Cubs

Neuqua knocks off defending champs

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Neuqua knocks off defending champs

By Dick Goss

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Neuqua Valley senior running back Joey Rhattigan rushed for 365 yards on 26 carries and scored on runs of 22, 84, seven, five and 53 yards Friday night to power the Wildcats to a wild 44-33 victory over defending champion Bolingbrook in the second round of the Class 8A state playoffs.

He keeps his feet going, Raiders senior linebacker Emile Wisdom said of Rhattigan. Hes not ever going to take a break.

Wisdom then paid Rhattigan the ultimate compliment.

That was (Joliet Catholic back) Ty Isacc when I played in little league football with him, he said.

The return of Bolingbrook senior quarterback Aaron Bailey meant the two superstars were on the field.

Unfortunately for the Raiders, the one wearing the Neuqua Valley road uniform refused to be stopped.

Rhattigan ran behind a monster offensive line that averages 240 pounds and decidedly won the battle in the trenches.

We were just physically overmatched size-wise, Raiders veteran defensive coordinator Bob Corra said. Their offensive line blew us off the ball.

Then there were a couple of times we hit him (Rhattigan) in the backfield and he broke free. That last touchdown, he was stopped and broke free and went 50-some yards.

Bailey, though, was not to be outdone.

The Illinois-bound quarterback had not played suffering a right knee sprain on the second snap of Bolingbrooks loss to Lincoln-Way East in Week 6. Only the insiders knew for sure that they would be watching Bailey on Friday rather than sophomore Quincy Woods, who filled in admirably after Baileys injury.

Although not at 100 percent, Bailey rushed for 210 yards in 31 carries, scored touchdowns on runs of 14, 1 and 20 yards and opened the scoring with a 10-yard pass to Brandon Lewis on a fourth-and-goal from the 10-yard line. He completed 7-of-17 passes for 76 yards and siffered a late interception. He also was victimized by a couple of drops, one a long throw over the middle that may have resulted in a touchdown had it been caught.

Bolingbrook (8-3) finished with 371 yards of offense and 23 first downs, numbers usually good enough to win.

If only Neuqua (11-0) had not brought Rhattigan to the party.

This is a tough pill to swallow, Corra said.

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.