Stanford Baseball Soars; Hoops Hopes Rise; Warriors' Winning Formula
One sport that often falls under the radar, especially in a market like the Bay Area where several successful pro teams dominate the headlines, is college baseball.
And with the college sports media increasingly focused on NIL compensation and the transfer portal, it's even more difficult to get some attention.
But a wonderful story is unfolding at Stanford, where the Cardinal baseball team has won 16 straight games, claimed the Pac-12 regular season and league championship titles, and climbed to No. 3 in the national polls.
Stanford coach Dave Esquer had huge shoes to fill when he succeeded legendary coach Mark Marquess five years ago. Marquess had coached the Cardinal for 41 years, winning over 1600 games, two College World Series and 11 conference titles.
Esquer, the starting shortstop on Marquess' 1987 national championship team, hasn't missed a beat, winning the Pac-12 title and conference Coach of the Year honors in his first season, taking the Cardinal to the College World Series last year, and amassing a 176-68 record for the best winning percentage (.721) in Stanford history.
This year's team may be the best offensive club ever to play on the Farm, scoring almost 10 runs per game during the current winning streak and hitting 95 home runs this year in 55 games, compared to 23 for the opposition. Consider a team batting average of .302 and a lineup in which eight of the nine starters are above .290.
The leadoff man, pre-season All-American center fielder Brock Jones, boasts a .329 average and 17 home runs. He recently homered in six straight games. No. 2 hitter, first baseman Carter Graham, batting .342, leads the Pac-12 in home runs (20) and RBIs (70). In the No. 3 spot, second baseman Brett Barrera is the team's leading hitter at .366. Cleanup man Brendan Montgomery, a budding Shohei Ohtani, excels on the mound, in the outfield and at the plate (.301, 16 HRs).
The rest of the lineup includes catcher Kody Huff (.312, 11 HR), third baseman Drew Bowser (298, 12 HR), designated hitter Tommy Troy (.291), outfielder Eddie Park (.271) and shortstop Adam Crampton (.296). Seven players made All-Conference and Crampton was named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year.
I think Esquer's squad will return to Omaha. The pitching staff, led by Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year Alex Williams and relief ace Quinn Matthews, may not be deep enough to win it all, but Stanford may just be able to out-slug everyone.
(Esquer, Williams, Montgomery and Crampton are pictured above, l to r)
More Good News for Cardinal: Stanford’s struggling men’s basketball program got some excellent news during the past few days. First, 6-5 guard Michael Jones, a legitimate 3-point shooter, transferred in from Davidson (Steph Curry’s alma mater).
Jones, who’s coming in as a grad transfer but with two years of eligibility remaining, started all 34 games for Davidson last season, averaging 11.8 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game. He shot an impressive 46.1% from the field, 42.1 from 3-point range and 84.3 from the line. He also can defend multiple positions, according to Stanford coach Jerod Haase.
Stanford rarely is able to attract transfers, due to the University’s admissions standards and early decision dates. In fact, Jones is the school’s first basketball transfer since Andrew Zimmerman in 2009.
The second piece of good news came on Sunday when Cardinal forward Harrison Ingram reversed his ill-advised decision to go pro and withdrew from the NBA draft. Ingram was named the Pac-12’s Freshman of the Year this season after averaging 10.5 points and 6.7 rebounds per game.
However, Ingram’s accuracy declined as the season progressed, and he ended the year hitting only 38% from the field and 31% from 3-point range.
Another year will not only be a boon for Stanford, but will give him a chance to mature, add strength, and improve his shooting.
Warriors’ Perfect Mix: The Golden State Warriors are back in the NBA Finals for the sixth time in the last eight years, only two seasons after finishing last in the league with 15 regular season wins.
Quite a turnaround, one might say. But anytime Steph Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson are all healthy, the Warriors will be in the Finals. In fact, they’ve reached the Finals six straight times with that nucleus.
Thompson, of course, missed the past two non-playoff seasons with devastating knee and Achilles injuries. Curry missed all but a few games of one season with a broken hand.
Players like Jordan Poole, Kevon Looney, Otto Porter, Gary Payton Jr., Nemanja, Bjelica and Andre Iguodala flourish because of the big three. Rookies like Moses Moody and Jordan Kuminga learn from the masters. And Andrew Wiggins, a No. 1 overall pick deemed a disappointment in Minnesota, thrives without the pressure of being the main man.
“I think the ability to set the table for pretty much anybody that comes in, be a part of the fold, find their way, elevate their game, take that next step wherever they are in their career,” Curry said. “I think we pride ourselves on that more than what we do individually, because you got a lot of examples of guys that have been elsewhere and come here and found success.”
Some 34-year old superstars would’ve demanded that his team trade for a big name, rather than assembling complimentary parts. Curry understood his team’s plans and supported them.
“A lot of stars would’ve said, ‘No, you have to trade all these young assets for a star. I need a star,'” head coach Steve Kerr told The Athletic. “Organizationally, the decision was ‘Let’s grow these young guys so we can have a bright future.’ Very few people in Steph’s shoes would’ve said, ‘All right, I’ll embrace it and let’s go to work.'”
This year Curry was in the best shape of his life, adding strength that made him a better defensive player and more able to withstand contact on his drives to the hole. He draws so much attention that other players can get open, and he has the ability to find them.
To be sure, the Warriors’ winning formula has included Thompson’s return, Green’s defense, Wiggins' emergence, Kerr’s coaching, general manager Bob Myers’ roster moves, and owner Joe Lacob’s checkbook.
But, the No. 1 factor has been Curry’s greatness, leadership and maturity.