Warriors

Cal baseball looking for storybook ending at CWS

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Cal baseball looking for storybook ending at CWS

June 15, 2011

COLLEGE PAGE

BERKELEY (APCSN) -- This season has already included the biggest save in California baseball history. Now the Golden Bears are hoping to cap it with one of their biggest wins.

A season that started with the Cal baseball program on the chopping block because of budget problems is concluding at the College World Series in what can only be described as a storybook ending.

"It's been a roller coaster ride," catcher Chadd Krist said. "We were cut, we weren't cut, we weren't playing very well and lost some of our focus and energy. We were kind of a bubble team for the playoffs but we made it. We deserved to make it and now we're going to the College World Series. It's been a unique ride but it's been special."

It's been an emotional year for the Golden Bears (37-21), who found out in September just before the start of fall practice that the program would be eliminated after the school year as part of a cost-cutting move by cash-strapped Cal.

REWIND: Cal tops Dallas Baptist, headed to World Series

Then hopes for reinstatement spurred by private fundraising were dashed just over a week before the season when the school announced that the men's rugby, women's lacrosse and women's gymnastics programs would be saved, but baseball and men's gymnastics would be eliminated after the year.

But the program's supporters never stopped working, raising more than 9 million to persuade Chancellor Robert Birgeneau to announce in April that the program would avoid the chopping block.

The players did the rest. They made it to the NCAA tournament, staged a dramatic rally to beat Baylor to win a regional, then swept Dallas Baptist in the super regional to earn the program's first trip to the College World Series since 1992.

The Bears open play Sunday against top-seeded Virginia, looking for their third title overall and first since 1957.

"They weren't going to take no for an answer in terms of competing and we weren't going to take no for an answer in terms of reinstatement," said former Cal and major league pitcher Doug Nickle, who was heavily involved in the group Save Cal Baseball. "To see both reached was almost surreal. The pure joy was like a release."

The players celebrated the super regional victory with a dog pile on the infield, expressing as much joy as they had disappointment and anger just a few months earlier.

But the Cal team is now bigger than the 36 players and four coaches on the roster. More than 1,000 supporters including former major leaguers like Jeff Kent, parents and former Cal players donated money to the cause and are an integral part of the program.

"They're the reason we are still here," Pac-10 player of the year Tony Renda said. "I'm forever grateful for them pledging all their money to save us. ... We have our team on the field, but they're on our team too. They're Cal baseball like we are. They mean a lot to us."

There are quite a few people on the Cal bandwagon these days, from the season-ticket holders at Oregon State who gave coach David Esquer a check to help the program, to the boosters at rival Stanford who helped raise money to the legions of fans who have attached themselves to this feel-good story.

And then there are the former Cal players in the majors, who contributed money to the cause and are now admirers of the current Bears.

"They've had a 50-pound weight on their backs all season with the cards they were dealt," Oakland Athletics outfielder Conor Jackson said. "This is definitely a movie script. I hope the people who were involved in making that decision have their heads between their legs now."

The trip to the World Series has been a difficult one. Three players transferred after the bad news in the fall, but the core of the team stayed together for one last run behind a strong pitching staff led by Erik Johnson, Justin Jones and Kyle Porter.

Jones left Game 1 against Dallas Baptiste when he felt tightness in his throwing biceps while warming up for the seventh inning.

While preparing for the season, the Bears also had to prepare for their futures. Assistant coach Dan Hubbs asked every player with eligibility remaining for a list of three schools they'd like to transfer to in case the reinstatement bid failed and called the coaches at those schools on the players' behalf.

"If you can imagine running your program, saving your program and dismantling your program all at the same time, it's all day, every day," Esquer said. "There's not one piece of that that doesn't stop. It was difficult, but my assistant coaches played a big role in doing all those things at once."

The Bears started the season off well, using the anger over their slated elimination to fuel a 19-7 start. Then came the good news in April that the program had been saved, but Cal stumbled down the stretch, going 12-13 the rest of the regular season before getting an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.

The Bears lost the first game of their regional to Baylor before following it up with victories over Alcorn State and No. 8 seed Rice to set up a rematch with Baylor. Cal won the first game 8-0 and then overcame a 7-1 deficit in the finale, scoring four runs in the bottom of the ninth to win 9-8 on Devon Rodriguez's two-run single.

That was followed by the two straight wins last weekend over Dallas Baptist that sent the Bears to Omaha.

"We feel like there's no obstacle that can get in our way," outfielder Austin Booker said. "We have the opportunity to beat any team we play against because of the way we battle and the way we keep fighting. No matter the situation we feel like we can go out and win."

What's caused Warriors' slow start and why it should come as no surprise

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USATSI

What's caused Warriors' slow start and why it should come as no surprise

It’s much too early to get legitimately nervous, much less start tumbling into a panic.

The Warriors are going to be fine.

Eventually.

They most certainly are not yet what they will become in about two weeks, when they settle in for a four-game homestand that begins Nov. 6. That’s 10 games into the season, and it’s conceivable the Warriors might be 6-4.

After a 111-101 loss to the ever-tenacious Grizzlies on Saturday in Memphis, the Warriors are 1-2 and, by their lofty standard, looking about as lost as a stray cat in a hurricane.

“We’re obviously not ready. We knew that,” coach Steve Kerr said. “We’re not ready to put together a full effort. And I’m not doing a great job of putting together combinations, finding the right motivation to get guys going, to get some joy and laughter in here.

“It’s just one of those rough patches. And, hopefully, we can climb our way out of it. I’m sure we will. It may take some time.”

It will take some time, and of that there is plenty.

Do not blame this lull entirely on China, not when there is so much more. The Warriors are coming off their third consecutive prolonged season, this one followed by the training camp disruption caused by spending eight days in Oakland, eight days in China, followed by eight days in Oakland leading up to opening night.

It’s easy to see the timing is off on an offense that relies on precision. The spacing is off on an offense that requires room to operate. The energy is lacking on a defense that lapses into ordinary without its bedrock intensity. Both body and spirit appear less than peak.

“We’ve been playing hard,” Kevin Durant told reporters at FedEx Forum, “but I think we’ve got to take it up a level.

“We’ll be fine. It’s 79 more games left. I’m sure we’ll figure it out.”

Understand, a team that won an NBA-best 67 games last season and posted a league-record 16-1 postseason doesn’t lose it because opponents load up. When the Warriors are on their game, opponents don’t matter.

For now, though, there is an individual listlessness that results in collective slumber. Stephen Curry has gambled himself in foul trouble in both losses and was booted in Memphis. Andre Iguodala missed an entire game and Draymond Green missed the fourth quarter of the first loss, a game in which the Warriors gave up a 13-point lead over the final 12 minutes.

And Durant’s 4.6 blocks per game is impressive. It also happens to be offset by his 6.3 turnovers per game.

“That’s on me,” he said. “I’m turning the ball over at a high rate right now. I’m really pissed at myself about it. I’ve just got to hold on to the ball. Just make the correct pass. I think I’m just rushing. I just need to calm down, settle down, and that would ignite the whole team. But if I turn the ball over, that’s contagious.”

The Rockets turned 17 Warriors giveaways into 21 points. The Pelicans turned 14 into 20. The Grizzlies turned 17 into 24.

Asked what has to change, Klay Thompson went to exactly the right place, saying “probably our defensive intensity from the jump.”

That’s where it starts, at least on the court. Meanwhile, there is more video work, more group texts about details and the need for more time for their bodies and minds to become one.

“We’ll be better,” Durant said. “We’re still finding a groove with each other. We’re still getting back into shape as far as playing our game, the flow, just the reads off not calling plays. We’ve got to get used to that again.”

Thompson is, however, displaying a modicum of impatience.

“We’ll come out Monday and we’ll play a great game,” he said. “I guarantee it.”

He’s probably right. The Warriors will be playing at Dallas, against a Mavericks team that is built to be devoured by the powerful.

That might be a quick fix. But it won’t be the final fix. That is weeks away.

Astros win two straight vs Yankees, advance to take on Dodgers in World Series

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USATSI

Astros win two straight vs Yankees, advance to take on Dodgers in World Series

BOX SCORE

HOUSTON -- Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers combined on a three-hitter, Jose Altuve and Evan Gattis homered and the Houston Astros reached the World Series, blanking the New York Yankees 4-0 Saturday night in Game 7 of the AL Championship Series.

Just four years removed from their third straight 100-loss season in 2013, the Astros shut down the Yankees for two straight games after dropping three in a row in the Bronx.

Next up for the Astros: Game 1 of the World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday night. Los Angeles opened as a narrow favorite, but Houston aces Dallas Keuchel and ALCS MVP Justin Verlander will have plenty of rest before the matchup begins at Dodger Stadium.

Houston has never won even a single World Series game. The only previous time the Astros made it this far, they were a National League team when they were swept by the Chicago White Sox in 2005.

Now, manager A.J. Hinch's club has a chance to win that elusive first title, while trying to boost a region still recovering from Hurricane Harvey.

Houston improved to 6-0 at Minute Maid Park in these playoffs and became the fifth team in major league history to win a seven-game postseason series by winning all four of its home games.

Morton bounced back from a loss in Game 3 to allow two hits over five scoreless innings. Starter-turned-postseason reliever McCullers limited the Yankees to just one hit while fanning six over the next four.

Combined, they throttled the wild-card Yankees one last time in Houston. Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and their New York teammates totaled just three runs in the four road games.

CC Sabathia entered the game 10-0 with a 1.69 ERA in 13 starts this season after a Yankees loss. But he struggled with command and was gone with one out in the fourth inning.

Houston was up 2-0 in fifth when former Yankees star Brian McCann came through for the second straight game by hitting a two-run double after snapping an 0-for-20 skid with an ground-rule RBI double to give Houston its first run on Friday night.

The Yankees, trying to reach the World Series for the first time since 2009, lost an elimination game for the first time this season after winning their first four in these playoffs. New York struggled on the road this postseason, with this loss dropping the team to 1-6.

After going 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position through the first three innings, the Astros got on the board with no outs in the fourth with the 405-foot shot by Gattis off Sabathia which made it 1-0.

Altuve launched a ball off Tommy Kahnle into the seats in right field with one out in the fifth for his fifth homer this postseason. It took a while for him to see that it was going to get out, and held onto his bat until he was halfway to first base before flipping it and trotting around the bases as chants of "MVP" rained down on him.

Altuve finished 8 for 25 with two homers and four RBIs in the ALCS after hitting .533 with three homers and four RBIs in the ALDS against Boston.

Carlos Correa and Yuli Gurriel hit consecutive singles after that before Kahnle struck out Gattis. McCann's two-strike double, which rolled into the corner of right field, cleared the bases to push the lead to 4-0. Gurriel slid to avoid the tag and remained on his belly in a swimming pose at the plate for a few seconds after he was called safe.

It was just the second Game 7 in franchise history for the Astros, who dropped Game 7 to the Cardinals in the 2004 NLCS 13 years ago today.

Sabathia allowed five hits and one run while walking three in 3 1/3 innings. He wasn't nearly as sharp as he was in a Game 3 win and just 36 of the 65 pitches he threw were strikes.

Morton got into trouble in the fifth, and the Yankees had runners at the corners with one out. Bregman fielded a grounder hit by Todd Frazier and made a perfect throw home to allow McCann to tag Greg Bird and preserve Houston's lead. McCann held onto the ball despite Bird's cleat banging into his forearm. Chase Headley grounded out after that to end the inning.

A night after Springer kept Frazier from extra-bases with a leaping catch, Judge returned the favor on a ball hit by Yuli Gurriel. Judge sprinted, jumped and reached into the stands to grab his long fly ball before crashing into the wall and falling to the ground for the first out of the second inning.

Springer had another nifty catch in this one, jumping in front of Marwin Gonzalez at the wall in left-center to grab a ball hit by Bird for the first out of the seventh inning.