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Schaumburg recalls 2001 championship season

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Schaumburg recalls 2001 championship season

Kyle Bolger was 7 years old when he watched the 2001 state championship game between Schaumburg and Thornwood on TV with his parents, brother Brandon and sister Heather.

"I recall (Thornwood's) Eddy Curry and (Schamburg's) Mark Pancratz, the ones everyone was talking about," Bolger said. "The main thing was to shut down Curry (the No. 4 pick in the 2001 NBA draft), the key to the Thornwood team."

Schaumburg's swarming and smothering defense did just that and the Saxons went on to upset heavily favored Thornwood 66-54.

"People still recall what a big accomplishment that was," Bolger said. "They always played hard, no matter what. They never gave up. They stuck together throughout that game. They were a great team that played together and played great defense. That's what our team does. We preach the same thing."

Matt Walsh, in his third year as Schaumburg's head coach, recalls the 2001 team, too. He was an assistant coach at Conant at the time. In fact, with a little luck or twist of fate, it could have been Conant rather than Schaumburg playing in the state final.

"Conant played Schaumburg in the sectional semifinal and lost in overtime. Conant had a shot at the buzzer to win in regulation time but it didn't go down. Schaumburg went on to win state. We realized how good they were," Walsh said.

"People still talk about it. There were some doubters because no Mid-Suburban League team had ever won state. But it wasn't a huge shock to a lot of people in the area. They played together so well. They were so good on defense. And they had strong leaders in Mark Pancratz and Tony Young. They also had 6-foot-10 and 6-foot-8 players. They weren't intimidated by Eddy Curry."

So that was 2001 and this is 2012. How good is this team? Schaumburg is 15-5 and in first place in the Mid-Suburban's West Division after beating Hoffman Estates 69-50 last Friday. The Saxons play at Glenbrook South on Tuesday and at Fremd on Friday.

"Our best days are ahead of us," Walsh said. "This is a good team that has a lot of room for improvement. Only good teams are the ones that are getting better. We play defense every night and we play well together. But we can improve both. The sky is the limit.

"How far can we go? Our past success gives us confidence. We go into every game thinking that we have opportunity to win. Two statistics that we talk about all the time are rebounding and eliminating turnovers. We have the pieces and the players to be as successful as we want to be."

The starting lineup is Bolger (11 ppg, 4 assists), a 6-foot-1 junior point guard; 6-foot-3 senior Christian Spandiary (15 ppg); 6-foot-5 junior Jimmy Lundquist (10 ppg); 6-foot-2 senior Michael Mallett (7 ppg); and 6-foot senior guard Joey Faleni (6 ppg).

Coming off the bench are 5-foot-9 senior Thomas Byrne, the backup point guard; 6-foot-1 junior Cole Reyes, 6-foot-3 junior Bobby Green and 5-foot-11 senior Justin Hill.

Two weeks ago, Bolger scored 13 points and converted two free throws with eight seconds to play to lift Schaumburg past Barrington 49-46 to claim sole possession of first place in the Mid-Suburban West. Spandiary scored 17 points, Lundquist 10. Against Hoffman Estates last Friday, Spandiary scored 14, Mallett 13, Lundquist 12.

"We have great team chemistry, no fighting," Bolger said. "We put in hard work to get better. We play hard but we're all friends at the end of the day. We all grew up playing together in sixth, seventh and eight grade on the Schaumburg Junior Saxons. We've known each other since elementary school and middle school."

Bolger is familiar with the Schaumburg way of doing things. His brother Brandon was an all-conference and all-area player at Schaumburg. His father runs the feeder program. A two-year starter, Kyle is described by Walsh as one of the team's leaders.

"I see myself as one of the leaders of the team," Kyle said. "My job is to get our team to win, whatever it takes."

Bolger and his teammates remember last year, when the team was 18-12 and lost to Niles North by one point in the sectional final. The experience left a disappointing taste in their mouths. They are determined to do better this season.

"Last year, we knew we could have gone farther than we did. It was upsetting to us. We were a better team than that," Bolger said. "We had a big lead against Niles North and lulls on defense gave them momentum at the end of the game. We had a last-second shot. It went in and out. That made everybody feel even worse. We felt we were right there.

"We knew we had to come back and work even harder than last year. We had to step it up because we want to go father this year. We're more experienced this year. I'm the point guard and I have to get people to score. Then they make me look better. The kids know how to score on this team. I have to give them open shots."

Walsh, 36, a Conant graduate of 1993, played basketball at Conant, coached feeder teams while attending Dominican University, then assisted coach Tom McCormack at Conant for 13 years. When coach Bob Williams left Schaumburg, he interviewed for the job and was hired.

"I came to a great program," he said. "I was aware of the great tradition. I was concerned with adding to it. These kids have a culture of hard work and high standards. Kids are held accountable to do the right thing and not always the easy thing."

Walsh grew up and was raised in Schaumburg. He learned the game and was taught the blue-collar values while participating in the park district system. He recognized that parents teach the values of hard work, that they are part of the team.

"It is a blue-collar mentality," he said. "Kids have bought into being unselfish and understanding that if they buy into the philosophy, the rewards of being part of a successful team are ahead of them."

Why Cubs might not lose again and other musings in strange, short season

Why Cubs might not lose again and other musings in strange, short season

As if things weren’t already going well enough for the Cubs during this strange, short season of baseball in a pandemic, now the baseball gods are dropping gifts into their laps.

The Cardinals’ lengthy shutdown because of a coronavirus outbreak has the Cubs’ arch rivals restarting their season Saturday in Chicago with a patched-up roster and eight games over the next five days, including five games against the Cubs.

And although that means the relative hardship of two doubleheaders for the Cubs in three days, all five of those games Monday through Wednesday are against a decimated Cards roster that won’t have the front end of its rotation for any of the games.

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They catch the Cardinals at their weakest point of the early season a week after catching an otherwise formidable Cleveland team at a moment of clubhouse crisis involving protocol perps Zach Plesac and Mike Clevinger.

That one resulted in a two-game sweep by a combined score of 14-3.

This one already has resulted in all 10 games against the Cardinals now being scheduled for Wrigley Field.

Combine that with the three road games against the White Sox next month, and it means that the team with baseball’s best record on the field, the perfect record in player COVID-19 testing and no significant injuries to key players so far will play 60 percent of its games within its Chicago bubble if the Cubs and MLB pull off the full 60-game season.

If the Cubs were positioned any better to make the playoffs, they’d already be there.

“You can look at it that way if you want,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “We’re just doing our thing.”

No other way to look at it from here. Have you seen the rest of the schedule?

The Cubs have 43 games left, including 29 within a National League Central Division that doesn’t include another .500 team three weeks into a nine-week season. Nine more games are against the Tigers and White Sox.

The best team on the schedule is the Twins, and all three of those games are at home and not until the second-to-last weekend of the season.

With all due respect to Ross and his fear of “bad juju,” the Cubs can’t lose.

“It’s still early on,” the manager said.

Nothing’s early in a 60-game season. And the Cubs already have matched the hot starts of their 2016 and 1908 World Series champions.

“We’ve still got a long ways to go in the season,” Ross said.

The Cubs did have to scratch Tyler Chatwood from his scheduled start Friday night because of back tightness. And Kris Bryant has missed the last two games because of a sore finger after rolling his wrist trying to make a diving catch in left field in Cleveland Wednesday.

But Alec Mills looked good in short-notice replacement duty Friday until a rough four-pitch (and three-run) sequence in the sixth. And Chatwood might be ready for one of Monday’s games — or possibly one of Wednesday’s.

“Things falling in our favor?” Ross said. “We’re playing good baseball, and that should be the focus for me and not the other stuff.”

Granted, they still have to play the games. Granted, Bryant wasn’t available off the bench with the bases loaded in the eighth Friday, and Josh Phegley struck out instead.

And, yes, they actually lost a game to the Brewers Friday night.

But if you still don’t believe the baseball gods are stirring the Cubs’ pot so far this season, you weren’t paying attention in the ninth inning when Craig Kimbrel struck out Avisail Garcia swinging at a 98-mph fastball to start the scoreless inning and Manny Piña swinging at a 96-mph fastball to end it.

What closer problem? Bring on the Cardinals, right?

These guys might not lose another game.

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Cubs' Colin Rea to start on Saturday, Tyler Chatwood possibly Monday

Cubs' Colin Rea to start on Saturday, Tyler Chatwood possibly Monday

The Cubs plan to start swingman Colin Rea on Saturday against the Brewers, manager David Ross said after Friday's game.

Alec Mills was originally slated to pitch Saturday but was bumped up to Friday because Tyler Chatwood was scratched with mid-back tightness. The Cubs will evaluate Chatwood to see if he's an option to pitch on Monday, when they're scheduled to play a doubleheader against the Cardinals.

Rea, 30, has made two appearances this season, allowing no runs and one hit while striking out three in three innings. He was named the 2019 Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Year, sporting a 3.95 ERA in 26 starts.

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Rea's last big league start was July 30, 2016 with the Marlins. He allowed one hit in 3 1/3 scoreless innings, striking out four with no walks.

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