Fire

Proviso East stays perfect

701830.png

Proviso East stays perfect

By Paul Johnson
YourSeason.com
When Proviso East legend Donnie Boyce took over his alma mater this season, few could have imagined the run his Pirates have put together.That journey has one more trip left in it, to the Class 4A state tournament in Peoria this weekend, after surviving a strong test from West Aurora in Tuesdays Hinsdale Central Class 4A Supersectional, 62-51.The Pirates roll into the state semifinals Friday at 6:30 p.m. against Rockford Auburn with a spotless 31-0 record.I dont think anybody, Year 1, would expect us to be 31-0, guaranteed spot at state, Boyce said. But the job is not done yet. Weve almost achieved the goal that we set at the beginning of the year. Right now, Im just so emotional.A 9-0 run in the first quarter provided the distance that the Pirates needed to keep the game Blackhawks (25-6) at bay. A three-pointer from Paris Burns started the run, followed by a jumper from Sterling Brown and two buckets from senior Keith Carter (game-high 18 points) to open a 12-3 lead.But West Aurora was never fully in the rearview mirror. A three-pointer from Blackhawks senior Juwan Starks at the end of the first quarter, followed by five quick points from Jontrel Walker to start the second, cut the lead to 19-17.We got off to a good start, Boyce said. They made some adjustments. We came out a little flat in the second quarter. I think they thought they won the game in the first quarter. But I thought our guys did a good job of taking their punches and we came back with three or four and we were eventually able to win the game.The Blackhawks were unable to capitalize on Browns foul trouble and the Pirates sluggish play in the second, however, going only 2 of 10 from the field with five turnovers in the quarter, heading into the half down, 29-21.That proved to be enough of a margin for the Pirates to survive. West Aurora never got the lead lower than six points, but Proviso East never led by more than 13 points.They didnt go away, Carter said. We had a good first quarter and they kind of got back in it. Our coach told us not to worry about it, everybody makes runs. We just had to make another run.Paris Lee scored 13 to go with five steals for the Pirates. Brown and Burns each scored nine. Walker scored 12 for West Aurora.Starks went for 17 points and 11 rebounds in the loss for West, becoming the schools all-time leading scorer in the process. His rebound putback with 1:35 left in the second quarter helped him surpass Billy Taylors mark, set from 1987-91. The new record now stands at 1,627 points.We didnt capitalize on their mistakes, Starks said. We were still in the game, but not really. It was real tough. Im real proud of my team.

Joao Meira spills the first news of the Fire's offseason

joao-1118.jpg
USA TODAY

Joao Meira spills the first news of the Fire's offseason

The wait to find out which players have their options picked up or declined by the Fire might still be a couple weeks, but the first news of a player move in the Fire's offseason came via Twitter.

Defender Joao Meira announced he won't be returning to the club in 2018.

Meira signed with the Fire just before the start of the 2016 preseason after being out of contract in Europe. The Portuguese center back signed a one-year deal with a club option for the second year.

After he played 28 matches with 26 starts in 2016, the Fire picked up his option. He became even more of a fixture at center back in 2017, beating out Jonathan Campbell for the other starting spot alongside Johan Kappelhof. Meira played in 30 regular season matches and made 27 starts, finishing fourth on the team in minutes played (2,412).

That Meira won't be back isn't a major surprise for a few reasons. First, he was out of contract. He was one of two players, along with Bastian Schweinsteiger, on the Fire's roster that the team had no control over for 2018. On top of that, the 30-year-old had made it clear that he wanted to be closer to his home and family in Portugal.

Meira's departure leaves a gap at the center back position for the Fire. Kappelhof, who enters the third year of a three-year guaranteed deal in 2018, and Campbell, who will likely have his club option picked up, enter as the only healthy center backs in 2018. Christian Dean was added in August via trade, but is coming off a broken foot, an injury that has plagued him before. His status for the start of the 2018 season is unclear.

Grant Lillard, a potential homegrown signing and a senior at Indiana, could compete for time at center back next season. He is one of the top rated players in the country for the Hoosiers, which are the No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. While Lillard could step in from a numbers perspective and would add size to the Fire's back line (Lillard is 6-foot-4), he wouldn't be able to replace Meira's ability on the ball. Meira wasn't as effective of a defender as Kappelhof, but was arguably the best passer among the Fire's center backs and helped alleviate pressure at times.

This also opens up an international spot on the Fire's roster. The Fire went over the alloted total last season, but were able to put John Goossens and Jorge Bava on the disabled list to clear room. Meira's exit gives a bit more flexibility in that department.

Bears-Lions prediction: Will special teams continue John Fox's NFC North woes?

Bears-Lions prediction: Will special teams continue John Fox's NFC North woes?

Only three of John Fox’s 12 wins as Bears coach have been against NFC North opponents, while 12 of his 29 losses have come against divisional opponents. 

That’s a recipe for back-to-back-to-back last place finishes in the NFC North. And if the Bears can’t beat an Aaron Rodgers-less Green Bay Packers team, why could it beat a Detroit Lions team that has a healthy franchise quarterback?

The positive end of that answer is the Bears do have wins over two playoff teams (Pittsburgh and Carolina) while six of their four losses have been by eight points or fewer. Sunday’s game will probably be close, again (if it’s not, and the Bears are on the losing end of it, it would raise some significant concerns about the state of Fox within the locker room). 

So if the game is decided by one possession or less, this could be the difference: Detroit has one of the best special teams units in the NFL, ranking second in Football Outsiders’ DVOA, while the Bears are 28th by the same measure. 

Getting Sherrick McManis back this week should help solidify Jeff Rodgers’ special teams units, but Jamal Agnew has two punt return scores and is averaging 18.3 yards per return. 

“Tough guy — he’ll return inside and outside,” Rodgers said. “He’s got multiple longer returns against people this year. it’s not just, ‘I had a long return in Week 2 or Week 1,’ and kinda held onto that. he’s been productive in a lot of games. certainly a guy that we’ve gotta do a good job against.”

If the Bears don’t do a good job bottling up Agnew, though, he could be the reason why the game flips to Detroit — or, at least, why the Lions keep the Bears at arm’s length. 

Prediction: Lions 24, Bears 16