Cubs

Hoscheit a two-way star for St. Charles East

911311.png

Hoscheit a two-way star for St. Charles East

Last summer, St. Charles East's Joe Hoscheit had a big decision to make. Should he opt to play baseball or football in college? It wasn't an easy decision. But it wasn't as difficult as losing to three unbeaten teams in one season.

"I like both sports equally," Hoscheit said. "But I started to get recruiting attention for baseball. Northwestern offered first. Then Valparaiso. I was talking to Air Force and Wright State. Size-wise, I felt I had a better opportunity to play baseball.

"In football, I got a lot of letters but no offers. I didn't go to any combines. I had my mind set on baseball as I began to get recruiting attention so I went with it. Baseball was a better fit. I knew I wouldn't get much bigger and I'd have to get faster to play football. I had a chance to go farther in baseball."

So Hoscheit accepted a scholarship to Northwestern. He'll play outfield and catch for the Wildcats. Last spring, he had a .430 batting average for a conference champion.

"I have more talent in baseball," he said.

He also has the academic skills to compete at Northwestern. He ranks No. 15 in a class of 550 and scored 29 on the ACT. He plans to major in business.

But Hoscheit admits there are things that he experiences on the football field on Friday nights that he doesn't feel in baseball, things he began feeling when he began to play the game in fourth grade, things he will feel on Friday night when St. Charles East plays at Wheaton North in the opening round of the Class 7A playoff.

"It's a family experience in football. There is nothing like the camaraderie, the atmosphere of playing on Friday nights, playing together as a team. You don't get it with baseball," he said.

Hoscheit, a 6-foot, 215-pound senior who starts at fullback and middle linebacker, has emerged as the leader of a 6-3 team that has rebounded from two 3-6 seasons in a row and losses to three unbeaten teams.

Coach Mike Fields is touting Hoscheit for All-State recognition and the Defensive Player of the Year in the Upstate Eight's River Division.

"There is no one like him in our conference. He is a throwback football player. He loves to mix it up," Fields said.

Hoscheit is the Saints' leading tackler. He has rushed 61 times for 300 yards, caught 12 passes and scored 10 touchdowns. In last Friday's 26-0 victory over Elgin Larkin, he rushed nine times for 102 yards and scored on runs of 32 and 12 yards. He also set up another touchdown with a 32-yard burst.

He comes off the field only for kickoffs and kick returns.

"I like defense because you hit someone on every play. But I also like to block and carry the ball as a fullback," he said.

After experiencing two 3-6 seasons, Hoscheit and his teammates are having more fun this year, despite losses to unbeaten Cary-Grove, Neuqua Valley and conference rival Batavia. After shaky starts, they felt they played Neuqua Valley and Batavia to a standstill.

"People asked me: 'Why couldn't we play some lesser opponents?' But this is a great group of kids. They proved they can play with anyone. They aren't intimidated by anyone. I'm excited by what our kids are doing. They are competing and that's all you can ask for as a coach. Everybody is dinged up and tired at this time of the year but we're still getting better," Fields said.

He wasn't so positive after going 3-6 last year.

"We had some opportunities but couldn't finish. We could have been 5-4 easily. But it didn't work out. We couldn't capitalize on opportunities. But these kids have turned close games and opportunities into victories," the coach said.

"Our juniors and seniors have meshed well together. There aren't a lot of I's but a lot of we's on this team. The kids have bought into the idea that team comes first. Even with only five returning starters, our goals were to compete for the conference title and qualify for the playoff for the first time since 2009 and we did it.

"I've been coaching for 18 years (the last four as head coach at St. Charles East) and each team is different. But this is one of the best groups I've had. They care about each other. They don't want to let anyone down. They have bought into the team concept."

The offense is led by Hoscheit, 6-foot-1, 195-pound junior tailback Erick Anderson, 6-foot, 180-pound junior quarterback Jimmy Mitchell, 6-foot-1, 205-pound senior tight end Andrew Szyman, 5-foot-9, 165-pound junior wide receiver Mitch Munroe and 6-foot, 195-pound senior guard Ian Crawford.

Anderson, who missed four games with a shoulder injury and pulled groin, is the leading rusher with 440 yards. He averages five yards per carry and also has caught seven passes for 125 yards. The Saints are 5-1 with Anderson in the lineup. Mitchell has passed for 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Defensively, Hoscheit, Szyman at end, Munroe at cornerback, 6-foot, 185-pound junior linebacker Michael Candre and 5-foot-11, 180-pound senior safety Anthony Sciarrino are the mainstays.

"In each of the last two years, we started 0-5. It put a damper on our mood. We lost games we shouldn't have lost. We weren't finishing games. The teams could have come together more," Hoscheit said.

"This year the juniors and seniors are a tight knit group. Losing to those three unbeaten teams was tough but we won games we should have won. Every person has each other's back, no matter if you're playing or not. Everybody is upbeat about the team and the program.

"We're not doing anything different, the coaches tell us, but the difference (between this team and the last two years) is the players are capitalizing on opportunities this year and finishing games. It's a terrible feeling to have two losing seasons in a row."

Hoscheit wears No. 34 because his grandfather and older brother once wore the same number. The fact that Walter Payton also wore No. 34 is a bonus, he said. He leads by example, not vocally. And he insists he didn't have any personal goals going into the season.

"Sure, I dreamed about playing pro baseball and pro football. But realistically I realize I'm not at that level yet. I have to keep working to have a chance to be there," he said. "But it's awesome for the coach to think I'm good enough to be defensive player of the year in the conference."

It isn't by accident. Hoscheit credits his past two years of varsity experience and his hard work for reaching such stature...getting used to the speed of the game, watching miles of film, studying each opponent, reading keys, preparing to make plays.

So how has he been preparing for Wheaton North?

"We need to have our best week of practice, mentally and physically. We haven't been perfect yet. But this needs to be perfect. We have to play a team game and play four quarters," he said.

Ben Zobrist breaks down how Dodgers pitching has made Cubs offense disappear

10-18_yu_darvish_usat.jpg
USA TODAY

Ben Zobrist breaks down how Dodgers pitching has made Cubs offense disappear

Ben Zobrist didn’t look for any deeper meaning in Kyle Schwarber’s first-inning homer off Yu Darvish on Tuesday night at Wrigley Field, or hope that one swing could change the entire momentum of this National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Zobrist knows what it takes to win in October, the Cubs identifying him as the missing piece to their lineup after he helped transform the 2015 Kansas City Royals into a championship team, and then getting a World Series MVP return on their $56 million investment.

That “Schwarbomb” turned out to be fool’s gold, the only run the Cubs would score in front of a quiet, low-energy crowd of 41,871, the defending champs one more loss away from golfing/hunting/fishing/signing autographs at memorabilia shows.

“That was great to get a homer, but I’d rather see some hits strung together,” Zobrist said after a sloppy 6-1 loss, standing at his locker for almost 10 minutes, answering questions in the underground clubhouse. “I’d like to see a couple doubles together, a few singles, three or four hits in an inning. We just haven’t done that.

“That’s what makes rallies. They’ve stayed away from those kinds of innings. That’s why they’re ahead right now.”

Darvish – Jake Arrieta’s replacement in the 2018 rotation? – canceled out the two singles he allowed in the first inning by getting two of his seven strikeouts and answering some of the questions about how he would respond to all the pressure in October.

Darvish – a trade-deadline acquisition that had echoes of Theo Epstein’s “If not now, when?” explanation for last year’s Aroldis Chapman trade – walked one of the 25 batters he faced and pitched into the seventh inning before handing the game over to a lights-out bullpen.

“There’s nothing that we didn’t see beforehand on video,” Zobrist said. “It’s just a matter of we need him to make more mistakes, and we got to take advantage of those mistakes when he makes them.

“When he got to 3-2 counts, he wasn’t throwing a heater. He was throwing the cutter, and it’s a tough pitch to hit. You have to sit on it, and even then it’s got good movement to it. He kept us off-balance.”

Forward-thinking manager Dave Roberts is at the controls of a Los Angeles bullpen that can match up against right- and left-handed hitters, target locations, unleash upper-90s velocity, execute the elevated fastball that messes with eye levels and lean on All-Star closer Kenley Jansen for multiple innings.

The Dodger relievers essentially put together a no-hitter that lasted nine-plus innings across Games 1, 2 and 3. Together, they have pitched 10.2 scoreless innings, facing 36 batters and allowing two hits and a walk and hitting Anthony Rizzo with a pitch.

“They kept the ball on the edges and kept us off-balance,” Zobrist said. “They’re not throwing the pitch in the middle of the plate when we need them to. They’re keeping it on the edges and those are hard (to hit). When you got guys with good stuff on the mound, you need them to make some mistakes for you, or at least start walking some guys.

“When they’ve gotten in those situations with a three-ball count, they’re still making the pitch when they need to. They’re not walking many guys – and we are.

“That’s why they’re up 3-nothing.”

Zobrist (4-for-23 this postseason) is now more of a part-time player/defensive replacement, no longer the switch-hitting force who dropped the bunt at Dodger Stadium that helped end the 21-inning scoreless streak during last year’s NLCS.

Zobrist insisted the Cubs are still all there mentally, not checked out after a grueling first round against the Washington Nationals and a brutal walk-off loss in Game 2 at Dodger Stadium. He owns two World Series rings and one has the Cubs logo and this inscription: “We Never Quit.”

“We keep it loose all the time,” Zobrist said. “We know what’s at stake. And we don’t shy away from it. We look forward to the challenge ahead. It would be a great story for us to be able to come back in this series and win this series.

“We make adjustments, we take advantage of mistakes and we come out with a victory tomorrow. That’s what we have to do.”

Winter is coming for Cubs team that looks checked out of 2017

Winter is coming for Cubs team that looks checked out of 2017

Kyle Schwarber took a Babe Ruth swing on Tuesday night at Wrigley Field, posed for a moment and dropped the bat out of his follow through, watching that Yu Darvish pitch soar 408 feet out toward the left-center field bleachers.

Those carefree Cubs relievers shown on the video board – wait, was that John Lackey bouncing around? – danced in the bullpen in the first inning. This is exactly what the Cubs wanted: Grab an early lead? Check. Get one of their big boys going? Check. Energize the crowd of 41,871? Check.

That sense of momentum lasted less than the time it takes to buy a beer or go to the bathroom at Wrigley Field, because the Los Angeles Dodgers look like the unstoppable force this October.

Now Wade Davis may never pitch in this National League Championship Series and Wednesday night could be Jake Arrieta’s final start in a Cubs uniform. Winter is coming after a 6-1 loss left the defending World Series champs looking mentally checked out of 2017.

The Cubs played AC/DC and Motley Crue in their underground clubhouse and answered questions about why they believe they can match the 2004 Boston Red Sox who took down the New York Yankee Evil Empire, becoming the only team to come back from an 0-3 deficit since the LCS expanded to a seven-game format in 1985.

But Kris Bryant’s glassy look and bloodshot eyes told a different story, the reigning NL MVP admitting how “draining” those five games felt against the Washington Nationals in Round 1.

“But you kind of expect that around this time when games mean a lot,” Bryant said. “It takes a lot of energy to get ready for these games, and at the end, you feel wiped out. It’s expected.”

But no one could have predicted this lack of buzz in Wrigleyville, which felt less than a lot of midweek games during the regular season. A silence fell over the old ballpark when Andre Ethier – who has three homers across the last two seasons combined – lined a Kyle Hendricks pitch off the video board in right field to lead off the second inning.

Hendricks – who has made 10 postseason starts across the last three years and kept the Dodgers completely off-balance last October on the night the Cubs clinched their first NL pennant in 71 years – watched in the third inning as Chris Taylor crushed another home-run ball that bounced off the roof of the batter’s eye in center field.

“I wouldn’t say we’re running out of gas,” shortstop Addison Russell said. “Every time we step on the field, I feel like we have a pretty good chance of winning. We’re going to come into the clubhouse tomorrow positive and just ready to strap it on.”

The Dodgers will be out for beer and champagne on Wednesday night and the chance to kick back and watch the Yankees and Houston Astros expend all their energy in the ALCS.

Dodger manager Dave Roberts – who pushed all the right bullpen buttons in Games 1 and 2 (eight no-hit/scoreless innings combined) – toyed with the Cubs by letting Darvish hit against struggling reliever Carl Edwards Jr. with a two-run lead and two outs and the bases loaded in the sixth inning.

Darvish showed bunt on all four pitches – and drew a four-pitch walk and slammed his bat to the ground in celebration. The fans booed after Edwards struck out Taylor on three pitches to end the inning.

“We were there just as much as any other game,” said Ben Zobrist, last year’s World Series MVP. “Mentally, there was no letdown. Physically, there was no letdown. It was just a matter of them capitalizing on some mistakes that we made. That’s part of the game. And they didn’t make a lot of mistakes.

“They played better baseball than us tonight. That’s why they got the W.”

The Cubs committed two errors in Game 3 and then had a National-style meltdown in the eighth inning, from Zobrist misjudging the flyball to right field that dropped in front of him, to Mike Montgomery throwing a wild pitch, to catcher Willson Contreras getting crossed up on a swinging strike three, his glove nowhere near Montgomery’s 92.7-mph fastball, which crashed into his right arm and ricocheted into the visiting dugout.

A three-run game became 6-1 – and head for the exits and then the offseason. There was Albert Almora Jr. in the ninth inning, driving a ball into the ivy in left field and sprinting right into lead runner Alex Avila at third base, bailed out only because Kike Hernandez waved his hand to signal a ground-rule double.

At least that made All-Star closer Kenley Jansen work the last three outs, accumulated stress that might benefit the Yankees or Astros more than the Cubs.

“They are done,” an NL scout wrote in a text message. “You can see it in their faces.”