White Sox

The College World Series was won by...

802138.jpg

The College World Series was won by...

From Comcast SportsNet
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) -- Arizona coach Andy Lopez celebrated the 20th anniversary of his first national championship by winning his second. It was 1992 when Lopez brought unheralded Pepperdine to the College World Series and beat Cal State Fullerton in the championship game. Arizona's sweep of South Carolina in the CWS finals -- completed with Monday night's 4-1 victory -- was not nearly as stunning as what Pepperdine accomplished two decades ago. The Wildcats (48-17) were the hottest thing going in college baseball the last six weeks. But believe Lopez when he says he's soaked up the journey to this title more than he did in winning the first one. The two decades between titles showed him how elusive championships can be. "When I was 38 years old and I showed up in Omaha and we won the national championship, I had no clue," he said. "I was a young guy, my kids were all little guys and I was trying to see if I could figure out if I could survive in this profession. More than ever I do have an appreciation." The Wildcats ended South Carolina's two-year run of dominance at the College World Series and rewarded Lopez for persevering through the hard times that came with rebuilding the downtrodden program he took over 11 years ago. Lopez thought he had a title-caliber team in 2008, but the Wildcats lost a crushing three-game super regional at Miami that he laments to this day. He was devastated again in 2009 when his team failed to make the national tournament. A strong recruiting class two years ago formed the core of the team that won Arizona's first national championship since 1986, and fourth overall. "They've just been a joy," said Lopez, flanked by his key players. "I mean, how many times have I told you I love suiting up with you guys? Said it today before the game. And I really do, I like suiting up with young guys that go to class, go to study hall, hustle on the field, clean up the clubhouse on their own. "I'm extremely, extremely fortunate to be in this profession and work with young people like this." Arizona used strong pitching on consecutive nights to sweep the Gamecocks. James Farris, who hadn't pitched since June 3, and Mathew Troupe combined to limit the Gamecocks to three hits a night after Konner Wade threw his third straight complete game in a 5-1 win. Brandon Dixon's tie-breaking double started a three-run ninth inning for Arizona on Monday. Dixon, who entered the game as a defensive replacement in the sixth inning, sent a grounder down the third-base line past LB Dantzler's outstretched glove for his first hit of the CWS. Tyler Webb relieved Matt Price (5-5), and Trent Gilbert drove in his second and third runs of the game with a two-out single that broke open the game. "Coach Lopez means the world to us, and we're so happy we brought joy back to his life in coaching," CWS Most Outstanding Player Robert Refsnyder said. Refsnyder, one of four juniors who earned All-Pac 12 honors this season, said he knew the disappointment in 2008 and 2009 took a toll on Lopez. "You could tell that he was fed up with baseball and trying to teach young people to go to class and study hall and take care of your business off the field," Refsnyder said. "You could see his frustration. But Lopez gave us, gave myself and the junior class this year, the tools to be successful." South Carolina (49-20) had been trying to become the first team since the Southern California dynasty of the early 1970s to win three national titles in a row. "We battled as hard as we could, but they did a little bit better than we did," Gamecocks coach Ray Tanner said. "Though we're disappointed tonight, I'm not disappointed in my players. We battled awful hard. We made a run, got to the postseason and got back out here. We got in the losers' bracket and got back to the finals." Right fielder Adam Matthews said he never envisioned the run the Gamecocks made. "Obviously, that's the goal of every college baseball team," he said. "When you're recruited to a big program like the University of South Carolina, it's an honor. And you get there and your goal is to get to Omaha -- and further, to win the national championship. "To do that twice and be in a position this year to do it again, it's been unbelievable. It's been a lot of fun. We had a great run." Lopez became the second coach to win a Division I baseball title at two schools. Augie Garrido was the first, winning three at Cal State Fullerton and two at Texas. Lopez took over a program that had gone to the NCAA regionals just once in the previous eight years. He came within that one win of getting to the CWS in 2008, then took a step backward in 2009 when the Wildcats didn't make the national tournament. "On paper the 08 team is probably as good, if not better, because of their bullpen," Lopez said. "But it's not the first team that wins. I came here in 98 as the No. 1 seed with Florida, and the seventh seed in 92, and won in 92 but didn't win in 98. "It's not the best team that wins, it's the hottest team, and these guys got hot at the right time." The Wildcats won 18 of their last 20 games, including their final 11. Down three runs in the bottom of the ninth, South Carolina loaded the bases against Troupe (6-1) on two walks and a single. With one out, Tanner English sent a line drive up the middle that second baseman Gilbert gloved. Gilbert rushed to the bag to double off Dantzler, but Dantzler got back just in time. Grayson Greiner then flied out to right fielder Refsnyder on a 2-1 pitch, sparking a rush of Arizona players to the middle of the field for the celebratory pile-on. "We were extremely fortunate to get away with this victory," Lopez said. Dixon, batting .242 for the season, had been 0 for 7 with three strikeouts in his previous CWS at-bats. As usual, he replaced first baseman Joseph Maggi in the middle innings and got his opportunity after Refsnyder singled leading off the ninth. Farris and Michael Roth engaged in a pitcher's duel through the first seven innings. Farris left with two out in the eighth after allowing one run on two hits. "Farris had a great start for Arizona," South Carolina's Adam Matthews said. "He was working away most of the night. Of course we wanted to hit better, but you have got to give credit where credit's due."

Lucas Giolito relieved to be able to shed No. 1 pitching prospect label

Lucas Giolito relieved to be able to shed No. 1 pitching prospect label

GLENDALE, AZ — You don’t need a scale to see that Lucas Giolito lost some weight in the offseason. As he walks around Camelback Ranch, he just seems lighter. These pounds were shedded thanks to a certain label that has been detached from his name and his being.

“Lucas Giolito, number-one pitching prospect in baseball” is no more.

“Definitely. Big time relief. I carried that title for a while,” Giolito told NBC Sports Chicago. “It was kind of up and down. I was (ranked) 1 at one point. I dropped. I always paid attention to it a little bit moving through the minor leagues.”

Which for any young hurler is risky business. The “best pitching prospect” designation can mess with a pitcher’s psyche and derail a promising career. Giolito was walking a mental tightrope reading those rankings, but after making it back to the majors last season with the White Sox and succeeding, the moniker that seemed to follow him wherever he went has now vanished.

“Looking back on it, that stuff is pretty cool," Giolito said. "It can pump you up and make you feel good about yourself, but in the end the question is, what are you going to do at the big league level? Can you contribute to a team? I’m glad that I finally have the opportunity to do that and all that other stuff is in the rear view."

This wasn’t the case when the White Sox acquired Giolito from the Washington Nationals in the Adam Eaton trade in December 2016. When he arrived at spring training last year, he was carrying around tons of extra baggage in his brain that was weighing him down. Questions about his ability and makeup weren’t helping as he tried living up to such high expectations.

“Yeah, I’d say especially with the trade coming off 2016 where I didn’t perform well at all that year," Giolito said. "I got traded over to a new organization, I still have this label on me of being a top pitching prospect while I’m going to a new place, I’m trying to impress people but at the same time I had a lot of things off mechanically I was trying to fix. Mentally, I was not in the best place as far as pitching went. It definitely added some extra pressure that I didn’t deal with well for a while."

How bad was it for Giolito? Here are some of the thoughts that were scrambling his brain during spring training and beyond last season.

“I saw I wasn’t throwing as hard. I was like, ’Where did my velocity go?’ Oh, it’s my mechanics. My mechanics are bad. I need to fix those,” Giolito said. “Then I’m trying to make adjustments. Why can’t I make this adjustment? It compounds. It just builds and builds and builds and can weigh on you a ton. I was 22 turning 23 later in the year. I didn’t handle it very well. I put a lot of pressure on myself to fix all these different things about my performance, my pitching and trying to do it all in one go instead of just relaxing and remembering, ‘Hey, what am I here for? Why do I play the game?’”

Still, pitching coach Don Cooper wanted to see what he had in his young prospect. So last February, he scheduled him to make his White Sox debut against the Cubs in front of a packed house in Mesa.

“It was kind of like a challenge," Giolito said. "They fill the stadium over there. I’m like, ‘Alright here we go."

Giolito gave up one run, three hits, walked one and struck out two in two innings against the Cubs that day.

“I pitched OK," he said. "I think I gave up a home run to Addison Russell. At the same time, I remember that game like I was forcing things. I might have pitched okay, but I was forcing the ball over the plate instead of relaxing, trusting and letting it happen which is kind of my mantra now. I’m saying that all the time, just having confidence in yourself and letting it go.”

A conversation in midseason with Charlotte Knights pitching coach Steve McCatty, suggested by Cooper, helped turn Giolito’s season around. The lesson for Giolito: whatever you have on the day you take the mound is what you have. Don’t force what isn’t there.

Fortunately for Giolito he has extra pitches in his arsenal, so if the curveball isn’t working (which it rarely did when he came up to the majors last season) he can go to his change-up, fastball, slider, etc.

It’s all part of the learning process, both on the mound and off it. Setbacks are coming. Giolito has already had his share. More will be on the way.

“You want to set expectations for yourself. You want to try and achieve great goals,” he said. “At the same time, it is a game of failure. There’s so much that you have to learn through experience whether that be success or failure. Especially going through the minor leagues. There’s so much that you have to learn and a lot of it is about development. It’s a crazy ride for sure.”

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.