Preps Talk

Pinckneyville seeks state-wide recognition

600388.png

Pinckneyville seeks state-wide recognition

Pinckneyville is 26-4 and isn't ranked among the top 25 teams in Class 2A in Illinois. Pinckneyville unranked? You're kidding, right? Quick, name the five high schools in the state with the most tradition. Centralia, Thornton, Quincy, Mount Vernon and... Pinckneyville.

Duster Thomas coached Pinckneyville to the 1948 state championship and four thirds, including three 33-3 seasons in a row from 1953 to 1955. In 19 years, his teams were 460-128. The gym, built in the 1950s and named after Thomas, remains a classic design.

Don Stanton was 116-31 in five years at the school. Dick Corn was 682-225 in 31 years, winning state titles in 1994 and 2001, finishing second in 1988 and fourth in 2006. Current coach Bob Waggoner produced a fourth-place finisher in the 2008 state tournament.

"This team deserves to be ranked among the top 10 in the state," Waggoner said. "People have asked me why we aren't ranked. How do you respond? It's out of our hands. Personally, I don't worry about rankings. The most important thing is to win. If you win, accolades will come."

Maybe it's because Pinckneyville doesn't have an outstanding player, a Division I recruit or an All-State candidate. Maybe it's because Harrisburg and Breese Central received so much preseason hoopla. Breese Central currently is ranked No. 1 in the state in one poll. Maybe it's because Herrin would have received more attention if it hadn't moved to Class 3A.

Or maybe it's because Pinckneyville hasn't been able to get past neighboring Du Quoin to earn another trip to Peoria. Two years ago, Pinckneyville was 24-6 but lost to Du Quoin in the sectional semifinal. Last year, the Panthers were 20-8 and lost to Du Quoin in the regional final.

In his fifth season, Waggoner isn't concerned with the past or this year's rankings. His Panthers tuned up for the Eldorado sectional by beating 25-game winner Trico 50-45 in the regional final last Friday night, then dispatched Olney 38-30 on Tuesday night in their sectional semifinal to extend their winning streak to 15 games.

"We do all the little things. Defensively, we're very good. Our offense is catching up to our defense," Waggoner said. "We're playing our best basketball right now and we're healthy. We aren't the most athletic team. We aren't as athletic as the two fourth-place teams but we are every bit as gritty and more physical and have more ability to defend.

"We don't have an outstanding player, a first-team All-State player. We are just a solid basketball team, not flashy. We just play solid defense. Seven seniors give us a lot of experience. But I am pleasantly surprised at how we have jelled and come together. I knew we had that ability but they never showed it as a group before."

Waggoner said his team gained confidence when it went 5-0 and won its eighth straight championship at Benton's Mid-Winter Invitational Tournament in mid-January.

Pinckneyville is led by 5-foot-11 senior guard Hunter Queen (13 ppg), 5-foot-9 senior point guard Bryant Shute (8 ppg, 3 assists), 6-foot junior Dylan Hardin (11 ppg), 6-foot-3 senior Peyton Nippe (10 ppg, 5 rpg) and 6-foot-4 junior Chris Priebe (6 ppg, 4 rpg). Keegan Kellerman, a 6-foot, 250-pound senior (4 ppg, 4 rpg) who will play football at McKendree College, comes off the bench.

Against Trico, coached by former Pinckneyville star Shane Hawkins, Hardin scored 25 points on 11-of-13 shooting and Priebe added 10 points.

"If we are going to advance in the state tournament, our inside play must be good," Waggoner said. "Our guard play has been consistent. But Priebe, Hardin and Nippe must produce inside for us."

The guards, Queen and Shute, have stood out, averaging fewer than nine turnovers per game. And the defense has allowed only 40 points per game and permitted opponents to convert only 22 percent of their three-point shots.

Waggoner, who also serves as the school's athletic director, is a 1989 graduate of Lawrenceville. He and former Lawrenceville basketball coach Ron Felling's son Shane went to high school together. He was head coach at Columbia, joined Corn's staff at Pinckneyville in 2006 and became head coach when Corn retired in 2008.

"I think people have lost touch with the rankings with the four-class system," Waggoner said, still trying to explain why Pinckneyville isn't ranked at all. "Schools move up and down. It's hard to keep track of them.

Our enrollment is 390. We've lost 140 students since I have been here in the last five years. The Illinois High School Association changed the number this year. If it had stayed the same, we could have been in Class 1A next
year."

43 Days to Kickoff: Shepard

43 Days to Kickoff: Shepard

NBCSportsChicago.com preps reporter "Edgy" Tim O’Halloran spotlights 100 high school football teams in 100 days. The first 75 team profiles will focus on teams making strides across Chicagoland and elsewhere in the state. Starting Aug. 5, we’ll unveil the @NBCSPrepsTop 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 30.

School: Shepard

Head coach: John Rone

Assistant coaches: Vincent Holmes, Andy Schindel, Chris Lewis, Justin Harris and Mark Thomas

How they fared in 2018: 8-3 (5-1 South Suburban Red Conference). Shepard made the Class 6A IHSA state football playoff field, defeated Springfield and then lost to Normal West in second round action.

2019 regular season schedule:

Aug. 30 vs Leyden
Sept. 6 vs St Francis
Sept. 13 @ Reavis
Sept. 20 @ Evergreen Park
Sept. 27 @ Eisenhower
Oct. 4 vs Oak Lawn
Oct. 11 @ Lemont
Oct. 18 vs Richards
Oct. 25 vs Argo

Biggest storyline: Coach Rone’s first season was a success. Can the Astros make another state playoff run in 2019?

Names to watch this season: LB Matthew Hightower (Sr.), WR/DB Jalen Smith (Sr.)

Biggest holes to fill: The Astros welcome back six returning starters back on defense, but they will feature nearly an entire starting offense with very limited experience.

EDGY's Early Take: Head coach John Rone was able to get the Astros into the  playoffs in his first season in charge of the Shepard program. It was also the fourth straight playoff appearance for the school. The Astros always have plenty on hand in the skills department. But the defense may need to carry a talented —but younger— offense. If the pieces can gel, they can challenge for another IHSA state playoff appearance.

Kyle Ryan's emergence is coming at exactly the right time for Cubs

kyle_ryan_emerging_as_a_force_slide_photo.jpg
AP

Kyle Ryan's emergence is coming at exactly the right time for Cubs

With the MLB trade deadline two weeks away, bullpen help figures to be on the Cubs' wish list.

But thanks in part to Kyle Ryan's emergence, the Cubs don't absolutely need that reliever to be left-handed (though it would probably be ideal).

The Cubs began the week with three southpaws in their bullpen, but at some point this weekend, Ryan may be the lone lefty remaining. Mike Montgomery was traded to the Royals late Monday night and with Carl Edwards Jr. progressing in his rehab (he threw again Tuesday), he might take Randy Rosario's spot in a couple days. 

The Cubs like Edwards against lefties and they also feel confident in Pedro Strop against either handed hitter when he's on. But Ryan has worked his way into Joe Maddon's Circle of Trust and is currently the only lefty residing there.

That's not to say the Cubs don't need another reliable southpaw in the 'pen, but Ryan looks like he's going to get some big outs for this team down the stretch.

"He's done a great job for us since he's been here," Jon Lester said of Ryan last month. "I don't think he gets enough credit for what he's been able to do."

Ryan impressed the Cubs with his work as a multi-inning reliever in Triple-A last season and turned heads again in camp this spring. Still, Rosario made the Opening Day roster over him, though Ryan got called up on the team's season-opening road trip and made his first appearance on April 6.

Since then, he's been a mainstay while Montgomery battled injury and ineffectiveness, Rosario and Tim Collins have bounced between Triple-A Iowa and Chicago and veteran Xavier Cedeno's time off the injured list was short-lived.

Ryan looked to be finding his way throughout his first month in the bullpen, but after his infamous "freeze" moment against the Marlins, he endured some struggles (7 runs allowed on 12 hits in 7 innings from May 8 through June 1).

He's righted the ship since then, permitting only 1 run over his last 17 appearances (14 innings) and lowering his season ERA to 3.21 to go along with a 1.31 WHIP and 33 strikeouts in 33.2 innings.

A big part of that recent success can be tied to Ryan's increased improvement against left-handed hitters. 

Lefties hit .344 with a .405 on-base percentage off Ryan through June 5. But since then, Ryan has surrendered only 3 hits — all singles — and zero walks to the 19 left-handed hitters he's faced (.158 AVG).

He credits part of that turnaround to working on a changeup, which he thinks has helped lock in the "feel" of all his other pitches as well as his mechanics. 

As he works to add a new pitch to his repertoire, Ryan has leaned on Cubs bullpen coach Lester Strode and pitching coach Tommy Hottovy for assistance, while also picking the brains of veterans like Cole Hamels, Kyle Hendricks and Brad Brach who have all thrown changeups for quite a while.

But even with all that work, he still hasn't resorted to using the changeup much in games. The pitch is so foreign that it's still being picked up as a sinker, including on the Wrigley Field video board Sunday when he threw one in his inning of work.

"Eventually, I'm gonna find the changeup and it's gonna be a comfortable, confident pitch," Ryan said. "But I do think it's gotten me behind all the rest of my pitches and it's maybe a little bit better feel for everything. It's gonna stay where it is for a while. I'm gonna keep trying."

Ryan said one of the things he likes about the changeup is that it can eventually be a nice weapon because it "goes in the opposite direction" of all his other pitches.

We'll see if the new pitch can ever become a factor for the 27-year-old. But if it's helped lock in his other pitches, that's great news for the Cubs, especially as they look to fortify their bullpen this month.