Cubs

Simeon, Proviso East was worth the wait

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Simeon, Proviso East was worth the wait

Even the most distinguished high school basketball player in the United States can commit a foolish act. Fortunately for Simeon's Jabari Parker, it didn't cost a state championship. Not on Saturday night in Peoria.

But it could have. And it put a taint on a masterpiece, like smearing catsup on the Mona Lisa.

With 12 seconds to play in the Class 4A final, Parker dunked in celebratory fashion to give Simeon a seemingly insurmountable 50-43 lead.
But he was assessed a technical foul for swinging on the rim. It was a no-brainer.

Proviso East converted two free throws, took the ball out-of-bounds and Sterling Brown made a three-point shot at the buzzer. Simeon and Parker escaped with a 50-48 victory.

Afterward, Parker hinted the officials made the call on him because "they had to do something to keep the game alive. They didn't want to see us win again." It was a stupid remark, unworthy of a player of his stature, but remindful that the 6-foot-8 junior still has some growing-up to do.

It ended one of the most dramatic and exciting state championship games in history, what everyone had anticipated, a duel between two storied programs pitting No. 1 Simeon vs. No. 2 Proviso East, clearly two teams a notch above all others, demonstrating their superior quickness, athleticism, relentless defense and iron will, both refusing to yield one plank on the floor, contesting every shot and every rebound and every pass.

Proviso East coach Donnie Boyce was betting that Simeon hadn't experienced the quickness and pressure that Proviso East could apply from one end of the court to the other, from the opening tipoff to the final buzzer. He was right.

"You've gotta keep attacking, keep attacking," Boyce told his players.

Simeon was on its heels most of the game, falling behind 39-34 after three quarters before finally pulling ahead with an 8-0 run that put the Wolverines ahead 45-41 with 3:05 remaining. Kendrick Nunn's steal with 1:42 left preserved their lead.

In the closing minutes, they dug deep into their hearts and found a way to handle the pressure, as great teams always do. But they needed Steve Taylor's 12 points and 15 rebounds and free throws by Jaleni Neely and Jaylon Tate to build a margin that even Parker's last-second dumb-dumb couldn't erase.

Was it the greatest state championship game of all time?

Better than CarverCentralia in 1963 when 5-foot-7 sophomore Anthony Smedley came off the bench in the closing seconds, stole the ball and made a game-winning basket?

Better than Morgan ParkWest Aurora in 1976 when Laird Smith made a game-winning basket at the buzzer?

Better than East St. Louis LincolnPeoria Central in 1989 when Vincent Jackson converted a game-winning shot at the buzzer to end a three-overtime thriller?

Probably not. But it must be remembered that none of those games pitted No. 1 vs. No. 2. Centralia was ranked No. 1 in 1962 and Peoria Central was unbeaten and ranked No. 2 in 1989. But two finalists with only one loss between them, two programs that have won 10 state championships? It hasn't happened before, not until now.

And if you were wondering if Simeon or Proviso East could supplant Thornridge 1972 as the best high school team ever produced in Illinois...well, remember that Thornridge never allowed an opponent to get within 14 points in a 33-0 season in which it averaged 87.4 points per game while allowing 56.3 and set the gold standard for state-final performances by overwhelming Quincy 104-69.

The difference between Class 1 and 2A basketball and Class 3 and 4A basketball is like comparing a plow horse to a thoroughbred, half-court vs.
full-court, a Jeep to a Ferrari.

Today's high school players are quicker and more athletic. But the game isn't as good or as disciplined. That was evident throughout the Class 3 and 4A events as players constantly ran out of control. In many cases, it wasn't pretty. To their credit, the officials let them play. Desperate to keep up with the frantic pace, one official even ran out of his shoe.

The SimeonProviso East was everything that the Illinois High School Association could have dreamed about. If you can't fill Carver Arena for that match-up, the only alternative is Peoria CentralPeoria Manual.

Simeon relied on its experience and resolve to stem the tide that was Proviso East's unyielding pressure. The Pirates never slow down, never hold the ball, never back off. They are always pressing, always driving, always running in high gear. Sometimes the up-tempo style translates into playing out of control, making turnovers and missing easy shots. But the long-range pluses outweigh the minuses.

The all-tournament team? Simeon's Jabari Parker and Steve Taylor, Aaron Simpson of Class 3A runner-up North Chicago and Fred Van Vleet of Rockford Auburn's Class 4A third-place finisher were easy picks.

The fifth spot belongs to 6-foot-4 junior Sterling Brown of Proviso East, who may have been the most outstanding of all. The younger brother of former Illinois Mr. Basketball Shannon Brown had 13 points and 15 rebounds in the semifinal and 25 points in the final, demonstrating another reason why the class of 2013 shapes up as one of the best ever produced in Illinois.

The Class 3 and 4A tournaments also gave basketball fans a chance to observe other future stars such as Springfield Lanphier sophomore guard Larry Austin Jr., 6-foot-4 sophomore Kurt Hall of North Chicago, 6-foot-2 junior Jovan Mooring of Hillcrest, 5-foot-11 junior guard Paris Lee of Proviso East, 6-foot-5 junior Johnny Griffin and 6-foot-5 junior Jataryan DeJareaux of Bloom and 6-foot-2 junior guard Kendrick Nunn, 6-foot-1 junior guard Jaylon Tate and 6-foot-5 junior Kendall Pollard of Simeon.

Austin is being groomed as a point guard in college. He has two years to improve his perimeter shooting. But his quickness and leadership and savvy and ball-handling and passing on the floor are enough to warrant scholarship offers from Illinois, Missouri, DePaul, Memphis and Bradley and interest from Kentucky and Kansas.

Yu Darvish and Cubs pull off dramatic comeback win over Dodgers

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

Yu Darvish and Cubs pull off dramatic comeback win over Dodgers

There were some added stakes to Saturday night’s Cubs-Dodgers matchup. Darvish made his first start at Dodger Stadium since his infamous Game 7 loss in the 2017 World Series, looking for a great effort in front of a fan base that had their up-and-downs in terms of their relationship with him. He (maybe) took a small jab at the Dodgers before the game had even started, telling the Los Angeles Times that he wasn't worried about being booed because “the Dodgers don't have many fans here in the first three innings, so maybe it will be on the quieter side.”

Well Dodgers faithful certainly got the message and made sure to let Darvish hear it.

However, Darvish got the last laugh on Saturday night. He pitched a stellar seven innings. Over those seven innings, Darvish gave up 1 ER on 2 hits and also notched 10 strikeouts.

Darvish has been hitting his stride as of late, maintaining a 2.96 ERA over his last four starts. 

All of that being said, it would be remiss of me not to mention the contributions of Darvish’s teammates. His great outing helped keep the Cubs in the game, but the gutsy performances of Anthony Rizzo and Pedro Strop are what won the contest.

Dodgers All-Star relief pitcher Kenley Jansen had a 10-game scoreless streak coming into Saturday night, but one swing of Rizzo’s bat was all that was needed to restore balance to the everlasting battle of pitcher versus hitter. After Jansen hit Kris Bryant with a pitch to put him on base, Rizzo activated “clutch mode”, mashing a 400-foot bomb out to right field.

Though small, Saturday night’s homer gives Rizzo a three-game hitting streak, perhaps forecasting that things are trending  upwards for the first baseman as the Cubs look to close out the series against the Dodgers with a win on Sunday night. And not to be left out of the fun, Pedro Strop came in to face the Justin Turner, MVP hopeful Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy and Matt Beaty to nail down the save.

Never afraid of high-pressure moments, Stop came through big time.

Strop got a ground out from Turner, struck out Bellinger and Beaty in his 15-pitch save effort. This was a much-needed win for the Cubs, who have well-documented struggles on the road. As they look to split the four-game set with the Dodgers on Sunday night, the Cubs can be pleased with their fight this week.

Saturday’s win over the Dodgers was the Cubs first win of the season after trailing through six innings, as they were 0-23 in such situations prior to the victory. Amid a season that has been fraught with injury and general roster construction concerns, it was wonderful to see the Cubs pull out a tough win lead by the much-maligned Darvish and the never-quit attitude of his teammates.

For on-the-rise White Sox, learning to win also means learning to lose

For on-the-rise White Sox, learning to win also means learning to lose

The White Sox lost Saturday night.

That’s baseball, of course, they’re not all going to be winners. And this rebuilding franchise has seen plenty of losses. But the feelings have been so good of late — whether because of Eloy Jimenez’s 400-foot homers or Lucas Giolito’s Cy Young caliber season to this point or a variety of other positive signs that make the White Sox future so bright — that losing Saturday to the first-place New York Yankees seemed rather sour.

Obviously there will be plenty more losses for this White Sox team before the book closes on the 2019 campaign. Back under .500, these South Siders aren’t expected to reach elite status before all the pieces arrive, and it would be no shock if they’re removed from the playoff race in the American League by the time crunch time rolls around in September.

But don’t tell these White Sox that an 8-4 defeat is a return to reality or a reminder that this team is still a work in progress. Even if, for a lot of players, development is still occurring at the major league level, the “learning experiences” that have been such a large part of the conversation surrounding this team in recent seasons and their daily goal of winning baseball games aren’t mutually exclusive.

“The Yankees are sitting in first place and they lost two games in a row,” catcher James McCann said Saturday night, providing a reminder of how the first two games of this weekend series went. “Just because you're expected to win and expected to be World Series contenders doesn't mean you're not going to lose ballgames. It's how you bounce back.

“And it doesn't mean you're going to win tomorrow, either. It's just, how do you handle a defeat? How do you handle a bad at-bat? How do you handle a bad outing, whatever it may be? But it doesn't mean that we step back and say, ‘Oh, we're back under .500, we're supposed to lose.’

“We expect to win when we show up to the ballpark. You can take learning experiences whether you win or lose. Do I think a game like tonight reminds us we're supposed to be in a rebuilding mode? No. We still expect to win, and we're going to show up tomorrow with that mentality.”

Maybe that’s a description of the much-discussed “learning to win” young teams supposedly need to do on the road to contender status. Maybe that can’t happen until a team figures out how to bounce back from a defeat — until it learns how to lose and how to act in the wake of a loss.

For all McCann’s certainty about the team’s expectations on a daily basis, his explanation was peppered with questions. He said he’s seen the answer to “how do you bounce back?” from this club, and his three-run homer in the eighth inning Saturday night was fairly convincing evidence that the White Sox didn’t use up all their fight just getting back to .500.

So while the White Sox know they won’t win every game — that no team will — they need to know how they handle defeat. Losing, it turns out, might end up being more instructive about when this team is ready to win.

“I think we've done a pretty good job (bouncing back),” McCann said. “You look at the road trip in Houston and Minnesota where we took two out of four from a good Houston team and then played really not very good baseball for three days in Minnesota only to come home and have an extremely good homestand.

“It's the big picture. It's not the very next day. It's not, ‘We've got to bounce back and win.’ It's not a must-win situation in the middle of June. But it's how do you handle yourself? How does a game like tonight, do you show up flat tomorrow and let it snowball into a three-, four-game spiral? Or do you fight?

“And that's what this team's been really good at doing is fighting and not giving in.”

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