Cubs

1972 Thornridge still the best ever

600388.png

1972 Thornridge still the best ever

At the beginning of the 2011-12 season, Simeon coach Robert Smith stated that his primary goal was to finish 34-0, win the state and national championships and supplant Thornridge's 1972 powerhouse as the greatest high school basketball team in state history.

Close but no cigar.

Simeon finished 33-1, winning its third state title in a row and fifth in the last seven years, but a 75-50 loss to Fendlay Prep of Henderson, Nevada, on Jan. 16 cost the Wolverines their No. 1 national ranking and a national championship.

This was a very good but not great Simeon team, maybe the best Smith has produced. They didn't dominate all opponents, particularly Bloom and Proviso East in the state finals. Even 6-foot-8 junior Jabari Parker, the nation's top-rated player, struggled in the last two games.

But Thornridge 1972 set standards that never have been surpassed or even approached, before or since.

Check the records:

In a 33-0 season, no opponent came within 14 points.

The Falcons averaged 87.4 points per game while allowing 56.3.

In the state finals, they overwhelmed Lockport, Collinsville, Peoria Manual and Quincy by margins of 28, 29, 19 and 35 points.

They featured three All-Staters--Quinn Buckner, Boyd Batts and Mike Bonczyk. Another starter, junior Greg Rose, was an All-Stater the following year.

Four players averaged in double figures--Buckner (22.7), Batts (19.1), Rose (18.1) and senior Ernie Dunn (10.4). Bonczyk averaged 6.1 points and 8.2 assists per game.

In the state championship game, they overwhelmed Quincy 104-69, the most one-sided final in history and the gold standard by which all others are compared. In the second quarter, they outscored Quincy 32-11 to build a 57-26 halftime margin.

Coach Ron Ferguson's 1-2-1-1 zone press, often called "the Thornridge press," was devastating against all opponents. It separated the team from all others who ever hoped to be included in the "best ever" conversation.

According to a national survey published in 1994, Thornridge was ranked No. 4 among the greatest high school teams of all time--behind Baltimore Dunbar 1983, New York Power Memorial 1964 and Hyattsville, Maryland, DeMatha 1965. Oscar Robertson's Indianapolis Crispus Attucks team of 1955 was ranked No. 5 and Wilt Chamberlain's Philadelphia Overbrook team of 1955 ranked No. 6.

Other state championship teams that deserve consideration are Quincy 1981, La Grange 1953, Marshall 1958, King 1986 and 1990, East St. Louis Lincoln 1987, Collinsville 1961, Taylorville 1944, Peoria Manual 1997, Whitney Young 1998, Mount Vernon 1950, Proviso East 1991, Evanston 1967, Thornton 1966 and Simeon 2012.

Quincy's 1981 squad generally is regarded as the second best team in state history. Coach Jerry Leggett's team, led by Bruce Douglas, Michael Payne and Dennis Douglas, went 33-0 and was en route to fashioning a 64-game winning streak. The Blue Devils dominated in the state finals, winning by margins of 28, 25, 31 and 29 points.

La Grange was 29-0 in 1953 with Ted Caiazza and 31-0 in 1970 with Owen Brown and Marcus Washington. But coach Greg Sloan's 1953 squad commands most attention. The Lions ousted top-ranked Kankakee and Harv Schmidt in a memorable sectional game, then swept through the finals by margins of 17, 32, 13 and 12 points. No opponent came within nine points during the season.

George Wilson, Marshall's legendary three-time All-Stater, has always claimed that coach Spin Salario's 1960 state championship team was better than his 1958 team that historically has received more celebrity because it was unbeaten and the first all-black team and the first Chicago Public League representative ever to win a state title.

But it's hard to argue against the 1958 team led by Wilson, M.C. Thompson, Bobby Jones and Steve Thomas. They were unranked after the regular season (Public League teams weren't included in the Associated Press' weekly rankings in those days) but defeated Dunbar 68-59 for the city title, then eliminated Elgin 63-43 in the supersectional, third-rated Herrin 72-59 in the quarterfinals, West Aurora 74-62 in the semifinals and top-rated Rock Falls 70-64 in the state final to complete a 31-0 season.

Collinsville went 32-0 in 1961 with Bogie Redmon and Fred Riddle but coach Vergil Fletcher's best team had to escape a 66-64 decision over second-ranked Centralia in the supersectional. The Kahoks crushed Thornton 84-50 in the state final.

Taylorville went 45-0 in 1944, becoming the first unbeaten state champion. Coach Dolph Stanley's Tornadoes were led by Johnny Orr and Ron Bontemps. But they were tested in the semifinals, slipping past Champaign 40-36.

Mount Vernon swept state titles in 1949 and 1950, winning 46 games in a row. But coach Stan Changnon's 1950 squad was dominant. The Rams were 33-0 behind Max Hooper and Walt Moore. They overwhelmed second-ranked Danville 85-61 in the state final as Hooper scored a record 36 points.

King produced three state champions under coach Landon Cox in 1986, 1990 and 1993. Cox said his 1986 squad led by Marcus Liberty and Levertis Robinson was his best. But the 1990 team led by Jamie Brandon and Johnny Selvie was 32-0 and ranked No. 1 in the nation. And the 1993 team led by seven-footers Rashard Griffith and Thomas Hamilton also was 32-0.

East St. Louis Lincoln's 1987 team has been rated as the best of coach Bennie Lewis' four state championship teams of the 1980s. Led by LaPhonso Ellis, Chris Rodgers and James Harris, Lincoln went 28-1 and defeated defending Class AA champion King and Marcus Liberty by a convincing 79-62 margin in the state final despite Liberty's record 41 points.

Whitney Young's 1998 team, led by Quentin Richardson, Dennis Gates, Cordell Henry and Corey Harris, finished 30-1 and defeated Galesburg and Joey Range 61-56 for the state title. Coach George Stanton's Dolphins were dominant in a season which produced one of the most talented classes in state history.

Thornton was ranked behind two unbeaten teams, Benton and York, at the end of the regular season. But first-year coach Bob Anderson's Wildcats, led by LaMarr Thomas, Jim Ard, Rich Rateree, Paul Gilliam and Bob Landowski, finished 30-2 to win the state title. They defeated Galesburg and Dale Kelley 74-60 in the final.

Evanston finished 30-1, losing only to Proviso East and Jim Brewer, which went on to win the state title in 1969. Coach Jack Burmaster's team, led by Bob Lackey, Farrel Jones and Ron Cooper, got past second-ranked Lockport and Jeff Hickman 70-58 in the supersectional, Peoria Central and Rhea Taylor 70-48 in the quarterfinals, Crane and Jerome Freeman 70-54 in the semifinals and Galesburg and Ruben Triplett 70-51 in the state final.

Proviso East was 32-1 with Sherrell Ford, Donnie Boyce and Michael Finley in 1991 and 33-0 with Kenny Davis and Jamal Robinson in 1992. So which of coach Bill Hitt's two state champions was better? Or was Tom Millikin's 1969 team better? Or Glenn Whittenberg's 1974 state champion that featured Joe Ponsetto?

The consensus leans to 1991 with the more celebrated lineup. The Pirates dispatched a Thornwood team that featured future major league baseball star Cliff Floyd in the supersectional, ousted Carbondale in the quarterfinals and Libertyville in the semifinals, then beat highly rated Peoria Manual and Mr. Basketball Howard Nathan 68-61 in the state final.

Are any of coach Robert Smith's five state championship teams better than the late Bob Hambric's 1984 state champion that was led by Ben Wilson, Tim Bankston, Rodney Hull, Kenny Allen and Bobby Tribble, the team that defeated unbeaten and top-ranked Evanston and Everette Stephens 53-47 for the state title?

How about the 2007 team that went 33-2 with Derrick Rose and Tim Flowers and overwhelmed O'Fallon 77-54 in the state final? Or this year's 33-1 squad led by Jabari Parker, Steve Taylor and Kendrick Nunn that edged second-ranked Proviso East 50-48 for its third state title in a row.

All of the above belong in the "Who's No. 1?" conversation. Maybe a few others, including the 29-2 Hirsch team of 1973 that featured Rickey Green and John Robinson. And what about the Class A powers, including Providence-St. Mel in 1985 and the unbeaten Lawrenceville teams of 1982 and 1983 featuring Marty Simmons?

In one man's opinion, they all fall short of Thornridge 1972. If you saw them, you know why. If you didn't, you wish you had. Then you'd know why they were the best there ever was.

Ben Zobrist breaks down how Dodgers pitching has made Cubs offense disappear

10-18_yu_darvish_usat.jpg
USA TODAY

Ben Zobrist breaks down how Dodgers pitching has made Cubs offense disappear

Ben Zobrist didn’t look for any deeper meaning in Kyle Schwarber’s first-inning homer off Yu Darvish on Tuesday night at Wrigley Field, or hope that one swing could change the entire momentum of this National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Zobrist knows what it takes to win in October, the Cubs identifying him as the missing piece to their lineup after he helped transform the 2015 Kansas City Royals into a championship team, and then getting a World Series MVP return on their $56 million investment.

That “Schwarbomb” turned out to be fool’s gold, the only run the Cubs would score in front of a quiet, low-energy crowd of 41,871, the defending champs one more loss away from golfing/hunting/fishing/signing autographs at memorabilia shows.

“That was great to get a homer, but I’d rather see some hits strung together,” Zobrist said after a sloppy 6-1 loss, standing at his locker for almost 10 minutes, answering questions in the underground clubhouse. “I’d like to see a couple doubles together, a few singles, three or four hits in an inning. We just haven’t done that.

“That’s what makes rallies. They’ve stayed away from those kinds of innings. That’s why they’re ahead right now.”

Darvish – Jake Arrieta’s replacement in the 2018 rotation? – canceled out the two singles he allowed in the first inning by getting two of his seven strikeouts and answering some of the questions about how he would respond to all the pressure in October.

Darvish – a trade-deadline acquisition that had echoes of Theo Epstein’s “If not now, when?” explanation for last year’s Aroldis Chapman trade – walked one of the 25 batters he faced and pitched into the seventh inning before handing the game over to a lights-out bullpen.

“There’s nothing that we didn’t see beforehand on video,” Zobrist said. “It’s just a matter of we need him to make more mistakes, and we got to take advantage of those mistakes when he makes them.

“When he got to 3-2 counts, he wasn’t throwing a heater. He was throwing the cutter, and it’s a tough pitch to hit. You have to sit on it, and even then it’s got good movement to it. He kept us off-balance.”

Forward-thinking manager Dave Roberts is at the controls of a Los Angeles bullpen that can match up against right- and left-handed hitters, target locations, unleash upper-90s velocity, execute the elevated fastball that messes with eye levels and lean on All-Star closer Kenley Jansen for multiple innings.

The Dodger relievers essentially put together a no-hitter that lasted nine-plus innings across Games 1, 2 and 3. Together, they have pitched 10.2 scoreless innings, facing 36 batters and allowing two hits and a walk and hitting Anthony Rizzo with a pitch.

“They kept the ball on the edges and kept us off-balance,” Zobrist said. “They’re not throwing the pitch in the middle of the plate when we need them to. They’re keeping it on the edges and those are hard (to hit). When you got guys with good stuff on the mound, you need them to make some mistakes for you, or at least start walking some guys.

“When they’ve gotten in those situations with a three-ball count, they’re still making the pitch when they need to. They’re not walking many guys – and we are.

“That’s why they’re up 3-nothing.”

Zobrist (4-for-23 this postseason) is now more of a part-time player/defensive replacement, no longer the switch-hitting force who dropped the bunt at Dodger Stadium that helped end the 21-inning scoreless streak during last year’s NLCS.

Zobrist insisted the Cubs are still all there mentally, not checked out after a grueling first round against the Washington Nationals and a brutal walk-off loss in Game 2 at Dodger Stadium. He owns two World Series rings and one has the Cubs logo and this inscription: “We Never Quit.”

“We keep it loose all the time,” Zobrist said. “We know what’s at stake. And we don’t shy away from it. We look forward to the challenge ahead. It would be a great story for us to be able to come back in this series and win this series.

“We make adjustments, we take advantage of mistakes and we come out with a victory tomorrow. That’s what we have to do.”

Winter is coming for Cubs team that looks checked out of 2017

Winter is coming for Cubs team that looks checked out of 2017

Kyle Schwarber took a Babe Ruth swing on Tuesday night at Wrigley Field, posed for a moment and dropped the bat out of his follow through, watching that Yu Darvish pitch soar 408 feet out toward the left-center field bleachers.

Those carefree Cubs relievers shown on the video board – wait, was that John Lackey bouncing around? – danced in the bullpen in the first inning. This is exactly what the Cubs wanted: Grab an early lead? Check. Get one of their big boys going? Check. Energize the crowd of 41,871? Check.

That sense of momentum lasted less than the time it takes to buy a beer or go to the bathroom at Wrigley Field, because the Los Angeles Dodgers look like the unstoppable force this October.

Now Wade Davis may never pitch in this National League Championship Series and Wednesday night could be Jake Arrieta’s final start in a Cubs uniform. Winter is coming after a 6-1 loss left the defending World Series champs looking mentally checked out of 2017.

The Cubs played AC/DC and Motley Crue in their underground clubhouse and answered questions about why they believe they can match the 2004 Boston Red Sox who took down the New York Yankee Evil Empire, becoming the only team to come back from an 0-3 deficit since the LCS expanded to a seven-game format in 1985.

But Kris Bryant’s glassy look and bloodshot eyes told a different story, the reigning NL MVP admitting how “draining” those five games felt against the Washington Nationals in Round 1.

“But you kind of expect that around this time when games mean a lot,” Bryant said. “It takes a lot of energy to get ready for these games, and at the end, you feel wiped out. It’s expected.”

But no one could have predicted this lack of buzz in Wrigleyville, which felt less than a lot of midweek games during the regular season. A silence fell over the old ballpark when Andre Ethier – who has three homers across the last two seasons combined – lined a Kyle Hendricks pitch off the video board in right field to lead off the second inning.

Hendricks – who has made 10 postseason starts across the last three years and kept the Dodgers completely off-balance last October on the night the Cubs clinched their first NL pennant in 71 years – watched in the third inning as Chris Taylor crushed another home-run ball that bounced off the roof of the batter’s eye in center field.

“I wouldn’t say we’re running out of gas,” shortstop Addison Russell said. “Every time we step on the field, I feel like we have a pretty good chance of winning. We’re going to come into the clubhouse tomorrow positive and just ready to strap it on.”

The Dodgers will be out for beer and champagne on Wednesday night and the chance to kick back and watch the Yankees and Houston Astros expend all their energy in the ALCS.

Dodger manager Dave Roberts – who pushed all the right bullpen buttons in Games 1 and 2 (eight no-hit/scoreless innings combined) – toyed with the Cubs by letting Darvish hit against struggling reliever Carl Edwards Jr. with a two-run lead and two outs and the bases loaded in the sixth inning.

Darvish showed bunt on all four pitches – and drew a four-pitch walk and slammed his bat to the ground in celebration. The fans booed after Edwards struck out Taylor on three pitches to end the inning.

“We were there just as much as any other game,” said Ben Zobrist, last year’s World Series MVP. “Mentally, there was no letdown. Physically, there was no letdown. It was just a matter of them capitalizing on some mistakes that we made. That’s part of the game. And they didn’t make a lot of mistakes.

“They played better baseball than us tonight. That’s why they got the W.”

The Cubs committed two errors in Game 3 and then had a National-style meltdown in the eighth inning, from Zobrist misjudging the flyball to right field that dropped in front of him, to Mike Montgomery throwing a wild pitch, to catcher Willson Contreras getting crossed up on a swinging strike three, his glove nowhere near Montgomery’s 92.7-mph fastball, which crashed into his right arm and ricocheted into the visiting dugout.

A three-run game became 6-1 – and head for the exits and then the offseason. There was Albert Almora Jr. in the ninth inning, driving a ball into the ivy in left field and sprinting right into lead runner Alex Avila at third base, bailed out only because Kike Hernandez waved his hand to signal a ground-rule double.

At least that made All-Star closer Kenley Jansen work the last three outs, accumulated stress that might benefit the Yankees or Astros more than the Cubs.

“They are done,” an NL scout wrote in a text message. “You can see it in their faces.”