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.”

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.

Softball showdown for Dixon

Luck has turned its back on three of the five No. 1 divisional seeds in the Northern California softball playoffs. Two top seeds, St. Francis in Division I and Pleasant Valley in Division II, were knocked out in the first round. College Park drew a first-round bye as the No. 1 seed in Division IIII and lost to No. 4 Sutter on Thursday.

College Park’s departure means No. 3 Dixon, which pulled out a 3-2 win over No. 7 Capuchino on Thursday, will host the championship game at 4 p.m. Saturday. This is Dixon’s second appearance in the regional finals. The Rams were seeded No. 1 in Division IV two years ago and lost to No. 2 Monterey in the championship game.

Felesha LePenske hustles to turn a sacrifice bunt into an infield single in Dixon’s 3-2 win Thursday.

It was also two years ago when Sutter was the top seed in Division IV and claimed the title with a 2-1 victory over Central despite not scoring after the first inning. The Huskies did not score after the second inning Thursday in eliminating College Park to run their record to 29-0. Sutter is 86-3 since 2022.

Sutter and Dixon need to get acquainted because the Huskies are moving from the Pioneer Valley League to join the Rams in the Golden Empire. The GEL is adding Sutter, El Camino (California Athletic) and Natomas (Greater Sacramento) and losing Pioneer (Monticello Empire), Mesa Verde (Sierra Delta) and Mira Loma (Pioneer Valley).

Dixon is 22-4 and has won nine consecutive games since a 2-1 loss to Vacaville on April 24. Vacaville was seeded fifth in the section Division II playoffs and won its first two games by a combined score of 32-2 before losing 6-5 to No. 1 Tracy in 10 innings. Tracy lost to No. 7 Rocklin in the title game last Saturday.

The Rams managed just four hits Thursday, the biggest being a two-run double by Olivia Gomez with two outs in the third inning. Caitlyn Hendershot led off with a double against Capuchino’s Lola Sierra. Audrey Graham walked and Felesha LePenske hustled to turn her sacrifice bunt into an infield single to load the bases.

Sierra then walked Ashley Garcia to force in a run, but the left-hander regained her control to strike out Camryn Elliott and Emily Morris. Just when it appeared Sierra would escape the inning with minimal damage, Gomez ripped a double to right-center field to drive in Graham and LePenske. Freshman Lily Thomas relieved Sierra and got Aemonn Rosenberg to ground out to halt the three-run uprising.

The challenge for Dixon on Saturday will be trying to muster any offense against Sutter pitcher Olivia Bauer. The senior ranks second in the state with 24 victories and has an 0.63 ERA, allowing 18 runs in 134 innings. Bauer has struck out 194 and walked just 16. Those numbers led to the right-hander signing with Boise State.

Bauer is also lethal at the plate with a .457 batting average and 35 RBI. She is one of seven players with at least 30 RBI this season for Sutter, which is averaging 12 runs per game. Senior Alexa Carino is tied for fourth in the state with 57. Garcia (46) is the only Dixon player with more than 30 RBI. The Rams are averaging nine runs per game and have managed to win two regional games with a total of four.

One run was enough for Dixon to beat San Rafael on Tuesday as LePenske held the Bulldogs to one hit and struck out 12. The senior right-hander allowed seven hits and struck out four against Capuchino, which scored twice in the sixth inning to make Dixon fans a bit nervous. Their nerves will be tested again on Saturday.

Tickets to state meet at stake

Reality checks will be distributed Friday at the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters meet in Davis. Many athletes who had their way in divisional meets last week will need every bit of luck they can get just to survive the trials. Those who do not might be even luckier because they will not have to be in the finals Saturday with no chance of getting anything more than a pat on the back from a sympathetic coach.

Many of the section qualifiers from Vacaville, Vanden, Will C. Wood and Dixon high schools fall into that category. Vacaville’s Khloe DeLaTorre is the only one to rank first in the section in any event according to The sophomore has the top time in the 800-meter run at 2:14:43, which she set April 20 in placing second to Carondelet’s Jayla Addision (2:14.36) at the Sacramento Meet of Champions. Granite Bay’s Kylie Nasca was third in 2:16.21. No other girl eclipsed 2:17 that day.

Khloe DeLaTorre and Makayla Galvan on train Monday in preparation for the Masters meet.

Nasca is second to DeLaTorre in the section and is one of the three seniors to crack 2:17 this season. The only other runner to do so is sophomore Veronica White of Christian Brothers. At least two of those five girls will not make it to the state meet May 24-25 at Buchanan High in Clovis because only the top three finishers will go. DeLaTorre knows how it feels to be left out after finishing fourth last year.

The 15-year-old DeLaTorre will do whatever it takes Saturday to earn a ticket. So will other athletes from Vacaville, Vanden and Dixon who rank in the top five in their respective events. Dixon junior Nathan Bloom and sophomore Madison Olds are ranked fifth in the boys shot put and girls discus, respectively. Sophomore Naiaja Sizemore of Vanden is ranked second in the 100 and fourth in the 200.

DeLaTorre was also weighing a heavy Masters load. In addition to the 800, she made it in the 1,600 and helped the Bulldogs qualify in the 4×400 and 4×800 relays. At one least event had to go, so she dropped the 1,600. It has yet to be determined if one relay event will be cut. The same four girls – DeLaTorre, Jensis Rafferty, Reagan Fisher and Alicia Rawdon – compete in each relay, so dropping one will not leave anyone out. DeLaTorre could never do that to a teammate.

Opponents are fair game. DeLaTorre has a specific strategy for each of those who might give her a run for money. She knew exactly what to expect in the 1,600 final at the Division III meet. Brenna Mannion of Vista del Lago, the only Division III girl to break 5 minutes this season, tucked in behind DeLaTorre with Placer’s Anna Seares running out front.

As soon as Mannion made a move on DeLaTorre by pulling even on the third lap, DeLaTorre figured it was time to make a “big move.” She immediately pulled away from Mannion and zipped past Seares to win comfortably in 5:09.05. Mannion was second in 5:12.95, followed by Seares and Vacaville sophomore Makayla Galvan.

Elk Grove throws out passing

Ryan Smith coaches Vacaville High’s defensive backs, so he might as well take this week off as the Bulldogs prepare to face Elk Grove on Friday in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II playoffs. Anyone who has followed the Bulldogs in recent seasons knows the Thundering Herd throw the ball as often as a fat guy sees his shoes.

Elk Grove’s David Hale has thrown 10 or more passes in three games this season and completed more than four just once. The junior went 9-of-12 for 67 yards and a touchdown in a 45-7 loss to San Ramon Valley on Sept. 8. That left the Thundering Herd at 1-3, but Elk Grove recovered with five consecutive wins to become eligible for the playoffs.

Ryan Smith

The section has straightened out its playoff format by using enrollment to determine which teams belong in one of the seven divisions. Teams had to win a minimum of four games to advance to the playoffs except in Division IV, which had 10 teams qualify and filled out the 12-team bracket by adding two teams based on CalPreps rankings.

Dixon and Ceres made it with 3-7 records. The ninth-seeded Rams, who started 0-5 this season, will play Rosemont in Sacramento on Friday. The winner will advance to the quarterfinals and face No. 1 Twelve Bridges in Lincoln on Nov. 10. Twelve Bridges opened in the fall of 2021.

Vacaville is the No. 9 seed in Division II and will travel to Elk Grove. This will be their fourth postseason meeting in six years. There were no playoffs three years ago when the spread of COVID-19 turned the 2020 fall season into five games in the spring of 2021.

The Bulldogs would rather not be reminded that they lost the first three playoff meetings with the Thundering Herd. The 2018 loss was respectable with Elk Grove scoring four touchdowns in the second quarter on its way to a 28-21 victory. A year later, Elk Grove ran for 392 yards and six touchdowns in a 52-29 rout. Elk Grove was 0-of-2 passing.

Elk Grove’s Ethan Archuleta did more damage with his legs than his arm in 2021. Archuleta rushed for 242 yards and three touchdowns as the Thundering Herd gained 559 yards on the ground in a 52-48 victory. Archuleta also completed one pass for 24 yards.

Quarterback Ryan Vaughan kept Vacaville in the game by going 28-of-42 for 336 yards and two touchdowns. The senior also ran for 47 yards and a score. Rare is the game in which the Bulldogs have nearly twice as many passing attempts as rushing (24).

Vacaville has had three consecutive seasons with 200 or more passing attempts. To put that in perspective, the Bulldogs had more than 150 in a season just once from 2010 to 2019. Elk Grove has not had more than 85 attempts in a season since 2016, when Jayden Machado completed 159 of 245 passes for 2,294 yards and 35 touchdowns.