Cubs

Can Montini win four state titles in a row?

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Can Montini win four state titles in a row?

Montini coach Chris Andriano has made a deal with the Lombard school's administration. At 60, he is completing his 33rd season. Two more years and he will call it a career. But he wants to go out with a flourish. How about four state championships in a row? Maybe more?

"I felt we could win again this year," Andriano said as he put the finishing touches on his game plan for Saturday's Class 5A quarterfinal game against unbeaten Marian Central in Woodstock.

"I felt we had the talent and leadership and returning players to make a deep run in the playoff. We have a great rivalry with Marian Central. It is for the prize. To get to the top, you have to beat them.

"We play each other so often. We know we have to go through each other at some point if we want to be state champion. When you play each other twice a year, it is a respectful rivalry but it develops into a mentality that you know they are waiting for you."

In each of its four state championship seasons, Montini had to defeat Marian Central en route to the title. Marian Central ousted Montini in 2006 and 2007 but Montini prevailed in 2004, 2009, 2010 and 2011.

Saturday's game could be Montini's toughest test yet. Marian Central won their conference match-up 49-24 in Week 7, overcoming a 24-7 deficit behind a sensational performance by Minnesota-bound quarterback Chris Streveler. He completed 17 of 19 passes, ran for four touchdowns and passed for two more as Marian Central rallied to win.

"Streveler is the best quarterback we have ever played against, better than Tom Fuessel of Lincoln-Way East," said Andriano, referring to the Northern Illinois-bound quarterback who beat Montini 20-14 in Week 2.

"He is smart, accurate and can really throw. We couldn't contain him. He is as complete a player at quarterback as you will find. You have to limit him in his ability to run. You have to make him throw. If he scrambles and takes off, he is devastating."

Andriano compares his 2012 squad favorably to his last three state championship teams. "We have the same mentality, the same drive and motivation. The difference is this year's team isn't as explosive on offense. We don't score as quickly or in bunches as in the past. We have to be smarter--and this is a smart team," he said.

For example, Montini was trailing Aurora Christian by four points with two minutes to play and Aurora Christian had the ball. But Montini's defense stripped the ball at the 50 and the Broncos scored with a minute remaining.

"Those are the kinds of things our kids do," Andriano said. "They are prepared to play 48 minutes."

Montini survived another heart-stopping experience last Saturday, beating Sycamore 24-22 on Andrew Harte's 34-yard field goal as time expired.

"It was a real test of our preparation and perseverance," Andriano said. "We gave up the lead with 30 seconds left on a two-point conversion. But our kids have that mentality. We had a great 35-yard kick return to the 50 that gave us life. It gave us an opportunity to believe we can get this thing done. We executed three plays in a row to get into position to win the game. I thought it was over. But our kids just believe."

Andriano rates Harte as the best kicker he has had. He has set a state record with 102 extra points in a row. Eighty percent of his kickoffs land in the end zone. He converted a 54-yard field goal against Aurora Central Catholic. An outstanding student, he hopes to attend Yale.

Andriano concedes he doesn't have any five-star players in a class with last year's star, Jordan Westkerkamp, now a freshman at Nebraska. But he describes Joey Borsellino as "this year's Westerkamp." He is a 5-foot-11, 185-pound senior who plays several positions and is a leader and playmaker.

"He is Montini," the coach said. "He loves and eats and breathes Montini, like Westerkamp did. He is demanding. He understands what it takes to win. He has the history of Montini in his memory. He brings an intensity and flavor for football. He loves the game. He makes a lot of plays for us."

One he won't forget happened against Aurora Christian. He stripped the ball, recovered the fumble and caught the game-winning touchdown on a 20-yard pass with a minute to play. After missing two games with an injury, he has emerged as a difference-maker as a wide receiver, defensive back and quarterback in the Joe-Cat formation, Montini's version of the wildcat.

"What impresses me about our team is we are very versatile. We have a lot of guys who can move around and make plays," said Andriano, referring to Borsellino, Mark Gorogianis, Alex Wills and Dimitri Taylor. "And we have been making a lot of big plays lately."

At Montini, the Borsellinos are a family tradition. Joey's father and uncle played at Montini in the 1970s. His father is the offensive coordinator. His half-brothers played at Maine South. His cousins played at Montini. In fact, Joey is the eighth Borsellino to play at Montini.

Joey has been playing football since he was 4 years old. He started in flag football but in his first game he tackled an opponent. "I didn't know about the flag," he said after being penalized. His father immediately put him on a tackle team, the Lombard Falcons.

Joey, who is being recruited by Eastern Illinois, Illinois State and Western Illinois, believes the 2012 squad is as good as the recent state championship teams, even without Westerkamp.

"Sure, there are a lot of big differences. But we are as good as we have ever been," he said. "We have it. We always love each other. We do anything to win the game. No matter what is happening, we can win the game. We have that this year, too, what all of our teams have had."

He said the Aurora Christian and Sycamore games are good examples.

"Against Aurora Christian, we were down by one point with 24.9 seconds left when we took the ball. It was a perfect example of how tough we are. We play as one. It showed how we truly believe we aren't out of a game no matter what the situation is," he said.

But Joey is the last of the Borsellinos--and he wants to be sure that he leaves a legacy. "It is my senior year and any senior would say it is different from other years. I was used to Westerkamp being the main guy and me being the complement. Now I am the main guy on the offensive side of the ball," he said.

"Sure, there is pressure. But I like it. It's good pressure, pressure on me to perform, to see if we can win four state titles in a row. We are expected to get back there again. But the Marian Central rivalry has been building up over the years. They beat us in the regular season and we beat them in the playoff or vice-versa. We play for the conference title, then play to get to the state final. So it's a big game both times."

The low-key move that may pay dividends for Cubs in 2018 and beyond

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USA TODAY

The low-key move that may pay dividends for Cubs in 2018 and beyond

The Cubs-Cardinals rivalry is alive and well and this offseason has been further proof of that.

The St. Louis Cardinals haven't made a rivalry-altering move like inking Jake Arrieta to a megadeal, but they have proven that they are absolutely coming after the Cubs and the top of the division.

However, a move the St. Louis brass made Friday afternoon may actually be one that makes Cubs fans cheer.

The Cardinals traded outfielder Randal Grichuk to the Toronto Blue Jays Friday in exhange for a pair of right-handed pitchers: Dominic Leone and Conner Greene. Leone is the main draw here as a 26-year-old reliever who posted a 2.56 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 10.4 K/9 in 70.1 innings last year in Toronto.

But this is the second young position player the Cardinals have traded to Toronto this offseason and Grichuk is a notorious Cub Killer.

Grichuk struggled overall in 2017, posting a second straight year of empty power and not much else. But he once again hammered the Cubs to the tune of a .356 batting average and 1.240 OPS. 

He hit six homers and drove in 12 runs in just 14 games (11 starts) against Joe Maddon's squad. That's 27 percent of his 2017 homers and 20 percent of his season RBI numbers coming against just one team.

And it wasn't just one year that was an aberration. In his career, Grichuk has a .296/.335/.638 slash line against the Cubs, good for a .974 OPS. He's hit 11 homers and driven in 33 runs in 37 games, the highest ouput in either category against any opponent.

Even if Leone builds off his solid 2017 and pitches some big innings against the Cubs over the next couple seasons, it will be a sigh of relief for the Chicago pitching staff knowing they won't have to face the threat of Grichuk 18+ times a year.

Plus, getting a reliever and a low-level starting pitching prospect back for a guy (Grichuk) who was borderline untouchable a couple winters ago isn't exactly great value. The same can be said for the Cardinals' trade of Aledmys Diaz to Toronto on Dec. 1 for essentially nothing.

A year ago, St. Louis was heading into the season feeling confident about Diaz, who finished fifth in the NL Rookie of the Year race in 2016 after hitting .300 with an .879 OPS as a 25-year-old rookie. He wound up finishing 2017 in the minors after struggling badly to start the season and the Cardinals clearly didn't want to wait out his growing pains.

The two trades with Toronto limits the Cardinals' depth (as of right now) and leaves very few proven options behind shortstop Paul DeJong and outfielder Tommy Pham, who both enjoyed breakout seasons in 2017.

Meet the Prospects: Blake Rutherford

Meet the Prospects: Blake Rutherford

The White Sox rebuild is in full swing. While it might still be a year or two before the big league team is expected to start competing for championships, the minor leagues are stocked with highly touted talent fans will be eagerly following in 2018. With that in mind, it's time to Meet the Prospects and get to know the future of the South Side.

Blake Rutherford

Rutherford, the 20-year-old outfielder, was the highest-rated piece of the return package that came back to the White Sox in the seven-player deal that sent Todd Frazier, David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle to the New York Yankees last summer.

A California native, Rutherford was the 18th overall pick in the 2016 draft. After only playing rookie ball post-draft in 2016, he played 71 games with Class A Charleston last year before the trade, slashing .281/.342/.391 with 20 doubles and 30 RBIs to go along with a pair of home runs. After the trade, Rutherford played in 30 games with Class A Kannapolis, slashing .213/.289/.254 with 26 hits and 13 walks.

As of their most recent rankings, MLB Pipeline had Rutherford rated as the No. 4 prospect in the White Sox organization.

Get to know Rutherford in the video above.