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High School Lites Preview: Holiday Tournaments

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High School Lites Preview: Holiday Tournaments

As the song goes, "there's no place like home for the holidays." Why not make Comcast SportsNet your home this holiday weekend? Next to playoff basketball, there is no time on the high school basketball calendar that churns up more excitement than holiday tournament week. On Friday's edition of High School Lites, our cameras will venture to championship games from the far northwest suburbs all the way down Interstate 55 to Pontiac. We will bring you the latest highlights, scores and postgame interviews. Which high school basketball teams will carry momentum into 2012? Here is a snapshot of each tournament Comcast SportsNet will be covering this week on High School Lites. All rankings reflect the CSN Top 20, sponsored by The Marines:

THURSDAY GAMES

Dundee-Crown Charger Classic

The 29th annual Charger Classic girls basketball tournament will feature a Bartlett team with a player coming off an exceptional performance. Kristin Conniff scored a career-best 32 points Wednesday night as her Hawks took down Fremd 70-61. Their opponent will be New Trier and Northwestern-bound guard Maggie Lyon. She tallied 22 points with 12 boards and battled an ankle injury briefly in the third quarter of Wednesday's victory over Fenwick.. She should be ready to go for the championship at 8p.m. Thursday. The third place game, Fenwick vs. Fremd, precedes it at 6:30 p.m.

FUN FACT: Bartlett is a familiar team in this tournament come championship time. They lost to Fenwick in the title game 65-47 last season.

FRIDAY GAMES

McDipper Tournament (at Rich South)

Thursday's semifinals should be wildly entertaining. Seton Academy will put their undefeated record to the test as the battle Crete-Monee, while the host Stars take on Bloom. The winners of each game meet up on Friday at 7p.m. Seton has been paced so far by J.R. Toliver, while Crete-Monee got 27 points from LaQuon Treadwell in Monday's first round game against Tinley Park. Lejavius Johnson and Donald Moore have carried Bloom to two early victories, while Rich South advanced by beating Joliet West and Hales.

FUN FACT: RIch Central has won this tournament nine times since its inception back in 1973, including 1985 -- the year that former Bull and current CSN analyst Kendall Gill won tournament MVP.

Pontiac Holiday Tournament

It's the 81st edition of this prestigious central Illinois tournament, which is about two hours southwest of Chicago via I-55. Last year, Warren High School gave eventual state champion Simeon a run in the championship game. Could a rematch be in the works? Warren dealt with Plainfield North accordingly in the opening round, winning 71-40. Nathan Boothe and Darius Paul are two key weapons in the Blue Devil arsenal. They will take on Joliet West in the second round while Simeon, a 70-31 winner over Bloomington Wednesday, faces United Township (East Moline) next. Simeon and Warren could meet in the championship, but not if teams like Peoria Manual and Curie had their way. Thursday's West Aurora-Curie matchup could be worth the price of admission in its own right.

FUN FACT: Peoria Manual holds the record for most points in a game at this tournament with 126 in 1986.

Proviso West Holiday Tournament

Could New Trier's basketball have both of their programs land in holiday tournament championship games? It's a distinct possibility now, as New Trier earned a big feather in their cap Wednesday night, taking down Homewood-Flossmoor 61-58 in the quarterfinals. Dartmouth-bound Connor Boehm had 25 points in the victory. They will take on Morgan Park, who advanced by defeating Glenbrook North 42-28. That semifinal will take place at 6:30 p.m. Thursday while the other, Proviso East vs. Rockford Auburn, tips off around 8p.m. East took down last year's champs, Benet, in the quarterfinals while Auburn fought off a 12-point deficit to trump Hillcrest, 69-60. The winners of each semifinal will battle for the championship trophy Friday night at 8 p.m., while each game's loser will square off the third place crown 90 minutes prior.

FUN FACT: NBA players Mark Aguirre, Jeff Hornacek, Doc Rivers, Isiah Thomas, Hersey Hawkins, Marcus Liberty, Michael Finley, Kevin Garnett, Juwan Howard and Shannon Brown once played at the Proviso West Holiday Tournament...just to name a few.

Jack Tosh Holiday Classic (at York)

Downers Grove South, St. Ignatius, De La Salle and Naperville North comprise the final four in Elmhurst. Defending champion Downers Grove South advanced over Maine South 69-52 with the help of Jerron Wilbut's 24 points, while their Thursday opponent, St. Ignatius, took down Riverside-Brookfield 62-52. DGS will have to find a way to contain Brian Howard, who scored 29 points in the win over R-B. De La Salle is loaded this year. Naperville North could have their hands full with the likes of Gavin Schilling, Alvin Ellis and Alex Foster. But Naperville North looked impressive in trouncing last year's runner-up, Lyons, last night in a 59-56 victory. Matt Robare led the Huskies with 13. De La Salle and North lock horns at 5:45 p.m. Thursday while DGS and St. Ignatius follow at 7:15 p.m. The two winners duke it out for the championship Friday at 7:15 p.m.

FUN FACT: Jack Tosh was the long-time athletic director for York High School.

Every Friday night at 10:30 p.m., High School Lites will bring you scores and highlights from the Chicagoland basketball courts. This week's episode will air just after Blackhawks hockey and SportsNet Central. We'll also have in-depth feature stories and take a look back down Memory Lane in our Flashback segment. This week, be sure to check out CSN's Muscle Milk Team of the Week, the Elgin Maroons. How did this northwest suburban school knock off national powerhouse La Lumiere? Also, we'll have the latest on the Simeon Wolverines in our Drive segment, sponsored by Greater Than.

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

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Some perspective on Pedro Strop's tough outing and struggles

Some perspective on Pedro Strop's tough outing and struggles

Pedro Strop has had a tough go of it lately, but that doesn't mean it's time to panic on one of the most consistent relievers in Cubs history.

After blowing the game Monday night in San Francisco — his third blown save of the month — Strop now has a 5.47 ERA on the year and an 8.22 mark in July alone. In fact, nearly half the runs he's allowed in 2019 have come this month — 7 of 16.

But Strop has been pitching better than his ERA indicates — his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) is nearly a full run lower than his ERA this season. His strikeout rate (27.4 percent) and walk rate (8.5 percent) are the lowest they've been since 2016. 

That being said, the 34-year-old has also seen a precipitous spike in hard contact rate and his soft contact percentage is way down. He's been plagued by the home run ball this year more than ever before, serving up 1.7 dingers per 9 innings, the highest rate of his career (though the same can be said for many pitchers this season).

So Strop clearly hasn't been his typical dominant self this year, but he also deserves a better fate than he's had to this point in the season.

Take Monday night, for example. 

Strop came on to pitch the eighth inning of a game the Cubs were leading 4-2 and promptly gave up a leadoff double to Pablo Sandoval. On paper, that's obviously not a great start, but look at where this pitch was when the Giants third baseman hit it:

Strop followed that by striking out Stephen Vogt before executing a nice pitch to Brandon Crawford and inducing a groundball...only to see it sneak through the infield for an RBI hit:

Then came a groundout before Austin Slater's game-tying double that came just inches away from Albert Almora Jr.'s glove in center field. 

The final blow was the go-ahead double by Joe Panik...on a ball that was higher than Strop would've liked it, but still not a bad pitch off the plate outside:

These are not bad pitches; it's not like Strop was leaving the ball over the heart of the plate all inning.

How's this for bad luck — the Sandoval double was pegged for just a .070 expected batting average. 

Crawford's single was hit at 89.7 mph and had an expected batting average of .360. By comparison, Kyle Schwarber hit a grounder in the top of the inning at 102.9 mph with an expected batting average of .630 and it was an out. It was simply a matter of Crawford's ball finding a hole while Schwarber hit his right at a defender. 

No matter which way you slice it, this was a tough luck outing for the veteran setup man. 

But bad luck or not, Strop still hasn't been getting the consistent results the Cubs need in crucial innings of a tight playoff race, so it's understandable manager Joe Maddon was asked about the bullpen usage on his weekly appearance with 670 The Score Tuesday afternoon:

"When Pedro's in the game, I really feel good about it," Maddon said. "We all do. I think last night, it was more about pitch selection than it was necessarily about stuff. He was one pitch away from getting out of that thing. 

"If you replay and look at it, you see the hit by Sandoval — that ball literally almost bounced. It really did and it almost hit his back foot. I don't know how he kept that ball fair, but he did. Good for him. And then Crawford hits a slow ground ball up the middle that gets between two guys that are outstanding infielders and that's a hit."

Maddon went on to say the last hit — Panik's double — was the more concerning one because it was a sinker that just didn't drop enough. Maddon said he'd rather see Strop go to his wicked slider in that situation than lean on a pitch (the sinker/fastball) that has seen a dip in velocity and value this season.

"I don't think Pedro's that far off," Maddon said. "Maybe the velocity's down a little bit more than anything. To utilize his cutter/slider and really get that to where he wants it — those are the devastating pitches. So that was my bigger concern last night."

Moving forward, it doesn't sound as if Maddon will shy away from utilizing Strop in high-leverage situations again, but the Cubs also have the luxury of a pretty deep bullpen where they could utilize some other arms (Steve Cishek, Brandon Kintzler) to pitch the eighth inning and help bridge the gap to closer Craig Kimbrel.

Strop is 34 now and has dealt with some health issues over the last calendar year, but he has such a long track record of success that it wouldn't be surprising to see him once again emerge as a lights-out reliever before the season ends.

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Dave Leitao suspended 3 games, DePaul put on 3-year probation

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USA TODAY

Dave Leitao suspended 3 games, DePaul put on 3-year probation

The DePaul men's basketball team has been placed on three-year probation and head coach Dave Leitao has been suspended three games for the 2019-20 season, the NCAA announced on Tuesday.

The program was found guilty of "failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance while Leitao did not "prevent violations from occurring in his program."

A Division I Committee on Infractions panel concluded that a "former DePaul associate head coach violated NCAA ethical conduct rules when he knowingly directed the former assistant director of basketball operations to provide impermissible recruiting benefits to a recruit."

The NCAA found that three coaches knew about the situation but failed to report the infractions. DePaul will vacate all wins earned while the ineligible player competed and suffer recruiting restrictions. They were also fined $5,000 plus 1% of the men's basketball program budget.

In 2019, DePaul had their first winning season since 2007 by going 19-17.