Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Post No. 1000 - 14 years of sports blogging

by John Hull  jrhull1004@gmail.com

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,  jrhull1004@gmail.com

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.