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Garrett, Weishar, Westphal lead Class of 2014

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Garrett, Weishar, Westphal lead Class of 2014

The recruiting process is like a soap opera that never ends. No vacations, hardly time for a coffee break. The senior class is committed, all of the leading juniors have been offered and college recruiters already are evaluating the most promising prospects in the sophomore and freshman classes.

According to longtime recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network, the class of 2014 in the Chicago area could be as good or better than 2013. As many as six players could be ranked among the Top 100 in the nation.

"The class of 2014 has more depth than 2013. There are several running backs with potential to be very good," Lemming said. "But 2014 doesn't have as many superstars as 2013, which has the top running back (Joliet Catholic's Ty Isaac) and the top wide receiver (Crete-Monee's Laquon Treadwell) in the nation."

While Isaac and Treadwell could rank in the Top 10 in Lemming's season-ending survey, an unprecedented achievement for the Chicago area, he points out it isn't likely that any of the six leading prospects in the class of 2014 will rank in the top 50.

The six are Plainfield South linebacker Clifton Garrett, Marist tight end Nic Weishar, Bolingbrook cornerback Parrker Westphal, De La Salle offensive tackle Jamarco Jones, Crete-Monee linebacker Nyles Morgan and Glenbard North running back Justin Jackson.

But they are well known to recruiters. They have had plenty of exposure. Westphal starred on a state championship team last year. Morgan was a standout on an unbeaten state championship team this season. And Jackson was the state's most prolific ball-carrier for a state runner-up.

Jones, a 6-foot-5, 285-pound tackle who blocks for teammate Mikale Wilbon, one of the state's leading running backs, has 16 scholarship offers. Westphal and Morgan each 14, Weishar 12, Garrett 11 and Jackson 8. Kicking specialist Jesus Miranda of Brooks has 10.

Offensively, others who rank near the head of the class of 2014 are running backs Tommy Mister, who recently transferred from Richards to St. Rita, Chris James of Notre Dame, DeSean Brown of Naperville North and Matt Domer of Mount Carmel, quarterbacks Clayton Thorson of Wheaton North, Drew David of Kaneland, Jake Kolbe of Naperville Central and Bret Mooney of Jacobs, centers Brian Allen of Hinsdale Central and Nick Allegretti of Lincoln-Way East, offensive tackles Shane Evans of Prairie Ridge, Logan Plantz of Providence and Zach Novoselsky of Stevenson and wide receivers Jacquet McClendon of Evergreen Park and Brennan Barry of St. Charles East.

Defensively, the headliners are ends Chris Slayton of Crete-Monee, Nile Sykes of Oak Park, Eddie Randle of St. Rita, Vontae Diggs of Downers Grove North, Robbie Odeneal of Bishop McNamara and Dylan Thompson of Montini, tackles Enoch Smith and Steve Richardson of Mount Carmel and safety Matt Morrissey of Stevenson.

Slayton could be the biggest "surprise" in the class. He was listed as a senior in some publications. But the 6-foot-5, 240-pound junior defensive end with 4.6 speed was one of Crete-Monee's standouts in its recent drive to the Class 6A state championship.

"He is our next superstar, our most recruited player of the future," said former Crete-Monee coach Jerry Verde, who recently succeeded his retiring mentor Dave Mattio at Marian Catholic. "He is one of the fastest players on the team. He will be recruited as much as Laquon Treadwell and Nyles Morgan. He will be a two-way starter (defensive end, tight end) as a senior."

But college recruiters already are evaluating the classes of 2015 and 2016, this year's sophomores and freshmen. It is never too early to discover a blue chipper and they are well aware that high school players always remember the first school that contacted them.

Based on their sophomore performances, the top prospects in the class of 2015 are Benet quarterback Jack Beneventi, Downers Grove North quarterback David Edwards, Providence wide receiver Miles Boykin, Stevenson quarterback Will Bourbon and Cary-Grove offensive linemen Michael Gomez and Trevor Ruhland.

Beneventi, a 6-foot-6, 190-pounder, guided Benet from a 1-8 record in 2011 to 11-2 and the Class 7A semifinals in 2012. He completed 60 percent of his passes for 2,318 yards and 20 touchdowns. He has attracted interest from Notre Dame, USC, Stanford, Northwestern, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan and Michigan State.

The No. 1 prospect in the class of 2016? That's a no-brainer. He is Erik Swenson, a 6-foot-6, 285-pound offensive tackle at Downers Grove South. He is the first freshman in coach John Belskis' 33-year career to start on the varsity. He recently received a scholarship offer from Illinois.

"On his first play, he drove the defensive lineman back and pancaked him," Belskis said. "He has size and great skill level and towers over everyone. He still is developing strength and footwork. He will be a two-way tackle as a sophomore."

Swenson, whose father is 6-foot-8 and weighs 320 pounds, was a highly touted player as a seventh and eighth grader. He participated in all-star games in Arizona and attended the Michigan came as a seventh grader. He models himself after All-NFL standout Jake Long.

CLASS OF 2014 -- Top 30

No. Player, School, Position

1. Clifton Garrett, Plainfield South, LB
2. Nic Weishar, Marist, TE
3. Parrker Westphal, Bolingbrook, DB
4. Jamarco Jones, De La Salle, OT
5. Nyles Morgan, Crete-Monee, LB
6. Justin Jackson, Glenbard North, RB
7. Tommy Mister, Richards, RB
8. Enoch Smith, Mount Carmel, DL
9. Clayton Thorson, Wheaton North, QB
10. Chris Slayton, Crete-Monee, DE
11. Brian Allen, Hinsdale Central, C
12. Nile Sykes, Oak Park, DE
13. Matt Morrissey, Stevenson, DB
14. Dylan Thompson, Montini, DE
15. J.B. Butler, Joliet Catholic, OT
16. Robbie Odeneal, Bishop McNamara, DELB
17. Chris James, Notre Dame, RB
18. Matt Domer, Mount Carmel, RB
19. Drew David, Kaneland, QB
20. Nick Allegretti, Lincoln-Way East, C
21. Jake Kolbe, Naperville Central, QB
22. Mikale Wilbon, De La Salle, RB
23. Steve Richardson, Mount Carmel, DL
24. Bret Mooney, Jacobs, QB
25. Ben Niemann, Sycamore, WR
26. Eddie Randle, St. Rita, DE
27. Brennan Barry, St. Charles East, WR
28. Zach Novoselsky, Stevenson, OT
29. Shane Evans, Prairie Ridge, OT
30. Jacquet McClendon, Evergreen Park, WR

Others to watch: DeSean Brown, Naperville North, RB; Vontae Diggs, Downers Grove North, DE; Hayden Carlson, Glenbard West, DB; Matt Biegalski, Wheaton North, WR; Mikey Dudek, Neuqua Valley, WR; Ian Bunting, Hinsdale Central, TE; Ephraim Lee, Marian Central, RB; Devin Pitts, Homewood-Flossmoor, OT; Raphael Canty, Thornton Fractional South, TE; Trent Williams, Lake Forest, LB; Theo Hopkins, Leo, DB; Logan Plantz, Providence, OT; Micah Coffey, Batavia, QB; Chris Covington, Raby, QB; Jack Spillane, Fenwick, RB; Jesus Miranda, Brooks, K.

CLASS OF 2015 -- Top 10

1. Jack Beneventi, Benet, QB
2. David Edwards, Downers Grove North, QB
3. Miles Boykin, Providence, WR
4. Will Bourbon, Stevenson, QB
5. Michael Gomez, Cary-Grove, OL
6. Trevor Ruhland, Cary-Grove, OL
7. Lloyd Yates, Oak Park, QB
8. DeAndre Mahaffey, Thornton, LB
9. Will Colmery, Nazareth, WRDL
10. Dyrrah Christon, Kankakee, RB

CLASS OF 2016 -- Top 5

1. Erik Swenson, Downers Grove South, OT
2. Tuf Borland, Bolingbrook, LB
3. Josh King, Hinsdale South, DL
4. Jack Shutack, Nazareth, OLDL
5. Justin Berry, Wheaton St. Francis, QB

Jake Arrieta full of appreciation in return to Wrigley mound: ‘I’ll never forget this city’

Jake Arrieta full of appreciation in return to Wrigley mound: ‘I’ll never forget this city’

The last time Jake Arrieta pitched at Wrigley Field, his night ended with Cubs fans giving him a rousing standing ovation. The former Cubs right hander tossed 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball, leading the Cubs to victory in Game 4 of the 2017 NLCS—their only win against the Los Angeles Dodgers that series.

Arrieta returned to Wrigley Field as a visitor on Monday night, making his first start against the Cubs since joining the Philadelphia Phillies last season. Ironically, Arrieta’s counterpart for the night was Yu Darvish, who ultimately replaced Arrieta in the Cubs starting rotation.

Despite now donning Phillies red, Cubs fans once again showed their love for Arrieta, giving him a lengthy standing ovation ahead of his first plate appearance. Darvish even stepped off the mound in respect for the moment.

“I loved it, absolutely loved it,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said to reporters postgame. “[I’m] very happy that our fans would acknowledge him like that. Yu stepped away from the mound nicely. Jake deserved it.”

Arrieta tipped his helmet in appreciation for the crowd, taking in the moment for more than 30 seconds before stepping into the batter’s box. After the game, he told reporters that moment brought back memories of his time with the Cubs.

“That was something that really brought back great memories of getting that same sort of ovation pretty much on a nightly basis,” Arrieta said. “[I’m] very appreciative of that. I can’t say thank you enough to the city of Chicago, I really can’t.”

Arrieta took fans back to his Cubs tenure on Monday, throwing six innings of one run ball in the Phillies’ 5-4 10-inning win. Although the 33-year-old didn’t pick up the victory, he matched Darvish—who threw six innings of three-run ball—pitch by-pitch.

Phillies manager Gabe Kapler noted how well Arrieta handled his emotions throughout the night.

“I thought he handled the emotions really well. I thought he was in control of the game even when we were down,” Kapler said to reporters. “He always maintained his poise and he just got stronger as the outing went on and that’s why we were able to have him take down the sixth inning for us.”

It’s well-documented how Arrieta’s career improved for the better after the Cubs acquired him in a trade with the Baltimore Orioles in July 2013. When the Cubs acquired him, Arrieta held a career 5.46 ERA in 69 games (63 starts). He finished his Cubs career with a 2.73 ERA in 128 regular season starts. He also won five postseason games with the Cubs, including Games 2 and 6 of the 2016 World Series.

Despite moving on in free agency, Arrieta spoke highly of his time with the Cubs, their fans and the city of Chicago.

“Cubs fans all across the country, all across the world, they really respect and appreciate what guys are able to do here for them,” he said. “It means a lot, it really does.

"I’ll never forget this city, the fan base, the organization, everything that they did for me. It was 4 1/2 incredible years of my career.”

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Yu Darvish crashed Jake Arrieta's party, but Cubs bullpen falters

Yu Darvish crashed Jake Arrieta's party, but Cubs bullpen falters

Yu Darvish was one pitch away.

Holding onto a 1-0 lead with two outs in the sixth inning, Darvish threw Phillies catcher JT Realmuto a 2-2 cutter. It made sense - Darvish had been spotting that pitch well all night, and the Phillies were averaging a paltry 79.8 mph exit velocity against it.

With one strike standing between Darvish and a 6-inning shutout, Realmuto took Darvish’s cutter and sent it back up the middle for a game-tying RBI single. A 2-RBI triple from César Hernández followed. In the blink of an eye, what was shaping up to be one of Darvish’s finest moments in Chicago was instead reduced to yet another start spent searching for silver linings.

“Really good. He was outstanding tonight,” Joe Maddon said. “He pitched really well.

“He had really good stuff. He had command of his stuff, he had command of himself. I thought he was outstanding - even better than what he looked like in Cincinnati. I thought that was probably his best game for us to date.”

Darvish has continued to lean heavily on his cutter this season, more so than any year prior. After throwing it 13 percent of the time last season, he’s going to that pitch almost 25 percent of the time now. If that holds, it’d beat his previous career-high, set in 2013, by six percentage points.

All things considered, that pitch has actually been good for him this season. It’s his go-to offering when he needs to induce weak contact, and batters are hitting .125 against it so far. He gets batters to chase cutters 29.5 percent of the time, the most of any pitch he throws. While he has admitted in games past that he relies too heavily on his fastball, Maddon sees no issues with the new trend.

“I have no concerns with that whatsoever,” he said. “There’s different ways for pitchers to attack hitters, and if it's successful, I really would not change a whole lot.”

Though the night was dedicated to celebrating one of the franchises most beloved pitchers, it was one of their most maligned that continued to show signs of figuring it out. He’s put together back-to-back starts with three or less walks for the first time this season, and has allowed two or less runs in three of the last five.

The pitcher even stepped off the mound during Arrieta’s first at-bat, in order to let the standing ovation continue on.

“He’s is a legend in Chicago,” Darvish said after the game. “And I pitched against him and pitched pretty good, so it makes me confident.”

The bullpen again struggled on Monday night, as the trio of Mike Montgomery, Brad Brach, and Kyle Ryan allowed two runs on five hits, including the game-winning solo home run from Realmuto in the 10th. For a moment it looked like the Cubs had a win wrapped up when Brach got outfielder Andrew McCutchen to bite on a two-strike slider, but was (probably incorrectly) called a checked swing.  He would eventually draw a walk, leading to Jean Segura’s game-tying single.

“On the field, I thought for sure [that McCutchen swung],” Brach said. “Looking at the first base umpire, I was a little taken aback. That’s why I went off the mound - just to regather myself, because I didn’t want to let the emotion get to me there.

“It’s a 50-50 call, and unfortunately it didn’t go my way.”

 

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