White Sox

H-F, Hill know how to handle publicity

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H-F, Hill know how to handle publicity

Homewood-Flossmoor coach Jim McLaughlin rolled his eyes. It was the kind of thing every coach dreads to see--two full-page stories on his team on successive days in a daily metropolitan newspaper. Too much publicity can often lead to inflated egos, petty jealousies and overconfidence. And that isn't good.

But McLaughlin, in his eighth season at H-F, thinks his 2012-13 squad is mature enough to handle it. The No. 4 ranked Vikings are 7-0 going into Friday night's game against Lincoln-Way East. Then they'll meet Ellison on Dec. 22 in the opening round of the Proviso West Holiday Tournament.

With three starters and nine players returning from a 22-8 squad that lost to Bloom in the sectional final, McLaughlin had every reason to believe that this team could be comparable to his 27-2 team in 2008 or his 28-4 team in 2006 or former coach Roy Condotti's 31-3 powerhouse with Julian Wright that lost to Peoria Central and Shaun Livingston in the Class AA state championship in 2004.

"We have some pieces," he said. "We have size, two 6-foot-8 kids, a 6-foot-5, 220-pound power forward, big people who an move and get up and down the floor. And we have guards who are long and lanky and have speed. Size and length with quickness. Potentially, we will be very good.

"We saw it last year in practice. The junior class was a unique group. They competed and played hard. They pushed the seniors. They never backed down. When we got them together in the summer for 25 days, they won some tournaments and beat good teams. We saw they were a unique group."

The leader is 6-foot-5, 220-pound senior power forward Maurius Hill, who averages 12 points and 10 rebounds per game. "He is our hardest worker, a great competitor. He brings his lunch bucket every day," McLaughlin said.

Other starters are 6-foot-4 senior point guard Rashaan Surles (16 ppg), 6-foot-8 senior Lamar Wofford-Humphrey (8 ppg, 4 rpg), 6-foot-4 senior Ricky Bullock (5 ppg) and 6-foot-4 senior Jason Scott (7 ppg, 4 rpg). Tai Odiase, a 6-foot-8 junior, contributes eight points and five rebounds off the bench.

"I like how hard they work every day," McLaughlin said. "They are committed to defending. Even on bad nights you can find a way to win when you play good defense. We have the pieces to apply a lot of pressure on people and execute in a half-court setting."

It all revolves around Hill. McLaughlin said he had circled last Sunday's game against Curie and 6-foot-9 Cliff Alexander on his calendar. H-F scored only two points in the last 5:33 but still managed to win 42-40 as Hill had 14 points and 12 rebounds. For his effort, Hill was named Athlete of the Week by the Chicago Sun-Times. Two back-to-back full-page stories with color pictures to boot.

"The players saw it. The coach mentioned it but he didn't make a big deal of it. He said to be humble and continue to play with the same intensity," Hill said. "I feel it is like taking baby steps. The bigger prize is out there. I don't want it to make my head big. I'm the Athlete of the Week. I'm handling it pretty well. I enjoy the moment but I don't let it go to my head. I feel I can do better."

Hill admits he doesn't mind the spotlight. "Some friends gave me a lot of grief. But some congratulated me. I would like to have more of those days," he said.

And fewer of the kind of days he experienced last season. "It was a disappointment. It wasn't a failure but a learning experience. Some kids didn't work as hard as they should have. The seniors had too many egos. It showed us that nothing is handed to you. You have to earn it. You can't let egos get in the way. You have to be together on and off the court," he said.

"This is my team. My role is to keep everybody together, to keep everybody on the same page. Everybody knows what is going on. Everybody has a clue. I have to make sure everyone is dedicated to working hard. My personal goal is to get my team Downstate."

Hill said what he likes most about this team is the players all get along on and off the floor and push each other in practice. Every day, they play a game called 'war,' a box-out drill designed to prevent opponents from getting rebounds.

"There is a lot of intensity," he said. "You have to box out and not foul in the drill. There is a lot of pushing and shoving, a lot of cuts and bruises, very physical. It gets us ready for games."

But McLaughlin admits it isn't all roses. There is one dandelion in the garden. His team has a shortcoming that he hopes to remedy during the two weeks his team has to prepare for the Proviso West tournament.

"We must become smarter on offense, what is a good shot for us, where to take it from, get the right guys I the right spots," he said. "We have guys who want to be coached. They are quick learners. Proviso West is a big test every year. We have touched every trophy at Proviso West but only won once (2003). Our goal is to play our best basketball when we get to March."
   
"Other teams weren't as focused to go Downstate. This group is focused," Hill said. "The last time H-F was Downstate was the Julian Wright team. This team can do it. It would be a big disappointment if we don't do it. We have the pieces to get there."

Carlos Rodon's first win in 10 months showed he could still be the ace of the future for White Sox

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USA TODAY

Carlos Rodon's first win in 10 months showed he could still be the ace of the future for White Sox

As encouraging as the reports are on many of the White Sox’s minor-league pitching prospects, Carlos Rodon’s effort against the Athletics on Sunday at Guaranteed Rate Field could prove just as significant to the rebuild on the South Side.

Looking much like the ace the Sox envisioned prior to Rodon’s rough 2017 season that ended with shoulder surgery, the left-hander put together his most successful effort of ’18 during a 10-3 drubbing of the Athletics before a sun-drenched crowd of 21,908.

Making his fourth start of the season, Rodon matched a career-high by going eight innings. He yielded two runs on seven hits with no walks and three strikeouts. Rodon earned his first win of the season to help the Sox salvage a split of the four-game series.

“I felt good today—a lot of strikes,” Rodon said. “It was good to go eight and just be ahead of guys.”

Helping matters for Rodon was an offensive explosion by the Sox, led by Yoan Moncada’s career-high six RBIs. After falling behind 2-0, the Sox plated five runs in each of the fifth and sixth innings as Moncada cleared the bases with a double off the base of the wall in the fifth and launched his 10th home run of the season to drive in three more an inning later.

“Today was a great day,” Moncada said via a team interpreter. “I just went out to play the game the way that I play. Just to have fun. It was a very good game for me.”

Daniel Palka and Yolmer Sanchez also homered as the Sox won for just the second time in their last 11 games.

Rodon was the happy recipient of the run support to win his first game since Aug. 21, 2017, against the Twins. On Sunday, he threw 99 pitches, 69 for strikes and was consistently in the mid-90s with his fastball.

“I’m looking to do that every time out,” Rodon said. “Just show up and establish the strike zone with the fastball and be aggressive.”

The 25-year-old’s second-inning strikeout of Khris Davis was the 400th of Rodon’s career. It is a career that is continuing after a surgery that was a setback, but one that did not derail Rodon’s confidence that he would again pitch effectively.

“There are up-and-down days when you go through shoulder surgery or any surgery for any player,” Rodon said. “You've just got to work through it and try to make your way back. I'm here now and it’s looking up and I’m trying to get better.”

So is it reasonable to view Rodon as the future ace after all?

“You certainly can’t discount that,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He has to go out there and continue to get his feet underneath him and get through the rest of the season healthy and climbing.”

In other Sox pitching news, Renteria said starter Dylan Covey, who was removed in the fifth inning of Saturday’s game due to a hip flexor injury, “felt better” Sunday and the team will continue to monitor the right-hander’s progress.

Meanwhile, veteran Miguel Gonzalez made a rehab start for Triple-A Charlotte as he continues to recover from inflammation in his right rotator cuff. Gonzalez went three innings and allowed one hit with a walk and a strikeout. Outfielder Eloy Jimenez belted his first homer for the Knights in the game.

A series to forget: Facts and figures from Cubs' rough weekend in Cincinnati

A series to forget: Facts and figures from Cubs' rough weekend in Cincinnati

The Cubs and their fans may want to invent and use one of those Men In Black neuralyzers because the four-game series in Cincinnati was one to forget.

The Reds finished off a four-game sweep of the Cubs on Sunday with an 8-6 win. The way the Reds won the finale will be especially painful for the Cubs considering they led 6-1 after six innings. Mike Montgomery appeared to tire in the seventh inning and Pedro Strop got rocked out of the bullpen to lead to a seven-run seventh for the hosts.

The Reds have now won seven in a row and 10 of 12, but still sit 13 games under .500. Bizarrely, the Reds also swept the Dodgers, the Cubs’ next opponent, in a four-game series in May. Duane Underwood will start for the Cubs Monday against the Dodgers and make his major league debut.

Here are some other wild facts and figures from the series:

  • The last time the Reds swept the Cubs in a four-game series was back in 1983. That was the first week of the season and three weeks before the infamous Lee Elia rant.
  • One positive for the Cubs from the game was Montgomery’s start. Through six innings he allowed one run on three hits and two walks. However, he gave up a single, a double and a single in the seventh before Strop relieved him. Montgomery had gone six innings and allowed one run in each of his last four outings.
  • Strop was definitely a negative. On his first pitch, Strop gave up a home run to pinch-hitter Jesse Winker, the second home run for a Reds pinch-hitter in the game. Then Strop allowed a single, a walk, a single and a double before getting an out. Strop’s final line: 2/3 inning pitched, four runs, one strikeout, three walks, four hits.
  • The Cubs led in three of the four games this series, including two leads after five innings.
  • The Cubs were 5-for-23 (.217) with runners in scoring position in the series. On the season the Cubs are hitting .233 with RISP, which is 22nd in the majors and fourth-worst in the National League (but ahead of the division-rival Brewers and Cardinals).
  • The Reds outscored the Cubs 31-13 and scored at least six runs in every game. The Reds are now 6-3 against the Cubs this year after going a combined 17-40 against the Cubs from 2015-2017.