Cubs

Salata, Libertyville make late-season run

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Salata, Libertyville make late-season run

The definition of a team player is someone who rushes 24 times for 135 yards and one touchdown in one game, then doesn't complain when he is told he is being replaced by another running back for the next game.

Meet Libertyville's Joey Salata.

"I really have no problem with it," said the 5-foot-10, 185-pound senior who also starts at free safety. "I like to fill in when I can on offense. I like to make an impact. But my first priority is to lead the defense, to make sure everybody lines up correctly and is in the right spot.

"Sure, it is exciting to run for 135 yards. I always take snaps in practice. Brian Swift is our leading rusher (77 carries, 535 yards) and he has been out with a hip injury for three weeks. So week to week, I was ready to play. But he's supposed to be back this week. That's a big plus for us.

"I grew up on offense. Guys who score touchdowns get all the publicity. But as a sophomore I played linebacker and grew to love playing defense. You don't get as much attention but I prefer hitting to carrying the ball. And I love the challenge of playing together as a unit, all 11 guys."

Libertyville's defense has recorded two shutouts in a row. The Wildcats completed a 7-2 regular season with a 40-20 victory at Wauconda last Friday. It is their first winning season since 2006. The Wildcats will play at Machesney Park Harlem in the first round of the Class 7A playoff.

It has been a time of transition for the program. Last year's team was 5-5. It was the last season for coach Randy Kuceyeski, who retired after posting a 133-58 record in 18 years. His 2003 team finished second in the state playoff and his 2004 team won the state championship.

Last year's team had to overcome a lot of adversity. The overriding factor was Kuceyeski's well documented battle with cancer. The Wildcats were 4-3 and shut out Warren to qualify for the state playoff. They lost to unbeaten state champion Rockford Boylan in the first round.

"We realized when we play as a unit and play consistent and everybody does their job, offense and defense, we can compete with anybody. We shows the kind of potential we have," Salata said. "Losing to Boylan gave us a taste of what playoff football is like, so much more speed. So I'm not surprised at what we have done this year.

"This is a core unit, the seniors. We've played together since middle school. We played on the Libertyville Boys Club traveling team in eighth grade. This is what we dreamed about, being seniors and leaders of the team, to have a great senior year and make a run in the playoff.

"Last year, we got experience. This year, we come back every week with a business-like approach. We love having fun. We enjoy being with each other. What is our edge? Our mental preparation. The coaches do a great job of preparing us each week."

In Libertyvlle's 17-0 victory over Zion-Benton two weeks ago, Salata rushed for 135 yards and one touchdown and intercepted a pass for the second game in a row. The swarming defense allowed only three first downs an 55 yards of total offense and forced five turnovers.

In last Friday's 40-20 rout of Wauconda, quarterback Jack Deichl completed 16 of 23 passes for 231 yards. Austin Williams caught seven for 114 yards and three touchdowns. Bryan Scanlan caught four for 52 yards. Conor Simpson rushed for 127 yards.

But while the offense averaged 30 points per game in the first five weeks, the defense has stepped up in recent games. "Our defense has done a great job lately. They've just played very sound football. They haven't given up the big play. They've been physical and smart and that's what we expect of them," first-year coach Mike Jones said.

Jones is no stranger to the Libertyville program. He coached at Grayslake Central for 13 years before moving to Libertyville. He was Kuceyeski's defensive coordinator for eight years so it isn't surprising that the Wildcats' 4-2-5 alignment has been effective.

"With 16 starters returning, I was optimistic," Jones said. "We kept the same defense. Offensively, we've gone more to a wing T from a zone pistol. Why? I wasn't thrilled with the running back eight yards deep in the pistol.

"We're trying to build some consistency. When we do consistently what we are coached to do, we are good. But we have been inconsistent this year, our blocking and tackling and execution."

Libertyville has fallen behind in several games but rarely failed to come back. The Wildcats trailed Barrington by 17 and rallied to win. They lost to Stevenson 14-9 after falling behind 14-0. They trailed Warren by 14 and came back to win.

"There is a lot of fight and determination in them," Jones said. "We could be better. I would like to revisit some games we lost. We laid an egg against Lake Forest (they lost 33-13). But we have come back and our defense is playing well. Going forward, we must be consistent in the playoff."

The key could be 6-foot-5, 220-pound senior quarterback Jack Deichl, who has completed 136 of 211 passes for 1,667 yards and 12 touchdowns. He was 18 of 21 for 235 yards vs. Barrington, 13 of 26 for 201 yards vs. Stevenson and 22 of 33 for 310 yards vs. Warren.

He struggled in recent weeks, according to Jones, until last Friday's game at Wauconda. He was 16 of 28 for 159 yards vs. Lake Forest. If he continues to regain his early-season touch and Swift returns to form and three injured offensive linemen return to the lineup, Jones is optimistic that his team will make a good account of itself in the playoff.

Other players he is counting on are 6-foot-1, 180-pound senior wide receiver Austin Williams, a big-play threat who has caught 42 passes for 575 yards and eight touchdowns, 5-foot-9, 180-pound junior running backreceiver Conor Simpson, who has rushed for more than 500 yards and caught 40 passes for 421 yards, 6-foot, 195-pound senior linebacker Drew Krinitsy, 6-foot-1, 190-pound senior linebacker Kevin Verkler, 6-foot-5, 235-pound senior offensive tackle Brandon Stanfel and 6-foot, 210-pound senior defensive tackle Logan Klepac.

"We have been in a lot of tough battles this year," said Salata, who didn't carry the ball at all until three weeks ago, when Libertyville defeated Lake Zurich 3-0. "We have been through pressure situations. We have been down against good teams. When we are down, it doesn't bother us. We have been in that situation and found a way to win."

The low-key move that may pay dividends for Cubs in 2018 and beyond

The low-key move that may pay dividends for Cubs in 2018 and beyond

The Cubs-Cardinals rivalry is alive and well and this offseason has been further proof of that.

The St. Louis Cardinals haven't made a rivalry-altering move like inking Jake Arrieta to a megadeal, but they have proven that they are absolutely coming after the Cubs and the top of the division.

However, a move the St. Louis brass made Friday afternoon may actually be one that makes Cubs fans cheer.

The Cardinals traded outfielder Randal Grichuk to the Toronto Blue Jays Friday in exhange for a pair of right-handed pitchers: Dominic Leone and Conner Greene. Leone is the main draw here as a 26-year-old reliever who posted a 2.56 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 10.4 K/9 in 70.1 innings last year in Toronto.

But this is the second young position player the Cardinals have traded to Toronto this offseason and Grichuk is a notorious Cub Killer.

Grichuk struggled overall in 2017, posting a second straight year of empty power and not much else. But he once again hammered the Cubs to the tune of a .356 batting average and 1.240 OPS. 

He hit six homers and drove in 12 runs in just 14 games (11 starts) against Joe Maddon's squad. That's 27 percent of his 2017 homers and 20 percent of his season RBI numbers coming against just one team.

And it wasn't just one year that was an aberration. In his career, Grichuk has a .296/.335/.638 slash line against the Cubs, good for a .974 OPS. He's hit 11 homers and driven in 33 runs in 37 games, the highest ouput in either category against any opponent.

Even if Leone builds off his solid 2017 and pitches some big innings against the Cubs over the next couple seasons, it will be a sigh of relief for the Chicago pitching staff knowing they won't have to face the threat of Grichuk 18+ times a year.

Plus, getting a reliever and a low-level starting pitching prospect back for a guy (Grichuk) who was borderline untouchable a couple winters ago isn't exactly great value. The same can be said for the Cardinals' trade of Aledmys Diaz to Toronto on Dec. 1 for essentially nothing.

A year ago, St. Louis was heading into the season feeling confident about Diaz, who finished fifth in the NL Rookie of the Year race in 2016 after hitting .300 with an .879 OPS as a 25-year-old rookie. He wound up finishing 2017 in the minors after struggling badly to start the season and the Cardinals clearly didn't want to wait out his growing pains.

The two trades with Toronto limits the Cardinals' depth (as of right now) and leaves very few proven options behind shortstop Paul DeJong and outfielder Tommy Pham, who both enjoyed breakout seasons in 2017.

Meet the Prospects: Blake Rutherford

Meet the Prospects: Blake Rutherford

The White Sox rebuild is in full swing. While it might still be a year or two before the big league team is expected to start competing for championships, the minor leagues are stocked with highly touted talent fans will be eagerly following in 2018. With that in mind, it's time to Meet the Prospects and get to know the future of the South Side.

Blake Rutherford

Rutherford, the 20-year-old outfielder, was the highest-rated piece of the return package that came back to the White Sox in the seven-player deal that sent Todd Frazier, David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle to the New York Yankees last summer.

A California native, Rutherford was the 18th overall pick in the 2016 draft. After only playing rookie ball post-draft in 2016, he played 71 games with Class A Charleston last year before the trade, slashing .281/.342/.391 with 20 doubles and 30 RBIs to go along with a pair of home runs. After the trade, Rutherford played in 30 games with Class A Kannapolis, slashing .213/.289/.254 with 26 hits and 13 walks.

As of their most recent rankings, MLB Pipeline had Rutherford rated as the No. 4 prospect in the White Sox organization.

Get to know Rutherford in the video above.