Cubs

Loyola's defense stymies Palatine in playoff victory

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Loyola's defense stymies Palatine in playoff victory

By Matt Harness
Season Pass

Instead of talking up his own skills, Cody Sullivan ceded almost all of the credit Saturday for his career-high three interceptions to his coaches.

Loyolas senior linebacker caught as many passes from Ethan Olles as Alex Nawrot, the Palatine quarterbacks third-leading receiver.

Sullivans second pick preceded Julius Holleys 2-yard touchdown run with 2:58 to go before the break, and the No. 5-ranked Ramblers never looked back in their 19-7 win over the seventh-ranked Pirates in the Class 8A quarterfinals.

I absolutely saw it all on film, Sullivan said. The coaches put us in the right spots. They told us where to be and good things happened.

Loyola (11-1) won for the 10th time in a row and is in the state semifinals for the fourth consecutive season. The Ramblers will play No. 8 Glenbard North at home Saturday for the second year in a row in the semifinals.

This feels good, but we still have things to work for, Sullivan said. Anything less that a state championship is not what we want this year.

Danny Rafferty picked off a pass on the first play of the game, and sophomore Mike Kurzydlowski kicked a 25-yard field for a lead Loyola never surrendered.

The Ramblers didnt allow a touchdown on defense for the third time in five games. Palatines points came on Cam Kuksas 47-yard punt return early in the third quarter that left the score 10-7 in favor of Loyola.

But the Ramblers responded by piecing together their best series of the game, a nine-play, 80-yard drive that ended with Peter Pujals 21-yard scoring strike to Luke Ford to up the teams advantage to 16-7 with 7:16 left in the third quarter.

Even still, the senior quarterback deflected the applause.

The defense won that game for us, said Pujals, who finished 13-for-23 for 158 yards and didnt turn over the ball.

Palatine (10-2) lost for the first time since the opening week. The Pirates also ended their 2010 season in the quarterfinals with a loss to Loyola.

Why did Kris Bryant get a first-place vote in this year's National League MVP balloting?

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USA TODAY

Why did Kris Bryant get a first-place vote in this year's National League MVP balloting?

Kris Bryant was the 2016 National League MVP. And despite having what could be considered an even better campaign this past season, he finished seventh in voting for the 2017 edition of the award.

The NL MVP was awarded to Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton on Thursday night, a fine choice, though it was nearly impossible to make a poor choice, that's how many fantastic players there were hitting the baseball in the NL this season.

After Stanton, Cinicinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto finished second, earning the same amount of first-place votes and losing out to Stanton by just one point. Then came Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado, Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon and Washington Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon ahead of Bryant.

But there was someone who thought Bryant deserved to repeat as the NL MVP. Yes, Bryant earned a first-place vote — as did everyone else mentioned besides Rendon, for that matter — causing a bit of a social-media stir considering the Cubs third baseman, despite his great season, perhaps wasn't as standout a candidate as some of the other guys who finished higher in the voting.

So the person who cast that first-place vote for Bryant, MLB.com's Mark Bowman, wrote up why he felt Bryant deserved to hoist the Kenesaw Mountain Landis Memorial Baseball Award for the second straight year.

"In the end, I chose Bryant because I believe he made the greatest impact, as his second-half production fueled the successful turnaround the Cubs experienced after the All-Star break," Bowman wrote.

"Though I don't believe the MVP must come from a playoff contender, in an attempt to differentiate the value provided by each of these three players (Bryant, Votto and Stanton), I chose to reward the impact made by Bryant, who produced the NL's fourth-best OPS (.968) after the All-Star break, when the Cubs distanced themselves from a sub-.500 record and produced an NL-best 49 wins."

It's easy for Cubs fans and observers to follow that logic, as the Cubs took off after the All-Star break following a disappointing first half. As good as Bryant was all season long, his second-half numbers, as Bowman pointed out, were especially great. He hit .325 with a .421 on-base percentage and a .548 slugging percentage over his final 69 games of the regular season, hitting 11 home runs, knocking out 21 doubles and driving in 35 runs during that span.

Perhaps the craziest thing about this year's MVP race and Bryant's place in it is that Bryant was just as good if not better than he was in 2016, when he was almost unanimously named the NL MVP. After slashing .292/.385/.554 with 39 homers, 102 RBIs, 35 doubles, 75 walks and 154 strikeouts in 2016, Bryant slashed .295/.409/.537 with 29 homers, 73 RBIs, 38 doubles, 95 walks and 128 strikeouts in 2017.

Of course, the competition was much steeper this time around. But Bryant was given the MVP award in 2016 playing for a 103-win Cubs team that was bursting with offensive firepower, getting great seasons from Anthony Rizzo (who finished third in 2016 NL MVP voting), as well as Dexter Fowler and Ben Zobrist. While the Cubs actually scored more runs this season and undoubtedly turned it on after the All-Star break on a team-wide basis, Bryant was far and away the best hitter on the team in 2017, with many other guys throughout the lineup having notably down years and/or experiencing down stretches throughout the season. Hence, making Bryant more, say it with me, valuable.

So Bowman's argument about Bryant's impact on the Cubs — a team that still scored 822 runs, won 92 games and advanced to the National League Championship Series — is a decently convincing one.

Check out Bowman's full explanation, which dives into some of Bryant's advanced stats.

HandiKapping presented by Xpressbet

HandiKapping presented by Xpressbet

In the latest edition of HandiKapping presented by Xpressbet, NBC Sports Chicago's David Kaplan makes his picks for the weekend.

Kap made his picks with the help of Eddie Olczyk this week.