White Sox

Moskal, Soucy spark Lake Zurich defense

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Moskal, Soucy spark Lake Zurich defense

Most state championship teams feature at least one high profile player who is a Division I recruit or has All-State credentials...like Aaron Bailey, Jason Westerkamp, Matt Alviti, Matt Perez, Reilly O'Toole, John Dergo, Ryan Clifford, Jon Beutjer or Dave Schwabe.

Lake Zurich hopes to be an exception.

"We have a lot of good high school players," coach Dave Proffitt said. "We don't have a marquee player like Jack Lynn (last year's All-State linebacker who went to Minnesota).

"The word 'team' explains what Lake Zurich is all about this year. We have kids who are willing to make sacrifices for the good of the team like changing positions or play on the scout team to get the starters ready. We have 60 kids on the same page, trying to make each other better."

Lake Zurich (10-2) is riding high after upsetting two-time defending state champion Rockford Boylan 21-6 in the quarterfinals, snapping the Titans' 39-game winning streak. The Bears have allowed only 63 points, only 12 in three playoff games.

But the road to Champaign doesn't get any easier. Lake Zurich will face an even tougher test at 1 p.m. Saturday against top-seeded Glenbard West (12-0) in Glen Ellyn. It marks the third time in four years that the two schools have met in the semifinals of the Class 7A playoff.

"We have to do what we do best," Proffitt said. "Trickery at this level? Forget it. We have to run the ball, not turn it over and our kicking game has to be top-notch. We have to be able to get them off the field on third down consistently."

Proffitt said Lake Zurich has two things going for it.

"In the last four or five weeks our offense has controlled the ball and the clock. And our defense has been able to get opponents off the field on third down," the first-year coach said.

The Bears' 3-3-5 defense has been led by 6-foot-1, 225-pound junior linebacker Colton Moskal and 6-foot-1, 185-pound senior free safety Grant Soucy. Moskal is the team's leading tackler, a two-year starter. Soucy started at cornerback as a sophomore and junior and also starts at wide receiver.

Proffitt has run the 3-3-5 for seven years, including two at Cary-Grove. But he likes it for different reasons. Most coaches employ the 3-3-5 to counter spread offenses. Proffitt uses it because he doesn't have to rely on big players but smaller, quicker and more athletic players.

"I believe the 3-3-5 can give running teams as much difficulty if you scheme it right as the conventional 3-4 or 4-3. It's like having your strength up the middle on a baseball team with the catcher and shortstop and center fielder."

Moskal describes Lake Zurich's success--the Bears won a state title in 2007 and were second in 2006 and 2010 under former coach Bryan Stortz--as "a bunch of guys buying into a system and playing as one unit, all 11 on defense flying to the ball and trying to make plays."

All 11 flying to the ball? "It's all having your own responsibility and doing your job, trusting that everyone else will do their job. No one thinks about individual glory. It doesn't make a difference who makes the play as long as we get it done," Moskal said.

"Our edge is hard-nosed Lake Zurich football. We want to carry on the winning tradition. If one guy goes down, another has to step up and make plays. We have a lot of returnees. We know what a playoff atmosphere is all about. We know every game will be a dogfight."

Soucy is one of seven senior captains. That's right, seven: "We never had that before. We had an intense interview process. We had to write essays. We talked to the other players and they voted. It came down to seven, each with different styles, all contributing to the success of the team. "

The other captains are defensive linemen Jack Sweeney and Rocky Triggiano, strong safety Robert Rossdeutcher, fullback Connor Schrader, slotback Jake Stauner and offensive lineman Jerry Bauer.

"We are very selfless. We always want to play our best for each other and for others who were in the program in past years," Soucy said. "The program is about family. We spend so much time together. We are a second family to everyone. We're all willing to do anything to help each other, even outside of football. We form bonds during practice and in the off-season. We do everything as a team, not as individuals."

On the field, nobody thinks about newspaper headlines or video on YouTube or High School Lites or High School Cube. It's all about T-E-A-M.

"All those special players, the Division I prospect, have statistics and numbers," Soucy said. "But anyone can win on given day. If we go 100 percent and hold nothing back for four quarters, we can outplay any team.

"It's something unique in football. Some teams may have pure talent but if they don't go 100 percent for all four quarters, they won't get the end result they want. In the Lake Zurich program, you want are exhausted on one play and then want to come back and fight as hard as you can. You don't want to let your teammates down."

White Sox Talk Podcast: Inside the White Sox draft room with Nick Hostetler

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AP

White Sox Talk Podcast: Inside the White Sox draft room with Nick Hostetler

Chuck Garfien and Ryan McGuffey speak with White Sox scouting director Hosteler inside the team's draft room at Guaranteed Rate Field.

How accurate are the mock drafts? (2:45) Can Andrew Vaughn meeting the lofty expectations? (6:40) Bobby Witt Jr's unique background (8:30), why this draft could bring a face of the franchise type player the top (11:15), and what it's like in the war room on draft day (12:30). Do they have a consensus pick yet? (13:45) Do they need to stock up on pitching? (17:35)

Is Nick Madrigal meeting expectations in Class-A? (26:40) Hostetler's sleeper pick from last season that White Sox fans should watch (30:00) and more.

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below:

White Sox Talk Podcast

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How close is Ian Happ to rejoining the Cubs?

How close is Ian Happ to rejoining the Cubs?

Is Ian Happ nearing a return to Chicago?

In a surprise move at the end of spring training, the Cubs sent the 24-year-old switch-hitter down to the minor leagues to work on his swing and try to cut down on strikeouts.

Happ's numbers in Iowa don't jump off the page at you (.240/.362/.422), but it looks like he may be turning a corner of late. He homered Monday night then went 4-for-4 with another homer, 2 doubles and 5 RBI in the second game of a doubleheader Wednesday.

That's obviously a very small sample size, however, and even including that, Happ is still struggling to make consistent contact. He has struck out 14 times in 25 at-bats over his last 8 games. 

His overall strikeout percentage on the season is 25.9 percent — a major improvement on the 36.1 percent mark he struggled through in the big leagues last year. But Happ had never struck out more than 23.6 percent of the time in a season coming up through the minor leagues, so that number is still higher than the Cubs would like to see.

"If [the mini hot streak] were sustained, you'd have to really start listening," Joe Maddon said. "I'm following him via video, watching the at-bats. I'm doing that almost daily with him. I know prior to that, he had still had some problems with strikeouts. 

"And then hit a home run the other day and that seems like that's led to this other home run. That would be primarily a call on the front office and the minor-league part [on when to call him up], but I will watch the video. The home run I saw, I liked. I thought he had much better balance on the entire swing."

Obviously the Cubs aren't going to overreact to a couple games and deem Happ ready to return to the big leagues based off a handful of at-bats.

But there's also a solid case to be made that he could help the club in Chicago right now.

Despite a hot start to the season, the Cubs' role players have really fallen off the last few weeks and much of the offensive damage has come from the big boppers (Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javy Baez, Willson Contreras) recently.

There's no indication Ben Zobrist is coming back anytime soon, as Maddon said Thursday morning he hasn't spoken to the veteran in a couple days. 

David Bote and Jason Heyward have looked better this week, but they were struggling for the first couple weeks of May. 

Daniel Descalso has really been scuffling, hitting .097 with only 1 extra-base hit in May and his defense at second base has been below average.

Then there's Mark Zagunis, who isn't doing much of anything for the Cubs — literally. He hasn't started a game since April 26 and hasn't seen even one inning in the outfield since then, either, serving exclusively as a pinch-hitter for the last month.

So if the Cubs decide soon that Happ is ready to return to the big leagues, they have a simple decision on the roster spot and right now, there might be an avenue to a decent amount of playing time either at second base or the outfield.

Happ may not be the best or most experienced defender at second base, but he's seen some time there in the minors this season (59.2 innings) and he can also play either of the corner infield spots and all three outfield positions.

But would it be prudent for the Cubs to call up Happ if they don't even have room for him to play every day? That could throw a wrench in his development, which is clearly something the organization has been committed to.

Albert Almora Jr. is still easily the best centerfielder on the roster and has been great offensively for the last month, so it's not like he's done anything to deserve falling back into a platoon with Happ in center like they shared for much of 2018.

"It's hard. You would want to [call him up only if there's ample time to play him]," Maddon said. "But if you could morph him in and there's a platoon that's worthwhile, you could do that, also.

"But part of him being [in the minors] right now on a consistent basis is to get these kind of at-bats to get this all worked out and you would not want to lose that, either. But when he were to come back, being that he could hit left-handed obviously permits us to do other things."

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