White Sox

Mount Carmel's Laurisch too good to be true

744680.png

Mount Carmel's Laurisch too good to be true

On the surface, Tyler (T.J.) Laurisch is simply too good to be true. But his academic test scores and his baseball statistics don't lie.

On the baseball field, the 6-foot-1, 175-pound senior is the leader of Mount Carmel's baseball team that was ranked No. 1 in the Chicago area prior to Saturday's 1-0 loss to St. Laurence. It snapped the Caravan's 23-game winning streak and spoiled its bid to become only the fourth unbeaten state champion in the 72-year history of the Illinois high school tournament.

Laurisch, a pitcher, third baseman and outfielder, bats third in the lineup and is hitting .375 with six doubles and 18 runs-batted-in. As his team's No. 1 starting pitcher, he is 8-1 with a 1.93 earned run average in 50 23 innings with 46 strikeouts and 12 walks.

In a year in which veteran observers claim there is no prohibitive favorite for Player of the Year recognition, as was the case in recent years, Laurisch has emerged as a worthy candidate. What other player has contributed so much to his team's success?

"He is a complete player," Mount Carmel coach Brian Hurry said. "He impacts our team more because of his role and the success he has in those roles. He is our No. 3 hitter, our No. 1 pitcher and plays three positions. Because of what he means to our team, he deserves to be considered for Player of the Year."

"Player of the Year? I don't think of myself as an individual, just part of the team, what the coach always preaches," Laurisch said. "But It would mean everything to me. To put up the numbers I have, it would mean that all the hard work we put in during the off-season is paying off."

In the classroom, Laurisch ranks No. 1 in the senior class. He scored 34 on the ACT, including a perfect score in math. On Tuesday, he will decide whether he will enroll at Harvard or Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to study mechanical engineering and play baseball.

"Harvard is Division I, MIT is Division III. Harvard has the edge there. But MIT is the top engineering school in the country," he said. "When it comes down to it, it will be about financial aid, who gives me the best deal. I would like to go to Harvard if they provide the money."

Laurisch has other things going for him. He is vice president of the student council and vice president of the school's chapter of the National Honor Society. He also is a member of the mock trial team and the Scholastic Bowl team, all while finding time to study four hours after school and play soccer with his 13-year old sister Alexia.

"I've always been academically inclined. My parents stressed education first. Then I could go out and play sports," he said. "I was always encouraged to get straight A's. In high school, I've received nothing lower than an A-plus. My lowest grade was a B-plus in fifth grade social studies. I was disappointed. I knew the reason I got it was I didn't study enough and blew off a test. I told myself I wouldn't do it again.

"The trick is to stay focused. I set my sights on a goal and I won't let myself not achieve it. Since my freshman year, I wanted to be No. 1 in my class. Grades have always been important to me. As freshmen, everybody tried to get a feel for who was most competitive. I'm extremely competition in class and on the field."

He started playing baseball at age four. As a freshman, he played basketball and baseball, but he quickly realized that basketball conflicted with his work on the Scholastic Bowl team. So he pursued academics. He acknowledged that baseball was his best sport, something he couldn't give up.

"Baseball is different from other sports," he said. "I approach athletics like academics. You fail a lot in baseball, in hitting and pitching. You face a lot of adversity. You will go 0-for-5 or give up three runs in an inning. You have to be resilient. The big challenge is how you keep your composure when you strike out three times in a row."

According to Laurisch, losing last year to eventual state champion Lyons in the Class AA semifinals was a turning point. "We got hungrier. For the seniors, it was sad. As a junior, I knew I wouldn't do anything to prevent us from winning state this year. It's a result of all of us buying into what the coach preaches, ever since winter workouts. The only way we will win is if we work as a team," he said.

"Coming back from last year (he batted .390 and won seven of 10 decisions on the mound), I knew my pitching had to be more refined...more control and velocity, spotting my pitches, knowing when to throw my slider and fastball, knowing what to do in certain situations.

"As a hitter, I'm seeing the ball a lot better. Last year, I was leaning back too much. My weight transfer was off. This year I'm picking up pitches better out of the pitcher's hand."

Laurisch isn't the only one reason why Mount Carmel is 23-1 going into Monday's game at Loyola. He is one of seven very experienced players from last year's 34-9 squad. Others are first baseman Sam Kint, a 6-foot-4, 230-pound senior who is hitting .402 with 33 RBI; senior catcher Dan Pappas, who is hitting .349 with 14 RBI; and junior shortstop Jerry Houston, who is hitting .440 with 11 doubles, 22 RBI and 29 runs scored.

Kint set school records for homers and RBI's last year. Pappas, nephew of former Mount Carmel star and major leaguer Erik Pappas, is committed to West Virginia and described by Hurry as "the heart and soul of our team, our leader, the guy who controls the game."

Hurry, who has a record of 366-128 since becoming head coach in 2000, has developed the winningest program in the state over the last decade. This year's team is seeking a sixth sectional title since 2002. He qualified for the state quarterfinals in 2003 and lost to Lockport in the Class AA final in 2005.

He has produced six players who signed professional contracts and sent 60 players to college, over 20 to Division I programs. But he insists that Houston "can be the best player I have coached. He will be a pro prospect. Because of his overall talent and skills, he is our best player, our leadoff hitter, our catalyst on offense. He is a special talent," Hurry said.

Hurry, 38, a 1991 graduate of St. Francis de Sales, was a reserve middle infielder for legendary coach Gordie Gillespie's 1993 NAIA championship team at College of St. Francis.

While student teaching and coaching baseball at St. Francis de Sales in 1997, Hurry was looking for a social studies job and was told of an opening at Mount Carmel. He was offered a position there, as well as at Joliet Catholic. Living in Joliet at the time, he leaned to filling the vacancy at Joliet Catholic.

But he was told he would be head sophomore coach at Mount Carmel. "That was very important to me," he said. When Joliet Catholic didn't call back, he took the job at Mount Carmel. "The timing was right," he said.

Hurry inherited a very good program and a great athletic tradition to boot. In 13 seasons, his teams have averaged 29 victories per year. He also has a new field at 64th and Blackstone that he describes as "the best baseball facility in the state." And he has two able assistants who have been with him since the beginning, John Difilippo and Ish Jaquez.

"Potentially, this is the best team I have had," Hurry said. "We're off to the best start in school history. We have depth in talent and senior leadership, a lot of guys with a lot of experience. I haven't talked to our team about our record or the rankings. We just focus on the game that day.

"Sure, I want to win them all. It would have been very special to go down in history. But the most important thing is to win the last game of the season, even if we lost three or four games. Our goal always has been to win the last game, regardless of our record."

Mount Carmel hasn't dominated opponents. In fact, last week, the Caravan won four one-run decisions and they beat Brother Rice in extra innings. Then they lost 1-0 at St. Laurence on Saturday as Laurisch was outpitched by St. Laurence's Kevin Smith, who allowed only three hits.

"The nature of the sport of baseball is different than football or basketball," Hurry said.

"One pitcher can beat you. There are a lot of uncontrollables, unlike football and basketball. In baseball, you can do a lot of things right and still not have the results. I believe baseball is the hardest sport to win. You'll never see a baseball team win 10, 11 or 12 state championships like in football."

At the moment, he'll settle for one state title.

Lucas Giolito’s streak comes to an end, and now comes true test of his transformation

giolito-619.jpg
USA TODAY

Lucas Giolito’s streak comes to an end, and now comes true test of his transformation

Mama said there’d be days like this.

I’m not entirely sure whether Lucas Giolito’s mama told him that or not. But you don’t need a baseball-lovin’ mama to know that even the best pitchers in the game can get lit up sometimes.

If Giolito is truly that now, one of the best pitchers in the game, he’ll prove it with what follows, not with what happened Wednesday night at Wrigley Field.

A year after struggling to the tune of seven walks and three wild pitches in a Crosstown game he still won, Giolito entered the second of the two North Side rivalry games as a surefire All Star, a completely transformed pitcher who currently sits as one of the best Cy Young candidates in the American League. But you might not have known that watching him give up three homers worth a combined six runs in his 4.1 innings Wednesday.

This wasn’t exactly shades of the 2018 version of Giolito, who gave up more runs than any pitcher in baseball, had the highest ERA and WHIP of any qualified starting pitcher in baseball and walked more batters than any pitcher in the AL. No, Wednesday he still managed to strike out nine Cubs hitters and walked only three. But the Cubs hit him hard, with three balls leaving the yard, the back-breaker of which was a first-inning grand slam off the bat of White Sox killer Willson Contreras.

It doesn’t compare to some of the worst outings Giolito had last season, but it was shocking to see considering the incredible run he came in on. Entering Wednesday night’s contest, Giolito had won eight straight starts, with a 0.94 ERA during that stretch. He had given up as many runs after facing five batters Wednesday as he had in his previous five starts combined.

That stretch is now over, and it’s up to Giolito to make this a blip rather than a turning point.

What he’s done so far this season would lead you to believe that’s very possible. One of the biggest talking points for Giolito, as well as catcher James McCann, when it comes to describing the difference between the 2018 and 2019 versions has been Giolito’s ability to turn the page. That’s typically been discussed as something that happens within games: A bad first inning hasn’t led to a complete meltdown like it did too often last season.

“The physical stuff has always been there,” McCann said before Wednesday’s game. “There's a few tune-ups he did, shortened his arm, all that stuff. But obviously, it's the mental approach.

“I can point to multiple occasions this season where he's had a rough first inning. In Toronto, he gave up three base hits to the first four hitters, and then the next thing you know he's hasn't given up another base hit and we're in the eighth inning. He gave up a three-run homer to the Royals in the first inning, and all of a sudden it's the eighth inning and those are the only three runs he's given up.

“So that's kind of been the most impressive thing to me. His last outing, he gave up the solo homer in the first and really didn't have his best stuff, and next thing you know it's the sixth, seventh inning and that's the only run he's given up. Last year, some of those outings turn into bad outings where he gets chased in the fourth inning. This year his mental approach, his determination, his grit is a little different.”

Now he’ll have to do something he’s rarely had to in 2019, and that’s flush a bad start. Wednesday night’s outing was Giolito’s shortest of the season, matching the 4.1 innings he threw against the Seattle Mariners on April 6 and not including the 2.2 innings he logged before being removed with an injury against the Kansas City Royals on April 17. Wednesday marked the first time Giolito gave up multiple home runs in a start this season.

The bottom line is that Giolito has been so good in 2019 that he hasn’t had to deal with the fallout of a bad outing. Giolito has credited his turnaround to the improvement in his routine. That will be tested now, and it’s no surprise that he’s confident enough in it to be ready for anything.

“I'd say now I'm just on the same mental routine, the same physical routine day in and day out. Nothing changes,” Giolito said Tuesday. “It's just like my last start or future starts, I'm going to go out there with the same good, positive outlook going into the game. Whereas last year, I think I was searching for things a lot, so it was a little more up and down. Now it's much better.”

One rough start won’t change Giolito’s status as an All Star or put a damper on what’s been a season worth celebrating. But how he responds will be the true test of whether the transformed Giolito is here to stay.

 

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.

Cubs refuse to push the panic button on inconsistent offense

Cubs refuse to push the panic button on inconsistent offense

Any time the Cubs offense scuffles, there's always a dichotomy between the fanbase and the clubhouse.

Many fans believe the sky is falling while inside the home clubhouse at Wrigley Field, the Cubs continue to stay the course and try with all their might not to ride the roller coaster of the season.

That's especially true right now, with the wounds from last season's second-half offensive breakdown still fresh. 

It's easy to sweep a slump under the rug after a four-game series against the Dodgers in L.A., but the lineup issues came to a head Tuesday night at Wrigley Field when the Cubs faced the pitcher with the second-worst qualified ERA in baseball (Ivan Nova) and managed just 1 run — on the first pitch of the game, no less. 

Yet the Cubs insisted there was no panic inside the clubhouse about the cold bats and to a man, they talked about simply riding the wave and waiting for things to break their way.

So naturally, the Cubs came out Wednesday night and battered around the American League ERA leader Lucas Giolito thanks to a barrage of homers — including Willson Contreras' first-inning grand slam. Contreras' second homer of the night made him the fifth different Cub to reach 15 dingers this season (no other MLB team had more than three players eclipse the 15-homer threshold).

Still, the Cubs know they need to get the offense on a more consistent trajectory and find ways to score beyond just the longball.

"We have to be able to somehow find enough runs to win a game like [Tuesday]," Joe Maddon said. "That's where the run [of wins] is. We have to win some games where your pitching isn't as good that night and we have to score one more. And then when our pitching is that good, we have to score two or three. We just have to be able to do that in order to get on that run."

Wednesday's Contreras-led offensive explosion marked the first time in a week that the Cubs had scored more than 3 runs, but again, much of that was due to facing the Dodgers, owners of the best pitching staff in the NL.

After Tuesday night's loss, Maddon and the Cubs took solace in the fact that they didn't expand the zone too much or get themselves out. They only struck out 5 times against Nova and the White Sox bullpen.

"It's a long season," said David Bote, who homered Wednesday night after not starting Tuesday's game. "It's hard to not be caught up in a couple game stretch where it's not falling. But a lot of hard hits; we're not chasing out of the zone. 

"[We know we can't] push a panic button and stress. If you do that, then all of a sudden you start spiraling even more. You trust it and if there's nothing crazy wrong with what our approach is or anything like that, you just find a way to get runs in and get on a nice little hot streak and roll with it."

The Cubs began the season firing on all cylinders offensively, but cracks have started to show in the foundation over the last few weeks as their season record fell to 39-33 after Tuesday's loss.

They're not going to the opposite field with enough authority and situational hitting (or "opportunity hitting," as coach Anthony Iapoce calls it) is still a problem area — the Cubs woke up Wednesday morning with the worst batting average with runners in scoring position (.243) in the NL.

Maddon talked at length about the Cubs' situational hitting before Wednesday's game and was blunt in his assessment:

"We gotta start figuring those moments out," he said. "We were good coming out of the shoot, I thought, and then we've gotten away from it. We've just gotta get back to that moment. There's still time to be able to do that. But that also speaks to why our record is as pedestrian as it is."

But why has the offense taken a turn for the worse after such a hot start? Much like the "broken' stretch in the last couple months of 2018, the Cubs can't really put a finger on it.

"I don't have a strong answer to that," Maddon said. "It's guys in the moment in the game situation and we just have to continually remind them to stay [in the middle of the field and not try to pull the ball.] That's it. It's one of those things to remind. Our guys are definitely capable of readjusting back to that. ... We just have to go out there and get 'er done."