Cubs

High School Lites preview

603502.png

High School Lites preview

Its hard to imagine but we are less than eight weeks away from IHSA championship time in Peoria. Could Hope Academy make some noise? Although they lost guard Jalen James to La Lumiere (IN) via transfer, they still have enough talent to make a deep playoff run. Plus, several other conferences boast pivotal games Friday night. Will Ridgewood dethrone Riverside-Brookfield this season in the Metro Suburban? Who will take control of the Catholic South? And who takes the battle of Grayslake? Here is a snapshot of each game that we will cover on this Fridays edition of High School Lites. All rankings reflect the CSN Top 20, sponsored by The Marines:

THURSDAY GAME

St. Charles North (7-12) @ 6 Elgin (16-1), 4:00pm

The Upstate Eight River conference is loaded with D-1 talent, and plenty of that will be on display Thursday night. Future Loyola Rambler Quinten Payne, a junior, leads St. Charles North. He opposes Elgins senior forward Kory Brown, whose stock is rising in college basketball circles. The sixth-ranked Maroons come into Thursdays game 5-1 in conference, the North Stars are 3-3. Keep an eye on Elgin standouts Arie Williams and Dennis Moore to complement Browns attack.

FRIDAY GAMES

1 Simeon (19-1) @ Harlan (12-6), 4:00pm

The top-ranked Wolverines have shown whos boss in Chicago, Public League playoffs notwithstanding. Simeon has already defeated two of the top challengers for city supremacy, Curie and Bogan. In Wednesdays triumph over the 7 Bengals, Jabari Parker and Kendrick Nunn both tallied 20 points. The newly-minted champs of Chicagos Red-South conference now face Harlan, who overcame a 10-point deficit to beat Brooks on Wednesday. Deonte Johnson has been their spark this year.

T.F. North (8-12) @ 16 Hillcrest (16-4), 6:30pm

Hillcrest is coming off another impressive win, as they took care of Crete-Monee 70-60 Tuesday night. The Hawks have three players who can be game changers at any point: Jovan Mooring, Jayon'e Troutman and Jalen Loving. T.F. North has a pair of talented junior guards: Ashanti Randolph and D.J. Deere. A win by Hillcrest moves them up to 9-0 in the South Suburban Blue. The Meteors (5-3) needs to keep pace in the jumbled midsection of the league.

T.F. South (11-7) @ Tinley Park (10-9), 7:00pm

The 11-7 Rebels are coming off their most exciting win of the season, a 56-55 triumph over Rich East, as Donald Hardaway hit a three-pointer at the buzzer. They will have momentum on their side as they go back into conference play to take on a Titans team that lost to crosstown rival Andrew Tuesday night. Tinley is 7-1 in the South Suburban Blue, while South is 5-3. Ironically, Tinley Park's senior guard Jon Calhoun already has two game-winning buzzer-beaters this year.

20 Hope Academy (17-2) @ St. Benedict (14-3), 7:00pm

What will the future hold for Hope Academyminus Jalen James? The talented guard -- and Illinois recruit -- transferred to La Lumiere (IN) earlier this month, but the Eagles havent missed a beat. Theyve won four straight in his absence, including Tuesdays double OT win over Lake Forest Academy. Alex Houston, Torrance Johnson and Tyrone Smith have played very well. As for the Bengals, they have one of the most talented freshman in the city, guard Marshawn Williams. Both teams come in undefeated in conference play.

Riverside-Brookfield (13-4) @ Ridgewood (12-5), 7:00pm

The 13-4 Bulldogs lost every starter from the 2010-11 team to graduation. And yet, they still find themselves in a first place tie in the Metro Suburban with Ridgewood going into Friday night. Thats due in large part to the efforts of their junior guard Damonta Henry. Ridgewood needs to contain him in order for a chance at winning, but the Rebels have a talented guard of their own in senior Andy Mazurczak. Fun fact: R-B has won 10 conference titles in a row.

Grayslake North (11-6) @ Grayslake Central (14-5), 7:00pm

The Fox Valley 'Fox' conference -- not to mention the town of Grayslake, of course -- figures to be up for grabs Friday. Both North and Central will have momentum, winning league games on Tuesday. The host Rams (6-0 in FVF) have size and can shoot the ball well. Look for center Casey Boyle and guard Jordan Taylor, both seniors, to cause damage. The Knights (4-1) are guided by junior guard A.J. Fish, along with seniors Zack Krupp and Mark Hall.

Evanston (13-6) @ Waukegan (9-8), 7:30pm

The Bulldogs clawed their way back to the plus-side of .500 over the weekend, beating St. Vincent (WI) for their third straight victory. Theyre also creeping near the top of the Central Suburban South conference. Akeem Springs, Jordan Johnson, and Jerome Davis are a few of the difference-makers for Waukegan. Evanston also needs this game to stay in the upper half of the CSS. Seniors Josh Irving and Leonard Garron will try to keep the Dog Pound quiet Friday night.

Seton Academy (16-3) @ Brother Rice (11-7), 7:30pm

If the Crusaders have one thing on their side come Friday, it could be anger. Brother Rice got upset by St. Francis de Sales Tuesday night, but still could gain a share of the conference lead with a win against the Sting. Rice's leader is 6-7 junior Alex Majewski. The Sting, who escaped Marist with a 64-62 win on Tuesday, will have to limit Majewski if they want to stay undefeated in the Catholic South. Forward Russell Robinson and guard Jordan Foster are two of their main weapons.

Mount Carmel (5-12) @ St. Laurence (3-16), 7:30pm

Its been a tough season for these two tenants of the Catholic South, but a little history could be made for one of the teams: Mount Carmels head coach Mike Flaherty will be going for his 700th career win. Flaherty is crediting for recharging the Thornridge basketball program in the 80s. He coached the Falcons for 21 seasons. On this years Caravan squad, his leader is standout guard Alex Austin. Jim Schick is one of the go-to guys for the Vikings.

Pending Thursdays result

Every Friday night at 10:30, High School Lites will bring you scores and highlights from around Chicagoland. Well take a look at the Whitney Young girls basketball team, who has won 100 consecutive home games. The Dolphins, CSNs Muscle Milk Team of the Week, features two D-1 standouts and a deep roster that could make another state title run. Well also visit a former Homewood-Flossmoor star in our Flashback segment, and youll get caught up on the top-ranked Simeon Wolverines, who will be featured in our Drive segment, sponsored by Greater Than.

High School Lites streams live every Friday on CSNChicago.com.

We invite you to share your story ideas as well. Check us out at: csnchicagowebsite@comcastsportsnet.com

Albert Almora Jr. gave another example of his all-around game

Albert Almora Jr. gave another example of his all-around game

Albert Almora Jr. might be in the middle of a breakout season. The 24-year-old outfielder continues to show his impressive range in center field and is having his best year at the plate.

In Sunday's 8-3 win against the Giants, Almora had three hits and showed off his wheels in center to rob Evan Longoria of extra bases. The catch is visible in the video above.

"Defensively, right now he's playing as well as he possibly can," Maddon said.

On top of the defense he has become known for, he is hitting .326. That's good for fifth in the National League in batting.

"He's playing absolutely great," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "He's working good at-bats. His at-bats have gotten better vs. righties.

"The thing about it, is there's power there. The home runs are gonna start showing up, too."

There's also this stat, which implies Almora is having a growing significance on the Cubs as a whole:

There may be some correlation, but not causality in that. However, with Almora's center field play and growing accolades at the plate, the argument is becoming easier and easier that he is one of the most important players on the Cubs. That also goes for Almora's regular spot in the lineup, which has been up in the air with Maddon continuing to juggle the lineup.

Bears still see Dion Sims as a valuable piece to their offensive puzzle

5-27dionsims.jpg
USA Today Sports Images

Bears still see Dion Sims as a valuable piece to their offensive puzzle

Dion Sims is still here, which is the outcome he expected but perhaps wasn’t a slam dunk — at least to those outside the walls at Halas Hall. 

The Bears could’ve cut ties with Sims prior to March 16 and saved $5.666 million against the cap, quite a figure for a guy coming off a disappointing 2017 season (15 catches, 180 yards, one touchdown). But the Bears are sticking with Sims, even after splashing eight figures to land Trey Burton in free agency earlier this year. 

“In my mind, I thought I was coming back,” Sims said. “I signed to be here three years and that’s what I expect. But I understand how things go and my job is come out here and work hard every day and play with a chip on my shoulder to prove myself and just be a team guy.”

The Bears signed Sims to that three-year, $18 million contract 14 months ago viewing him as a rock-solid blocking tight end with some receiving upside. The receiving upside never materialized, and his blocking was uneven at times as the Bears’ offense slogged through a bleak 11-loss season. 

“The situation we were in, we weren’t — we could’ve done a better job of being successful,” Sims said. “Things didn’t go how we thought it would. We just had to pretty much try to figure out how to come together and build momentum into coming into this year. I just think there were a lot of things we could have done, but because of the circumstances we were limited a little bit. 

“… It was a lot of things going on. Guys hurt, situations — it was tough for us. We couldn’t figure it out, along with losing, that was a big part of it too.”

Sims will be given a fresh start in 2018, even as Adam Shaheen will be expected to compete to cut into Sims’ playing time at the “Y” tight end position this year. The other side of that thought: Shaheen won’t necessarily slide into being the Bears’ primary in-line tight end this year. 

Sims averaged 23 receptions, 222 yards and two touchdowns from 2014-2016; that might be a good starting point for his 2018 numbers, even if it would represent an improvement from 2017. More important, perhaps, is what Sims does as a run blocker — and that was the first thing Nagy mentioned when talking about how Sims fits into his offense. 

“The nice thing with Dion is that he’s a guy that’s proven to be a solid blocker,” Nagy said. “He can be in there and be your Y-tight end, but yet he still has really good hands. He can make plays on intermediate routes. He’s not going to be anybody that’s a downfield threat — I think he knows that, we all know that — but he’s a valuable piece of this puzzle.”