Bulls

Bowling Green gets a steal in McAuliffe

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Bowling Green gets a steal in McAuliffe

Lemont's Ethan Pocic and Tim McAuliffe are, in the evaluation of recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network, "the two best linemen on any one team in Illinois this year."

Pocic is committed to LSU, McAuliffe to Bowling Green. In football terms, that's like comparing Waikiki to Oak Street beach.

It doesn't bother McAuliffe at all. The 6-foot-2, 275-pound guard chose Bowling Green over Toledo, Western Michigan, Western Kentucky and Ball State and didn't blink.

"Bowling Green got a steal," Lemming said. "He can play center or guard. He is very athletic, strong, active and technically sound."

McAuliffe looks forward to showing a lot of major Division I recruiters that they made a mistake when evaluating him. "You get skipped over in life and you have to make the best with the hand you are dealt," he said philosophically.

"I talked to a couple of Big Ten coaches but they didn't show too much interest. They didn't like my size. It's no big deal. I wish I had a few inches more but I'm fine with what I've got."

According to Lemont coach Eric Michaelsen, that's plenty. "He is one of the toughest kids we have ever had. Division I coaches look at people's size and make projections. In my opinion, they made a mistake. He will have a great career at Bowling Green," he said.

Michaelsen said McAuliffe reminds him of former Lemont star David Molk, who was a Remington Award winner as an All-America center at Michigan. "He plays to the whistle. He is physical. He doesn't back down from any challenge," the coach said.

"I tried to sell the big schools that he is no smaller than Molk was. He could play at a higher level. He has the edge that Molk had, a mean streak."

McAuliffe and his once-beaten teammates will face their biggest challenge of the season when they host unbeaten and offense-minded Crete-Monee (12-0) at 6 p.m. Saturday in a Class 6A semifinal in Lemont.

"We're happy to be here," Michaelsen said. "I still think we can play better. We have played some good games but we haven't played our best game yet. There still are times where we bog down offensively and times where we make mistakes on defense and special teams."

Michaelsen said his senior laden team has bounced back from its lone setback, a 21-20 overtime decision to Thornton Fractional South in Week 6.

In their last six games, the Indians have outscored their opponents by a margin of 220-40. The offense is averaging 35 points per game while the defense has allowed only 99 points.

"The kids have come together as a team," Michaelsen said. "There is more closeness, more working together, more improving. We have good senior leaders and football is real important to them. They are willing to put in the work. They want to win a state title."

The senior leaders are Pocic, McAuliffe, linebacker Connor O'Brien, defensive back Jake Lemming, running back Chris Giatras and quarterback Zack Brosseau.

They remember how it felt to lose to Peoria Richwoods in double overtime in the state semifinals last year, to see their 12-game winning streak snapped. "It was devastating. We should have won. We let them off the hook.
We had many chances to win but we didn't capitalize on them," McAuliffe said.

Losing isn't something that McAuliffe and his teammates are familiar with. Lemont has lost only one game in each of the last three years while winning 34. In the last six years, the Indians are 68-9 with second-place finishes in the state playoff in 2007 and 2008.

"We definitely can win the state title this year. We have come a long way since the season began, since we began lifting weights. We had to work hard and get faster and refuse to lose. We dont want to fall short again."

McAuliffe said the loss to T.F. South was a reality check, the first regular-season loss the seniors had experienced in their varsity careers.

"It hit me hard," McAuliffe said. "So the coaches made some changes. We went to a hurry-up offense that gave us a new pace to the game. And the defense matured a lot after the loss. Our mentality now is that we are more ready to play.

"A big part of our success over the years has been to score on the first drive. We haven't done it much this year. Now we are clicking because we are ready to play. We're playing with a chip on our shoulder. We're taking practice more seriously. We want a state title more than anything. We fell short last year. We are determined not to let it happen again."

Unlike many offensive linemen, McAuliffe doesn't count pancake blocks. To him, that isn't a true measure of his skill level.

"Our goal is to keep our offense on the field and keep the opponent's offense off the field, to run the clock down, to put long drives together," he said. "The most fun I have is to pull around and block and put someone down and have the running back run behind me. I enjoy blocking, putting people on the ground and punishing them."

That is all part of his mean streak. "Mean streak means playing to the whistle, never giving up on a play, hitting people hard on every play, not backing down from anyone, taking on any challenge and not taking any crap from anyone," he said.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Do Bulls or Blackhawks have a better chance at making playoffs?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Do Bulls or Blackhawks have a better chance at making playoffs?

On the latest SportsTalk Live Podcast, David Kaplan was joined by Ben Finfer, David Haugh and Mark Lazerus to discuss the Bulls not tanking well and the Blackhawks tanking too well.

Plus, Alshon Jeffery is heading to the Super Bowl while the Bears stay home. And is the hot stove league about to heat up with Yu Darvish?

Listen to the full SportsTalk Live Podcast right here

Cubs adding catching depth that may help them out in the Yu Darvish sweepstakes

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AP

Cubs adding catching depth that may help them out in the Yu Darvish sweepstakes

Chris Gimenez, come on down.

The 35-year-old catcher isn't exactly a household name, but he's been signed by the Cubs to add backstop depth, according to Chris Cotillo and Ken Rosenthal:

The Cubs didn't have much depth in the catching department beyond Willson Contreras and inexperienced rookie Victor Caratini and while Gimenez doesn't light up the stat column, he's a link to Yu Darvish that could give the Cubs a unique advantage in that domain:

Darvish and Gimenez played together with the Texas Rangers in 2014-15 (though Darvish was hurt in 2015) and Gimenez has been shedding some light on what the free-agent pitcher may be thinking this winter. Is this Part II of a David Ross-Jon Lester personal catcher situation?

That may be reading a bit too much into things, as the Cubs were always going to sign a veteran catcher to provide depth beyond the unproven Caratini. They saw how important that was in 2017 when Alex Avila spent roughly a month as the starter when Contreras was hurt.

The link between Gimenez and Darvish is real, but the frontline starter has also made 48 starts over the last two seasons while throwing to a catcher not named Gimenez. And the free agent catching market is pretty thin beyond Avila and Jonathan Lucroy, both of whom should earn starter's money or close to it.

Gimenez has played 361 games in the big leagues over the last nine seasons as a journeyman, with stops in Cleveland, Seattle, Tampa Bay, Oakland, Texas, Cleveland (again), Texas (again), Cleveland (again) and then Minnesota last year. He played for Cubs manager Joe Maddon and new pitching coach Jim Hickey while in Tampa Bay.

Gimenez turned in a career season in 2017 with the Twins, notching new highs in games played (74), at-bats (186), runs (28), hits (41), homers (7), RBI (16) and walks (33).

He has a career .218 batting average with a .309 on-base percentage, .345 slugging and .654 OPS. 

But Gimenez isn't just a catcher. He's made nine appearances as a pitcher over the last few years, including six in 2017, where he allowed four runs on seven hits in five innings.

Gimenez will probably compete with Caratini for the backup catcher role in Chicago and can lend a veteran presence. He's also the best bet to take for first position player to pitch in a game in 2018.