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High School Lites Preview: Playoff action begins

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High School Lites Preview: Playoff action begins

The regular season meets the playoffs on this weeks edition of High School Lites. IHSA postseason action begins in Class 1A and 2A. We will pay a visit to a few schools that are predicted to play basketball into March. Will Seton or Hope Academy be in the mix? Conference titles and bragging rights are also up for grabs in the north, west and south suburbs. Who will gain momentum as March Madness approaches? 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 GAMES

Girls: Lincoln-Way East (26-4) vs. Marist (31-1), 7:30pm -- 4A Sandburg Sectional Championship

The 26-4 Griffins have many weapons, including Taylor Johnson, Caitlin McMahon and Meaghan McMahon. All three helped East push past Homewood-Flossmoor in the semifinals. Can they reach the Elite Eight? It all depends if they can contain Leah Bolton. The Marist junior forward racked up 25 points and seven rebounds against Marian Catholic on Tuesday. The winner will take on the champion of the Bloomington sectional on Tuesday.

Girls: Whitney Young (30-0) vs. Trinity (30-1), 7:30pm -- 4A Lyons Sectional Championship

Want to know how good Whitney Young is this year? The Dolphins faced Proviso East, a team with ample talent and future NCAA players, and ran out to a 44-17 halftime lead in Tuesdays semifinal. Youngs Janee Thompson, Linnae Harper and Alexis Lloyd all scored in double figures in the 69-34 victory. Trinity, behind DePaul recruit Megan Podkowa, will challenge Young. They advanced by beating another girls basketball powerhouse, Fenwick, 64-45. Trinitys only loss this season? A 62-47 loss to Whitney Young in December.

FRIDAY GAMES

Girls: Aurora Central Catholic (25-6) vs. Quincy Notre Dame (31-1), 6:30pm

ACC will have their work cut out on Friday as they take on Quincy, the defending 2A state champs. Central is paced by four-year varsity standout guard Jackie Cardona. Other state semifinals scheduled for Friday include Leroy vs. Freeport Aquin (12:00pm) and Illini Bluffs vs. Cowden-Herrick (2:00pm) in Class 1A, and Breese Central vs. Stillman Valley (8:15pm) in Class 2A. All state championship games will air on Chicago Nonstop, Comcast 341.

Grayslake Central (21-4) @ 8 Huntley (23-2), 7:00pm

This year's Fox Valley Championship features a Huntley team with a stout defense and one of the most talented sophomores in Chicagoland: 6-6 forward Amanze Egekeze. The Red Raiders are looking to surpass last year's 25-5 team that reached the sectional final. Grayslake Central has a team with senior leadership in center Casey Boyle and guard Jordan Taylor. This will be a great test for the Rams, as they could also face talented North Chicago down the road in sectional play.

Ridgewood (19-6) @ Riverside-Brookfield (21-4), 7:00pm

Will history repeat itself? R-B went into Norridge four weeks ago and walked away with a 71-63 win. Ridgewood couldn't contain 6-7, 220-pound center Miki Ljuboja, who racked up 23 points and 10 rebounds in the win. The Bulldogs also feature talented players in forward Luke Nortier and guard Damonta Henry. Ridgewood has a star in senior guard Andy Mazurczak, who scored 25 points in that previous game. It'll be senior night in Riverside and the Metro Suburban title will be up for grabs.

11 Hillcrest (21-4) @ 20 Lemont (23-2), 7:00pm

The visiting Hawks can win the South Suburban-Blue conference outright. Lemont, who will be looking for a share of the title, will be one of the toughest opponents of the year for Hillcrest. The Indians have a standout point guard in Juozas Balciunas. But Hillcrest is loaded: Jayon'e Troutman, Jalen Loving and Jovan Mooring are all threats with the ball. These two teams could also end up playing each other in the loaded 3A Rich East sectional.

Joliet West (15-9) @ Lockport (16-10), 7:30pm

If there was a matchup of two of the best sneaky-tough teams in Chicagoland, Joliet West vs. Lockport could be front and center on the marquee. Lockport has quality wins this season over Waukegan, at Homewood-Flossmoor and took West Aurora to overtime. The Porters feature Kyle Ward and Courtney Cole on the attack. Joliet West, who beat Lockport 49-48 back on January 27th, has one of the best centers in the conference, senior Marlon Johnson.

19 Seton Academy (23-4) vs. Hales (10-17), 7:30pm 2A ChicagoUniversity Regional Championship

Phew. That was the collective sigh of relief by the entire Seton program Wednesday night as they survived a massive semifinal scare by University High, 72-64 in double overtime. Russell Robinson, Mark Weems, Kamai Shasi, Jordan Foster and the rest of the Sting hope the rest of the playoffs are a little more on the smooth side. They will get the defending state champs in Fridays final. Hales advanced by beating St. Francis de Sales 80-60.

Latin (17-6) vs. Parker (18-8), 7:30pm 2A Holy Trinity Regional Championship

Its already one of the best rivalries in Chicagoland. So why not have another meeting where one team moves on and the other goes home? Latin advanced by beating the host school 67-42. Senior guard Chaz Stevenson leads the attack for the Romans. Parker got here by defeating Wells 62-51. Junior guard Langdon Neal should get a lot of looks for the Colonels. Latin beat Parker in triple overtime in December. Parker followed up with a rout of Latin earlier this month. An exciting night of basketball awaits.

Every Friday night, High School Lites will bring you scores and highlights from around Chicagoland. This weeks episode will air at 11:00pm, just after MVC basketball. In addition to the games above, we will check out the 1A regional championship at Chicago Hope Academy (semifinals are on Thursday). Our cameras will also head to Glenbard North High School for our Muscle Milk Team of the Week. At this west suburban school, well introduce you to one dedicated student who is going above and beyond in bringing basketball and cheerleading to new heights. Plus, well take a drive down Memory Lane in our Flashback segment, and well have in-depth coverage of the 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. Email us at: csnchicagowebsite@comcastsportsnet.com

Bears notes: Was Trey Burton’s penalty justified?

Bears notes: Was Trey Burton’s penalty justified?

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — In a game full of pivotal moments, one seemed to irk the Bears in particular following Sunday’s 31-28 overtime loss to the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium.

Driving on the Dolphins three-yard line, the Bears lined up in a T formation with Jordan Howard, Trey Burton and Tarik Cohen lined up left to right in the backfield behind Mitch Trubisky, who was under center. Burton motioned out of the backfield and to the right, and ran his route into linebacker Kiko Alonso.

Trubisky threw a short pass to a wide open Cohen for a touchdown, with Alonso late getting to the running back after being hit by Burton. But that score was taken off the board for offensive pass interference, with officials ruling what Burton did amounted to an illegal pick play.

“Trey did everything I asked him to do,” Matt Nagy said, sharply.

On the next play, Trubisky forced a pass into double coverage in the end zone, which was easily picked off by Dolphins safety T.J. McDonald. Miami turned that interception into eight points on Albert Wilson’s 43-yard touchdown and an ensuing two-point conversion.

The way Burton understood the rule was that offensive pass interference was only assessed on a pick play if he intentionally ran into a defender without running a true route. That’s what Burton felt he did; the officiating crew disagreed.

“I thought I ran a route and the guy ran into me,” Burton said. “I thought they changed the rule this year or last year — if you run the route, it doesn’t matter if you pick the guy or not, you’re good. Obviously they called it.”

A Rough Return

The conversations surrounding the Bears Sunday into Monday would be awfully different had a number of things happened — Trubisky doesn’t throw that interception, the Bears’ defense gets a stop, Tarik Cohen doesn’t fumble near midfield, etc. In that same group: If Cody Parkey hits what would’ve been a game-winning 53-yard field goal in overtime.

Parkey, instead, missed that kick wide right. His career long is 54 yards, which he hit last year while with the Miami Dolphins (and that was a game-winner with about a minute left against the Los Angeles Chargers).

“I had the distance, I just didn’t kick it straight enough, bottom line,” Parkey said. “But you’ve got to move on. I’ve made game winners, I’ve missed game winners. As long as I keep playing, I’m just going to keep trying to kick my best.

“… I control what I can control, and unfortunately I missed a field goal. I’d like to have that one back, but it is what it is and I’m just going to focus on the next game. That’s all I can do.”

For an improving Bears offense vs. Dolphins, a day of maddening extremes

For an improving Bears offense vs. Dolphins, a day of maddening extremes

Their points production in the 31-28 overtime loss to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday marked the fourth time in five games under coach Matt Nagy that the Bears have scored 23 or more points. All of the 28 were heaped on the Dolphins by the offense, which churned for 467 yards one game after amassing 483 and 48 points against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

But the Bears did in fact lose, and not all of the reasons can be laid at the feet of the defense. Not nearly all of them.

In great position to put the game virtually out of reach for the struggling Dolphins, the Bears offense failed. The yardage total gave the Bears consecutive 400-yard games for the first time since games 14-15 in 2016, and well could have represented a statement that the offense of Nagy and coordinator Mark Helfrich was indeed hitting a potent stride.

It may be. But a combination of troubling factors gave Sunday’s output a hollow ring.

Against the Dolphins, 149 of the yards came on possessions ending in turnovers, including an interception thrown by quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and fumble by running back Jordan Howard both occurring in the red zone with points well within reach.

The offense hurt itself with a handful of pre-snap penalties, and the overarching sense is that the belief in Nagy and the overall offense is growing amid mistakes that clearly rest with players themselves.

“For sure, 100 percent trust in Coach Nagy and what he believes is best for this team,” Trubisky said. “What he believes is what I believe is best for this team. Whatever he calls, we're going to run it to the best of our ability. We put ourselves in a great chance, and I have faith in our guys that next time we get the opportunity we make it.”

Opportunities taken and opportunities missed

For Trubisky, the linchpin of the evolving offense, it was a day of extremes.

His production (316 yards) gave him consecutive 300-yard games for the first time in his 17-game career. His passer rating (122.5) was the seond-highest of his career, behind only the stratospheric 154.6 of the Tampa Bay game. His three TD passes are second only to his six against the Buccaneers. Trubisky’s yardage outputs this season are pointing in a decidedly upward arc: 171 at Green Bay, followed by 200-220-354-316.

But decision-making proved costly at tipping points against the Dolphins. From the Miami 13 with a 21-13 lead early in the fourth quarter, and holding a chance to create potentially decisive breathing room on the scoreboard, Trubisky forced a throw toward tight end Ben Braunecker, who was double-covered in the Miami end zone. The ball was intercepted by safety T.J. McDonald, and the Dolphins went from the touchback to a touchdown and subsequent game-tying two-point conversion.

“I just thought the safety went with the ‘over’ route,” Trubisky said. “He made a good play. I lost him when I was stepping up [in the pocket], and I forced one in the red zone when I shouldn't have… . I forced it and I put my team in a bad position, and I shouldn't have thrown that pass.”

The second-year quarterback started poorly, with an overthrow of a wide-open Anthony Miller on the third play from scrimmage, resulting in a three-and-out and a concerning start for what would be only scoreless Bears first half this season. A failed fourth-and-2 conversion gave Miami the football at its 41 later in the quarter.

Trubisky badly overthrew an open Miller in the second quarter, creating a third-and-long on which the Dolphins broke down his protection for a second sack in the span of just 11 plays. After a 47-yard completion to Taylor Gabriel, Trubisky threw an checkdown pass nowhere near running back Jordan Howard.

Fatigue factor overlooked?

Running back Tarik Cohen totaled 121 yards for the second straight game and the second time in his career. For the second straight week Cohen led or co-led the Bears with seven pass receptions.

But the last of the seven came with a disastrous finish. Cohen was hit by Miami linebacker Kiko Alonso after taking a swing pass and picking up 11 yards, fumbled and had the ball recovered by cornerback Xavien Howard at the Chicago 45. The defense did manage a stop, leading to the overtime, but the result was devastating.

“Personally for me, it’s [frustrating] because I know I took my team out of position to win the game late in the ball game,’ Cohen said. “So personally, that’s frustrating for me… . I feel like I had an opportunity to get ourselves down in scoring position. I let fatigue get the best of me, and I forgot about the fundamentals.”

That Cohen mentioned “fatigue” is perhaps noteworthy. A question was raised to Helfrich last week as to whether there was an optimal or max number of snaps for the diminutive Cohen, who had five carries and was targeted nine times – not including one punt return and plays on which he ran pass routes but was not thrown to in the south Florida heat.

“It was hot,” said defensive lineman Akiem Hicks. “It was hot out there.”

Weapons rising

Last offseason and millions in contracts were spent upgrading offensive weaponry. The investments produced in Miami.

Touchdown passes were caught by wide receivers Anthony Miller (drafted) and Allen Robinson (free agent) plus tight end Trey Burton (free agent). Wide receiver Taylor Gabriel (free agent) caught the five passes thrown to him for a team-high 110 yards, his second straight 100-yard game after none in his previous four NFL seasons.

Five different players posted plays of 20 yards or longer, including pass plays of 54 and 47 yards by Gabriel and a run of 21 yards and reception of 59 yards by Cohen.

Uncharacteristically for the normally fast-starting Bears offense, the group followed the scoreless first half with 21 points in the third quarter and 343 yards of combined offense in the second half and overtime.

“We came out with more energy and had the attitude that we were going to go down and score the ball,” Trubisky said, “and we played a lot better the second half.”