Batesole contemplating a bullpen shakeup after rough outings at Stanford

Fresno State Coach Mike Batesole played the percentages on Sunday, got the matchups out of the bullpen that he wanted. But his moves didn’t work out in a 7-4 baseball loss at Stanford, and very soon more freshmen could be seeing opportunities out of a struggling bullpen.

Mike Batesole relieves pitcher Garrett Mundell in a game last May at Beiden Field. Catcher Austin Wynns joins the meeting. (Fresno Bee photo by John Walker)

Up 3-2 into the sixth inning, Batesole pulled freshman starter Tim Borst with a runner at third base and one out, bringing in Tyler Stirewalt to face the right-handed hitting Alex Blandino. The Cardinal third baseman did not even have to get the bat off his shoulder before Stanford had tied the score – the first pitch from Stirewalt went to the backstop, the run scoring on the wild pitch.

Stirewalt went on to strike out Blandino, but then walked Lonnie Pauppila and Drew Jackson, each on five pitches, and with a left-handed hitter due up in Wayne Taylor, Batesole went to left-hander Tyler Linehan.

Linehan lost that matchup, giving up an RBI single, and the Cardinal had a lead.

Then in the eighth, after the Bulldogs had tied the score on a solo home run by Aaron Judge, the bullpen faltered again. Garrett Mundell gave up the go-ahead run on a one-out single to Jackson followed by a double down the left-field line by Taylor. Mundell got Brett Michael Doran for the second out of the inning and with another lefty due up in Danny Diekroeger, Batesole summoned left-hander Aaron Gilles.

Gilles lost that lefty-on-lefty matchup as well, Diekroeger drilling a two-run homer over the wall in right.

‘’You play the odds, you play the percentages, and nothing is foolproof in this game. You still have to go out and do it. Just because you bring in a lefty in to face a lefty doesn’t mean he’s out,’’ Batesole said.

In just 1 2/3 innings, the Bulldogs bullpen gave up four hits, four walks and four runs, all of them earned. That’s a lot of damage for only 53 pitches – Stirewalt threw 18, Linehan 16, Mundell 13 and Gilles six.

Fresno State has a freshman left-hander in the bullpen in Connor Chase, and the Bulldogs’ coach said Chase could start to get some of those situational opportunities. Chase has pitched in two games, working one inning and giving up one hit and no runs.

‘’You bet,’’ Batesole said. ‘’He’s got an appearance or two and he’s going to continue to get his chances. We have several freshmen that didn’t get in this weekend and that’s because those older guys have earned their chances as well and so they get the first chances and I think you’ll see more of those freshmen Tuesday (at Cal State Bakersfield) and beyond.’’

Fresno State defensive coordinator Nick Toth on spring: ‘You can’t be the same player/coach you were last year’

With a change in scheme, the Fresno State Bulldogs went from one of the worst defensive football teams in the bowl subdivision to one of the best, particularly when it came to takeaways.

Just one year after ranking in a tie for 119th and last with only nine turnovers gained, they were fifth with 35. Playing a defense brought in by coach Tim DeRuyter and taught by defensive coordinator Nick Toth, line coach Pete Germano, and secondary coaches Tim McDonald and Jordan Peterson, the Bulldogs also took significant strides up the rankings in passing, total and scoring defense.

It was not all just scheme, of course. Fresno State played with a confidence it was not close to having the previous season, the Bulldogs more aggressive and more physical. This spring, Toth wants to make sure they recapture that, even as they try to find replacements for some key contributors starting with strong safety Phillip Thomas and including SAM linebackers Shawn Plummer and Tristan Okpalaugo.

That is the goal this spring and it is a challenge to every player and every coach. Written on the board in his office is this: “You can’t be the same player/coach you were last year.”

Toth wants the Bulldogs better, and to be building. He talked about that and more in this Q&A leading in to spring practice, the first of 15 for the Bulldogs scheduled for Monday. 

Question: Well, you have some bodies to replace …

Answer: Yeah, we’ve got a couple guys … not a whole lot (he was joking, obviously). We have some work to do. We definitely have some work to do. But it has been good. The winter workouts have gone well, so hopefully we get these 15 practice days and go.

What’s the priority this spring for this defense?

We want to make sure, No. 1 that we re-establish our identity. I think the first thing we did when we got here is say, “Hey, we’re going to go out and run around on defense.” That was the big thing. We are going to run to the ball. We are going to try to be physical. And, regardless of what is happening with the offense, we’re going to control what we can control and that’s our attitude, our physicality and our energy level. We’re coming out to re-establish that, and take it to a higher level. That’s the thing that our kids have been talking about, that we’ve been talking about, throughout winter workouts.

Read more →

Fresno State offensive coordinator Dave Schramm: Spring focus on fixing things that cost victories

Dave Schramm says the Bulldogs’ spring focus will be on cutting down on sacks and turnovers, and improving third-down and red-zone efficiency.

With quarterback Derek Carr, running back Robbie Rouse and Davante Adams, Fresno State did a lot of good things on offense last season in winning a share of the Mountain West Conference football title — the Bulldogs were 12th in the bowl subdivision in passing offense, 16th in total offense and 17th in scoring.

But there were some things that definitely needed improvement, the things offensive coordinator Dave Schramm said cost the Bulldogs possessions and games.

On third downs, in the red zone and with turnovers, the Bulldogs had some rough stretches. Though running better than 77 plays per game, Schramm also said the Bulldogs need to play at a better tempo.

So there will be an emphasis for the Bulldogs this spring on clean up, perhaps just as much as finding replacements for Rouse, starting center Richard Helepiko, starting left guard Matt Hunt and wide out Rashad Evans, along with developing depth in the line and at the receiver positions.

There is a lot of work to do in the 15 spring practices, which start Monday morning. Schramm discussed some of what is ahead for the Bulldogs and his expectations.

Question: You guys got a lot of stuff done last year, put up a lot of points, even with some depth issues on the line and at the receiver positions. For the first year in the system, I’d have to think you’re pretty happy with at least some of the aspects of that …

Schramm: It’s a good start. We did a lot of good things. We’ve got a lot of things to improve on, but I’m certainly happy with the start we had in the first year and looking forward to building on that.

Obviously you showed a lot with some of the trick plays. But, in that first year, how deep did you get into the offensive playbook. How much is still there?

A lot of what we do is personnel-based, and I’ve said it since the day I got here: It’s a player’s offense. It isn’t about the plays, it’s about the players and what we can and can’t do and what we believe our strengths are. We try to always play to our players’ strengths, and at the same time don’t ask them to do stuff that we don’t think they’re good at. When you start to do that, and you start to get stubborn about the scheme … you know, the scheme isn’t any good if the players can’t do it.

Read more →

Against Cardinal, Fresno State needs to raise one average and lower another

The Fresno State Bulldogs have faced some tough pitching in the first two of a three-game series at No. 15 Stanford, starting with right-hander Mark Appel, who a year ago was the No. 8 pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the June amateur draft before deciding to return to school for his senior season.

But the expectation for the ‘Dogs has to be higher than this … In the two games, Fresno State has a .214 batting average and a .314 strikeout average.

After a 7-4 loss to the Cardinal in 10 innings on Saturday, the Bulldogs have 15 base hits in the series and 22 strikeouts.

Bulldogs’ Velazquez takes a step forward in loss at Stanford

If the focus were only on the starting pitching on Saturday, Fresno State likely would have been in much better shape against No. 15 Stanford. Instead, there were too many mistakes, missed opportunities, and, ultimately, a walk-off, three-run, pinch-hit home run in the 10th inning by Brett Michael Doran that sent the Cardinal out with a 7-4 victory at Sunken Diamond.

But Derick Velazquez, the transfer from Merced College, took a big step forward pitching his way through a game in which the Bulldogs made five errors in the field.

It started in the first inning, when second baseman Brody Russell fielded a routine ground ball and fired well wide of first base for an error, which led to an unearned run. Velazquez got out of that inning with a double play ground ball, with runners at first and second.

In the second inning, center fielder Aaron Judge mishandled a single up the middle, allowing Stanford runners to move up to second and third. But Velazquez escaped unscathed, retiring Cardinal leadoff hitter Drew Jackson on a ground ball.

In the fourth, Stanford put its leadoff hitter on base on an error by shortstop Chris Mariscal. In the fifth, Justin Ringo reached base on catcher’s interference, pushing a runner into scoring position. And in the eighth, Russell made a second error of the game on a wild throw trying to double up Dominic Jose – a poor decision, with little chance to complete the double play there.

Velazquez ended up giving up four runs, but only two were earned.

‘’That’s a gutsy performance. That’s a tough kid that can keep it together,’’ Coach Mike Batesole said. ‘’He had to get four outs a couple times against a really good team in a tough atmosphere, and down the line that’s going to play out for us.

‘’Unlike some of the other guys where, you know, we’ve talked about their heart is their No. 1 tool, he’s got a big heart, but he’s also got outstanding stuff and he came into his own a little bit today and controlled the zone a lot better than he did his first time out.’’

The sophomore right-hander also kept the Bulldogs’ streak of impressive starts working – five, in as many games.

Will Munro is 1-0 in his two starts with an ERA of 0.73. Velazquez is 0-1 in two starts with an ERA of 4.15. And Tim Borst, who will go to the mound on Sunday against the Cardinal, got a no-decision in his first start, throwing six scoreless innings against UC Santa Barbara.

The Fresno State starters have an ERA of 2.01.


Whatever happened to Robert Swift? Oh, he’s squatting

Mark Gisbertz, 14, of Bakersfield gets one of the first autographs from Bakersfield High standout Robert Swift as an NBA player after he was drafted 12th overall by the Seattle SuperSonics on June 24, 2004. (CHRISTIAN PARLEY/THE FRESNO BEE)

So, whatever happened to Robert Swift — the 7-foot can’t-miss prep basketball star who went straight to the NBA?

Apparently he’s squatting in a $1 million home that he used to own in Seattle.

Swift played for Garces and Bakersfield high schools about 10 years ago and remains the Central Section career blocks leader with 622, per historian Bob Barnett. With credentials and size like that, he was scooped up by the  Seattle Sonics with the No. 12 overall pick in 2004 (it was a big enough story back then that The Bee sent reporter B.J Anteola and photographer Christian Parley down the 99 to chronicle that special day).

Swift’s NBA and later overseas pro career never went far, mostly due to injuries, although he did reportedly earn about $20 million.

Now, Seattle TV station KOMO has reported he lost his home to foreclosure last summer and that it was sold in January. The new owner is ready to move in, but there’s one problem: Swift hasn’t left. The station’s reporter went to the home to talk to Swift, “but a woman who said she was his girlfriend said he couldn’t come out because he was asleep after taking pills.”

The owner has filed a summons and Swift has one more week to move.

Section girls hoops showdown Thursday night: Aarion McDonald (Bullard) vs. Brooke Johnson (Hanford)

Bullard freshman Aarion McDonald is pressing for state Freshman of the Year honors.

UPDATE: Aarion McDonald 42 for Bullard, Bayli McClard 39 for Hanford in Bullpups’ OT victory. Wow. Way Wow! …

And check the game’s photo gallery from Mark Crosse.

ORIGINAL POST: The best entertainment value in the Valley on Thursday night can be found in Hanford High’s gym for $6 (adults) or $4 (students).

It is here at 7 p.m. that the finest girls point guards in the Central Section will be matched in Bullard freshman Aarion McDonald and Hanford junior Brooke Johnson in the quarterfinals of the Division I playoffs.

The only negative to the showcase is that it isn’t in the D-I final March 1 at 6 p.m. in Selland Arena, affording greater exposure to neutral fans in the section.

McDonald, at 5-feet-3, is a sure state Freshman Player of the Year candidate. Extraordinarily quick and fearless at slicing through traffic while driving to the hoop, she’s averaging 25.1 points while accounting for 36% of the 21-5 team’s scoring. She’s also averaging about 6 rebounds, steals and assists.

Johnson, at 5-11, offers a distinctly different presence and role.

Hanford’s Brooke Johnson looks to pass past Redwood’s J.C. Chamalbide Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013. The 2012 Bee All-Star is averaging 12.7 points, 5.6 assists, 5.8 rebounds and 6.0 steals. And she’s also an effective shotblocker.

Johnson’s a three-year starter for teams that have gone 78-17 overall and 36-0 in the West Yosemite League with three section titles — the past two in D-I after winning D-II in 2010.

Johnson took over managing the floor after Madison Parrish’s departure following the 2010 season.

There are two other interesting story lines in this game:

** Bullard coach Bill Engel was raised in Hanford before graduating from Roosevelt. He’s a popular guy in these parts and will have several Hanford friends in attendance.

** Hanford will arrive in a fury after being insulted by the section’s seeeding committee for the second straight year.

Last season, the Bullpups were seeded second behind Stockdale, so they merely blasted the Mustangs 65-49 for the D-I title at Selland.

This season, Hanford is seeded THIRD behind Stockdale and Clovis West. Coaches from sixth-seeded Bullard groaned upon learning the seeds, knowing that meant this quarterfinal journey into a gym that will be on fire.

Fresno State O-line coach Cameron Norcross has high expectations for spring practices

Offensive line coach Cameron Norcross demonstrates technique to Bulldogs players during fall camp in August 2012. (ERIC PAUL ZAMORA/THE FRESNO BEE)

The Fresno State Bulldogs will hold the first of their 15 spring practices bright and early on Monday morning, and the Mountain West co-champions have more than a few questions to answer.

Many are up front on the offensive line, which lost senior starters Richard Helepiko and Matt Hunt and do not have much ready-depth at any of the five positions coming back. There are no candidates to step up and slot in at the center or left guard – not without a lot of work, anyway.

That will make for some interesting sessions for offensive line coach Cameron Norcross, who still is stinging from the Hawaii Bowl loss to Southern Methodist.

The players, Norcross said, should be, too.

The line coach answers a few questions about the line and the expectations he has for the position group through the spring as well as scouting reports on the junior college players who could have an impact this season.

Bee: Your group had a pretty good season last year, but now you lose Richard Helepiko and Matt Hunt and that has to be a concern – one thing that wasn’t there was competition within the group or a lot of depth, and you have two starters to replace …

Norcross: “There was one thing we didn’t have enough of last year, and that was depth. The biggest thing this spring is not who are the five guys that are going to start, but it’s who is going to make the group better, because then you’ve got continual competition. We didn’t have that. We would have our five starters, our five to seven guys that are going to play, and there was no one else who stepped up. That’s what we have to have this spring. We’ve got to be able to find 10 guys that are going to be able to step up and compete day in and day out for jobs. I didn’t think we were as good as we could have been last year just because our level of competition in practice wasn’t there.”

Read more →

Young Fresno City softball team off to a quick start

Kassandra Workentine

Kyla Cisneros

With a quick glance at her softball roster before the season started, Fresno City College coach Rhonda Williams took a deep breath:

“One returning starter. You don’t know how freshmen are going to respond.”

So far, pretty well, with the Rams 5-2 heading into Thursday’s game at Modesto. Kassie Sierras (Yosemite High) is the returner, but she played second base last season and is now the starting catcher.

Kyla Cisneros (El Diamante) is hitting third and has two home runs and four RBIs. Freshmen Adriana Bencomo (Bullard) is batting .450 with two homers and four RBIs, and Dana Moritz (Clovis) leads the team with a .467 batting average.

The roster also includes Kassandra Workentine, who’s recovering from a knee injury and hasn’t played softball since graduating from Washington High in 2010, and Grace Combs (Memorial), who transferred in from Southern Idaho.

“We didn’t have any expectations,” Williams said. “We thought, ‘Here we go and let’s see how they do.’ They looked good in practice and in the fall semester. Some of the players we have, have experience competing at a high level from the programs they’ve come from and travel ball.”