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Gasser puts the zip in Mount Carmel

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Gasser puts the zip in Mount Carmel

The numbers are impressive -- the offense is averaging 40 points per game and the defense has allowed only 79 points in 11 games, only 15 in the last five -- but Mount Carmel coach Frank Lenti, in his 29th season, is wise enough not to make any proclamations before the final whistle.

"Is this the best team I've coached since our last state championship team in 2002? It has a chance to be one of the best since we won in 2002 but I can't decide until the season is over, to see what they ultimately accomplish," said Lenti, doing his best to straddle a fence without falling off. "Remember, we didn't win the (Catholic League's) Blue Division. Loyola won the title and won all the awards -- Coach of the Year (John Holecek), Offensive Player of the Year (Peter Pujals), Defensive Player of the Year (John Rushin) and Player of the Year (Luke Ford). They got all the honors, all the bells and whistles."

But Mount Carmel, which lost to Loyola 30-27 in overtime in Week 6, still is very much in contention for the Class 8A championship. The Caravan (10-1) will meet Lyons (7-4) on Saturday night in a quarterfinal match-up in Western Springs.

"The nice thing these kids have is great chemistry," Lenti said. "They really like being around one another. They have bought into the 'we' thing, not the 'me' thing. Last year, we had some seniors who were in it for themselves, about scholarships and one-day camps. But these kids are more focused on the team. They see the other way doesn't work."

Lenti has won nine state championships but none since 2002. He won four in a row from 1988-91 and five in seven years from 1996-2002. And he finished second in 2005, 2006 and 2010. Last year's 10-4 team lost to Class 8A champion Bolingbrook in the second round, then settled for the Prep Bowl title.

This year's squad lacks star quality -- no one compares to last year's standout, Brandon Carr, or such blue chippers of the past such as Simeon Rice, Donovan McNabb, Tony Furjanic and Nate Turner -- but Lenti is impressed with its leadership, chemistry, balance, attitude and drive.

He cites kicker Ivan Strimic and punter Joe Pavlik, junior defensive lineman Steven Richardson, running backs Matt Domer and Draco Smith, defensive backs Justin Sanchez and Vincent Speller, tackle Brian Parker and the four captains -- quarterback Don Butkus, wide receiver Jason Gasser and linebackers Connor Griffin and D.J. Romero.

"We have a complete team," Lenti said. "Strimic and Pavlik are by far the best kicker and punter in the league. When the offense is on a roll, it has done a great job of keeping the defense off the field. The captains have done an exceptional job. They have led the team in a great direction. The kids won't accept mediocrity. I felt all along if they followed the process, if they did what we asked them to do, they could be very successful."

If his three years as a starter, if Gasser has heard Lenti's "follow the process" speech once, he has heard it a hundred times. After a while, it starts to make sense.

"I feel we do a great job of following the process, as the coach says. If we listen to the coaches and do what we are taught, we will be fine," Gasser said. "This year we are more of a team. We work hard in practice. There is a lot of chemistry, no lazy guys. We don't want anyone bringing us down. Last year, too many were in it for the ride and didn't contribute. They were just posers, the coach said, they just wore the costume.

"But this team is different. We have no standouts, just a lot of good high school players, hard workers. All of us want to accomplish the same goal--win the state title. We don't think about scholarships or individual glory. We have pride in the school and the program."

Lenti has made one subtle change in his teaching process and Gasser thinks it has been a significant addition.

"In practice, we still do 60 minutes on offense and 60 minutes on defense and 15 minutes on kicking. But this year he has added a 15-minute combo period during the offensivedefensive time to work on situational plays like third-and-long and third-and-short and first-and-10," Gasser said. "It gets us more prepared. Our goal on first down is to average five or more yards. If we keep working on first down, it helps us to attain our goals and converting long third-and-10 plays and working on pass plays and draws and screens."

Gasser, a 6-foot, 190-pounder with 4.54 speed, has caught 20 passes for 203 yards, averaging 20.1 yards per reception, and has scored five touchdowns. He and Speller are Butkus' big-play and go-to receivers. And it doesn't bother Gasser one bit that he hasn't caught more passes.

He lives in Dyer, Indiana, and he would have enrolled at Andrean in Merrillville but his father, who played football at St. Francis de Sales, wanted to send him to Mount Carmel because of the academics and football tradition.

"I wanted to be part of a winning program," Gasser said. "As a freshman, my father wanted me to be a quarterback. I tried it, then was switched to defensive back. Then I started the first game at wide receiver, which I had played in middle school, and I've played that position ever since."

Gasser recalls losing to Maine South in the 2010 state championship game. As a senior, he hopes to write a different scenario.

"As a senior, I know I have to take a leadership role and I want all of us to have the experience of going Downstate and winning," he said.

He loves football and would like to play in college. He is hearing from several small schools. But he might end up playing baseball at Ball State. That's all in the future, something to consider in December, after the season is over. At the moment, football is the only thing on his mind.

"It would frustrate me if I didn't win one state title in high school," Gasser said.

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Reacting to Round 1 of NHL Draft

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Reacting to Round 1 of NHL Draft

On the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle and Charlie Roumeliotis recap Round 1 of the 2018 NHL Draft.

They discuss the pair of puck-carrying defensemen that the Blackhawks selected on Friday, Adam Boqvist and Nicolas Beaudin. When can we expect to see these first-round picks play in the NHL?

Boyle also goes 1-on-1 with Boqvist and Beaudin. The guys spoke with Stan Bowman and Joel Quenneville on Friday.

The guys also share their biggest takeaways from those interviews, which includes your daily Corey Crawford update and Quenneville appeared excited that the team has plenty of cap space to spend in free agency.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

It's only one start, but that's the Lucas Giolito that White Sox fans expected to see this season

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USA TODAY

It's only one start, but that's the Lucas Giolito that White Sox fans expected to see this season

The preseason expectations and the results have been drastically different for Lucas Giolito.

Expected to be the best pitcher on the White Sox starting staff, Giolito hasn’t come too close to that title, instead heading into Friday’s doubleheader with the most earned runs allowed of any pitcher in baseball. His walk total has been among the highest in the game all year long, too. And the calls from social media to send him down to Triple-A haven’t been at all infrequent.

But Friday, White Sox fans got a glimpse at what they expected, a look at the guy who earned so much hype with a strong September last season and a dominant spring training.

It wasn’t a performance that would make any reasonable baseball person’s jaw drop. But it was the best Giolito has looked this season. He still allowed four runs on seven hits — as mentioned, not a Cy Young type outing — but he struck out a season-high eight batters. Prior to giving up the back-to-back singles to start the eighth inning that brought an end to his evening, he’d surrendered just two runs.

Most importantly he walked just two guys and didn’t seem to struggle with his command at all. That’s a big deal for a pitcher who had 45 walks to his name prior to Friday.

“You know it was a tough eighth inning, but throughout the whole game, I felt in sync,” Giolito said. “(Catcher Omar Narvaez) and I were working really well, finally commanding the fastball the way I should. Definitely the best I felt out there this year, for sure. Velocity was up a tick. Just felt right, felt in sync. Just competed from there.”

Confidence has never left Giolito throughout the poor results, and he’s talked after every start about getting back on the horse and giving it another try. Consistently working in between starts, things finally seemed to click Friday night.

“It all worked today,” manager Rick Renteria said. “(Pitching coach Don Cooper) says that every bullpen has gotten better, from the beginning to this point. He sees progress. The velocity that he showed today was something that Coop was seeing in his work. You can see that his delivery is continuing to improve. He was trusting himself, really attacking the strike zone, trusted his breaking ball today when he need to and just tried to command as much as he could. Did a nice job.”

Giolito went through this kind of thing last year, when he started off poorly at Triple-A Charlotte with a 5.40 ERA through his first 16 starts. But then things got better, with Giolito posting a 2.78 ERA over his final eight starts with the Knights before getting called up to the big leagues.

This was just one start, of course, but perhaps he can follow a similar formula this year, too, going from a rough beginning to figuring things out.

“I’m not trying to tinker or think about mechanics anymore,” he said. “It’s about flow, getting out there and making pitches. We were able to do that for the most part.

“I’ll watch video and see certain things, and I have little cues here and there. But I’m not going to go and overanalyze things and nitpick at certain stuff anymore. It’s about going there and having fun and competing.”

Maybe that’s the secret. Or maybe this is simply a brief flash of brilliance in the middle of a tough first full season in the bigs.

Whatever it was, it was the best we’ve seen of Giolito during the 2018 campaign. And it was far more like what was expected back before that campaign got going.