Cubs

Second time's the charm for Ervin

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Second time's the charm for Ervin

In his second tour of duty at his alma mater, Tim Ervin has turned Providence-St. Mel into an Elite Eight qualifier. The Knights will carry a 23-7 record into Tuesday night's game against Class 2A favorite Seton Academy in the supersectional at Joliet Central.

This has been an eye-opening, record-setting season for Providence-St. Mel. The Knights have won three regionals in a row but this marks their first trip to the Elite Eight since 2002. It has been a long time since Tom Shields coached St. Mel to three consecutive trips to the Elite Eight and the state championship in 1985.

"We were the No. 1 seed in our regional but I don't think people thought we were the best team," Ervin said.

"These kids don't relate to the 1980s but they know about it. They see the trophies in the trophy case. Those things have a short shelf life. But these kids know the importance of tradition. They want to restore the feeling of the 1980s in the school."

Ervin, a St. Mel graduate of 1991, is in his third year as head coach--for the second time. He walked on at Purdue, played for Gene Keady, then assisted coach Billy Garrett at St. Mel in the late 1990s. He was head coach for three years but was fired after going 0-25.

"I was out of coaching for six years," Ervin said. "But I remained involved with the school. When coach Todd Kelly left to become an assistant at North Central College in 2009, they asked me to come back. I had no bitterness over being fired. I understood. It all worked out."

Providence-St. Mel hasn't lost since Jan. 21. Last Friday, the Knights defeated Tilden 65-52 for the sectional title. Tevin King, a 6'1" sophomore, scored 21 points and 6'1" junior Khalil Small had 15.

They have been battle-tested against such strong opponents as Marshall, Hope Academy, Corliss, Dunbar, Foreman and Lake Forest Academy. In the regional semifinal, they trailed Raby by 20 in the second quarter and rallied to win by four in overtime.

"That taught us not to take any team lightly and if we trust and believe in system, it will work out," Ervin said. "It showed me that they had grown up and they had become mature. They fought through adversity. Small got 29 points and took charge."

Ervin welcomed only one returning senior from last year's 18-10 team that lost to Aurora Christian in the sectional. But he felt this team had a chance to reach this point because it played good man-to-man defense and played hard all the time.

"What I am surprised about is how well they are playing," he admitted. "They bought into our system early, playing hard and playing defense, being a family. They are excited about how much progress we have made."

The starters are King (13.5 ppg), Small (16 ppg), 5'11" junior guard Teadric Anderson (7 ppg), 6'1" junior Donald Morgan (8 ppg) and 6'2" senior Vesper Young. Anthony Mosley (8 ppg), a 5'11" freshman, and 6'2" sophomore Bernard Lilly (4 ppg) come off the bench.

"King is a winner. He has a great personality and the other kids like him and respect him," said Ervin of the youngster who was rated as one of the best eighth grade players in the city coming out of grammar school. "He and Anderson and Small bonded well together last year. They are our team leaders. We're successful because the kids play well for each other."

Cubs' World Series expectations are no surprise, but they show how radical transformation from Lovable Losers has been

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USA TODAY

Cubs' World Series expectations are no surprise, but they show how radical transformation from Lovable Losers has been

MESA, Ariz. — Tom Ricketts sure doesn’t sound like the guy who met his wife in the bleachers during the century-long tenure of the Lovable Losers.

“Everyone knows that this is a team that has the capability to win the World Series, and everyone will be disappointed if we don’t live up to that capability.”

Yeah, the Cubs have been among baseball’s best teams for three seasons now. That curse-smashing World Series win in 2016 was the high point of a three-year stretch of winning that’s seen three straight trips to the National League Championship Series and a combined 310 wins between the regular season and postseason.

But it’s still got to come as a strange sound to those who remember the Cubs as the longtime butt of so many baseball jokes. This team has one expectation, to win the World Series. The players have said it for a week leading up to Monday’s first full-squad workout. The front office said it when it introduced big-time free-agent signing Yu Darvish a week ago. And the chairman said it Monday.

“We very much expect to win,” Ricketts said. “We have the ability to win. Our division got a lot tougher, and the playoff opponents that we faced last year are likely to be there waiting for us again.

“I think at this point with this team, obviously that’s our goal. I won’t say a season’s a failure because you don’t win the World Series, but it is our goal.”

The confidence is not lacking. But more importantly, success drives expectations. And if the Cubs are going to be one of the best teams in baseball, they better keep winning, or they’ll fail to meet those expectations, expectations that can sometimes spin a little bit out of control.

During last year’s follow-up campaign to 2016’s championship run, a rocky start to the season that had the Cubs out of first place at the All-Star break was enough to make some fans feel like the sky was falling — as if one year without a World Series win would be unacceptable to a fan base that had just gone 108 without one.

After a grueling NLDS against the Washington Nationals, the Cubs looked well overmatched in the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers, and that sparked plenty of outside criticism, as well as plenty of offseason activity to upgrade the club in the midst of baseball’s never-ending arms race.

“I think people forget we’ve won more games over the last three years than any other team. We’ve won more playoff games than any other team the last three years. And we’ve been to the NLCS three years in a row,” Ricketts said. “I think fans understand that this is a team that if we stay healthy and play up to our capability can be in that position, be in the World Series. I don’t blame them. We should have high expectations, we have a great team.”

On paper, there are plenty of reasons for high expectations. Certainly the team’s stated goals don’t seem outlandish or anything but expected. The addition of Darvish to a rotation that already boasted Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana makes the Cubs’ starting staff the best in the NL, maybe the best in the game. There were additions to the bullpen, and the team’s fleet of young star position players went untouched despite fears it might be broken up to acquire pitching.

“I think this is, on paper, the strongest rotation that we’ve ever had,” Ricketts said. “I think that being able to bring in a player of (Darvish’s) caliber reminds everyone that we’re intending to win our division and go all the way.

“We’ve kept a good core of players together for several years, and this year I think our offseason moves have really set us up to be one of the best teams in baseball.

“Just coming out of our team meeting, the vibe feels a lot like two years ago. Everybody’s in a really good place. I think everyone’s really hungry and really wants to get this season off to a great start and make this a memorable year.”

There should be no surprise that the team and its players and its executives and its owners feel the way they do. The Cubs are now expected winners, even if that’s still yet to sink in for the longtime fans and observers of the team they once called the Lovable Losers.

Blackhawks deal Michael Kempny to Capitals for conditional third-round pick

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks deal Michael Kempny to Capitals for conditional third-round pick

The Blackhawks dealt defenseman Michael Kempny to the Washington Capitals for a third-round pick. Kempny had seven points in 31 games this season.

Kempny, 27, recorded 15 points in 81 career games for the Blackhawks. He tallied an assist in Saturday's 7-1 victory over the Capitals.

Kempny signed a one-year extension through the end of this season back in May.