Cubs

Egofske set the tone for the Big Dipper

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Egofske set the tone for the Big Dipper

Rich South's George Egofske was a trend-setter, a visionary, a mover-and-shaker, whether he was coaching football or directing all of his school's sports programs or overseeing the Big Dipper Holiday Tournament.

In 1970, while serving as football coach at Rich East, Egofske scheduled his season opener against perennial power Evanston. His players worked hard all summer with one objective in mind: beat Evanston. Egofske was matched against one of the most successful coaches in state history, Murney Lazier, and he was determined to win the moment. He did.

In 1973, Egofske seized another moment. He founded the Big Dipper Holiday Tournament. To steal some glitter from the high celebrated Proviso West Holiday Tournament, he wanted to conduct a community oriented event where teams could enjoy great competition and still be close to home during the holidays.

"It was a great chance to keep the local talent at home and give fans access to it," said Kevin Kelly, a tournament historian who has been involved with the event since 1984.

"When George was involved, it was mostly south suburban schools. Rich South is the only school that has been in the field for every year. Crete-Monee missed only the first tournament."

Egofske, now 81 and retired after serving as Rich South's athletic director from 1973 to the mid-1990s, also was an innovator. In 1983, he introduced the three-point shooting line and the 35-second shot clock to the tournament. And he also introduced a coach's box before the National High School Federation thought of it.

"The Big Dipper is in its 39th year and it has had only three tournament directors -- Egofske, Ron Ray and Mark Hopman," Kelly said. "And each has put his own fingerprints on the tournament."

Egofske brought a Class A team, Watseka, to the tournament. To be more competitive with Proviso West, Ray lured Class A powers Leo and Hales Franciscan and two perennial south suburban powers to join the field. He wooed Bloom away from Pontiac and Thornton away from Centralia. Hopman brought in a major sponsor, McDonald's.

Egofske also brought in Kelly, a Marian Catholic graduate of 1980 who was a sportswriter at the Chicago Heights Star for 15 years before becoming the public relations director and assistant athletic director at Marian Catholic. A figure filbert, Kelly was just what Egofske was looking for in a promoter for the tournament.

Last year was the first year that McDonald's sponsored the event. So it is now called the Rich South Mc-Dipper Tournament. Melvin Buckley, a former Thornwood player who coached at Marian Catholic for two years, owns several McDonald's franchises in the south suburbs, including one directly across the street from the Richton Park school.

This year's opening-round pairings will pit Seton vs. Rich Central, Thornton vs. Leo, Rich East vs. Evanston and Tinley Park vs. Crete-Monee in the upper bracket with Corliss vs. Bloom, Bolingbrook vs. Marian Catholic, Joliet Central vs. Rich South and Lincoln Park vs. Hales Franciscan in the lower bracket.

Kelly recalls many fond memories of past tournaments:

The run that coach Ron Brauer had in the mid-1980s with his Rich Central teams led by Kendall Gill. And their matchups with Phil Henderson and Crete-Monee, which won in 1986 and 1987 with overtime victories over Oak Forest and Tinley Park.

Bloom coming to the Big Dipper in 1993 after a long and successful run at Pontiac. But the Trojans have won only once, in 1995.

Thornton coming to the Big Dipper in 1996 after a long and successful run at Centralia. Thornton has won seven titles, Rich Central nine.

The great St. Laurence teams led by Kevin Boyle and Jim Stack in the late 1970s.

Evanston is returning to the Big Dipper after a long run at Proviso West. The Wildkits, led by Everette Stephens and Mike Cobb, won Big Dipper titles in 1983 and 1984.

The all-time Big Dipper team? How about St. Laurence's Steve Krafcisin, Oak Forest's Phil Collins, Evanston's Everette Stephens, Thornton's Joevan Catron and Shepard's Mike Smith?

That's a pretty good lineup, Kelly agrees, but how about Rich Central's Kendall and Eric Gill, Homewood-Flossmoor's Chris Dillard and Crete-Monee's Phil Henderson and Weldon Williams?

"Now we're getting packed houses on most nights, so much so that we have to bring in more security," Kelly said. "But the tournament is committed to keeping ticket prices at reasonable rates. Sessions are 5 for four games."

That's not to mention the other perks that make the Big Dipper a premier event -- the pre-tournament dinner for coaches and media to announce the pairings and the hospitality room that annually draws raves from coaches, media and officials for its tasty cuisine and specialty items.

Kelly points out all the credit for running a smooth ship in the hospitality room goes to Nancy Adduci, who has served as secretary for all three athletic directors. She is the true MVP of the tournament.

Javy Baez leads Cubs to huge win with a little help from Pedro Strop

Javy Baez leads Cubs to huge win with a little help from Pedro Strop

For the second time this season, Pedro Strop has added another chapter to the legend of El Mago.

And for at least the second documented time over the last few years, Strop also helped give Javy Baez the motivation needed to lift the Cubs to victory.

On an 0-2 pitch from Mets reliever Seth Lugo in the eighth inning, Baez smacked a 3-run homer into the right-field bleachers, notching the Cubs shortstop another curtain call and sending the 39,077 fans at Wrigley Field into euphoric bliss.

"That was big. He was so frustrated," said Strop, who picked up his 9th save in the 5-3 victory. "When I was walking to the 'pen, he was so frustrated after that first strikeout [against Jacob deGrom]. He was like, 'He's not throwing fastballs, just sliders!' I was like, 'Bro, it's good that you know that. So go up with another plan. Do your thing. You're gonna win this ballgame.'"

Baez's 100th career homer accomplished exactly that and in doing so, changed the entire tone and tenor of the first weekend of summer on Chicago's North Side.

There's no way the Cubs wanted to go into a four-game set with the contending Atlanta Braves after having just dropped three of four to a hapless Mets team that is melting down inside the clubhouse. It also would've been the Cubs' ninth loss in their 13 games, but Baez's clutch blast helped them salvage a series split and maintain sole possession of first place entering a new week of baseball.

"That's the last thing you want to do is lose another one," said Cole Hamels, who gave the Cubs 7 strong innings, but did not factor in the decision. "... That's the momentum we need to take forth, especially with the series that's coming up."

It also continued one of the strangest/coolest statistical oddities of the 2019 MLB season, given that it came on an 0-2 count.

Baez now has more homers after falling behind in the count 0-2 this year than NINE other MLB teams and nearly half of his homers (9 of 19) have come after getting into the extreme pitcher's count:

What makes Baez so tough on 0-2 counts?

For starters, he's never afraid of striking out, possessing a fearless nature Joe Maddon and other Cubs players have admired for some time.

But Hamels also provided some great perspective on why Baez might be so good in a count when pitchers typically dominate:

"I think that's kinda the difficult part with him — sometimes it can always be 0-2 with him," Hamels said. "Even if you haven't thrown a pitch yet, you treat it like 0-2. If that's just the nature of what pitchers do to him — if it's considered almost always an 0-2 count — he's gonna get really good at it because that's just the way he survives and the way he lives and plays the game. 

"With him though, being a teammate, you just know that he's never out of it. He's trying to hit a homer every at-bat, every pitch. That obviously can make a pitcher think a little bit longer and maybe try to be too perfect and therefore that's why they make mistakes."

The win puts a nice bow on what was otherwise a sloppy weekend for the Cubs, who often looked flat at the plate and made uncharacteristic mistakes on the basepaths and in the field. 

Prior to that homer from Baez, the Cubs had only managed to push across 1 earned run in 13 innings against a Mets bullpen that entered the weekend with a 5.39 ERA and more blown saves than any other team in baseball.

It's the second time in just over a week where the Cubs managed to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, but the last time (Anthony Rizzo's homer off Kenley Jansen last Saturday in L.A.) apparently wasn't enough to spark the team to get back to their winning ways. 

Was this Baez blast enough to wake the team from their midseason slumber and be this year's seminal moment that we all look back on in September? 

ICYMI: 35th anniversary of The Sandberg Game, Bulls' offseason begins with productive draft night, Zack Collins homers for his first MLB hit with White Sox

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USA TODAY

ICYMI: 35th anniversary of The Sandberg Game, Bulls' offseason begins with productive draft night, Zack Collins homers for his first MLB hit with White Sox

The Bulls and the Blackhawks made top 10 draft selections that they hope will have a long-term impact on their respective franchises. The Bulls nabbed speedy North Carolina guard Coby White with the 7th overall pick, while the Blackhawks got center Kirby Dach at No.3 overall in the NHL draft. The Cubs and White Sox both had intriguing weekends, while Sunday marked the 35th anniversary of one of the biggest moments in Cubs history. 

Cubs

Sunday marked the 35th anniversary of "The Sandberg Game". This is the game that many recognize as the moment Ryne Sandberg became a household name. The infamous June 23, 1984 game between the Cubs and the Cardinals took place on NBC’s “Game of the Week.” The game also played a huge part in the Cubs-Cardinals rivalry becoming perhaps the best that the MLB has to offer.


The 2019 Cubs are waiting on closer Craig Kimbrel t reach game-ready status. In the meantime they have activated veteran Tony Barnette off of the Sunday 60-day injured list. Between their newfound six-man rotation and their now, crowded bullpen, the Cubs are hoping they possess enough depth to gain some ground in the race for the NL Central crown. 
 

Bulls

The Bulls, by all accounts, had a very successful 2019 NBA Draft night. They got their PG of the future in North Carolina guard Coby White and selected a rim-protecting big man in Arkans center Daniel Gafford with their second round selection. The Bulls front office is confident in White’s versatility paying off big time and he certainly will help Chicago get out in transition more often. White stole the show on draft night, having quite the candid reaction to finding out the North Carolina teammate Cam Johnson got selected by the Phoenix Suns at No. 11 overall.

The next step for Bulls fans will be seeing the Bulls draft picks (along with some undrafted free agents and fringe NBAers) play in NBA Summer League action. Bulls fans will be pleased to hear that the Bulls summer league schedule does have them facing off against 2019 No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson on July 8, 8:30 p.m

 

White Sox


It’s been a whirlwind of a week for White Sox youngster Zack Collins. After getting a walk in his first taste of MLB action, Collins turned heads with a home run in the second game of his MLB career. Collins gave White Sox fans a preview of what to expect down the line. Collins is going to hit for power and hopefully draw his fair share of walks along the way. He certainly showed off that potential on Friday night.

 

Blackhawks


The Blackhawks chose center Kirby Dach with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft. The Blackhawks had many options at the No. 3 pick, but they went with Dach with the hope that the 6-foot-4, 197-lb center has the type of game that will shine through in high-pressure moments. It’s a good omen for the Blackhawks that the last time the draft was in Vancouver, they selected franchise center Jonathan Toews (back in 2006). Here’s to hoping that Dach can one day have the same type of impact as “The Captain”. But now all the attention has shifted to Sunday, when the negotiating window for NHL free agents opened up. And the Blackhawks are expected to be one of the more active teams throughout this process as they prepare for July 1.