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High School Lites Preview: Semifinal weekend

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High School Lites Preview: Semifinal weekend

Looming and Lurking.

If you've followed CSN's prep coverage all season, you'll know that phrase from our CSN Top 20 rankings. It represents the teams on the cusp of making our weekly list of the top Chicagoland football teams. But it now represents Memorial Stadium in Champaign for 32 teams across Illinois-- it's within sight, but there's still some road to be traveled.

Comcast SportsNet Chicago will cover every semifinal game in Chicagoland on Saturday as teams look to secure a berth in a state championship game. We'll bring you action from the north shore all the way to Morris. Could it be an all-Catholic Blue title game in 8A? Can Benet's amazing run continue in 7A? Will Cary-Grove get back to Champaign once again? And who will win the epic rematch of the 2011 5A championship between Joliet Catholic and Montini?

Here is a snapshot of every game High School Lites will profile on Saturday night's 10:30 p.m. show. The rankings reflect the class seeds in the IHSA playoffs.

8A:

No. 4 Glenbard North (11-1) at No. 2 Loyola (11-1), 1:00 p.m.

Loyola has traditionally been known for their air-tight defense over the years. But they might get one of their biggest tests as running back Justin Jackson and the Panthers come to Wilmette. Jackson scored four touchdowns last week to help North secure a 29-23 win at Maine South. Loyola, who defeated Glenbard North 28-13 in last year's 8A semifinal, features Peter Pujals at quarterback and a defense that shut down a very good Palatine offense last week.

No. 3 Mount Carmel (11-1) at No. 1 Neuqua Valley (12-0), 6:00 p.m.

A lot has been said about Mount Carmel's option offense in this space. But check out their defensive numbers: no team has scored more than 10 points on Frank Lenti's crew in the playoffs. Defensive lineman Enoch Smith has helped contribute to those numbers. He'll have a battle Saturday in trying to keep Joey Rhattigan out of the end zone. Neuqua's dominant running back carried the ball 41 times for 293 yards and three scores against Waubonsie Valley in the quarterfinals.

7A:

No. 6 Lake Zurich (10-2) vs. No. 1 Glenbard West (12-0), 1:00 p.m. at Glenbard South

Last week's downpour --and ensuing quarterfinal game-- turned Glenbard West's field into a surface akin to a Chicago street in winter. Thus, the change to a better playing surface at Glenbard South. This figures to be a black and blue war. Both teams have shut-down defenses. West kept Wheaton North off the scoreboard last week while Lake Zurich held down a potent Boylan offense to advance. These two teams met in the playoffs last year, with Lake Zurich winning 10-3. Could be a similar score come Saturday.

No. 1 Lincoln-Way East (12-0) at No. 2 Benet (11-1), 6:00 p.m.

Mike Clark of the Chicago Sun-Times made a great point during our weekly video segment: should Benet still be treated as a Cinderella? Sure, they've bounced back amazingly from 1-8 last year. But this is a team that has earned merit with each victory. The ESCC co-champs took down Downers Grove North in a 26-24 thriller last week. Sophomore QB Jack Beneventi has played quite well. He'll face a stingy East defense that picked Edwardsville apart last week. LWE quarterback Tom Fuessel is one of the state's best.

6A:

No. 1 Cary-Grove (12-0) at No. 10 Lake Forest (9-3), 4:00 p.m.

The Trojans are no strangers to playing in November. C-G won state in '09 and finished second in '04. This year's team features a game-changing running back in Kyle Norberg. Lake Forest may not have the playoff history as Cary-Grove but they have the weapons get to Champaign. Quarterback Andrew Clifford has paced the offense while the defense has made headlines recently. Trent Williams had six sacks in last week's 31-19 victory over Notre Dame in last week's quarterfinal.

No. 1 Crete-Monee (12-0) at No. 3 Lemont (11-1), 6:00 p.m.

Yes, high school football is a team game, but this matchup features some of the area's best prep athletes. Crete-Monee's Laquon Treadwell is a nationally-ranked wide receiver who is also a solid defender in the secondary. Lemont features big-name lineman in Ethan Pocic (committed to LSU) and Tim McAullife (Bowling Green). C-M's defense has shut down quality opponents like Ottawa and their Illinois-bound running back Miguel Hermosilo. Lemont advanced by beating South Suburban rival Oak Forest.

5A:

No. 3 Montini (10-2) at No. 12 Joliet Catholic (8-4), 1:00 p.m.

Two main angles: (1) Can anything top the epic 70-45 thriller from last year's 5A title game? Montini defeated JCA despite 515 yards and six touchdowns from Ty Isaac. The USC-bound running back, along with backfield mates Tyler Reitz and Mike Ivlow, will look for revenge. (2) It's a game featuring teams who have overcome injuries. JCA's backfield has been hit by the injury bug and Montini's playmakers have missed time as well. Can Montini QB Mark Gorogianis top his 240-yard, five-TD performance last week?

No. 3 Sacred-Heart Griffin (11-1) at No. 2 Morris (11-1), 3:00 p.m.

The visiting Cyclones have scored no less than 33 points since their only loss of the season (to Cathedral of Indianapolis). Running backs Tavion Whitaker and Chris Harris have accounted for a lot of those gaudy numbers. Morris has quite the running back of their own in Reese Sobol. SHG advanced by beating Glenwood and Morris survived Washington in overtime. It figures to be a great game between teams that are synonymous with Illinois playoff football this time of year.

4A:

No. 1 Alleman (11-1) at No. 7 Evergreen Park (9-3), 6:00 p.m.

It's another intriguing rematch on our slate, as Rock Island's Alleman High School fell to the Mustangs in last year's playoffs. Evergreen Park has gone on the road to defeat North Chicago and Richmond-Burton. They beat Brooks 37-14 at home last week. Quarterback Brandon White, who has 36 touchdowns (22 passing) on the year, will face an Alleman defense that was catapulted by two key interceptions in a victory at Coal City in last week's quarterfinal. John Tracey had two touchdowns.

We'll also check in with 3A's Aurora Christian squad as they take on Sterling Newman Central Catholic, along with Chicago's Catholic League Championship contenders (Brother Rice and St. Rita) and the Public League Championship between Morgan Park and Simeon.

Our Muscle Milk Team of the Week is Crete-Monee. How have the Warriors put it together to reach the semifinals for the first time in school history? Plus, well also catch you up with Joliet Catholic in this weeks Drive segment, presented by Northern Illinois University. And well take a drive down Memory Lane in Flashback and bring you up-to-the-minute scores from across Chicagoland.

And make sure you stay with Comcast SportsNet next weekend. We will air all eight of the state championship games from Memorial Stadium in Champaign. The 1A-4A games take place on Friday November 23rd, while the 5A-8A games have the spotlight the following day. The action begins at 10am each day. Our Matt Bowen provides color commentary on the 7A and 8A games, while Susannah Collins has sideline reports on the 3A, 4A, 7A and 8A games.

High School Lites streams this Saturday night on CSNChicago.com.

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

It might have been just another dinger in homer-happy All-Star Game, but Willson Contreras will remember it forever

It might have been just another dinger in homer-happy All-Star Game, but Willson Contreras will remember it forever

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Willson Contreras’ third-inning home run might not have ended up standing out too much in an All-Star Game featuring a jaw-dropping and record-shattering 10 dingers.

But, obviously, it will always stand out to the guy who hit it.

“I enjoyed every single second that I spent out there.”

Remarkably, Contreras repeated his feat from two seasons ago, when he hit his first big league homer on the first big league pitch he ever saw. Ditto on Tuesday night at Nationals Park, when he launched the first pitch he saw as an All Star out over the wall in left field.

“When I hit the ball and thought it was gone, I went back to 2016, playing in Chicago. It was the same thing, first pitch for a homer,” Contreras, all smiles, said following the American League’s 8-6 victory. “I’m really blessed with these kinds of situations. Those moments, they’re going to be history and they’re going to be in my mind and my heart.”

Contreras’ long ball was the highlight of the evening for fans watching back home in Chicago. Javy Baez got a hit in his first All-Star at-bat but was outdone by his teammate. White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu was hitless in his two trips to the plate.

And while it will be a highlight on this night for Cubs fans, it will be a highlight forever for Contreras, who enjoyed the heck out of his first All-Star experience.

“‘I did it, I did it,’” he said when asked what was going through his head. “I knew it was something special. And I wasn’t trying to do too much because these guys are nasty, throwing 98 in the first inning. I just tried to get the hit out.”

The nasty guy he went deep against was Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Blake Snell, whose 2.27 ERA on the season made him a very worthy inclusion on the AL roster. But Contreras was more impressed with the guy who started the game for the National League, raving about Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer after the game.

“He was great, man. Great stuff, he gets so into the game,” Contreras said. “I would like to have him one day on my team or play with him for a few years. That guy is amazing.”

That’s not the current Nationals star Cubs fans are dreaming about, Willy, but point taken.

But it wasn’t Snell or Scherzer or even Baez or Jon Lester, also in the NL dugout, who Contreras was thinking about the most during his home run trot. Instead, Contreras was thinking about his grandfather, Ernesto, who passed away a few years ago.

“My grandpa, he died in 2015,” Contreras said. “I grew up with him.

“He didn’t play ball. But I feel like every time I go out there and step into the box, he’s at my back. It just feels amazing when you hit a homer or do something special, look at the sky and you know that he’s there smiling somewhere.”

It all made for a pretty incredible night for Contreras, who has officially and loudly taken his place among baseball’s best on the game’s biggest stage.

The only thing that was missing? The ball.

Yeah, Contreras didn’t get the ball, not that he really expected to. But if you’ve got it, he wants it.

“I don’t think they’re giving it back,” he said with a grin.

We’ll see. Social media’s a powerful tool. So reach out.

Manny Machado as a Dodger creates a formidable foe out west for the Cubs

Manny Machado as a Dodger creates a formidable foe out west for the Cubs

Well, it's finally happening, or at least it's going to happen. The Athletics' Ken Rosenthal reported during the MLB All-Star game that the Baltimore Orioles had agreed to officially move their franchise player Manny Machado. Neither team has confirmed anything at this time, but the deal has reportedly been as close to a done deal for the last day or so, and it would seem Machado is destined for finish his 2018 campaign in Hollywood. 

Of course, with this addition, the reigning National League champions look primed for another deep postseason run. Though, the club is clinging to a half-game lead in the NL West, with Machado in tow the Dodgers are right with the Cubs and Brewers as the elite squads in the National League. It could be argued the Dodgers didn't necessarily 'need' Machado, with an offense that was already in the top 10 in runs scored, but Machado might be the perfect addition for the Dodgers. 

After losing their young star shortstop Corey Seager for the season with an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery, the Dodgers were in need of a more permanent solution at shortstop. And despite Machado's defensive metrics showing a steep decline in his glove at shortstop, the Dodgers will welcome his robust slash line of .315/.387/.575 while ignoring any shortcomings on defense. 

But what this means for the Cubs, who are only two games off the 2016 World Series club pace, is the path to another championship will likely require another run-in with the Dodgers. The club's biggest threat has been at this point the Brewers, but it's not hard to envision the Dodgers distancing themselves as the clear favorites in the National League with Machado in the heart of the order.

The good news for the Chicago is at least Machado didn't end up in Milwaukee, but that also could mean the Brewers make a more concerted effort to acquire pitching before the July 30th deadline. The Cubs will also see the return of Yu Darvish, who despite only managing to win one game this season in a Cubs uniform, will be a massive upgrade over the scuffling Tyler Chatwood. If the Cubs pitching can start producing like many expected them to before the start of 2018, and guys like Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant start to hit alongside All-Stars Javier Baez and Willson Contreras, it's not hard to imagine the Cubs separating themselves from the pack in the 2nd half of season. 

The Dodgers are no strangers to blockbuster deadline deals, acquiring Yu Darvish in a similar three-month rental situation, but the Cubs getting a bat like Rizzo right and an arm like Darvish healthy would be better than any deal Theo Epstein could make to improve this team. And if it's not enough, the Cubs have a solid track record of grabbing former Dodger rentals in the off-season. The push for the playoffs starts Thursday for the north-siders.