Cubs

Maine South eyes another title run

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Maine South eyes another title run

Personally, Maine South coach Dave Inserra admits that he has daily thoughts about last year's heartbreaking 24-22 loss to Stevenson in the second round of the Class 8A playoff.

"We have to overcome it. It shows how hard it is to win a state championship, for everything to fall in place," Inserra said. "We lacked enthusiasm last year. We weren't ready to play against Stevenson.

"We got down big (the Hawks trailed 24-7 in the third quarter). Then we started to roll. But you have to step on the field that way. You can't wait until the fourth quarter."

So as he prepares for the 2012 campaign--Maine South opens at Warren in Gurnee on Aug. 24, then plays at Wheaton Warrenville South on Aug. 31--Inserra is looking for a measure of enthusiasm that he insists was missing a year ago.

"Enthusiasm is playing with confidence, getting the ball rolling," Inserra said. "You could see it at Stevenson when we were making our comeback. Kids play with emotion. When they don't, when you have to pretend, it doesn't get you anywhere. It is such a rough, tough, hard game. You have to make it fun."

Maine South usually plays with emotion and enthusiasm. The Hawks usually make the game fun. In Inserra's 11 years, they have won 89 percent (126-15) of their games. The won state championships in 2008, 2009 and 2010 and finished second in 2003, 2004 and 2005.

This year? "The sky is the limit in terms of what we can do. Potentially, this team has the ability to be among the top three of all the teams I have coached," said Inserra, ranking them with the 2003 team quarterbacked by junior Sean Price and the 2008 powerhouse led by quarterback Charlie Goro and running back Matt Perez.

"We have a top-notch quarterback and team leader (Matt Alviti) and our offensive line is coming back. Our biggest issues are a tough schedule and a young defense. We have the right guys in place on defense and they can be very good. But they don't have a ton of experience."

Alviti, who is committed to Northwestern, is the key. He guided Maine South to the Class 8A championship as a sophomore. He passed for over 3,150 yards in 14 games as a sophomore and over 2,220 yards in 11 games as a junior. He has thrown for 54 touchdowns.

"He can make any throw. That sets him apart from other quarterbacks. He has such a strong arm, great mechanics," Inserra said. "My mouth opens and I stare at times: 'What a play.' But he has to do more with his legs this year. He has a better receiving corps than last year and he will run more behind a good offensive line. When he can run the ball, it makes defending the pass that much harder."

But Inserra is looking for more emotion and enthusiasm from Alviti, whom he ranks as the best quarterback he has produced, better than Price and Goro. "His skill sets are definitely above everybody else. He can go farther in college than any quarterback we have had," the coach said.

"But I continue to get on him and remind him that as a sophomore he played with youthful enthusiasm. As a senior, he is a leader but we need that enthusiasm, too. He has to show it so the team sees it...energy, excitement. When he throws a touchdown pass, don't let it be old. Celebrate, enjoy, have fun."

Alviti will have the luxury of running and throwing behind a strong offensive line headed by 6-foot-3, 275-pound tackle Pat Maloney, 6-foot-2, 285-pound guard Dan Poulos and 6-foot-2, 230-pound center Donnie Nordstrom and a talented receiving corps headed by 6-foot-4, 230-pound tight end John Solari and wide receivers Mike Bosco and Frankie Perrone.

Maloney, who is committed to Ball State, will play 60 percent at defensive tackle. Inserra ranks him as one of the three leading two-way linemen he has coached. Poulos, who scored 33 on his ACT, is attracting attention from Ivy League schools.

Maloney, Nordstrom and Bosco will be among five players who will start both ways, but not to worry. Inserra reminds he had six two-ways starters in 2008 and Perez and quarterback Tyler Benz started both ways in 2009.

"When you have good athletes, you use them," he said.

Anthony Mitchell, a 5-foot-10, 170-pound senior, will get the ball at running back. Clay Burdelik, a 5-foot-10, 185-pound junior, will start at safety for the second year in a row and back up Mitchell.

The defensive leader will be 5-foot-11, 195-pound senior linebacker Noah Meyer, a returning starter who also will see duty at wide receiver. Meyer must fill the void left by two outstanding graduates, Luke Lenti and Tyler Fahey.

"We must be toughest on ourselves," Inserra summed up. "We must meet our expectations. We must be our own toughest opponent."

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

MESA, Ariz. — We know Willson Contreras doesn’t like baseball’s new pace-of-play rules.

He isn’t the only one.

“I think it’s a terrible idea. I think it’s all terrible,” Jon Lester said last week at spring training, before the specifics of the new rules were even announced. “The beautiful thing about our sport is there’s no time.”

Big surprise coming from the Cubs’ resident old-schooler.

The new rules limit teams to six mound visits per every nine-inning game, with exceptions for pitching changes, between batters, injuries and after the announcement of a pinch hitter. Teams get an extra mound visit for every extra inning in extra-inning games. Also, commercial breaks between innings have been cut by 20 seconds.

That’s it. But it’s caused a bit of an uproar.

Contreras made headlines Tuesday when he told reporters that he’ll willingly break those rules if he needs to in order to put his team in a better position to win.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If I have to pay the price for my team, I will,” Contreras said. “There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? … You have to go out there. They cannot say anything about that. It’s my team, and we just care about winning. And if they’re going to fine me about the No. 7 mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”

Talking about pace-of-play rule changes last week, Cubs manager Joe Maddon said his team would adapt to any new rules. In Chicago baseball’s other Arizona camp, a similar tune of adaptation was being sung.

“Obviously as players we’ve got to make adjustments to whatever rules they want to implement,” White Sox pitcher James Shields said. “This is a game of adjustments, we’re going to have to make adjustments as we go. We’re going to have to figure out logistics of the thing, and I would imagine in spring training we’re going to be talking about it more and more as we go so we don’t mess it up.”

There was general consensus that mound visits are a valuable thing. So what happens if a pitcher and catcher need to communicate but are forced to do it from 60 feet, six inches away?

“Sign language,” White Sox catching prospect Zack Collins joked. “I guess you have to just get on the same page in the dugout and hope that nothing goes wrong if you’re out of visits.”

In the end, here’s the question that needs answering: Are baseball games really too long?

On one hand, as Lester argued, you know what you’re signing up for when you watch a baseball game, be it in the stands at a ballpark or on TV. No one should be shocked when a game rolls on for more than three hours.

But shock and fans' levels of commitment or just pure apathy are two different things. And sometimes it’s a tough ask for fans to dedicate four hours of their day 162 times a year. So there’s a very good reason baseball is trying to make the game go faster, to keep people from leaving the stands or flipping the TV to another channel.

Unsurprisingly, Lester would rather keep things the way they are.

“To be honest with you, the fans know what they’re getting themselves into when they go to a game,” Lester said. “It’s going to be a three-hour game. You may have a game that’s two hours, two hours and 15 minutes. Great, awesome. You may have a game that’s four hours. That’s the beautiful part of it.

“I get the mound visit thing. But what people that aren’t in the game don’t understand is that there’s so much technology in the game, there’s so many cameras on the field, that every stadium now has a camera on the catcher’s crotch. So they know signs before you even get there. Now we’ve got Apple Watches, now we’ve got people being accused of sitting in a tunnel (stealing signs). So there’s reasons behind the mound visit. He’s not just coming out there asking what time I’m going to dinner or, ‘Hey, how you feeling?’ There’s reasons behind everything, and I think if you take those away, it takes away the beauty of the baseball game.

“Every game has a flow, and I feel like that’s what makes it special. If you want to go to a timed event, go to a timed event. I’m sorry I’m old-school about it, but baseball’s been played the same way for a long time. And now we’re trying to add time to it. We’re missing something somewhere.”

Whether limiting the number of mound visits creates a significant dent in this problem remains to be seen. But excuse the players if they’re skeptical.

“We’ve got instant replay, we’ve got all kinds of different stuff going on. I don’t think (limiting) the mound visits are going to be the key factor to speeding this game up,” Shields said. “Some pitchers take too long, and some hitters take too long. It’s combination of a bunch of stuff.

“I know they’re trying to speed the game up a little bit. I think overall, the game’s going as fast as it possibly could. You’ve got commercials and things like that. TV has a lot to do with it. There’s a bunch of different combinations of things. But as a player, we’ve got to make an adjustment.”

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 grade: B+

Level of need: Low

Decisions to be made on: Christian Jones (free agent), John Timu (free agent), Jonathan Anderson (free agent); Jerrell Freeman has reportedly been cut

Possible free agent targets: Demario Davis, Preston Brown, Anthony Hitchens, Avery Williamson, Navorro Bowman, Derrick Johnson

How the Bears rate Nick Kwiatkoski will be the key to figuring out what this unit will look like in 2018. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio thought Kwiatkoski finished last season strong, but strong enough to rely on him in 2018 as the starter next to Danny Trevathan?

The thing with the Bears’ inside linebackers, though: Trevathan makes whoever is playing next to him better. The problem is Trevathan hasn’t been able to stay on the field — he missed time in 2017 with a calf injury and a one-game suspension, and missed half of 2016 after rupturing his Achilles’. Trevathan hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2013, so durability is an issue for the soon-to-be 28-year-old.

So that leads to this question: Do the Bears need to find someone in free agency, regardless of how they value Kwiatkoski, who’s also missed time due to injuries in his first two years in the league?

Free agency could provide a few options. Demario Davis had a career high 97 tackles for the New York Jets last year and has never missed a game as a pro. Preston Brown had some decent production in Buffalo and also hasn’t missed a game since being drafted in 2014. Avery Williamson may not be a world-beater but has only missed one game in his four years in the NFL.

The Bears could also opt for someone who fits more of a rotational mold, like Dallas’ Anthony Hitchens, or try to lure a veteran linebacker like Navorro Bowman (who played for Vic Fangio in San Francisco) or Derrick Johnson (who Matt Nagy knows from his Kansas City days) to play next to Trevathan and/or Kwiatkoski.

The Bears could opt to keep the status quo and re-sign Christian Jones and John Timu for depth, and enter 2018 with Kwiatkoski and Trevathan as the team’s starters (Jerrell Freeman, who suffered a season-ending injury and then was hit with his second PED suspension in as many years, was cut on Tuesday). Signing a starting-caliber free agent isn’t out of the question, either, but there is a third option for the Bears if they appear to stand pat in free agency: Draft an inside linebacker in April. If that’s the route they go, Georgia’s Roquan Smith could be the guy. But again, those more pressing needs at other positions could mean the Bears don’t burn a first-round pick on an inside linebacker.