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SPORTS DIGEST: Dodgers in World Series is 2017 top sports story

The Los Angeles Dodgers made it to the World Series for the first time in 29 years in 2017, making that the sports story of the year for Los Angeles.

It would have been a bigger story had the Dodgers won one more game. Instead, they lost to the Houston Astros in game seven of the World Series, 5-1, to prevent the team that had the best record in baseball from winning that elusive seventh championship for the franchise.

If the Dodgers were the story of the year, Lavar Ball was the sports personality of the year. The father of Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball never saw a camera or microphone he didn’t like and became almost a caricature of the sports dad as he pushed his three sons and his sports apparel company into the national spotlight.

A cross between Donald Trump and the Kardashians, it will be interesting to see how this reality show plays out.

What follows are my picks for the top 10 Los Angeles sports stories of 2017.

Dodgers come up

a little short

For most of 2017, the Dodgers were the best team in baseball. In the middle of August they were 84-34 after winning 49 times in 58 games. They then went into a tailspin that saw them lose 16 of 17 games and 20 of 25.

They righted the ship to win the National League West for the fifth year in a row and then swept the divisional series against the Arizona Diamondbacks, three games to none and defeated the defending World Series champions, the Chicago Cubs, in five games.

After falling behind the Houston Astros two games to one and three games to two, the Dodgers rallied to force game seven, but starting pitcher Yu Darvish, the player the team acquired at the July trade deadline to bolster the starting rotation, melted down in game seven, giving him five runs while recording only five outs and the Astros became world champions for the first time ever.

Still, it wasn’t a disappointing season for the Dodgers. Clayton Kershaw remained the best pitcher on the planet. He finished third in the National League Cy Young balloting despite missing almost a month of the season because of a bad back.

Kenley Jansen became one of the top closers in baseball after signing a big free agent contract in the offseason.

The Dodgers continued to keep developing top young prospects, with Cody Bellinger following in the footsteps of shortstop Corey Seager to win the National League Rookie of the Year award.

Like Bellinger, Chris Taylor started the season in Oklahoma City, with the Dodgers top farm team. By the end of April the team were on the big league team and playing prominent roles.

An infielder by trade, Taylor became the team’s leadoff hitter and an injury replacement in the outfield. He started in left field, replacing an injured Andrew Toles. By the end of the season, he was the starting center fielder, hitting .288 with 21 home runs and 72 runs batted in.

Bellinger, called up when Adrian Gonzalez went on the disabled list for the first time ever, started slowly and then got hot. He finished with a .267 batting average, broke the National League record for home runs by a rookie with 39 and drove in 97 runs.

Third baseman Justin Turner led the National League in hitting for most of the year before sliding down to .322 to finish third.

Right fielder Yasiel Puig began to show signs of maturity and the raw talent he displayed when he arrived in 2013. He finished the year with a .263 batting average, 28 homers and 74 RBIs.

Besides Kershaw and Jansen, Alex Wood surprised on the mound, starting the season 11-0 and making the all-star team. He finished 16-3 with an earned run average of 2.72.

Brandon Morrow became Jansen’s main setup man in the bullpen, going 6-0 in 45 games with a 2.06 earned run average. His career-best season earned him a two-year contract with the Chicago Cubs next season.

Although they came up short in the end, the Dodgers won 104 games, the most they ever have in a season since moving to Los Angeles.

The Ball family

takes the spotlight

We first hear about the Ball family in 2016 when Lonzo was a senior guard at Chino Hills High, leading his school to a state championship.

His younger brothers LiAngelo and LaMelo also started for Chino Hills and all three announced they would attend UCLA for their college careers.

Lonzo led the UCLA Bruins to a 15-3 record in the Pac 12 Conference as a freshman and the Bruins made the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament before falling to Kentucky before declaring for the NBA draft, where he was the number two overall draft pick for the Lakers.

It was at this point that father Lavar Ball began selling his Big Baller Brand and becoming the voice of the family.

He predicted greatness for Lonzo and his two brothers, decided to put out his own line of shoes instead of having Lonzo sign with Nike or Adidas and started a war or two with television and radio show hosts.

LiAngelo, who followed Lonzo to UCLA, almost created an international incident when he had two teammates were caught shoplifting while UCLA was in China for a game against Georgia Tech. The three players were suspended by UCLA and were stranded in Shanghai when the rest of the team flew home.

A few days later they were allowed to leave, although the suspension remained.

Angry at LiAngelo not getting a chance to play, Lavar pulled his second youngest out of college. Earlier, he had pulled LaMelo out of his junior year at Chino Hills, saying he would home-school him and get him ready for college basketball.

Since them LiAngelo and LaMelo have signed with an agent, forfeiting their collegiate careers, and have signed to play professionally in Lithuania.

Lonzo is starting at point guard for the Lakers, averaging 10 points and 7.1 assist per game before injuring his shoulder last week.

Whether we ever hear from LiAngelo and LaMelo again remains to be seen. You can be sure we will hear from Lavar.

Rams win

NFC West title

Everyone who predicted the Los Angeles Rams would win the NFC Western Division year with 11 or 12 wins stand up and take a bow.

I’m not sure anyone predicted that. Coming off a 4-12 season with a new head coach, who happened to be 31 years old, most people assumed the Rams would be lucky to finish 8-8 this season.

But coach Sean McVay proved to be no ordinary 31 year old and here the Rams are, ready to host a home playoff game on the first weekend in January.

McVay hired veteran defensive guru Wade Phillips to coach up the defense while he redesigned the offense to make second-year quarterback Jared Goff efficient by handing the ball to running back Todd Gurley as often as possible.

Gurley rebounded from a horrible second season in 2016 to become a candidate for most valuable player in the NFL.

He has 1,305 yards rushing through 15 games and has caught 64 passes for another 788 yards. He also leads the league with 19 touchdowns.

Robert Woods, Sammy Watkins and Cooper Kupp have improved the Rams wide receiving corps, which also has made Goff better, and the defense and special teams have been lights out.

No matter what they do in the postseason, the Rams are one of the surprise teams in the NFL this year.

Olympics are coming

— four years late

When 2017 started, the city of Los Angeles was preparing a bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics. The city settled for the 2028 Games.

The International Olympic Committee found itself with only two cities — Paris and Los Angeles —interesting in hosting the 2024 Summer Games. Olympic officials quickly began talks to have the loser in the 2024 selection process automatically become the host for the 2028 Games.

Paris said thanks, but no thanks. Some of the facilities that would be available for the 2024 Games wouldn’t be available in 2028. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Casey Wasserman, his point man for the Olympic bid, quickly got some concessions from the IOC and four more years to prepare for the Olympics.

Trojans don’t live

up to expectations

On the first day of 2017, the USC Trojans defeated Penn State, 52-49 in the Rose Bowl in a game that was as thrilling as the final score would indicate.

The Trojans ended the season ranked fourth in the nation and started 2017 in the same place, but after a 3-0 start, the Trojans lost to Washington State in late September and then to Notre Dame three weeks later and there went the Trojans chances of playing for a national title.

But under coach Clay Helton, quarterback Sam Darnold and running back Ronald Jones, picked the Trojans off the scrap head and carried them to the Pac 12 championship — their first since 2009 — and a berth in the Cotton Bowl Dec. 29 against Ohio State. That’s as close to a New Year’s bowl game as you can get without playing in one.

It now remains to be seen whether Darnold will take his talents to the NFL next season or come back for his junior year.

The game against Ohio State could be a determining factor.

UCLA goes 6-6;

Mora gets fired

Sometimes UCLA forgets it is a basketball school. The Bruins football disappointed alumni and fans this year while going 6-6 and Athletic Director responded by firing Jim Mora as the head coach.

Mora’s big mistake was winning 29 games in his first three years in Westwood when he had Brent Hundley at quarterback. Hundley now plays for the Green Bay Packers.

St. John Bosco product Josh Rosen replaced Hundley and was supposed to be an improvement on Hundley. Bothered by injuries the last two seasons, he wasn’t and Mora paid the price when the Bruins couldn’t resist making a run at hiring Chip Kelly to coach them.

It’s Kelly’s job now. Hopefully, he will be able to recruit running backs, something Mora never was able to do to take pressure off the quarterback.

Bruins turn it

around in basketball

UCLA’s basketball coach Steve Alford had a better 2017 than Mora did, even if he had to deal with Lavar Ball for most of the year.

With freshmen Lonzo Ball and T.J. Leaf leading the way, the Bruins got off to a 13-0 start, which included an upset over Kentucky.

Coming off a disappointing 15-17 season in 2015-16, the Bruins went 28-3 overall before losing to Arizona in the semifinals of the Pac 12 Tournament.

They won their first two games in the NCAA Tournament before Kentucky got revenge for the early-season upset with a 86-75 victory in the Sweet 16 round of the tournament.

Chargers have

topsy-turvy season

The Los Angeles Chargers began the season, their first in Los Angeles since 1960, with playoff aspirations.

Then they lost their first four games. Only one team had ever made the playoffs after going 0-4 to start the year and that was the Chargers in 1992.

With one game remaining, the Chargers can make the playoffs if they defeat the Oakland Raiders Dec. 31 and the Tennessee Titans and Buffalo Bills also lose.

The Chargers first year in Los Angeles hasn’t gone exactly as they planned. Playing at StubHub Center in Carson, the Chargers have usually found more fans of the opposing team in the stadium than Chargers fans.

That doesn’t figure to change this week with the Raiders in town.

Still, Phillip Rivers has had a solid year, Keenan Allen has become an all-star wide receiver and Joey Bosa anchors a tough defense.

If the Chargers don’t make the playoffs, they can look back at their loss to Jacksonville Nov. 12. Jacksonville won 20-17 in overtime on a field goal by Josh Lambo. The Chargers waived Lambo, their kicker the two previous seasons, at the end of training camp and then had trouble all year finding a steady kicker.

Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball has managed to ignore his talkative father enough to put up decent numbers in his rookie season in the NBA. he is averaged 10 points and 7.1 assists per game. (Photo by Nick Koza)

Young players

on the rise

Cody Bellinger and Chris Taylor helped lead the Dodgers to the World Series. Jared Goff guided the Rams to the playoffs in his second season in the NFL. And now Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma are trying to do the same thing with the Lakers.

Ball and Kuzma probably won’t be as successful as the Rams and Dodgers, but young talent is always a plus for a team.

The Dodgers have had key performances by young players the past three season, with Joc Pederson and Corey Seager coming before Bellinger and Taylor.

Rams running back Todd Gurley is only in his third season and rookie wide receiver Cooper Kupp has shown signs of good things to come for the Rams this year as well.


Narbonne, Crenshaw

win state championships


Let’s not ignore the high school sports. Narbonne and Crenshaw high schools both won state championships this season.

Narbonne defeated Pittsburg, 28-24 in Sacramento Dec. 16 to win the Division I-A title and Crenshaw won a 46-43 thriller over Placer played on the Cougars home turf in Division IV-AA.

St. John Bosco lost in the Southern Section open division title game to the state and national champion Mater Dei.