White Sox

It's a Mroz family affair at Ridgewood

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It's a Mroz family affair at Ridgewood

There certainly isn't a sibling rivalry among the Mroz brothers on Ridgewood's basketball team. It isn't unusual to see a fatherson, coachplayer relationship at the high school level. But a 27-year-old coaching two younger brothers? That's a new twist.

Chris Mroz, who will be 28 on Feb. 27, is the oldest of four brothers. A graduate of St. Patrick in 2002, he played for Mike Bailey, then played at Bradley and Missouri-St. Louis, worked at a bank, assisted at St. Patrick and Ridgewood, then became head coach three years ago.

Pete Mroz is a 6-foot-3 senior guard who is averaging 21 points per game. An outstanding shooter, he won the Class 3A three-point shooting contest last year. In a recent three-game flurry, he scored 41, 22 and 33 points. He converted 11 three-point shots and took only 16 shots in his 41-point effort against Fenton.

Anthony Mroz, the youngest brother, is a 5-foot-11 sophomore who is averaging 11 points per game. He has been rated as one of the top 50 players in the class of 2014 according to one recruiting service. "He will be a special player," Chris Mroz said.

Along with 6-foot-1 senior Andy Mazurczak, who is averaging 24 points and six assists per game, they are the leaders of a 19-6 team that is seeded No. 2 behind North Chicago in the Class 3A sectional at Grayslake Central. A year ago, Ridgewood was 20-10 and lost to North Chicago in the sectional final. In its history, the school has never advanced beyond the sectional.

Ridgewood continued tuning up for its state tournament bid by beating Glenbard South 64-60 last Tuesday, Elmwood Park 61-51 on Friday and Galesburg 50-46 on Saturday. Mazurczak scored 22 points against Glenbard South, 22 against Elmwood Park and 21 against Galesburg. The Rebels will close their regular season against highly regarded Riverside-Brookfield on Friday with the Metro Suburban Conference championship at stake.

"We could be 22-3," Pete Mroz said. "In every loss, we had the lead in the fourth quarter. We led Leyden by 17 in the fourth quarter. We lost to Glenbard South on a 65-foot shot off the backboard at the buzzer.

"We are quick, we play hard and our guards are very good. We play four guards and one post player. No one is bigger than 6-foot-4. Our kids aren't the biggest but they play hard and want to get better. They have good attitudes. Best of all, we're playing well at the right time."

Pete and Anthony Mroz and Mazurczak are complemented by 6-foot-3 junior Adam Krozel (10 ppg) and 6-foot-2 junior Mike Lizak (5 ppg). They got a big lift from 6-foot junior Igor Cirkovic, who came off the bench to make three three-pointers in the fourth quarter against Elmwood Park. Anthony Mroz contributed 15 points to the victory over Galesburg.

Saturday's trip to Galesburg was a unique experience for the Ridgewood team. Galesburg is one of the storied high school basketball programs in the state and playing in John Thiel Gym provided an atmosphere that the Rebels won't ever forget.

"To go deep into the playoff, we have to rebound and take care of the ball," Chris Mroz said. "Anthony does a lot for us. He knows the two seniors (Pete and Andy) are the go-to guys. His job is to defend, get after guys, make plays, be an energy and get the ball in the hands of our shooters."

Shooters as in Pete Mroz and Mazurczak. At the moment, the basket looks as big as the Grand Canyon to Pete, who had never scored more than 18 points in a game until he tallied 41 against Fenton. He once had 41 as a seventh grader and 32 in an AAU game last summer. But even he has a hard time explaining his recent hot streak.

"Pete has always been able to shoot. But he's starting to get hot. The basket looks pretty big to him right now," the coach said.

"Every time I shoot it, it feels like it is going to go in the basket. Everything I throw up goes in," Pete said. "I didn't have that confidence before. I was slow getting into the game. But this is the right time, as we're going into the playoff, to pick up my game."

Pete credits his older brother for his improvement. "When he became head coach, I knew he was going to be harder on us than anyone else. But he gives you confidence to shoot the ball and it pays off. Some coaches tell kids not to shoot the ball. But he has confidence in me, what every coach should have in their players. I feel comfortable shooting the ball from the volleyball line," he said.

"He doesn't act like my brother. He played at Bradley. It was cool to see my brother playing on a Division I floor. He always has been a good role model. He wants us to play hard all the time. I wanted to play for him. He taught me the game ever since I was a little kid. He's my idol. I wanted to be as good as him. That was my goal. I wanted to play for him."

Ironically, if Chris hadn't been hired at Ridgewood, Pete and Anthony would be at St. Patrick. Pete transferred from St. Patrick to Ridgewood after his freshman year and Anthony followed.

The coach describes Mazurczak as "one of the most underrated players in the city, our best player, a late bloomer, a special kid, a hard worker." If he weighed more than 155 pounds, more colleges would be interested, Pete Mroz said.

Mazurczak describes himself as a pass-first player who likes to get his teammates involved in the game. He is a natural point guard who has moved to the shooting guard position this season to add more scoring punch to the offense. He likes to get to the basket and the foul line. Most of all, he likes to win. He doesn't keep track of his statistics. He wasn't aware that he is averaging 24 points per game.

Modesty and humility aside, he wants to play basketball in college. He doesn't think he is a major Division I player because he lacks size and strength. But he knows he has played against other highly rated players with Division I credentials and he has held his own. So he hopes college coaches will reassess his skills. Meanwhile, he is more focused on his team and the remainder of the season.

"Our big goal is to get past the sectional," Mazurczak said. "We are a small team but we like to get the ball up and down. We are a bunch of shooters. We like to spread the floor and create plays. We started playing this style last year. We try to get fast break lay-ups and open shots. We know we can't hold the ball or our opponents will catch up to us.

"All summer long, we played against top teams to prepare for March. We played in the Riverside-Brookfield Shootout, the Oak Park league and the Glenbard west tournament. We played Bogan, Morton, St. Patrick, Notre Dame, Oak Park, Proviso East, Fenwick, Proviso West and Lyons. We don't see those kind of teams in our conference, athletic and fast and strong. If we can play with them, we can play with anyone."

Jose Abreu still leading AL first basemen to start 2018 MLB All-Star Game

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USA TODAY

Jose Abreu still leading AL first basemen to start 2018 MLB All-Star Game

Last week, Jose Abreu had a nearly 26,000 vote lead to start the 2018 MLB All-Star game over Red Sox first basemen Mitch Moreland. But now Abreu can take a brief sigh of relief on his quest to Washington.

MLB updated the American League fan ballot standings Tuesday for the Midsummer Classic. The Sox first baseman now has a lead on Moreland by over 138,000 votes.

This an encouraging sign for Abreu and White Sox faithful. Are fans taking notice of Abreu’s production this season?

His numbers this year include a slash line of .283/.338/.500. He also has 11 homers, 41 RBIs and 26 doubles. For his career, Abreu has a .299 average, 135 homers and 451 RBIs in 683 games.

He ranks first among AL first basemen in hits, doubles, RBIs, SLG and OPS. In other major offensive statistics, Abreu ranks near the top 10 for almost all of them.

Abreu is a cornerstone in the White Sox rebuild and if he does indeed start, it could be huge for his confidence and the team.

An All-Star nod this season would also mean a second career appearance in the game. He debuted in his rookie year (2014) as a reserve.

If fans indeed vote Abreu in as a starter, he would be the first position player to start for the White Sox since Frank Thomas did it back-to-back as a first baseman in 1994 and 1995.

There is still time to cast your votes to see Abreu start the Midsummer Classic. The AL will have another updated voting ballot June 26.

Should the Blackhawks explore bringing back Artemi Panarin?

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USA TODAY

Should the Blackhawks explore bringing back Artemi Panarin?

Here's an interesting development as we approach the NHL Draft: Artemi Panarin has informed the Blue Jackets that he's not ready to consider an extension "at this time" and because of that, Columbus is testing the market for the Russian winger, according to Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet.

Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen responded to the report shortly after in a statement released by the team:

"Artemi is an elite National Hockey League player. Our position has been that we want him to be a Blue Jacket for many years and that has not changed. He has a year left on his contract, so there is plenty of time to work towards that end. Should anything change moving forward, we will address it at that time and any decision we make will be in the best interest of our club.”

Ironically, Panarin was traded to Columbus on the afternoon of last year's draft as part of a blockbuster package that sent Brandon Saad back to Chicago. It shook up the hockey world, and has the potential to do so again.

Panarin is set to become an unrestricted free agent in 2019, but is free to sign an extension with Columbus on July 1. Clearly, that doesn't seem to be in the cards right now and it's why the Blue Jackets have to put out feelers. They can't risk losing him for nothing.

On the flip side, Panarin has every right to test the open market. He has one year left on his contract that carries a $6 million cap hit. He's due for a hefty raise, will be 27 years old next summer — the prime of his hockey career — and will certainly be looking for a long-term deal after accepting a bridge contract with the Blackhawks.

Speaking of whom, should his former team explore bringing him back to Chicago now that he's on the market?

Every general manager should and will do their due diligence and call for an asking price, Stan Bowman included. Those conversations might start with Alex DeBrincat or Nick Schmaltz, and if that's the case, you say thanks but no thanks and move on. 

The Blackhawks have the Nos. 8 and 27 picks in this year's draft as possible ammunition, but the Blue Jackets are ready to take that next step. They were up 2-0 in their first-round series before losing four straight to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals. It's unlikely they'd be looking to center a potential deal around draft picks. 

The only way you even consider it from the Blackhawks perspective is if Panarin is guaranteed to sign a long-term extension at a price you're comfortable with, but that's one of the main reasons why they traded him in the first place. 

To cap it all off, trading for Panarin wouldn't even address the Blackhawks' biggest need and that's a Top 4 defenseman. Those don't grow on trees. The Blackhawks will have the cap space to sign a player like James van Riemsdyk to patch up their top 6. You can't say the same for the free-agent blue line group.

So while it may certainly be fun for Blackhawks fans to come up with possible trade scenarios to get Panarin back in an Indianhead sweater, it just doesn't make great sense for a variety of reasons.