Remember Centralia 1941, Du Sable 1954?


Remember Centralia 1941, Du Sable 1954?

Jim Brown always believed that his 1954 Du Sable team was one of the best ever produced in Illinois and surely was destined to win the state championship with a lineup featuring Paxton Lumpkin, Sweet Charlie Brown and Shellie McMillon. But the Panthers lost to Mount Vernon in one of the most controversial state finals in history.

Arthur Trout's celebrated Wonder Five was heavily favored to win the 1941 state title. But the Orphans, led by Dike Eddleman, Jack Klosterman, Bill Castleman, Harold Wesner and Bob Michael lost to Morton of Cicero and Chet Strumillo 30-29 in the state semifinals and settled for third place and a 44-2 record.

They were two of the outstanding teams that fell short of expectations. They received more recognition for losing than many other teams did for winning state championships. Who remembers Mount Vernon's 1954 team? Or Morton's 1941 team?

Du Sable 1954, Centralia 1941, Farragut 1955, Collinsville 1957 and Paris 1942 are five of the best teams ever produced in Illinois--and none of them won the state title. They will forever be remembered as great teams with great players that didn't bring home the biggest trophy of all.

Du Sable had qualified for the Sweet Sixteen in 1953 under coach Arthur Scher but lost to eventual state champion La Grange and Ted Caiazza 85-68 in the first round, finishing with a 27-3 record.

In 1954, new coach Jim Brown greeted three returning standouts--Paxton Lumpkin, Sweet Charlie Brown and Shellie McMillon. They joined Karl Dennis and McKinley Cowsen to form a devastating offense that averaged 95 shots and 82.8 points per game in winning their first 31 games and overwhelming Bowen, Quincy and Edwardsville in the first three games of the tournament. But the Panthers lost to Mount Vernon 76-70 in the final.

McMillon, who later played at Bradley, was whistled for three early fouls. Lumpkin twice was called for charging after making baskets. One of the officials, John Fraser of Alton, called traveling on Brown after he had converted three long jumpers. Lumpkin, Brown and Dennis fouled out in the closing minutes.

"He (Fraser) turned the game around," Jim Brown said. "In the last three minutes, he called key fouls and took the game over. The other official (Joe Przada of Belleville) was fair. Sure, we made mistakes. We didn't protect the key. Don Richards (25 points) surprised us. We probably should have called off the press earlier rather than foul. But I still believe the game was taken away from us."

"It's not how many fouls you call (Du Sable committed 19, Mount Vernon 12) but when you call them," Sweet Charlie Brown said. "I had been making the same move throughout the season and the tournament. I planted both feet when I caught the ball, then took a step as a launching pad for shooting. It was called traveling in that circumstance."

A few years later, as recounted in "Glory Days: Legends of Illinois High School Basketball," Fraser was convicted of fixing games and banned from officiating in the Missouri Valley Conference. It prompted Brown to do some research of his own, to confirm his suspicions that the championship game had been rigged.

"I wanted to get a copy of the film of the state final but I was told that the last three minutes were deleted," he said. "To this day, I can't get a copy of the film.

"We were 17 and 18-year-old kids playing a game and competing and trying to find out who was the best. We were out to prove our superiority, like soldiers taking a hill."

Centralia was the scourge of the Deep South in 1940-41 and Dike Eddleman, a junior, was building a reputation as one of the greatest athletes in state history. The Orphans swept past Paris and Carbondale but lost to Morton by one point in the semifinals. Morton went on to win the state title.

The following year, it was Paris' turn to suffer the same fate. Coach Ernie Eveland's team, led by Nate Middleton, won 39 games in a row before losing to Centralia and Eddleman 35-33 in the state final. Eddleman scored 16 points to lead a late comeback that stunned Paris.

Centralia rallied from a 13-point deficit in the last six minutes to stun Paris. Eddleman picked up a loose ball and scored the winning basket at the buzzer. Even after competing in the Rose Bowl, the Final Four, the Olympics and the NBA, he always considered the victory over Paris in 1942 to be his greatest thrill in sports.

As Centralia had done the previous year, Paris came back to win the 1943 state title. With Dick Foley, Dave Humerickhouse and Max Norman returning from the 1942 squad and joining Gordon Taylor, Paris capped a 36-2 season by beating Moline.

"That was devastating," Norman said about Paris' loss to Centralia in the 1942 state final. "We thought we would be the first unbeaten state champion. It broke us up. You don't forget things like that, even 50 years later. I recall 1942 for losing almost as much as I recall 1943 for winning. To this day, I think 1942 was a better team than 1943."

But Paris didn't blow the lead in 1943. The Tigers got past Salem and All-Stater Roy Gatewood and 6-foot-7, 230-pound Dean White by a 53-50 margin in the semifinals despite Gatewood's 22 points, then prevailed over Moline 46-37 in the final.

Vergil Fletcher won two state championships and 792 games at Collinsville but the one that got away was the 1957 final when his unbeaten and top-ranked team had its 34-game winning streak snapped by Herrin 45-42 in the state final. The Kahoks were led by Terry Bethel and Thom Jackson. Herrin was led by John Tidwell.

In the final, Bethel, who was named to Parade magazine's All-America team with Jerry Lucas, picked up three fouls in the first five minutes and was forced to sit down. The Kahoks shot only 17-of-47 and Fletcher said it was one of the most disappointing losses of his career.

"Nobody will let the 1957 team die," Bethel said. "To them, there never will be a team like 1957, not even 1961."

Fletcher's 1961 team, led by Bogie Redmon and Fred Riddle, went 32-0 and is generally regarded among the top five teams in state history. After edging Centralia 66-64 in the supersectional in a duel of the state's two top-rated teams, Collinsville went to crush its last three opponents by margins of 23, 37 and 34 points.

In 1995, William "Wolf" Nelson was convinced that his Farragut team, featuring future NBA star Kevin Garnett, Ronnie Fields and Michael Wright, was destined to add to the Chicago Public League's legacy of outstanding state champions. But the Admirals were upset by Thornton in the state quarterfinals. Garnett was distraught after the game and has always said it was one of the most disappointing losses of his career.

At the end of the regular season, Farragut was 23-1 and rated No. 1 in the state. Peoria Manual was 24-2 and rated No. 2. Thornton was 22-1 and rated No. 5. In the Public League final, Farragut ousted Carver and Nick Irvin 71-62 but lost to Thornton and Melvin Ely, Erik Herring, Chauncey Jones and James Johnson 46-43 in the state quarterfinals. Thornton went on to lose to Peoria Manual in the state final.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Will Cam Meredith return to the Bears?


SportsTalk Live Podcast: Will Cam Meredith return to the Bears?

Hub Arkush (Pro Football Weekly/670 The Score), Mark Grote (670 The Score) and Mark Carman (WGN Radio) join Luke Stuckmeyer on the panel. Quenton Nelson works out at Notre Dame’s pro day. If he’s still on the board at 8, should the Bears take him? Plus the panel talks about the Cubs outfield heading into 2018 and if it’s time to shut down both Jonathan Toews and Lauri Markkanen.

White Sox opposition research: What's there to know about the New York Yankees?


White Sox opposition research: What's there to know about the New York Yankees?

As the 2018 season nears and the White Sox get ready to take on the rest of the American League, we're taking a team-by-team look at all 14 of their opponents.

What’s there to know about the New York Yankees?

You know how everybody always (usually jokingly) refers to “stacked” lineups as the ‘27 Yankees? Well, it might be time to change that to the ‘18 Yankees.

The Bronx Bombers did their nickname justice this winter, adding reigning National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton and teaming him with Aaron Judge to form a power-hitting combo perhaps unseen since the Ruth-Gehrig glory days.

Now that’s not to suggest that Stanton and Judge are going to become two of the greatest baseball players in history. But it is to suggest that they’re going to strike fear into opposing pitchers, with plenty of prognosticators predicting a combined 100 homers for the duo. That’s not crazy, either, considering Stanton led baseball with 59 bombs a season ago, the highest single-season total in almost two decades, and in a runaway Rookie of the Year campaign, Judge crushed 52 homers to lead the American League.

So, you know, 59 plus 52. That’s more than 100.

And while Stanton and Judge take all the attention, the Yankees’ lineup is pretty darn good outside of those two guys, too. Gary Sanchez is one of baseball’s best offensive catchers and hit an only shabby-by-comparison 33 homers last season. Didi Gregorius has plenty of pop for a shortstop, and he smacked 25 homers last season. Brett Gardner had a strong 2017. And even two late-in-the-offseason additions to the infield, Neil Walker and Brandon Drury, form a better 8-9 combo than most teams in the AL.

There’s no need to start spreading the news, it’s already been spread: The Yankees have one of the best, most fearsome offenses in the game.

As for the pitching, well that ain’t half bad either. Luis Severino had a 2.98 ERA and 230 strikeouts last season. CC Sabathia had a 3.69 ERA in 27 starts. Midseason acquisition Sonny Gray had a 3.55 ERA on the year. Masahiro Tanaka almost hit the 200-strikeout plateau.

And that bullpen is outstanding. Aroldis Chapman, David Robertson, Dellin Betances, Chad Green, Tommy Kahnle and Adam Warren formed as good a relief corps as you were likely to find in baseball last year.

Even with the division-rival Red Sox looking pretty good — and coming off a 93-win season — the Yanks will enter 2018 as the favorite in the always-competitive AL East. The question is how close they’ll come to being the favorite in the AL overall. The defending-champion Houston Astros still seem a hair ahead after besting the Yankees in last year’s ALCS. But the Bombers might have the preseason edge over the Cleveland Indians, especially after beating them in the playoffs last year.

Bottom line: The Yankees are really, really good. And don’t be surprised if you hear a lot of Billy Joel during the Fall Classic. "Some folks like to get away, take a holiday from the neighborhood ..."

2017 record: 91-71, second place in AL East, lost in ALCS

Offseason additions: Giancarlo Stanton, Neil Walker, Brandon Drury

Offseason departures: Todd Frazier, Jaime Garcia, Michael Pineda, Starlin Castro

X-factor: White Sox fans know how good Robertson and Kahnle were last season. Chapman and Betances are now household names as elite relief pitchers. But the best reliever of this whole group at the end of last season was Green, who finished the year with a 1.83 ERA and 103 strikeouts in 69 innings. Over his final 30 games, 47 innings, he had an even lower 1.53 ERA and 77 strikeouts. He allowed one run in September. And though he was roughed up a bit in his lone appearance against the Indians in the ALDS, he allowed just one unearned run in 6.1 innings against the Astros in the ALCS.

Projected lineup:

1. Brett Gardner, LF
2. Aaron Judge, RF
3. Giancarlo Stanton, DH
4. Gary Sanchez, C
5. Didi Gregorius, SS
6. Aaron Hicks, CF
7. Greg Bird, 1B
8. Neil Walker, 2B
9. Brandon Drury, 3B

Projected rotation:

1. Luis Severino
2. Masahiro Tanaka
3. CC Sabathia
4. Sonny Gray
5. Jordan Montgomery

Prediction: First place in AL East

Catch up on the AL:

Oakland Athletics
Texas Rangers
Seattle Mariners
Los Angeles Angels
Houston Astros
Tampa Bay Rays
Toronto Blue Jays
Baltimore Orioles
Boston Red Sox
New York Yankees

Catch up on the NL:

San Diego Padres
Colorado Rockies
Arizona Diamondbacks
San Francisco Giants
Los Angeles Dodgers
Miami Marlins
Philadelphia Phillies