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North Shore Country Day makes history

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North Shore Country Day makes history

It is a long trip from Alexandria, Louisiana, to Houston, Texas, to Winnetka, Ill. But Rashid Smith made it without a hitch. In his second year as head coach at North Shore Country Day, he still has some unfinished business.

Basketball never has been a major topic of discussion at the small and elite private school. Football records date to the school's founding in 1919 but the only basketball record of note is a regional championship in 2011.

Smith is anxious to re-write history. North Shore Country Day is 17-4 going into Tuesday's Class 1A supersectional against Sterling Newman, has won its first conference championship in 40 years and its first sectional in history. "There is a gap in the records," he said.

The Raiders, who were 17-7 last year but lost to Hope Academy in the sectional semifinal, avenged that loss on Friday night by overwhelming the team that was favored to win the Class 1A title this season, Hope Academy, 70-56. Jake Bruce scored 27 points and Austen Curren had 23.

"I'm 30 years old but I'm not surprised by anything at this point," Smith said. "They are playing unselfishly and hard and smart. If you do those three things, you give yourself a chance to win. I wasn't surprised about winning the regional and sectional.

"But what impressed me was after we won the regional they didn't celebrate. They shook the other team's hand and walked off the court. In the first game of the sectional, they did the same thing. One kid said: 'I don't want to lose without playing our best basketball.' They still feel we haven't played our best basketball. I was impressed that 16- and 17- and 18-year-old kids have that mindset."

Hey, the Raiders could be unbeaten. They lost to Christian Liberty by two, Chicago Latin by two, Chicago University High by two in overtime and Northridge Prep by two in overtime.

"But the losses helped us," Smith said. "They forced us to do some self-reflecting and make corrections and improvements. We are a smarter team, more patient on offense. We take better shots and we are more dynamic. In the beginning of the year, zone defense and pressure hurt us. But now our guards do a good job of handling pressure. And our ball movement is much crisper now."

Smith knows how to win. At Peabody Magnet High School in Alexandria, La., he led his team to a state championship. He was All-State and MVP in the state tournament. In three years, his teams lost only 10 games. He earned a scholarship to Rice University in Houston, Texas.

At Rice, a couple of his teammates were from Northbrook, Illinois. They started a basketball training company and Smith joined them. Along the way, he connected with coaches and athletes on the North Shore. One of his college teammates was Omar Mance, who preceded him as head coach at North Shore Country Day, When Mance left to become an assistant at Army, Smith succeeded him.

Smith inherited three returning starters from last year's squad. Curren, a 6-foot-3 junior, averages 17.5 points and six rebounds per game. He was an all-conference selection last year. Bruce, a 6'2" senior guard, averages 13.5 points and four steals.

Other starters are 6-foot-5 junior Ryan Hall (14 ppg, 11 rpg) and 5-foot-9 junior point guard Jamie Swimmer who contributes five assists per game and scored 15 points against Hope Academy. Both were all-conference selections a year ago.

The other starting spot is split between 6'2" junior Flores Hondmann and 6-foot junior Tim Morette. They combine for 11 points and five rebounds between them.

Smith thinks North Shore Country Day isn't given much respect because the Independent League, which also includes University High and Francis Parker and Chicago Latin, isn't considered a very competitive conference. But Smith believes his team's victory over highly rated Hope Academy should send a message to critics.

"I feel our conference is good," Smith said. "University High is a Class 3A school. We weren't intimidated by Hope Academy. We play quick, athletic teams in our conference, schools that are in Class 2A and 3A. We've seen everything.

"These kids are typical of North Shore kids. They are hard working, very competitive, good spirit, high energy.

"They haven't had a game where they have felt that everybody has played up to their potential. We can click better than we are doing. I could tell by the way they approached and prepared for the sectional that they still have a lot of basketball left to play.

"Some of the kids on this team I have known since fifth and sixth grade. I worked with them at our training center. I knew it wasn't like Peabody (North Shore's enrollment is only 220). But I knew the players. Give me a kid who goes to North Shore to play basketball, who is a decent player, not developed, but has potential, and he will develop. He might might be a super star as a ninth or 10th grader but he will grow and reach his potential."

Cubs ride unconventional pitching performances to 8-6 win over the Reds

Cubs ride unconventional pitching performances to 8-6 win over the Reds

Before Thursday’s game against the Phillies, Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon was asked if, given the current state of their bullpen, Tyler Chatwood could see some innings as the closer. 

“I think he’s amenable to it...” Maddon responded. “... the big thing with him is throwing strikes. If he does that -- his stuff is that electric -- we’ll use him any time. As he gets well from [throwing 4 innings on Wednesday night] it’ll probably a solid two days, maybe three, before he’s ready to go again. We’ll see - we’ll see that night needs. I’m not afraid of it by any means.

“I would say that the first time he got a chance with us, it would be because the other guys aren’t available that night.”

48 hours later, with the Cubs white knuckling a two-run lead, it was Chatwood coming out of the ‘pen in the top of the 9th. Two singles, a double-play, and a Yasiel Puig flyout later, Chatwood had closed out one of the Cubs’ more unconventional wins of the season, a 8-6 nail-biter that featured a little bit of everything.  

“It was a little bit [surprising],” Chatwood said. “But I kept myself ready. I was able to get loose in the pen and luckily I got that double play right there, and we won. So it’s good.” 

On a day when the Cubs’ cobbled together their pitching performance, it was Yu Darvish’s 7 innings -- the first time he’s gotten that deep into a game since 2017 -- that kept Chicago in punching distance. The line itself isn’t particularly flattering; six runs on 12 hits is an eyesore. His performance may not have played well on Cubs Twitter, but those inside the clubhouse could not stop talking about it. 

“That was huge. I thought he was really good today,” Albert Almora, who already surpassed his 2018 home run total (5) with a solo homer in the 2nd inning, said. “I didn’t think he was going to come back out, so I said ‘good job’ to him in the 7th. I saw him back out in the 8th and was like ‘all right, he wanted it.’” 

“It looked like he emptied the tank against Puig in the 7th with a big strikeout,” Chatwood added. “But he still went back out there and battled and pitched into the 8th. That’s huge. We didn’t have many people available today, and I think he knew that. I thought that was one of the best games he’s thrown the ball.”

Darvish managed to strand eight base runners, though, and only walked two. He’s now gone three straight games while walking three batters or less, something he’d failed to do at any point prior. 

“I knew that the bullpen was going through a little struggle, and didn’t have much rest,” Darvish said. “So my main goal was to go more than 7 innings today.” 

On a warm day, with the wind blowing straight out at 16 miles per hour, Wrigley played as small as it has all year. The Cubs (and the Reds, for that matter) went deep three times, which brings their homestand total to 11. 

“The wind was a friend to both sides today,” Maddon said. “But really, you’ve got to give Yu a ton of credit for getting deeply into the game today. He still had his good stuff in the end. The stuff was still there, but it’s 107 pitches, and it’s just deflating when all that happens.” 

Not to be outdone by the guy who started the game or the guy who finished it, recently-called up pitcher Dylan Maples was the winning pitcher of record. He and Tim Collins came in from Triple-A Iowa that morning, and Maddon wasted no time throwing Maples into the fire. After walking his first batter, Maples got Reds’ rookie Nick Senzel to strikeout on a 91mph fastball to end the 8th. 

If it hasn't seemed easy of late, that's because it hasn't been. Of the Cubs’ first 50 games, 16 have been decided by one run (9-7). Over their last 12 games, eight have been decided by two or less runs. 

“They seem to all be like that,” Maddon said with a laugh. “Especially recently. We’re seeing a lot of good pitching. 

“That’s entertainment, guys. Woah.” 

Joe Maddon on MLB's absurd home run rate: 'The wind’s being broken here. It’s really weird'

Joe Maddon on MLB's absurd home run rate: 'The wind’s being broken here. It’s really weird'

Cubs manager Joe Maddon usually isn’t one for conspiracy theories, but even he’s wondering what’s going on. MLB teams are hitting home runs at an absurd rate, including the Cubs, who are hitting them at a historic rate for the franchise’s standards.

Entering Saturday, here’s where MLB teams stand in average home run rate and total home runs in 2019 compared to recent seasons:

2017: 1.26/game, 6,105 total
2018: 1.15/game, 5,585 total
2019: 1.33/game, 2,009 total

While the MLB season is just over 30 percent finished, teams are on pace to hit a combined 6,483 long balls in 2019. This would absolutely obliterate the 2017 total, which, like the 1.33 home runs per game figure, would be an MLB record.

The Cubs are no exception to this home run wave. Including Saturday (game No. 50 of the season), the team has hit 80 home runs (and counting) in 2019. Only the 2000 Cubs (83) hit more home runs in their first 50 games in franchise history.

“We’re having home runs hit here into some firm breezes, which has not happened before,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said to reporters before Saturday’s game against the Reds. “That’s the thing that stands out to me. It’s been crazy.

“Even [Kyle] Schwarber’s home run, I know that was hit well, but dang, that wind was blowing pretty firmly across at that point.”

Schwarber absolutely crushed his home run yesterday, a 449-foot blast that needed little help getting into the bleachers. However, Maddon has a valid point regarding home runs being hit despite the wind. Entering Saturday, 54 total home runs have been hit at Wrigley Field this season, 29 of which have come with the wind blowing in.

By the eighth inning of Saturday’s game, the Cubs and Reds had hit a combined six home runs, one of which appeared to be a routine fly ball hit by Jason Heyward that wound up in the left field basket thanks to the wind. At the same time, Yasiel Puig hit one 416 feet onto Waveland Ave. that had a 109 mph exit velocity. The wind blowing out at Wrigley Field helps, but it isn’t everything.

MLB players have questioned time and time again if baseballs are “juiced,” including Cubs starting pitcher Jon Lester. And while Maddon didn’t flat out say that he thinks the baseballs are juiced, he notices a difference in how they're flying off the bat.

“I don’t know, I’m normally not into the subplot component of all of this and the conspiracy theorists, but I’m telling you right now, it’s jumping,” he said. “It’s absolutely jumping.

“Nobody is ever going to admit to it. The wind’s being broken here. It’s really weird.”

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