Preps Talk

After loss to Revolution, Fire head into two week break

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After loss to Revolution, Fire head into two week break

This will be a long two weeks off for the Fire.

Granted, the Fire is much better than it was a year ago, when it was stumbling badly under coach Carlos de los Cobos, who was replaced early last seasons after winning just 10 of 44 games.

Frank Klopas, the technical director, replaced de los Cobos on an interim basis and owner Andrew Hauptman elevated Klopas to head coach in the last offseason after the Fire finished 2011 strong. Klopas is 11-10-13 as the Fires head coach and 5-5-3 this season, but that record could be much better and theres no momentum working now.

The Fire has yet to win two in a row and lost its last three games going into the break, during which Major League Soccer stops its games so that its players can compete for national teams in World Cup, qualifying and other international matches. The Fire has only one such player in that boat. Midfielder Marco Pappa missed the three losses to be with Guatemalas national team. He helped Guatemala to a 1-0 win over Costa Rica on Friday night in his countrys last tuneup match for the next stage of World Cup qualifying.

Pappa would have helped, but its doubtful he alone could have stemmed the recent slump. The Fire lost 2-1 at Columbus in MLS play on May 26, then took a loss in second-half stoppage time to the Michigan Bucks of the Premier Development League three nights later in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and concluded the dismal stretch with a 2-0 road loss to the New England Revolution on Saturday night.

The next match isnt until June 17, a battle with the New York Red Bulls at Toyota Park, and the Fire has plenty to think about before then. Some soul-searching is definitely in order.

Klopas, his team enduring a busy May, tried to look at the big picture at the end of the month. Acknowledging the fact that lots of a long season is still ahead, Klopas gave veteran mainstays Logan Pause, Sebastian Grazzini and Pavel Pardo significant time off during the busy stretch. That didnt help in the Fire getting results because the reserves didnt do their part.

The loss at New England (5-7-1) was a real downer, as Klopas sent Grazzini, Pause and Pardo back into the first 11 and also had Chris Rolfe available for the first time since he rejoined the Fire after a three-year stint in Denmark. Re-signed on April 16, Rolfe --the second-best goal-scorer in Fire history -- replaced Dominic Oduro in the 69th minute. Sidelined by a sprained ankle he suffered in his second day of training with the Fire keeping him out for six weeks, Rolfe did little in his return to the lineup.

Neither did Orr Barouch, a spark off the bench last season. He got a rare start, but didnt take advantage of it. Klopas pulled him for Frederico Puppo in the 75th minute. Rafael Robayo replaced Pause after the Fire surrendered the games first goal for the 10th time in MLS games this season. Lack of focus at the start of games is increasingly becoming a serious concern for the Fire.

Oduro, possibly bothered by a nagging hamstring injury, couldnt get his team going this time. The break will do him some good. It should also enable Arne Friedrich, the veteran German defender, to shake off a right hamstring strain that kept him out during the three-game slump. The Fire badly needs him, with second-year man Jalil Anibaba and rookie Austin Berry showing signs of their relative inexperience.

The Fire hit the post twice (Gonzalo Segares in the first half and Oduro early in the second) before New England got the first goal, from rookie Kelyn Rowe, in the 70th minute just seconds after Rolfe came on for Oduro. Benny Feilhaber, who assisted on Rowes goal, added an insurance goal for the Revs in the 73rd minute. Rowe, a second half sub, also assisted on Feilhabers goal.

Saturdays match was the 60th between the Fire and Revs across all competitions and the Fire had dominated in recent MLS meetings, going 7-0-3 since the last previous loss on May 6, 2007. The Fire still owns a 28-22-10 edge against its most frequent league rival, but Saturdays loss was a painful one. The clubs meet two more times this regular season.

New England is one of the few MLS teams still playing in a non-soccer specific stadium. Gillette Stadium, home of footballs New England Patriots, is too big for the Revs and that fact was accentuated on a rainy night against the Fire. The crowd of just 12,523 looked especially sparse and the atmosphere was lacking.

Thats no excuse for the Fire, which is still in a fight for playoff position with two-thirds of the MLS regular season still ahead. The Fire will have to play much better than it did in the last week before the break if its to qualify for postseason play for the first time since 2009 when Denis Hamlett was the head coach.

Boys Basketball Playoffs begin on busy week of High School Lites

Boys Basketball Playoffs begin on busy week of High School Lites

High School Lites is down to the final week of the regular season in local high school hoops as the Class 3A and 4A schools finish up conference play. The boys basketball playoffs have also started as the Class 1A and Class 2A regional championships will be played on Friday night.

The girls basketball Class 1A and 2A state semifinals will also be featured. You can catch all of those games on NBC Sports Chicago on Friday beginning at 11 a.m. with the 1A semifinals. High School Lites will air Friday night at 11 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago

East Aurora at No. 11 West Aurora, 7:00 p.m. -- These two rivals meet for the 225th time. The Blackhawks (20-4, 9-0) won the first matchup by 22 points as they try to finish the season on a 12-game winning streak. 

Jacobs at Dundee-Crown, 7:00 p.m. -- Fox Valley rivals match up as Jacobs tries to go unbeaten in the conference. The Eagles (23-3, 15-0) has been playing very well as they've won 20 of 21 games heading into this one -- including an earlier win against Dundee-Crown. The Chargers (14-11, 10-4) has won seven consecutive games since dropping to the Golden Eagles as they're second in the Fox Valley heading into this one. 

Yorkville at DeKalb, 7:00 p.m. -- The top two teams in the Northern Illinois Big 12 East play in this one. DeKalb (16-11, 11-1) has already clinched a share of the conference title as the team's only league loss has come against Yorkville. The Foxes (17-8, 10-2) knocked off DeKalb at their place on Feb. 3 as they try to win again to get a piece of the division title. 

T.F. North at Lemont, 7:00 p.m. -- Two of the better teams in the South Suburban Blue battle on the eve of the playoffs. Lemont (17-8, 9-3) has picked up three straight wins entering this one. T.F. North (11-9, 9-3) is trying to build some momentum after recent close losses to Hillcrest and T.F. South.

Carmel at No. 10 Benet, 7:30 p.m. -- The ESCC closes out its season with this one. Benet (22-4, 7-1) is coming off a nice road win at Marian Catholic earlier this week. Carmel (17-10, 4-4) knocked off Joliet Catholic during the week as they've been a dangerous team in the ESCC. 

Class 2A Boys Basketball Regional Championships

Leo vs. Marshall, 6 p.m. -- The Lions are the favorites but the Commandos are the host of this regional title game. Leo (20-5, 8-0) has a 13-game winning streak as they won the Catholic League White. Marshall (8-17, 4-5) struggled in the win column but they were a competitive 4-5 in a very deep Public League Red-South. 

Uplift vs. Northridge, 7 p.m. -- This should be an interesting battle as Uplift is playing on the road at Northridge. Uplift (17-9, 6-3) has played an extremely competitive schedule that includes a recent close loss to No. 1 Simeon as Kansas commit Markese Jacobs and senior forward Toraze Dobbs are one of the best combinations in the Class 2A field. Northridge (22-5, 12-0) went unbeaten in the Independent School League this season as they're riding a 13-game winning streak.

Class 1A Boys Basketball Regional Championships 

Aurora Christian vs. Harvest Christian, 7 p.m. -- These two teams play for the third time this season in what should be an interesting regional title game. Aurora Christian (23-1, 10-0) is the host as they only lost to Winnebago this season. The Eagles beat Harvest Christian twice in a six-day span in December. Harvest Christian (18-8, 8-2) finished third in the Northeastern Athletic as they played the second game within two points. 

Class 1A Girls Basketball State Semifinals

Okaw Valley vs. Stockton, 11 a.m., NBC Sports Chicago -- Okaw Valley (29-5) is making its first state appearance after winning its first regional title in school history. Stockton (31-2) finished under .500 last season (13-15) and had an amazing turnaround that includes a current 15-game winning streak. 

Lebanon vs. Schlarman, 12:45 p.m., NBC Sports Chicago -- These two teams have combined for two losses this season as this should be a good one. Lebanon (31-1) just won its first sectional title in school history as they've now moved on to state. Schlarman (31-1) is led by junior Anaya Peoples, a Notre Dame commit and five-star prospect in the Class of 2019. 

Class 2A Girls Basketball State Semifinals

Harlan vs. Eureka, 5:30 p.m., NBC Sports Chicago -- Two red-hot teams play in the first semifinal in Class 2A. Harlan (25-6) is riding a 12-game winning streak as this is its first appearance at state for girls basketball. Eureka (28-3) has a 19-game winning streak as they make their first state appearance since 1988.

Marshall vs. Teutopolis, 7:15 p.m., NBC Sports Chicago -- Two storied programs in the state match up in this one. Marshall (20-7) will be making its 21st state appearance as head coach Dorothy Gaters is one of the most storied coaches in Illinois. Teutopolis is making its 17th appearance at state as the Lady Shoes (28-6) seek their first title since 1995. 

MLB.com's Cubs' 2018 Top Prospects list full of potential impact pitchers

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USA TODAY

MLB.com's Cubs' 2018 Top Prospects list full of potential impact pitchers

Could 2018 be the year that the Cubs finally see a top pitching prospect debut with the team? 

Thursday, MLB.com released its list of the Cubs' 2018 Top 30 Prospects, a group that includes six pitchers in the Top 10. The list ranks right-hander Adbert Alzolay as the Cubs' No 1. prospect, projecting him to debut with the team this season. 

Alzolay, 22, went 7-4 with a 2.99 ERA in 22 starts between Single-A Myrtle Beach and Double-A Tennessee last season. He also struck out 108 batters in 114 1/3 innings, using a repertoire that includes a fastball that tops out around 98 MPH (according to MLB.com).

Following Alzolay as the Cubs' No. 2 overall prospect is 19-year-old shortstop Aramis Ademan. Ademan hit .267 in just 68 games between Single-A Eugene and Single-A South Bend, though it should be noted that he has soared from No. 11 in MLB.com's 2017 ranks to his current No. 2 ranking. He is not projected to make his MLB debut until 2020, however.

Following Alzolay and Ademan on the list are five consecutive pitchers ranked 3-7, respectively. Oscar De La Cruz, No. 3 on the list, slides down from his 2017 ranking in which MLB.com listed him as the Cubs' top overall prospect. De La Cruz, 22, finished 2017 with a 3.34 ERA in 13 games (12 starts) between the Arizona League and Single-A Myrtle Beach.

De La Cruz is projected to make his MLB debut in 2019, while Jose Albertos (No. 4), Alex Lange (No. 5), Brendon Little (No. 6) and Thomas Hatch (No. 7) are projected to make their big league debuts in 2019 or 2020. All are right-handed (with the exception of Little) and starting pitchers.

Hatch (third round, 2016) and Lange (30th overall, 2017) and Little (27th overall, 2017) were all top draft picks by the Cubs in recent seasons.

Having numerous starting pitchers on the cusp of the big leagues represents a significant change of pace for the Cubs. 

Since Theo Epstein took over as team president in Oct. 2011, a plethora of top prospects have debuted and enjoyed success with the Cubs. Majority have been position players, though.

The likes of Albert Almora, Javier Báez, Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell all contributed to the Cubs winning the World Series in 2016. Similarly, Ian Happ enjoyed a fair amount of success after making his MLB debut last season, hitting 24 home runs in just 115 games.

Ultimately, Alzolay would be the Cubs' first true top pitching prospect to make it to the big leagues in the Theo Epstein era. While him making it to the big leagues in 2018 is no guarantee, one would think a need for pitching will arise for the Cubs at some point, whether it be due to injury or simply for September roster expansion.

The Cubs have enjoyed tremendous success in recent years in terms of their top prospects succeeding in the MLB. If the trend continues, Alzolay should be a force to reckon with on the North Side for years to come.