graduating from high school. Nick Madrigal was drafted a month ago fourth overall in the first round by the White Sox after three great seasons (and a College World Series championship) at Oregon State.

"Carly" is just being a good dad and husband by stepping away now from baseball. He and wife Caryn will now be able to watch older son Dylan play in the Cardinals' farm system and younger son Tanner at Long Beach State. In the fall, he'll be helping coach football under second-year Herd coach John Heffernan.

The new head guy in the dugout will be Joey Bellotti, an assistant coach for the last ten seasons. Bellotti won't be working the umps like Carlson did, but he has great baseball knowledge and there should be little, if any, drop off in the Herd program.


Since I last wrote there were three men who did much for area sports that passed on to the great arena in the sky.

Kenny Hottman was a frequent fan at the Elk Grove H.S. baseball and football games the past few years and a great guy to talk to.  He was one of the best baseball players to come out of our city. Hottman played five games in left field for the Chicago White Sox in 1971 after a terrific season in Double-A baseball in Asheville where he batted .302 with 37 homers.
His 1972 baseball card, Ken Hottman passed away
April 16 at the age of 70.

Hottman never returned to the Majors and ended up leaving his playing days in 1975. Sacramento City College placed him in their Baseball Hall-of-Fame several years ago.

Hottman passed away suddenly on April 16 at the age of 70.

Equally as fine a gentleman, Larry Price, left us way too early on March 12. He was 61. The Elk Grove and Florin High School girls basketball coach regularly coached his teams deep into Section playoffs. The Florin girls were two-time Division III runner-ups while Elk Grove was a CIF State Division II runner-up in 2016.

But, talk to his players and they have nothing but fine words for this stately man, who in his latter months was dealing with a lung disease.

A fixture in the press box of the Elk Grove football games was John Zehnder. Along with two or three of his seven sons, Zehnder was a local dairy farmer and an area businessman. For sixty seasons he ran the clock during Herd football games and contributed thousands of dollars over the years towards sports in our city.

Zehnder passed away March 2 at the age of 91.

We will miss all these fine men.

Wiggins now a Lion

John Zehnder, Sr., who passed away at the age of 91.
"Little Kenny" Wiggins saw an opportunity to make some good money in the sport he loved and a couple months ago announced he was leaving the San Diego, err, Los Angeles Chargers to play this coming fall for the Detroit Lions. Wiggins was the longest-tenured offensive lineman on the Chargers, starting virtually all of their games at right guard the past two seasons. But, now 29 years old and with just a few more years - likely - to play the sport, he saw the opportunity to go play in Detroit for new head coach Matt Patricia.

According to media reports, Wiggins signed a two-year, $5 million deal to head north. The 6-6, 314-pounder played his college ball at Fresno State and is projected to start at left guard for the Lions.

Kyle Larson UPDATE

I was away from sportswriting for several months, but not away from being a sports fan. Each weekend I either sat down to watch Elk Grove NASCAR driver Kyle Larson speed Chip Ganassi's No. 42 Chevy around the ovals each weekend or checked regularly on his status on the NASCAR app on my I-Phone.

Larson has yet to win this year, but he's had six top-five finishes and 11 times in the 19 Cup races this year, he's been in the top ten. His finish at Chicagoland Speedway in dualing Kyle Busch on the final lap was one of the most memorable conclusions to a NASCAR race, ever. He's eighth overall in season points going into this weekend's race in New Hampshire.

Parting Shots ....
If you have a tip on a sports story that is worth telling in the Elk Grove area, please email me at Your comments are always welcome, too.

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Roy Herburger, long time local newspaper publisher, dies

Roy Herburger, publisher/owner of Herburger Publications, has passed away from the effects of Parkinson's Disease. 

On personal note, I don’t think I ever met a more positive man in my life than Roy. He always had a big smile, greeted me warmly (even in his later years) and was so encouraging. 

Yes, he is an icon. If you looked up the Spirit of Elk Grove in the dictionary, Roy’s photo would be there. Our city, the surrounding region and the newspaper industry has suffered a big loss.

More details on a memorial service and arrangements coming .....

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Herd wrestlers finish second, again, at SJS Team Duals

For the 21st time, Vacaville won the Section Team Wrestling Dual championship on Saturday. For the second year in a row, the Bulldogs defeated Elk Grove for the duals banner.

The Herd had earlier wins over Lodi and Del Oro on Saturday to set the scene for Division I championship late in the afternoon.

Elk Grove won the team dual title in 2016 and in 2015 the Herd lost the dual championship to Folsom. Herd wrestlers have won the Section duals three times and haven’t lost a league/conference dual match in 16 years.

And, a big congratulations go out to Bradshaw Christian’s wrestling squad for winning the Division VI championship Saturday.

All the team duals were held at Lincoln High School in Stockton.

Next up for the boys are the conference and league championships this weekend. The Section Divisionals follow Feb. 16-17.

Girl wrestlers finish second at Northern regional

While the boys were competing in the team duals Saturday, the girls were competing in the Divisional championships around the Sac-Joaquin Section. Elk Grove, with just six wrestlers, finished second at the North Regional Championships in Division I. Del Oro, with a full squad of 14 girls, won the team banner.

Taking individual championships for Elk Grove were Miranda DiBenedetto at 108 pounds, Audrey Elgarico at 139 pounds and Sienna Lejeune at 172 pounds.

Karly Scott was sixth at 103 pounds. Esmeralda Arroyo won the semi-final match at 113 pounds, but injured her shoulder and had to default the remainder of her matches.
Mykhala Bagler was fifth at 118 pounds for Elk Grove.

The Section Masters Championship is coming up Feb. 16-17 at McNair High School in Stockton.

Last season for Carlson?

With son Tanner in his senior year at the school, the baseball community has been asking if this will be longtime coach Jeff Carlson’s final year at Elk Grove. On Friday, he said he really doesn’t want to discuss it, not wanting that talk to take away from the 2018 squad.

“My teaching position here is my livelihood,” he said. “It’s hard to just walk away from something after you’ve done it for over 20 years. But, to walk away from coaching because your youngest son is gone, that’s just hard to do. I just don’t want any focus put on me. All these championships have been won by the players and I’ve had a great group of coaches around me. I am very grateful for them. So, I want (2018 season) to be all about them.”

Should the Herd pull it off this spring, it will be their fifth Section championship over the last six seasons.