Bears

Can Grayslake Central beat North Chicago jinx?

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Can Grayslake Central beat North Chicago jinx?

Can "Casey and the Midgets" snap the North Chicago jinx and win a sectional championship for the first time in school history?

That's the question that Grayslake Central coach Brian Moe is asking as he prepares his 20-8 team for Friday night's Class 3A regional championship game against Grayslake North. If the Rams win, they'll likely meet old nemesis North Chicago in a sectional semifinal next Tuesday.

"How do we get by North Chicago? Can we ever beat them?" Moe said. "That's been our trend--to lose to North Chicago in the sectional. They are a big challenge for us. They've been there. They've won a sectional. They have a great coach in Gerald Coleman and a great player in Aaron Simpson. They put up a lot of points. We have to try to figure out a way to slow them down."

Grayslake Central's history against North Chicago is full of woulda, shoulda, coulda, close but no cigar. Last year, the Rams lost to North Chicago by four. Three years ago, they were tied with three minutes to play. In the State Farm Classic in Bloomington last December, they led by five at halftime. It all adds up to a lot of frustration.

"We have to make them work for baskets and be patient on offense," Moe said. "They do a great job of making you take shots that you aren't used to taking."

Moe, a 1989 graduate of Glenbrook South, is in his fourth year at Grayslake Central. He played basketball at Augustana on a team that reached the Final Four in Division III. After teaching and coaching at Glenbrook North, Mundelein and Wauconda, he was hired at Grayslake Central.

He has won 20 or more games in three of his four years. He lost to North Chicago in the sectional final in 2008. His 21-10 team lost to Vernon Hills at the buzzer in the sectional. He was 21-7 in 2010. Last year's 17-13 squad lost to North Chicago in the sectional semifinal.

But this year's 20-8 squad might be different. The Rams beat highly rated Huntley in the Fox Valley Conference cross-over game last Friday, sending a message to future opponents--and maybe North Chicago--that they have to be taken for real.

"Potentially, this is the best team I have had," Moe said. "We have a 6-foot-9 center, a shooter, a scorer and we play good team defense. We play man-to-man full-court and pressure the ball. We share the ball and play together. We play six seniors and a junior. We have a lot of experience."

Grayslake Central is led by 5-foot-7 senior guard Jordan Taylor (19 ppg), a three-year starter who is the team leader and has scored more than 1,000 points in his career. But Taylor is closer to 5-foot-5 than 5-foot-7.

Other starters are 6-foot-9 senior Casey Boyle (13.7 ppg, 10.3 rpg), who has some Division II offers, 6-foot senior point guard Sayvonte McWilliams (7.6 ppg, 3 assists, 4 rpg), 5-foot-10 junior Danny Reed (7.5 ppg, 3 rpg), and 6-foot-2 senior Tyler Smith (6.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg).

"Smith is our wild card," Moe said. "When he plays well, we look good. He is athletic and long and attacks the basket. But when he struggles, we struggle, too.

"The big thing we have to do is rebound. We are 'Casey and the Midgets.'Rebounding has been an issue for us. When Casey was out for four games with an ankle sprain in the last few weeks, we went 1-3. Now he's back and we hope he gives us an edge."

The four-class system may have a lot of critics but Moe isn't one of them. He has won the conference or regional in each of his four years and hopes to sweep both of them--and the sectional--for the first time this season.

"We have benefited from the four-class system," he said. "We are able to dodge Warren, Mundelein, Libertyville and Zion-Benton in the regional, the big Class 4A schools. Playing in Class 3A has been helpful to us. That's where we belong, With an enrollment of 1,300, it is perfect for us. We can't compete against schools with enrollments of 4,000 on a consistent basis."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should the Bears let Mitch Trubisky throw more?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should the Bears let Mitch Trubisky throw more?

Adam Jahns (Chicago Sun-Times), Ben Finfer (ESPN 1000) and Jordan Cornette (The U/ESPN 1000) join Kap on the panel. Justin Turner hits a walk-off 3-run HR off of John Lackey to give the Dodgers a 2-0 lead in the NLCS. So why was Lackey even in the game? How much blame should Joe Maddon get for the loss?

The Bears run the ball over and over and over again to beat the Ravens in overtime, but should they have let Mitch Trubisky throw the ball more?

Dry humping and second-guessing: Joe Maddon defends his Game 2 bullpen decisions

Dry humping and second-guessing: Joe Maddon defends his Game 2 bullpen decisions

Joe Maddon has no easy decisions.

With the way his tattered bullpen has pitched this postseason, there's a very real possibility that any guy he calls on to pitch is the "wrong" guy or the right guy in the "wrong" spot.

For everybody wanting Maddon to ride Wade Davis as a workhorse this fall — something the Cubs skipper has already done just to get to this NLCS — remember how much flak he took for overusing Aroldis Chapman a year ago at this time.

Davis also hasn't been superhuman this postseason, allowing a pair of runs (including a homer) and seven baserunners in 4.1 playoff innings, good for a 4.15 ERA and 1.62 WHIP.

So when Maddon sat in the dugout late Sunday evening watching helplessly as John Lackey served up a walk-off homer to Tormund Giantsbane Justin Turner, the "Madd Scientist" immediately found himself in the crosshairs of Cubs fans and the media.

The first question he fielded in his postgame press conference was about not using Davis and there were several follow-ups. That and the offensive futility is about all anybody wanted to talk about after the Cubs fell down 0-2 in the NLCS.

Maddon explained Davis was available only in a save situation due to workload issues — the Cubs closer was in uncharted territory Thursday night/Friday morning, throwing the most pitches (44) and innings (2.1) he's thrown since Aug. 24, 2013 when he was still working as a starter. That's a span of 1,511 days.

"Wade knew that going into the game, it was going to be with the say," Maddon said. "We caught the lead, he's in the game. So whatever the narrative was, it's really a false narrative. He was not coming into that game until we grabbed the lead. He was not going to pitch more than three outs. That's it."

How does Maddon respond to his second-guessers?

"Doesn't matter," Maddon said. "First of all, social media, the moment I start worrying about that, I really need to retire. Second of all, that was all predetermined [Sunday] night again."

Davis also has a recent history of arm troubles (he was on the disabled list twice in 2016 for a forearm issue) and also saw his workload jump in September just to help the Cubs get to the postseason. In the final month of the regular season, Davis threw 237 pitches, 42 more than he threw in any other month of 2017. The last time he topped 200 pitches in any month was May 2015.

TV cameras showed Davis throwing in the Cubs bullpen alongside Lackey at one point in the ninth inning, leading to surprise by a huge faction of the (*looks around and whispers*) social media fanbase when the game broadcast resumed after commercials and the pitching change was to bring Lackey — not Davis — into the game.

"Wade was not warming up to come in that game," Maddon said. "Wade was probably just testing his arm at that point. We had talked about it before the game — up and in. 

"For those that aren't involved in Major League Baseball and professional baseball in general, when a guy's throwing too much, it's very important to not dry hump him, as the saying goes. Get him up and put him back down and bring him back in later. So I wasn't going to do that."

(Wow, really was not expecting to hear or write the phrase "dry hump" regarding this story.)

Maddon insists health is not the problem with Davis.

"Yes [he's healthy]. Oh yeah," Maddon said. "Listen, this guy just did yeoman kind of work — I love that word — in Washington and was not prepared to go more than three outs. I don't understand why that's difficult to understand.

"And furthermore, you have to also understand it wasn't the last game of the year or the second to last game. It was about winning eight more games. All these things are factors."

Maddon has a point. This isn't a Buck Showalter case where the Baltimore Orioles manager failed to use his best reliever — Zach Britton — in a non-save situation in a winner-take-all American League wild card game because he wanted the closer to be ready for a save.

The Cubs went down in a game that was tied 1-1 with their best reliever failing to get in the game even though he hadn't pitched in the last two days. 

But Davis can't cover every inning in relief, especially when the Cubs' two starters (Jose Quintana and Jon Lester) lasted just 9.2 innings against the Dodgers, leaving the Cubs bullpen to account for the other 8+ innings somehow.

The rest of the Cubs bullpen has to step up, too, which they did before the ninth inning of Game 2.

Still, Maddon couldn't resist getting one more defensive shot in before putting the matter to bed:

"I really hope you all understand that social media doesn't count at all," he said. "Twitter doesn't count at all. And really, as sportswriters, you should do a better job than relying on Twitter to write a story, quite frankly."

Well then.