Preps Talk

Mooring puts the spin on Hillcrest

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Mooring puts the spin on Hillcrest

It all began on June 4 when Hillcrest senior basketball star Ryan Royall, the team's only all-conference returnee, was shot and killed during a disturbance following a birthday party in south suburban Lynwood.

"Our kids are playing the season for him," coach Don Houston said. "He would have been a starter, one of our best players. It is a credit to these kids that they are playing as well as they are. I'm not surprised. These kids are tough players."

Houston and his Hawks, who are 15-4 after beating Richards and Bremen last week but losing 59-53 to Farragut on Sunday, will experience another emotional moment on Tuesday when they play at Crete-Monee.

Crete-Monee's first-year coach is Tom Cappel, who won 504 games in 23 years at Hillcrest. Houston was Cappel's assistant for seven years, then succeeded his mentor five years ago. "There is a lot of love and respect for each other," Houston said.

Houston, 40, has picked up where Cappel left off. In fact, he has accomplished at least one thing that Cappel was unable to do, winning a state championship in 2010, in only his third season. Cappel reached the state quarterfinals twice but advanced no farther.

"Talent-wise, this team is as good as the state champion," Houston said. "Potentially, we could go pretty far (in the state tournament). This team has more depth and more athleticism. If they can buy into playing team basketball, they could be as good if not better.

"They have to realize the structure of the game, especially at the end. They have to execute to pull out close games at the end. They just like to play but there is more to it than that. They like to get up and down because of their athleticism. But it doesn't win all the games, especially the close ones. I keep preaching it a lot. I show them the value of execution."

Hillcrest returns some experienced hands from a 21-8 squad that lost to Morgan Park in last year's sectional semifinal. The leaders are 6-foot-2 junior Jovan Mooring (18 ppg), 6-foot-6 senior Jalen Loving (14 ppg), 6-foot-6 senior Jayone Troutman (13 ppg, 9 rpg), 6-foot-2 senior Virgil Fleming (8 ppg) and 5-foot-8 junior point guard Kyle Oden (8 ppg, 6 assists).

Houston describes Mooring as one of the best players in the class of 2013. "People don't know about him like they should. They will find out about him soon. He is getting some looks (from college recruiters), He is one of the best scorers around," the coach said.

"I am very underrated," Mooring said. "I want to play Division I in college. I know how good I am. Hopefully, people will realize it one day. I've always been a good player but haven't gotten the recognition I should have. I feel I should have been on the varsity last year but should have worked a lot harder to get there. I really improved my game over the summer."

His trademark is a spin move with a step back jump shot. "I drive left, spin back right, step back and shoot over the defender with my right hand. I have worked on it a lot. I've gotten it good this year. I started to notice that nobody could stop it," he said.

A pair of 6-foot-2 seniors, Brent Buchanan (8 ppg) and Chris Copeland (5 ppg), provide spark off the bench on offense and defense.

"These next few games will tell us if we have matured from the losses (to highly rated Bloom, Simeon and Rockford Auburn) that we suffered early in the season," Houston said. "If they can execute in the clutch and at the end of games, they will show they are ready to go to Peoria."

Mooring isn't surprised by the team's success. Although four returned from last year's squad, none of them started. But they have been together since sixth grade and were unbeaten as freshmen and sophomores. The tragic death of their teammate, Royall, has provided motivation and inspiration.

"He was the leader of the team," Mooring said. "When I heard about it, it didn't see real. We had just played together the day before. When I woke up and heard he was gone, it was a real shock. We helped each other to get through that time. It was motivation. We're doing this for him.

"We know he would be working just as hard as we would. He wasn't perfect at everything but he did all the right things. What we don't do, he did...get tip-ins, dive on the floor for loose balls, get offensive rebounds. He was a leader and great defender. All he talked about was winning state. Now we're all coming together."

Despite the losses, Houston felt his team learned some positive lessons that will benefit them as they prepare for the state tournament.

For example, the Hawks lost to top-ranked Simeon by 15 but got a chance to experience playing in a highly competitive environment. Against Bloom and Rockford Auburn (they led by 13 with five minutes left in the third quarter), they learned they have to execute at the end.

Mooring was a freshman when Hillcrest won the 2010 state championship. He played on the sophomore squad during the preliminary games and stuck around to observe the varsity. He knows what it takes to be a state champion.

"That team had a lot of heart," he said. "They never gave up. They played together, like we do. We aren't as athletic but I believe we can be a better team. We're a lot quicker than the 2010 team. It comes down to us doing it. Our defense gives us a lot of confidence against every team we play. As long as we move on defense, we can compete with anybody."

The top players to watch during the IHSA State Football championships

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The top players to watch during the IHSA State Football championships

Below is a listing of several prospects and recruit names to watch this coming weekend for the IHSA State Football championships.

Class 1A

Tuscola

2018 OT Hunter Woodard (Oklahoma State) 6-foot-5, 285 pounds

2018 TE Cal Sementi 6-foot-6, 202 pounds

2019 QB Luke Sluder 6-foot-2, 195 pounds

2019 OL CJ Piczao 6-foot-3, 271 pounds

2019 OL/DL Brayden Vonlanken 6-foot-2, 244 pounds

Lena Winslow

2020 TE/DE Isaiah Bruce 6-foot-3, 238 pounds

2020 RB/LB Sean Ormistron 6-foot-0, 191 pounds

2019 TE/DE Parker Magee 6-foot-3, 206 pounds

2019 OL/DL Ian Kuehl 6-foot-2, 260 pounds

Class 2A

GCMS

2019 WR Ryland Holt 6-foot-4, 190 pounds

2019 S Lane Short 6-foot-2, 180 pounds

2019 QB/DB Nathan Garard 5-foot-11,185 pounds

Maroa Forsyth

2020 QB Ian Benner 6-foot-2, 165 pounds

2019 DL Lane Ohlemeyer 6-foot-1, 275 pounds

2019 WR Max Davenport 6-foot-1, 190 pounds

Class 3A

Immaculate Conception

2019 OL/DL Ricky Mysliwiec 6-foot-1, 275 pounds

2019 LB Khali Saunders 6-foot-4, 215 pounds

2019 WR Khalil Saunders 5-foot-11, 185 pounds

Pleasant Plains

2019 TE/LB Tristen Tewes 6-foot-3, 220 pounds

2019 OL Deven Burns 6-foot-3, 250 pounds

Class 4A

Morris

2018 OL Nathan Korte 6-foot-6, 298 pounds

2018 TE/DE Tyler Spiezio 6-foot-5, 210 pounds

2018 OL Nolan Feeney 6-foot-3, 282 pounds

2019 TE Nathan Little 6-foot-4, 259 pounds

Rochester

2018 QB Nik Baker 5-foot-9, 185 pounds

2018 OL/DL Sean Brewer 6-foot-4, 245 pounds

2018 OL/DL Clay Johnson 6-foot-1, 290 pounds

2018 DL Mike McNicholas 6-foot-1, 215 pounds

2018 DB Tyler Caruso 5-foot-9, 180 pounds

2018 RB Nick Capriotti 5-foot-11, 190 pounds

Class 5A

Phillips

2018 DT Queneil Morrisson (NIU commit)

2018 QB J'Bore Gibbs (South Dakota State commit)

2018 DE Terrance Taylor (Toledo commit)

2018 WR/S Fabian McCray (WMU/Toledo offers)

2019 WR/DB Joseph Thompson

2019 TE Jahleel Billingsley 

2019 DB/WR Joseph Thompson

2020 DB Robert Pledger 

Dunlap

2018 TE Charlie Mangieri (Northwestern commit) 6-foot-4, 230 pounds

2018 RB/LB Luke Bennyhoff 5-foot-10, 180 pounds

2018 WR/DB Isaac Guyton 6-foot-2, 170 pounds

2018 OL Broc Jockisch 6-foot-3, 280 pounds

2019 WR/DE Josiah Miamen 6-foot-4, 215 pounds

Class 6A

Prairie Ridge 

2018 QB Samson Evans (Iowa commit) 6-foot-1, 210 pounds

2018 OL Jeff Jenkins (Iowa commit) 6-foot-4, 280 pounds

2018 LB Joe Perhats 6-foot-3, 205 pounds

2018 LB Jacob Ommen 6-foot-1, 215 pounds

2018 OL Justin Grapenthin 6-foot-3, 250 pounds

2018 OL Jeffery Schultz 6-foot-6, 300 pounds

Nazareth Academy 

2018 DT Isaiah Lee (Iowa State commit) 6-foot-1, 290 pounds

2018 TE/LB Austin Reifsteck 6-foot-1, 210 pounds

2018 LB Wesley Lones 6-foot-2, 205 pounds

2019 RB/DB Devin Blakely 5-foot-9, 180 pounds

2019 WR/DB Diamond Evans 5-foot-10, 180 pounds

2019 WR/DB Michael Love 5-foot-10, 165 pounds

2019 DB Jermaine Baker 6-foot-2, 200 pounds

2019 WR David Ogelsby 5-foot-10, 182 pounds

Class 7A

Batavia

2018 OL Nolan Eike (Central Michigan commit) 6-foot-6, 260 pounds

2018 SS Michael Niemiec 6-foot-1, 190 pounds

2019 ILB Luke Weerts 6-foot-2, 230 pounds

2019 OLB Michael Jansey 6-foot-2, 210 pounds

2019 DE Ethan Towers 6-foot-5, 210 pounds

Lake Zurich

2018 QB Evan Lewandowski 6-foot-4, 215 pounds

2018 LB Jack Sanborn (Wisconsin commit) 6-foot-2, 220 pounds

2018 OL Ian Fitzgerald 6-foot-6, 300 pounds

2019 LB Lucas Dwyer 6-foot-2, 195 pounds

2019 DL Jackson Farsales 6-foot-3, 265 pounds

Class 8A

Loyola Academy 

2018 QB Quinn Boyle 6-foot-1, 180 pounds

2018 OL Charlie Gross (Fordham commit) 6-foot-5, 270 pounds

2018 TE Charlie Gilroy 6-foot-5, 225 pounds 

2018 DL Marty Geary 6-foot-2, 265 pounds

2018 DE John McMahon 6-foot-3, 245 pounds

2019 LB Armoni Dixon 6-foot-3, 220 pounds

2019 S Jacob Gonzales 6-foot-1, 175 pounds

2019 WR Noah Jones 6-foot-2, 195 pounds

Lincoln-Way East

2018 DL Devin O'Rourke (Northwestern commit) 6-foot-6, 250 pounds

2018 TE/LS Turner Pallissard (Iowa PWO) 6-foot-2, 220 pounds

2018 DT Jayden Hacha 6-foot-0, 250 pounds

2018 WR Shane Pedersen 6-foot-4, 185 pounds

2018 LB Declan Carr 6-foot-1, 200 pounds

2020 WR AJ Henning 5-foot-10, 170 pounds

2019 OL Dane Eggert 6-foot-3, 265 pounds

The youngest coach in baseball manages some of the White Sox top minor leaguers

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MiLB.com

The youngest coach in baseball manages some of the White Sox top minor leaguers

Most minor league managers have graying sideburns, wrinkled skin and a birth date well before 1980.

They’ve been through the battles of baseball and life, placed in rural dugouts across the country to teach the younger generation how to play the game.

But in a town outside Charlotte, North Carolina, the White Sox are bucking this trend with a fresh-faced millennial who one day could be sitting in a major league manager’s office with his name on it.

Justin Jirschele is the manager of the Kannapolis Intimidators, the White Sox Class-A affiliate.  At 27 years old, he is the youngest manager in all of professional baseball.  

Jirschele (pronounced JIRSH-ah-lee) goes by “Jirsh” to those who know him and who play for him, which last season included top prospects like Jake Burger, Alec Hansen, Dane Dunning and Dylan Cease.

When Jirschele played the game, he was a guy every team would have wanted.

Not for his speed: He never stole more than four bases in a season during his minor league career. Not for his power: He didn't hit a single home run in 622 career at-bats.

But because he treated every game like it could be his last.

“I never took a play off. I never took an at-bat off,” he said.

This was his mindset even in his very last minor league at-bat for the Birmingham Barons in 2015.

“I remember walking up and I said out loud to myself, ‘This is it. Do something.’ I’m getting the chills right now thinking about it.”

Jirschele knew his playing days were over. So did the White Sox. They signed him out of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point in 2012 as an undrafted free agent. Nobody else wanted him. Over the next four seasons, he played for five White Sox minor league teams. The results on the field were overwhelmingly average.

Then one day, Nick Capra, then the White Sox Director of Player Development, came to Jirschele with an idea and an offer that would change his life.

“He asked, ‘Are you ready to start coaching yet?’ Jirschele recalled. ‘And I looked at him and went, ‘What do you mean?’”

The White Sox offered Jirschele a job to be the hitting coach for the Grand Falls Voyagers, the team’s rookie league affiliate.

“I was in shock. It was the end of May, the season was still young. I was at three different levels. I started at Winston-Salem, went to Charlotte and came back to Birmingham. It was a whirlwind. When he first said it, my first feeling was excitement. That kind of told me right there that it was the right time to do it.”

So Jirschele took the job.

He was 25 years old.

Then he went out and took that final minor league at-bat for Birmingham, which turned out to be a fitting conclusion to his playing career.  

“I think it was the second pitch, right down the middle and I was tardy, hit it off my fist, a dribbler to the shortstop and I bet you I ran as hard as I had in my entire life. It wasn’t that I was fast, but I was running as hard as I possibly could to first and I don’t think there even was a throw I hit it so soft, perfectly past the pitcher.  I just said to myself, that’s it right there.”

An infield dribbler for a base hit to close his playing career.

Coaching made sense for Jirschele. His father, Mike, is the third base coach for the Kansas City Royals. He won a World Series in 2015. His older brother, Jeremy, is the head baseball coach back at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

Pretty soon, the younger Jirschele would be leading a team of his own.  

In 2017, the White Sox gave him the managerial job with Kannapolis. Sure, some of his players would be around the same age, but the White Sox looked past the birth date on his driver’s license and recognized a person who was wise beyond his years.

“It was identified early on that he has the leadership qualities we look for in a manager regardless of his age,” said Chris Getz, White Sox Director of Player Development. “He has good baseball knowledge, good communication skills, a willingness to learn and adapt, and carries out a consistent message. We feel lucky to have him and think he has a bright future ahead.”

Although the ages of the Intimidators players ranged from 19 to 25 years old, it didn’t matter that their manager was slighty older than them.

“Never once had an issue with the age thing,” Jirschele said about his players. “I think from Day 1 when I showed them the respect like I’m not going to be the guy that’s two years older than you hammering things down your throat, I’m going to have that respect and you’re going to show it back.”  

While the White Sox prospects spent the season developing their playing skills, Jirschele was honing his managing skills, which go beyond what happens on the field. A big part of the job is handling issues that arise off of it.  

“It’s a long grind season and there are so many things that are going to come up non-baseball related to where you might be in that clubhouse and you might feel alone,” Jirschele explained. “You might feel like you’re on an island all by yourself even if you’ve got three best friends that are going to stand up in your wedding one day, you might not feel comfortable talking to those guys about that.  Come on in, we’ll talk about it at 12:30 in the afternoon or 7:30 at night or midnight. I tell the guys you’ve got my phone number.  Call or text no matter what time if you need to talk.”

Following his thirst for managing knowledge, Jirschele often reaches out to his dad for late-night phone calls, rehashing the game that night. He’ll even text an opposing manager, like Patrick Anderson, a friend who has managed the Hagerstown Suns, the Nationals Class-A affiliate for the last four seasons.

“He’s a guy I could pick his brain about things," he said. "Once the series was over I’d send him a text and ask, ‘Why did you do this?’ At the end of the day we’re all in it together and first and foremost it’s all for these players and making them better each and every day and doing whatever we can to get them to the top. But at the same time we’re developing ourselves as well along the way.

“I’m sure I annoy a lot of people of asking questions but that’s how you learn. I was brought up that way.”

Jirschele’s impressions of some White Sox top prospects he managed last season:

Alec Hansen: “When he takes the ball, you feel like you have one of the best chances in the country to get a win that night in minor league baseball.  His stuff is just off the charts.”

Dane Dunning: “It would be the 8th inning, he wanted that complete game and he wouldn’t be too pleased with me coming out there to take him out, but you want that.  You want that out of a competitor on the mound every 5 days. He’s definitely a guy you want in the foxhole with you, no doubt.”

Micker Adolfo: “He has a special, special arm.  I don’t know if there’s a better one right now.”

Jake Burger: “Looking forward, the ceiling is unbelievably high for him. 100 percent no doubt in my mind, someday he will be a captain in the big leagues.”

Like many of his players, Jirschele left an impression with the White Sox in his first season as manager. He helped lead the Intimidators to their first playoff berth since 2009 and their first trip to the South Atlantic League championship since 2005.

Earlier this month, the White Sox named him their Minor League Coach of the Year.

“First and foremost, it means we had good players this year. It’s those guys between the lines,” he said. “As coaches, we can’t go out there and pitch. We were fortunate to have a great group of guys. We came up a little short (winning the championship), but we got there and it was fun.”

Once upon a time, Jirschele’s dream was to make it to the majors. That dream still exists.  Just now instead of having his own baseball card, he wants to get to the big leagues holding a lineup card.

“I think I’d be lying to you if I said it wasn’t a goal, but at the same time I don’t worry about it. I know I’m 27 years old," he said. "I’m just fortunate to have the job I do right now with the White Sox. I go out and do my job every single day and the rest will just take care of itself.”