Cubs

All-Star games battle for nation's best

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All-Star games battle for nation's best

Originally, there was only one national high school All-Star football game. Then there were two. Now there are three, and counting.

All of which means the sponsors of the three events--U.S. Army, U.S. Marines and Under Armour--are battling for the nation's top players as if it was a month before national signing day.

Who's going to play for whom?

The U.S. Army traditionally announces its roster before anyone else. Its 2013 squad includes only one Illinois product, wide receiver LaQuon Treadwell of Crete-Monee. He has at least 19 scholarship offers, including Alabama, Auburn, USC, Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Nebraska.

The Marines-sponsored Semper Fidelis game has landed commitments from Michigan-bound offensive tackles Kyle Bosch of Wheaton St. Francis and Logan Tuley-Tillman of Peoria Manual and the state's two top-rated quarterbacks, Aaron Bailey of Bolingbrook and Matt Alviti of Maine South.

But USC-bound Ty Isaac of Joliet Catholic, the No. 1 running back in the nation according to recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network, and LSU-bound offensive tackle Ethan Pocic of Lemont, both of whom originally had committed to Semper Fidelis, changed their minds and decided to compete in the Under Armour game.

The Marines also have invited offensive tackles Jack Keeler of Barrington, who is committed to Wisconsin, Notre Dame-bound Colin McGovern of Lincoln-Way West and Kendall Moore of Simeon, defensive end Ruben Dunbar of Glenbard West, defensive lineman Josh Augusta of Peoria Central and Illinois-bound running back Kendrick Foster of Peoria Richwoods.

Augusta, who played on Peoria Central's Class 3A championship team, has emerged as one of the top prospects in Illinois in a relative short period of time.

The 6-foot-5, 275-pounder has 11 offers, including Illinois, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Michigan, Iowa, Indiana, Memphis, Missouri, Nebraska and California. He also is attracting interest from Alabama, Oregon, Michigan State and Ohio State.

After heading the selection committee for the U.S. Army game for several years, Lemming knows it is important to nail down commitments as quickly as possible, even more importantly when there are three All-Star games competing against one another for the nation's best talent. He can't understand why the Marines haven't pulled the trigger faster than they have.

Sean Berry, CEO of Junior Rank Sports and founder of the U.S. Marine Corps' Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl, admits the Marines' approach has been slow. But he predicts "big plans for this year." The game, which was played for the first time last year in Phoenix, is likely to move to Los Angeles this year and will be televised on NFL Network.

"We're getting the best football players, what people saw last year," Berry said. "They may not be the best ranked players (according to most recruiting services) but they are more competitive."

Berry pointed out that Lemming, chairman of the Marines' selection committee, picks players with NFL potential, not necessarily because they are ranked among the top 100 in the nation. For example, Bosch is rated as the No. 1 guard in the country based on his NFL potential.

Berry admits he is disappointed by Isaac's decision. Isaac has been involved in Berry's Junior Rank program since eighth grade. He attended the Marines' combine in Phoenix last January and Berry has a good relationship with Isaac's parents.

"Kids make decisions for a lot of different reasons," Berry said. "I don't think you'll see more than three high school all-star games. But, to be successful, you have to be that authoritative entity to say you can accumulate the best collection of players.

"How do you do that? Look at Tom Lemming's track record in terms of finding the best athletes. But some organizations throw a lot of free gear at a kid, as much as 2,000 worth. Sometimes kids are persuaded by the fact the game is being played in Florida. We think a lot of West Coast kids will be persuaded to participate in the Semper Fidelis game."

Meanwhile, Berry is planning for the future. He already is building relationships with four young and promising prospects in the Chicago area--6-foor-2, 240-pound freshman tackle Brennan Bosch, 6-foot-4, 200-pound sophomore wide receiver Brannon Barry and eighth-grade quarterback Justin Berry of St. Charles East and 6-foot-6, 250-pound eighth-grade tackle Eric Swenson of Downers Grove South.

Brennan Bosch is Kyle Bosch's brother, and Michigan is already expressing interest in him. Barry already is attracting interest from Oklahoma. Berry, Sean Berry's son, took an unofficial visit to West Virginia recently.

In the business of all-star football games, like recruiting, it is never too early to evaluate talent.

Cubs' David Ross' plan for weekend off: watch baseball, hang out with his dog

Cubs' David Ross' plan for weekend off: watch baseball, hang out with his dog

The Cubs have a few unforeseen days off from playing after several new Cardinals tested positive for COVID-19 this week. 

With this weekend’s series in St. Louis postponed, the Cubs returned to Chicago, where they’ll remain until heading to Cleveland on Tuesday morning. They have a light workout scheduled for pitchers on Saturday and a simulated game scheduled on Sunday.

What will Cubs manager David Ross be doing otherwise with no games scheduled, though?

“Me personally, it’s just sitting on my couch with my dog and watching baseball and highlights and catching a game,” Ross said Saturday.

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Cleveland is coincidentally in town this weekend, facing the White Sox on the South Side. Ross has the opportunity to get an early look at the Indians ahead of their two-game series on Tuesday and Wednesday. They're playing on Sunday Night Baseball this week in place of the Cubs and Cardinals.

“We’ll definitely have baseball on, try to get a nice meal delivered and just hang out with myself. I’m pretty awesome by myself,” Ross said with a smile.

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Jonathan Toews ready to be Captain Clutch for Blackhawks' postseason run

Jonathan Toews ready to be Captain Clutch for Blackhawks' postseason run

The big things, the little things... Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews was doing them all in the Hawks' 3-1 series upset of the Western Conference's No. 5 seeded Oilers in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers.

Toews, 32, finished the best-of-five qualifying round series with seven points (four goals, three assists) a plus/minus rating of plus-2, a faceoff percentage of 55.34 and was on the ice for five goals for and two against in 5-on-5 play vs. Edmonton.

His game-winning goal with 1:16 remaining in Game 3 to make it 4-3, which deflected off his shin pad from a Connor Murphy shot, tied Toews with Stan Mikita, Bobby Hull and Patrick Kane for most postseason game winners (11) in Hawks' history.

"Technically we just made the playoffs now, so the real fun begins," Toews said after Friday's Game 4. "We worked pretty hard in this series to beat a good team and we're gonna have to dig deep to keep getting better and better (against) the next one. It's fun, like I said, even though there's no fans in the building. Guys want to win. Nice to get that series win. I think everyone's feeling good."

After Friday's Game 4 win, the Blackhawks improved to 17-5 in elimination games since 2010. In those games, Toews has 29 points with 11 goals and 18 assists. Patrick Kane also has 29 points in those elimination contests with 14 goals and 15 assists. 

The stats speak volumes of the captain's start to the postseason, but the way he played to record them say a lot more regarding the level Toews is performing at.

The three-time Stanley Cup champion center parking in front of the Oilers' net was a familiar sight during the series. After more than a decade of taking abuse in front of the crease, Toews is still willing to pay the price for his team. 

Related: More hard-earned goals and a killer PK advance Blackhawks to Round One

It wasn't just his two two-goal games, dominating on the dot and a strong defensive game throughout the series that was impressive, it was the determination that led to it.

There was a retro postseason intensity to his game, on display for the Hawks' younger players to observe the kind of edge successful playoff hockey often requires.

There was pulling up the bootstraps, packing the lunch pail and going to work on the boards, battling to get the puck to create chances, like when he won a battle down low to get rookie Dominik Kubalik the puck for the series-clinching goal at 8:30 of the third period in Game 4.

"Jonny’s been around a long time and he’s got a pretty immaculate track record in the playoffs," Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton said after Game 4. "To me, his biggest attribute that he has is his compete level. He wins a 50/50 battle on the winning goal, just finds a way to come up with the puck, and that’s the winner. He came up big for us throughout the series in those types of situations. Great player."

Related: How the Blackhawks upset the Oilers in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers

It's no wonder the Blackhawks' younger players were so effective in the series. When they see veteran Hawks like their captain, several years their senior, doing the right things with purpose, they have no excuse not to.

"Thought he was great," Hawks goalie Corey Crawford said after Friday's game. "He was obviously one of our best players, not just offensively but he had a big block in the third there when they were pressuring. I mean when a leader's doing that I think that just follows throughout the lineup. Obviously he's won some Cups and knows how to play in these games, not much of a difference now. He was great."

Led by their captain, the Blackhawks did a lot right in the play-in series. They'll have momentum heading into Round One, albeit against a better team in the Colorado Avalanche or Vegas Golden Knights, but Toews' team has bought in.

If he continues to play at the level he opened the postseason at, anything is possible for him and his Hawks. Stranger things have happened in 2020.

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