Little League stars in action

Little League all-star teams from Vacaville and Dixon might avoid the heat in the Section 1 tournaments. Dixon’s 9- to 11-year-olds will play Thursday at 5:30 p.m. in American Canyon, where the temperature is not expected reach triple digits. The temperature should drop below 100 at Hall Park in Dixon on Friday when Vacaville National’s 10- to 12-year-olds play at 8 p.m.

Vacaville National bounced back from a 9-1 loss to Davis American in the District 64 tournament to claim the championship by beating Davis American twice in two days. Cruz McCoy pitched five shutout innings in a 2-0 victory June 22 and Dominic Kendrick’s two-run double capped a four-run outburst in the first inning of Vacaville National’s 5-3 win June 23.

Dixon avoided a “if necessary” game in the 9-11 tournament by beating Vacaville American 8-7 in seven innings on July 1. Vacaville American lost to Woodland National in the first round, then won two elimination games and beat Woodland National in a rematch to reach the final.

The Section 1 championship games will be 5:30 p.m. Monday for 9-11 and 7 p.m. Tuesday for 10-12.

Cruz McCoy

Xzavier Puch

Speak Greek? Nagle will learn

Three games with the Sacramento Kings in the California Classic will probably amount to nothing for Jay Nagle. The 2018 Will C. Wood High graduate knows better than to think it could lead to an opportunity to play in the NBA. That remains his ultimate goal, but the 24-year-old is no closer to it today than when he was invited to play for the Kings.

The 6-foot-9 Nagle played a total of 13 minutes in the first two games, scoring five points and grabbing two rebounds. The California Classic will conclude Tuesday night when the Kings play the Warriors at Chase Center in San Francisco. As much as Nagle is enjoying the experience, he knows it is a temporary gig and is not taking it for anything more.

Jay Nagle is going from playing with the Sacramento Kings in the California Classic to joining Maroussi B.C. in Greece.

Nagle will not be away from basketball for long. He recently signed a one-year contract to play for Maroussi B.C. in the Greek Basketball League and will leave Aug. 18. He is growing accustomed to playing overseas after spending one season with BC Orbi in Tbilisi, Georgia. He averaged 16.7 points, 4.1 assists and a team-high 7.8 rebounds per game.

Georgia was not what Nagle expected. As much as he enjoyed the national dish of Khachapuri (a cheese-filled bread), Nagle was surprised to find fast food such as McDonald’s and Wendy’s. He shared a two-bedroom apartment with an American teammate, so it was not much different than a college dorm except for all the high tops and soiled socks.

“It was an experience for sure,” Nagel said. “It was better than what I expected. I was pleasantly surprised. The basketball was high level.”

The Greek Basketball League will be more challenging, but having to prove himself is nothing new for Nagle. He went from averaging 12 minutes a game as a freshman at UC Santa Barbara to 7.2 as a senior in 2021-22. Having earned a degree in sociology, Nagle entered the transfer portal as a graduate student and jumped to Idaho State.

His playing time also jumped. Nagle averaged 28.8 minutes a game with the Bengals and was their second-leading rebounder with 137. “I needed to go somewhere else,” Nagle said of his decision to enter the portal. “I needed to find a place where I could play and produce.”

A solid season in Pocatello would have been a fitting end to a solid career. And after earning a master’s degree in athletic administration at Idaho State, he had everything he would need to find a solid job. There was just one problem, however. He could not let basketball go.

“It hit me and I had to look in the mirror,” Nagle explained. “I couldn’t see myself straying too far away from it. I have to be around basketball. I’ve got to play my passion. I’m going to play until the wheels fall off.”

Fantasy Football Forecast

Welcome to my first Fantasy Football Forecast, which will be published periodically until the NFL season kicks off Sept. 5 and then weekly after that.

Christian McCaffrey could very well be cursed in the 2024 season and that has nothing to do with the running back being on the “Madden NFL” cover. The 49ers asked quite a bit of McCaffrey in 2023 and he responded by leading the NFL in rushing yards (1,459), offensive touches (339) and yards from scrimmage (2,023). He added 268 rushing yards, 78 touches and 420 total yards in the postseason.

Few running backs have carried such a workload without suffering a hangover the following season from all the wear and tear. McCaffrey can attest to that after going from a league-leading 403 touches in 2019 to 76 in 2020 and 136 in 2021. Injuries limited McCaffrey to a total of 13 games in those two years. He did not miss much as the Panthers won five games in each of those two seasons.

His injuries might have been coincidental, but take a look at the running backs who have led the NFL in offensive touches since 2013 and you will find just two of the 10 were as productive the following year. LeSean McCoy led the NFL with 366 touches in 2013 and followed with 340 in 2014. Ekeziel Elliott went from an NFL-high 381 touches in 2018 to 355 in 2019. The other eight were not as fortunate.

McCaffrey can avoid joining those eight by producing another season in which he averages 20 touches a game. Those who take him as the first overall pick in a fantasy draft will be hoping he does. McCaffrey is the only running back worth being the No. 1 pick. This will be the year in which receivers are in high demand.

Speaking of receivers, there is a debate as to whether the 49ers should invest in Brandon Aiyuk or let him go elsewhere and cast their lot with Deebo Samuel. The concern with Samuel is that he could begin to break down in a year or two after having 138 rushing attempts in the past three years in addition to 193 receptions.

Do the math and Samuel has had fewer touches with 331 in three seasons than McCaffrey did in 2023. Samuel has had his fair share of injuries, missing 14 games since 2020, but he also has many rushing touchdowns (19) as receiving in his career. His versatility has now led to questions about his durability.

McCaffrey and Samuel are both 28 and are similar in size. Samuel’s durability would be not an issue if he was listed on the roster as a running back instead of a receiver. No one seems to be concerned about McCaffrey breaking down anytime soon, especially those fortunate folks with the first pick in a fantasy draft.

Questions persist for Giants

Giveaways are a promotional ploy by the Giants to draw fans to Oracle Park when the team is trying to stay within shouting distance of .500, there have been far too many empty seats or the Marlins are on the schedule. Such a ploy should not be needed when the Dodgers are in town, but the Giants are not taking any chances.

“Beat LA” aloha shirts were handed out to the first 20,000 fans Saturday. The rivalry has lost its luster with the Dodgers winning the National League West 10 times in the past 11 seasons. The division race has hardly been thrilling in the past two years with the Dodgers winning by 22 games in 2022 and 16 games last year.

The Giants’ average attendance of 30,606 in 2023 was the lowest in the 24-year history of Pacific Bell, SBC, AT&T and Oracle Park. The Giants are two games into the second half with a 40-43 record as of Friday. They were 46-37 at the same point last year and climbed to 13 games above .500 (54-41) on July 18 before collapsing.

Blake Snell did not last two innings in his first rehab start for Triple-A Sacramento.

Winning three of four at home against the Diamondbacks from July 31 to Aug. 3 did not translate to the ticket office. Just one game against a division rival drew more than 30,000. Three games against the Rays in August drew an average of 26,527. Tampa Bay was 99-63 in 2023, so the Rays were hardly pan-seared flounder.

Empty seats could be plentiful in July with eight of 12 home games against the Tigers (37-45 as of Friday) , White Sox (23-61) and Marlins (29-53). August will not be much better with seven of 10 home games against the Blue Jays (37-44), Rockies (27-54) and A’s (30-54). Need tickets? No problem.

Attendance will likely depend on whether the Giants continue to go with a mix of veterans and youngsters or commit to going young without fretting over the hefty contracts sitting on the bench. The time has come to make that decision so fans will no longer have to wonder who will be in the lineup from one day to the next.

There are far too many questions that have not been answered in the first three months of the season. Can Blake Snell avoid injuries so he will not have to worry about being rushed back? When will Robbie Ray make his debut and in what role? Is Jorge Soler nothing more than Pedro Cerrano with a $42 million contract?

Marco Luciano could be an option at designated hitter if the Giants lose patience with Jorge Soler.

Ray is the only one of the three players who gets the benefit of the doubt for the time being because he is still working his way back from Tommy John surgery. The 2021 American League Cy Young Award winner can opt of his contract after this season, when he is making $23 million, or stay and make $50 million in 2025-26.

Snell had done nothing to prove he was worth a two-year, $62 million deal when he ripped the Giants for trying to rush him back from injuries. The Giants should not stick with a high-priced malcontent to avoid admitting it was a bad move. Trade or release him and take a good long look at 22-year-old Hayden Birdsong.

The Giants are expected to activate Snell, who is nursing a groin injury, when they begin a three-game series with the Blue Jays on July 9. A decent outing or two could attract suitors in need of a veteran left-hander. Snell is scheduled to make his third rehab start on Wednesday at Triple-A Sacramento. He went three innings on 62 pitches at Las Vegas on Friday, allowing three runs on four hits and striking out six, in the River Cats’ 14-8 victory.

Soler has never hit 20 or more homers in consecutive seasons, so the Giants should have known what to expect after he hit 36 with the Marlins last season. Would you rather see Marco Luciano bat lead off as the designated hitter and get an occasional start in the infield or watch Soler flail away at breaking pitchers?

That is yet another question for the Giants to answer.

Stevens seeks Olympic encore

Freedom will be waiting for Robyn Stevens at the finish line at the U.S. Olympic Trials on Saturday at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore. The 20-kilometer race walk could very be the last for the 2001 Vacaville High graduate. All she has to do to prevent that and qualify for the Paris Olympics is walk the fastest race of her life.

Whether the end comes Saturday or five weeks from now in Paris, Stevens will at last be free from having to survive on prize money. She will never again have to battle the race walkers who have a say in setting the rules and can manipulate them as Stevens claims they did to make it nearly impossible for her to qualify.

Robyn Stevens will need to produce the fastest race of her life to make it o Paris.

Finishing in the top three Saturday will not be enough for the 41-year-old who in 2021 was the oldest female race walker to compete in the Tokyo Olympics. The 2024 qualifying time as set by the International Olympic Committee is 1:29.20. Stevens set her personal best of 1:32.15 two years ago in the Czech Republic.

Stevens did not give much thought to making it to Paris after coming home from Tokyo. “I really didn’t care,” she said. “Tokyo was beyond my wildest dreams. I  knew inside me there was an Olympian. I brought my Olympic dream to fruition. I checked that off my list. I can say I did it. I had the perfect ending.”

Achieving her dream left Stevens with little motivation to continue training at a level necessary to be an elite athlete. She needed a new goal and set her sights on the U.S. record of 1:30.49 with the guidance of her coach, Jacinto Garzon of Spain. Garzon prepared Stevens for the 2021 Olympics without ever having met her face to face.

That first meeting came in Tokyo. Stevens did not come close to earning a medal, finishing 33rd in a field of 58 walkers, but she repaid Garzon for all of his efforts by walking “a well-executed race.” Stevens continues to work with Garzon, who sends her training plans to ensure she will be at her best for the Olympic Trials.

Robyn Stevens paid a visit to Vacaville High on June 5 to meet senior Jessie Lenox, who is recovering from cancer.

Her intense training to take a shot at the U.S. record turned out to be in vain when she contracted COVID-19. At least there was a vaccine to help her recover. There was no cure, however, from the “toxicity” she faced in dealing with the U.S. Race Walking Committee. It would be safe to say the committee is not fond of her.

Stevens believes her former boyfriend, Nick Christie, has had a hand in that. Their relationship made for a touching story in 2021 because Christie is also a race walker and competed in Tokyo. The two went their separate ways after returning and Stevens claims Christie has been sabotaging her career ever since.

“I have nothing to prove to myself. I just need to prove it to the people who have treated me so terribly,” said Stevens, who had hoped to be a two-time Olympian for the sole purpose of taking her mother to Paris. Carolyn now has no interest in going, Stevens said, because of all the treachery her daughter has had to face.

Surrendering is not an option for Stevens, who draws inspiration from those who have faced far greater battles. Her golden retriever April died from cancer in 2015 and left Stevens with the mantra to “be golden.” As Stevens explained, “That doesn’t mean I have to win a gold medal. It was a sign from her that ‘This is your life. You’re not finished yet.’ I knew I had to make the most of my talent.”

Stevens visited Vacaville High on June 5 to meet Jessie Lenox, a senior who could not compete in track this spring as she recovered from Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Stevens gave Lenox a Team USA bag and jersey from Tokyo along with a “Congrats Grad” balloon. Stevens was in awe of Lenox as much as Lenox was of meeting her.

The spotlight will dim once Stevens retires and she is fine with that. Freedom will light the way to the next chapter of her life. April will be barking in approval.

Former Ram is ready to run

David Phillips (center) finished first in the 200 at the USC Trojan Invitational and his time of 20.51 qualified the Dixon High graduate for the Olympic Trials.

Heads shook in disbelief after David Phillips, Jr. won the 100-meter dash at the 2018 Sac-Joaquin Section Masters track championships. Who knew Dixon High School, which is know for its agricultural programs more than athletics, had the fastest runner in the section. Who knew the school even had black students.

Phillips is fairly certain he was one of just 10 black students to graduate in 2019 from Dixon High. The 23-year-old is also fairly confident he can name the other nine without checking his yearbook. And he will guess that five years ago there were 16 black students attending the school with an enrollment of nearly 1,100.

“It was crazy,” Phillips said. “There was such a small black population (in Dixon)”

Phillips tried to talk his parents into allowing him to transfer to another school, but they were hell-bent on their son staying put. He did not ask to go elsewhere because he felt uncomfortable at Dixon High. Phillips wanted to attend a school where he could find out if he had the potential to be an exceptional athlete.

His potential was on display for all to see at Elk Grove High in 2018 when the junior won the 100 and finished fourth in the 200 at the Masters meet. Phillips made a name of himself in a matter of seconds and left those in attendance wondering how they had never heard of the sprinter or even Dixon High for that matter.

David Phillips pulled a surprise in 2018 by winning the 100 at the section meet.

Hopefully those folks will be watching the. U.S. Olympic Trials on Thursday evening when Phillips runs in the 200 at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore. The senior at Cal State Northridge eclipsed the qualifying time of 20.60 seconds for the Olympic trials by finishing first in a school-record time of 20.51 at the USC Trojan Invitational in March.

The record belonged to Phillips until June when junior Chase Mars ran a 20.25 to take third at the NCAA West Regional in Fayetteville, Ark. Phillips also ran in Fayetteville despite still nursing a torn hamstring. His time of 28.39 showed his right leg was far from healed.

“I was out of shape. I was suppose to be out for six weeks, but the trainers got me back in two weeks.”said Phillips, who also competed in the 100 and 4×100 relay at the West Regional. The relay team qualified for the NCAA Championships earlier this month in Eugene. Mars also qualified n the 200 and finished 19th in 20.59.

Mars and Phillips will be joined at the Olympic Trials by Trey Knight, who qualified in the hammer throw after setting a school record at 76.99 meters (252 feet, 7 inches) at the Mt. SAC Relays in April. The junior finished first at the Big West Conference meet and was named the conference’s Field Athlete of the Year.

Phillips is well aware of what he will face Thursday after being the 35th and last runner to make it in the 200. Noah Lyles won the 100 on Sunday and is the favorite in the 200 with a time of 19.47. He is one of seven men to crack 20 seconds in the 200 this year. Phillips will have to be at this best if he is to stand any chance.

Athletes in such a situation often play the “I’m just happy to be here” card, but Phillips in not in Eugene to get autographs from the best track and field athletes in the country. He will burst from the blocks because “anything can happen.” It did in 2018 when he astonished the crowd at the section meet by winning the 100.

When asked if he might be intimidated by Lyles and the like, Phillips responded as if the question touched a sore sport. “Not at all,” he said. “I’m 100 percent and I feel good. I just need to run a well-executed race. I’m confident going into this.”

River Cats have revolving door

Hunter Bishop had two singles Sunday to boost his batting average to .276.

Hunter Bishop is getting to know his two new neighbors in the Sacramento River Cats clubhouse at Sutter Health Park. Pitcher Nick Garcia joined the San Francisco Giants’ Triple A team from the Double A Richmond (Va) Flying Squirrels on May 28. Catcher Jackson Reetz followed May 31 after being designated for assignment by the Giants and accepting the move to Sacramento when he cleared waivers.

This is Bishop’s first stint in Sacramento after arriving from Richmond on May 14. The outfielder has already learned that lockers are leased without an option to buy. The Giants are again playing a game of musical roster spots, so it is unlikely that Bishop will have the same two neighbors for the remainder of the season.

Bishop could be the player to move out if the Giants suddenly have a need for the 2019 first-round draft pick or if he could use further seasoning at Richmond. He has made it to Sacramento despite missing last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Injuries limited Bishop to 134 games in his first three seasons.

That may explain why Bishop and his wife Claudia are staying in a hotel instead of renting an apartment in Sacramento. Claudia is the daughter of former NHL star Claude Lemieux. Her father played for six teams in his 21-year career, so Claudia realizes her husband’s stay in Sacramento could be for weeks or end tomorrow.

As long as Bishop has a locker in Sacramento, he will play for the present rather than think of what the future might hold. His brother Braden , who was also an outfielder, was a frequent passenger on the baseball elevator during his eight-year career. He spent an entire season with one team only twice. His major-league career consisted of just 47 games over three seasons with the Seattle Mariners.

Hunter Bishop gets a fist bump from Rob Riggins, the River Cats assistant hitting coach, before taking the field on Sunday.

“It’s really cool to see guys go up, but it’s not fun to see guys come back. I didn’t know how frequent it was,” said Bishop, who will turn 26 on Tuesday. “My brother did that, so I can remember mentally how it took a toll on him. Like they say, it’s hard to make it (to the major leagues) and even harder to stay. With a team like the Giants, there’s so many moving parts. I don’t know if other organizations are like that.”

Those parts have been on the move in June with the Giants making at least one transaction on 15 of the first 22 days. There were five on Saturday. Outfielder Mike Yastrzemski and pitcher Keaton Winn were placed on the injured list, outfiielder Luis Matos and third baseman David Villar were recalled from the River Cats and Tyler Fitzgerald was optioned to Sacramento just a day after being recalled.

Bishop has been a fixture in Sacramento’s lineup, starting in 18 of 20 games this month. He has played each of the three outfield positions in June with 11 starts in center, three in right and two in left. He has also been the designated hitter in two games. Bishop has batted as high as leadoff and as low as sixth this month.

Four consecutive games in the leadoff spot got Bishop back on track at the plate. He went 9-for-15 with three doubles, a home run, three RBI and seven runs scored against the Albuqeurque Isotopes. His batting average went from .246 on June 4 to .309 on June 8. He attributed his surge to seeing more fastballs in the leadoff spot.

Bishop’s average dipped in the past seven games with a 4-for-27 slump leaving him at .276.. He went 2-for-5 with two infield singles in Sunday’s 5-4 victory over Round Rock. Bishop is not one to fret about his numbers because “there’s going to be really bad games and there’s going to be really good games. It’s about how you can close the gap by making the bad games average and the good games great.”

The Giants drafted Bishop with the 10th overall pick in 2019 after he batted .342 with 22 homers and 63 RBI in 57 games as a junior at Arizona State. He has just two more homers than that in 191 minor-league games, including four in 32 games with the River Cats. And one of those four was of the inside-the-park variety that produced two runs for Sacramento in a 4-1 victory over Oklahoma City on May 15.

First baseman Trenton Brooks scored on the homer, which snapped a seventh-inning tie, and also came home on a Bishop single in the fourth. Bishop could not have been happier when Brooks joined the Giants and made his major-league debut May 28. Brooks made it after being a 17th-round pick ( 512th overall) in 2016.

For as long as Bishop stays in Sacramento, he hopes Brooks never comes back.

Pink is new color for Mudcats

Kyle Stafford is in his second season as head coach of the Mudcats.

Kyle Stafford had never laid his eyes on a pink bat until Mason Sayre came home from Hawaii Pacific University and broke it out after joining the Solano Mudcats. The second-year head coach now sees it every day because the 2022 Will C. Wood High graduate is not the only player to swing it.

Preston Freeman has had so much success with the wooden bat that he hopes to buy it from Sayre before returning to Cisco (Texas) College. Stafford simply hopes the bat can survive with 26 games remaining in the season because it is being used so often by so many players.

“I know all the players are anxious about it,” Stafford said, “because they (are swinging) early on pitches so they won’t get jammed.”

Will C. Wood graduate Mason Sayre shares his pink bat with teammates.

Breaking bats is no concern for Stafford in the spring as the associate head coach at Solano Community College. The Falcons use aluminum or composite bats with the familiar ping. Players can only use wooden bats in summer collegiate leagues.

Freeman used his own bat in the sixth inning Saturday when he belted a two-run triple. Connor Ross followed with a two-run homer in a 9-2 win over the West Coast Kings. Ross had a walk-off RBI single in the ninth inning last Tuesday to give the Mudcats a 7-6 win over the Kings.

The teams will meet four times this week with the first game Tuesday at 4 p.m. at San Ramon Valley High in Danvlille. The Mudcats will host the Kings at 5 p.m. Friday and 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at SCC. The Mudcats are 2-1 in the new six-team Pacific Empire League and 5-3 overall.

Ross and Freeman have been fixtures in the Mudcats’ ever-changing lineup. Ross had a superb sophomore season at SCC, ranking fifth in the state with a .433 batting average. He was Player of the Year in the Bay Valley Conference, an all-state selection and the recipient of the CCCAA’s Northern California Big Stick Award.

Stafford used his coaching connections to recruit players from as far away as North Dakota, Iowa and Texas. He made a promise to all of his players that each would get a fair share of playing time. In return, he required each to put team goals ahead of personal objectives.

Introductions were made in the first practice. Stafford was surprised by how quickly the players meshed. “We’ve got a good group … a lot better than last year’s,” Stafford said. The Mudcats finished 6-29 in the California Collegiate Leageu and 4-33 overall in 2023.

Freeman was recruited by the Mudcats last fall when he was at the University of Texas-San Antonio. He was gone by the spring, opting to play at Cisco College. Injuries limited Freeman to 14 games and 21 at-bats. Playing for the Mudcats is an opportunity for Freeman to get back in the swing of things.

Contributing to the team’s success is Freeman’s priority. “I didn’t drive 26 hours from Texas to come here and lose,” he said. “Guys get close when you’re winning.”

And If Freeman can do his part by swinging a pink bat, so be it.

Playing ends, coaching begins

Kooper Richardson had the option in 2021 of remaining at UC Davis as a graduate student or entering the transfer portal. The offensive tackle would have probably remained with the Aggies if he could have a position to call his own, but he felt as if he was no longer wanted.

The first indication of that came after COVID-19 wiped out the 2020 season. Five games in the spring of 2021 were compensation without costing the players a year of eligibility. Those games cost Richardson , however, as he went from starting 24 games in 2018-19 to having to share playing time.

Kooper Richarson (77) started his college career at UC Davis, finished it in 2021 at Sacramento State and was recently hired as a graduate assistant at Boise State.

Tim Keane might have stood a chance of talking Richardson into staying, but the offensive line coach left UC Davis after the 2019 season to take the same position at Boise State. Richardson will now work alongside Keane in the fall after joining the Broncos as a graduate assistant.

Richardson jumped to Sacramento State after leaving UC Davis to join his father Kris and brother Kaden. Kris might have the longest title of any college coach – assistant head coach, run game coordinator and offensive line coach. He also coached his sons at Folsom High.

Joining the rival Hornets might have also been Richardson’s way of sticking it to UC Davis after being discarded like an old couch. He started all 11 games at right tackle in 2021 for Sacramento State, which finished 8-0 in the Big Sky Conference and advanced to the FCS playoffs.

Mike Cody became the offensive line coach at UC Davis after Keane departed and was promoted to offensive coordinator last season. New head coach Tim Plough will call plays as he did in 2016-19 as the Aggies offensive coordinator, so Cody will return to coaching the offensive line.

Like Keane, Plough left UC Davis in 2019 to became offensive coordinator at Boise State. Plough did not last two seasons in Boise. He was fired in 2022 after a 27-10 loss to UTEP left the Broncos with a 2-2 record. The loss was Boise State’s first in seven meetings with UTEP since 2000.

Plough found a new job in 2023 as the tight ends coach at Cal and was offered a promotion to offensive coordinator after the season. The opportunity to return to UC Davis, his alma mater, following Dan Hawkins’ retirement was an offer he simply could not refuse.

Punting on competitive equity

Football will be the first sport to gauge whether the Sac-Joaquin Section’s latest realignment will serve its intended purpose of fostering competitive equity. There is little chance of that in the Monticello Empire League even though Fairfield and Armijo are going to the Greater Sacramento League. They will not be missed.

Well, they will be because Vacaville and Vanden will miss having two easy victories each season. The three schools joining the MEL – River City of West Sacramento, Pioneer of Woodland and Sacramento – will stand as much of a chance as Fairfield and Armijo did in trying to contend for the championship. And that would be none.

Armijo finished 1-4 in 2023 with its only victory coming against 0-5 Will C. Wood, which also accounted for one of Fairfield’s two MEL victories. The other came against Armijo, so separating the haves from the have nots in MEL football last season was as easy as telling rocker Iggy Pop apart from rapper Iggy Azalea.

Fairfield and Armijo hope for better luck by joining the Greater Sacramento League.

Fairfield and Armijo are going out with a bang only because Vacaville and Vanden slammed the door behind them. Any team will take an easy victory now and then, but having three or four lopsided wins in a row with the reserves playing as much as or even more than the starters does not bode well for playoff preparation.

That has likely contributed to Vacaville failing to reach the third round of the section playoffs in 12 of 13 years since capturing the Division II championship in 2011. The MEL took a blindside hit after the 2017 season when Napa and Vintage defected. Napa’s departure left Vacaville without a legitimate MEL challenger. That came to bear with the Bulldogs’ dominance in 2018-22.

Vacaville went 24-0 in those five years with an average margin of victory against MEL opponents of 34 points. In each of those seasons, the starters went from relaxing on the sideline during lopsided victories in the MEL season to hoping they would have the stamina to go all out for four quarters in the postseason.

Vanden ended Vacaville’s remarkable run last year with a 24-9 win at Tom Zunino Stadium. The Bulldogs made the playoffs and were again eliminated in the second round with a 38-0 loss at St. Mary’s in Stockton. The 2022 season ended the same way for Vacaville, which reached the second round and lost 42-0 to Manteca.

That is not a knock against Vacaville as much as it is against the section. Vanden, Fairfield and Armijo were added to the MEL with section administrators knowing full well that Fairfield and Armijo would be out of their league. And now the section has the bright idea of of realigning leagues for the sake of competitive equity.

Let’s play a game of connect the football dots. Pioneer beat Dixon 17-13 last season and Dixon lost 42-7 to Armijo. It would be safe to say Armijo would have had its way with Pioneer, which beat Dixon for just the second time in the past six years.

In regards to the other two MEL newcomers, River City lost 34-7 to Pioneer in 2022 and Sacramento lost 35-32 last year to the MEL’s worst team in Will C. Wood. Who knows how Sacramento will fare without running back Lamar Radcliffe, who ran for 1,467 yards as a senior last year and has signed to play at San Jose State.

Radcliffe missed the 2022 season after tearing the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his right knee in the season opener. He attracted national attention as a sophomore in 2021 when he ran for 2,109 yards and 23 touchdowns.