White Sox

Cacciatore seeks to extend Boylan's streak

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Cacciatore seeks to extend Boylan's streak

Danny Appino said he was excited to play his senior season of football at Rockford Boylan for his uncle, coach Dan Appino, who had guided the Titans to back-to-back 14-0 state championships.

But the 5-foot-7, 158-pound slotback was as surprised as everyone outside the coach's immediate family when he opted to leave Boylan last spring to become the head coach at Rockford Auburn.

"It was a surprise to me," Danny Appino said. "The family knew. Rumors were going around. Then he announced his decision to the team. But coach (John) Cacciatore has done a nice job and we love playing for him."

Appino's sudden departure caught Cacciatore by surprise, too. He appeared to be a fixture at Boylan, like former football coach Bill Thumm and basketball coach Steve Goers. In 10 years, Appino's teams were 97-19 with only three losses in the last five years.

A Boylan graduate of 1992, Cacciatore had served as freshman coach for six years and sophomore coach until he was hired to succeed Appino this year. He seemed to be content being an assistant in a program that has experienced only one losing season since 1982 and has failed to qualify for the state playoff only once in the last 22 years.

"You like to think you are ready. Then you see how enormous the job is," Cacciatore said. "I have great appreciation for what coach Appino did. Coaching at the freshman and sophomore level isn't like the varsity.

"Coaching is great, my favorite part of the job. But the other administrative parts that go with it...well, there are different demands at that level. It's the other things that open your eyes to how big a job it is."

Cacciatore, 38, came prepared for the task. Before joining Appino's staff, he played for legendary coaches Gordie Gillespie and Dan Sharp at College of St. Francis in Joliet.
   
"I wasn't thinking about taking the job when Appino left," he said. "There was a point in my career where I thought I would never be a head coach. But there was a point when I was playing for Bill Thumm when I thought I wanted to be a head coach. Was I ready at age 38? If you don't do it now, I said to myself, are you walking away from your biggest opportunity ever?"

He deliberated for three days, had discussions with his wife and two young children, then decided to apply for the job. School officials chose not to look beyond the school itself for a successor. Seven days later, Cacciatore was hired. He still teaches four classes of U.S. History.

"I'd be lying if I said pressure was nothing here," he said. "You know it going in, even at the sophomore level. You feel there is a need to live up to what the varsity is doing. Dan set a standard. One advantage I had was not knowing what I didn't know and just coach the best way I know how. Winning has made it easier.

"Coming off two 14-0 seasons and two state titles, I inherited a group of seniors that when I had them as sophomores went undefeated. A dozen of them went to the varsity and contributed to our playoff run in 2010. They have been a successful group since they walked into the school."

Thirty-eight victories in a row and counting. Rockford Boylan still has a long way to go before it approaches the all-time state record of 64 set by Pittsfield in 1966-73. Think of it, nine unbeaten seasons in a row. In fact, five schools have posted longer winning streaks than Boylan.

Last Saturday, the Titans rallied from an early 10-0 deficit to oust Jacobs 28-10 in the first round of the Class 7A playoff. Demarcus Vines scored on a 39-yard run and a 75-yard punt return, safety Matthew Johnson recorded his 12th and 13th interceptions of the season and quarterback Brock Stull threw a 34-yard TD pass to Luke Salamone.

Boylan (10-0) will host Fenwick (8-2) on Saturday in the second round.

Danny Appino and Peter Cimino don't have time to sort out the numbers or examine the record book. It is enough for the two Boylan seniors  to bask in the realization that they have never played in a losing game in four years of high school competition. And the thought of playing on three 14-0 state championship teams in a row boggles their minds.

Appino and Cimino are used to Cacciatore. They played on his unbeaten sophomore team. "A lot of things he does are unique, some quirks, but we've had time to adjust. We're getting used to his style. Coach Appino went to a spread offense. Coach Cacciatore has a wing T style. He knows his football," Danny said.
   
"We have a lot to play for. It makes us keep working hard. We have a lot of motivation. You don't want to be on the team that loses a game. Growing up, we knew about the Boylan tradition. We're excited to work at it and be a part of it. The whole community works at it."

This team may not be as glitzy as last year's squad, which featured All-State defensive lineman Dean Lowry, now a freshman standout at Northwestern, and running back Tyreis Thomas. But Cacciatore's first squad is averaging 43.4 points per game and has allowed only 89. Only one opponent has scored more than two touchdowns and six have been limited to no more than one.

"We have no Dean Lowrys or Tyreis Thomases. We have Peter Cimino, Demarcus Vines and Zackary Matthews," Danny Appino said. "We are smaller but faster. It makes us work hard. Our goal has been the same every year on the varsity--take one week at a time, win conference and do well in the playoff. We are where I expected us to be. It's been a fun year so far and we're looking forward to the postseason."

At Boylan, defense is the name of the game. Cacciatore is the offensive play-caller but defensive coordinator Chris Rozanski, who has been at Boylan for 10 years, calls the shot for the 3-3-5 defense.

"I'm the offensive play-caller but defense is the first priority," Cacciatore said. "There is nothing worse than watching a team ground the ball down your throat. I coach like I'm down by 21 points. The strength of our program is we are all sold on the system. If it isn't broke, don't fix it.

"What have I learned? I feel the most important thing to this point is, while I have more time to do things on offense, I spend time on defense trying to figure out how to continue to stop teams. The better we get on defense, the more productive we are on offense. The defense is what allows the offense to play on a shorter field."

The defense is anchored by 5-foot-11, 190-pound free safety Peter Cimino, safetu Matthew Johnson, 6-foot-1, 220-pound junior middle linebacker Zackary Mathews, 5-foot-10, 180-pound senior linebacker Ryan Johnson and 6-foot, 190-pound senior linebacker Ty Sharp, nephew of Joliet Catholic coach Dan Sharp. Cacciatore describes Mathews as "the backbone of what we do."

The offense features 5-foot-9, 160-pound senior running back Demarcus Vines, who has rushed for over 800 yards and 20 touchdowns, 6-foot-3, 165-pound junior quarterback Brock Stull, who has passed for 600 yards, 6-foot-2, 245-pound junior tackle Joe Fehrle, 6-foot- 220-pound tackle Nick Verstraete and 6-foot-3, 270-pound senior center Sam Bellone.

Another plus is  senior kickerpunter Sean Slattery.

"We're still looking for the perfect game when we can take the ball and get points on every possession," Cacciatore said.

"Are we better than the last two teams? After the first one, we all looking around and said: 'Wow. I can't believe what we did.' Then we won again and we didn't think we were so good. Now we're at the same place. How will we do with this group of guys? All the pieces have fallen into place for the titles to happen."
   
"Each team has its own special stamp," Cimino said. "My brother Frank was the quarterback on the 2010 team. Then there was Lowry and Thomas. Now it's Vines and Appino and Mathews. We focus on team speed on defense. We play physical and smart. It's a very close knit group.

"We've never lost a game in high school. We try not to think about it. We try not to think about the streak. We dont want to jinx ourselves. People outside the team bring it up. 'You're the team that hasn't lost,' they say. No one has ever done it. We just always try to be positive."

Expect the unexpected: A triple play, a Charlie Tilson grand slam and a White Sox win over the Astros

Expect the unexpected: A triple play, a Charlie Tilson grand slam and a White Sox win over the Astros

Expect the unexpected.

After the way the first two nights went for the White Sox during their four-game stay in Houston, the expectations weren't high going up against Gerrit Cole. Cole entered the game as baseball's strikeout leader, with 93 of them in his first 60.2 innings this season. After White Sox hitters struck out a combined 27 times in the games started by Brad Peacock and Justin Verlander, it figured to be more of the same.

But that's not how baseball works.

The White Sox got solo homers from Eloy Jimenez and Jose Abreu for an early lead on Cole, but it was what they did in the field that got the baseball world buzzing. They turned the first triple play of the 2019 season in slick fashion. It was the White Sox first triple play since the 2016 season, when they turned three of them.

Normally, a triple play would be hands down the highlight of the night. But after the Astros pushed three runs across against Ivan Nova in the bottom of the fourth inning, the White Sox staged a stunning comeback against the typically dominant Cole.

They started the sixth with four straight hits, with Yona Moncada's single tying the game and James McCann, with another successful moment in the cleanup spot, doubling in the go-ahead run. Four batters and two outs later, Charlie Tilson, not exactly known for his power, smacked a grand slam, his first career homer, to bust things open.

Tilson became the first White Sox hitter whose first career homer was a grand slam since Danny Richar back in 2007. It's been a very nice stretch for Tilson, who came up from Triple-A Charlotte early this month. He's slashing .304/.339/.393 in 2019, now with one home run.

So by the end of the evening, the White Sox got a triple play, a Tilson grand slam, not one but two Jimenez home runs and a win over the best team in baseball — in Houston, no less, where the White Sox last win came in September 2017. Outside of a mighty positive night from Jimenez, who has two two-homer nights in just 24 games in his career, these might be oddities with little big-picture applications for this rebuilding organization. But a fun, eventful night for the record books is surely welcome.

Mercy.

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Why the Bulls should take Dedric Lawson with the No. 38 pick

Why the Bulls should take Dedric Lawson with the No. 38 pick

Lawson is a player who has the production and pedigree of a high-value draft pick. But his weaknesses have scared off some who struggle to see what his role would be in an NBA rotation. Time and time again we have seen prospects who dominated the NCAA game, but didn’t have the ability to stick in the league. This is what precisely what has made some overlook Lawson’s stellar numbers over 101 career games.

Strengths:

Lawson is a very effective scorer and when you look at the per 100 possessions numbers, his statistics pop off the page. Over three seasons playing NCAA basketball, Lawson scored 30.8 points per 100 possessions.

He scored his baskets on a variety nice shots from the low post and midrange area, with the ability to stretch his jump shot out to 3-point range should he more repetitions.

Lawson’s go to move at this stage of his development is a jump hook over his left shoulder. But he can finish well from the post with either hand, just preferring to finish with his right. In 2018-19 he converted his FGAs at the rim at a 65.4 percent rate (per Hoop Math), leading to the best offensive rating of his career (117.4 points per 100 possessions).

He keeps defenses off balance by attacking with his faceup game from the mid-post area, where he succeeded in hitting a solid 40.8 percent of his “short midrange FGA” per The Stepien’s shot chart data. The Stepien’s data also had Lawson hitting an impressive 39.1 percent of his 3-point shots that are from NBA 3-point range.

His jump shot form is fine, but he will need to work on quickening up his release at the next level. Fortunately, film from as recent as the NBA Combine suggest that he is making strides when it comes to becoming a legit NBA stretch-4.

The great thing about Lawson’s game--specifically when you are projecting him on to the Bulls--is that while he did maintain a high usage rate and high FGA per game numbers throughout his career, his amazing activity as an offensive rebounder makes him a threat even when plays aren’t run for him.

Lawson snatched down 307 offensive rebounds over his three years in college, translating to 3.0 offensive rebounds per game for his career. Just as important as snagging those boards is converting them into quick baskets and Lawson does just that. He converts rebound putback FGAs at an absurdly efficient rate of 81.8 percent per Hoop-Math.com. Boylen likes his bigs to exude toughness and hit the glass, and while Lawson may not have the strength of some NBA 4s, but he is always willing to mix it up in the paint going for contested rebounds.

He brings that same tough mentality when he is attacking the basket, whether it be off the dribble, in the post or in transition, where his length makes him devastating. Lawson shot 65.4 percent on FGAs at the rim and was the driving force behind a Kansas Jayhawks offense that scored 113.9 points per 100 possessions, good for 27th in the nation (via Ken Pom).

Despite lacking a clear-cut position in the NBA, Lawson figures to be a solid defender with the potential to develop into a great defender. It will just take the right coach to get him to play high-intensity defense on a consistent basis.

With a 7-foot-2-inch wingspan, the second longest hands at the NBA Combine and a near 9-foot standing reach, Lawson has all the tools needed to be a very mobile rim protector. He averaged 1.6 blocks per game for his career and should be able to bring that shot-blocking prowess with him to the league.

In lineups with Lauri Markkanen, Lawson could focus on the tougher matchup, theoretically freeing up more energy for Markkanen to use on offense. In lineups with Wendell Carter or Otto Porter as the other big on the floor, Lawson would be able to get his scoring going while likely helping Boylen form some of his best defensive lineups.

Weaknesses:

Lawson has the potential to be a player who can fit into a variety of offensive systems, but his reluctance to pass from the post could be his undoing. He has been the No. 1 offensive option throughout his career, and the 2018-19 season represented his highest usage rate for a single season at 29.1 percent. But despite 2018-19 being his highest usage rate season, it also represented his worse in terms of total assists.

In only one of his three seasons did he finish with more assists than turnovers and in watching game tape, it appears he will struggle mightily when it comes to making high-level reads in the NBA. It doesn’t take long sifting through games to see Lawson take a heavily contested shot against a throng of opponents. The Big 12 conference provided Lawson with much more competition than he received when playing at Memphis at the start of his career, and he occasionally forced shots while trying to prove he belonged.

He was still an effective scorer despite all this, posting a 57.8 true shooting percentage despite going into “chucker mode” at certain points during games, but being a one-trick pony won’t cut it in the NBA. His impressive finishing in traffic will be much tougher when dealing with NBA length. If his inside scoring game takes a step back, it will put even more pressure on Lawson to develop into a big that can confidently knock down a decently high-volume of 3-pointers.

He doesn’t have top-end speed or burst off the floor, and will likely struggle every night with his matchup until he learns the nuances of NBA defense.

Long-term outlook:

Ultimately, Lawson has a great chance to be the best second round pick in a particularly shallow draft. Rather than being a slight, this means that he is likely to outplay his draft position by a decent amount.

As long as the team drafting him understands the limitations of his game, Dedric Lawson is poised to be a steal in the 2019 NBA Draft.