Cubs

St. Francis is big surprise in Class 3A

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St. Francis is big surprise in Class 3A

In his first year as head coach at Wheaton St. Francis, Bob Ward thought he had the best of all worlds. After teaching history for 35 years and coaching at Round Lake, Spring Valley, Lake Zurich and Wheaton North, he was eager to accept a coaching-only assignment for the first time.

"I retired from teaching in June but I still wanted to coach in some capacity," Ward said. "I took this job in May. It has been a revelation. I always dreamed of just coaching, not lecturing in history class. But I wasn't sure what I was walking into."

Wheaton St. Francis has a reputation as a football school. Coach Greg Purnell produced a state champion in 2008. Mike Harper had a successful basketball program for 23 years, winning five regional titles and finishing fourth in Class A in 1989. But that was the school's only sectional winner.

"They always had a good program under Mike Harper," Ward said. "But in all the scouting I did, I never saw St. Francis. We didn't play them. I only knew of one kid, Ryan Coyle, a three-year player who started last year."

But Ward wasn't sure if Coyle would be able to play this season. The 6-foot-6 senior was hampered with a lower back problem last summer. In late July, after being cleared to play, he was undercut in an AAU game and suffered a broken collarbone and a concussion.

"He was out indefinitely," Ward said. "What we heard when it first happened was that he would miss the entire year of basketball. Then he gradually got better. He was struggling in the fall when school began. But then he came around."

On Friday night, in what Ward described as "my biggest win in coaching," Coyle scored 13 points, including a game-winning three-pointer with just over a minute to play as Wheaton St. Francis stunned top-seeded Orr 39-36 for the Class 3A regional championship at Wheaton Academy.

"We have tough kids but I had followed Orr during the year knowing that they would be in our sectional," Ward said. "I saw them on Tuesday and marveled how difficult they would be to guard. They were the best team we have played all year.

"But we told our kids that we have played De La Salle, Bogan and St. Viator, all highly rated Class 4A teams. In those games, we came back and weren't intimidated."

Coyle wasn't the only starter who was missing in action during the summer. Nick Donati, a 6-foot senior point guard who played quarterback on the football team, was sidelined with a bum shoulder.

"I didn't see them in the summer," Ward said. "To their credit, they never missed a day of camp or a summer game. I had a good idea of the character of these guys who would be our leaders.

"At camp in late May, I noticed these kids took coaching pretty well and they defended well in man-to-man defense. Honestly, I wasn't optimistic or pessimistic. I didn't know how good they would be. But we won the Batavia tournament against Class 4A teams to start the year. That boded well for us. They jelled as the season went along."

Ward was further encouraged by his team's 2-2 showing at the York Holiday Tournament. We played a lot of Class 4A teams and that has helped us."

So Wheaton St. Francis will carry a 19-7 record into Tuesday night's sectional against Crane at Glenbard South.

Ward will start Coyle (16 PPG, 8 RPG), Donati (8 PPG, 4 assists, 5 RPG), 6-foot-3 senior Brian Spahn (9 PPG), 6-foot-7 senior Zach Roswold (6 PPG, 4 RPG) and Andrew Kimball (6 PPG), who missed the last two games with illness but scored 18 and 19 points in two earlier games. Kimball is due to return for Tuesday's game.

Tim Zettinger, a 6-foot-2 junior, and Jason Pisarski, a 6-foot-3 junior, provide spark off the bench.

"To keep winning, we must prepare well and maintain our confidence, as we were for Orr," Ward said. "Our kids aren't overly loose or cocky. They are playing their best basketball of the season right now."

Javier Báez joins Cubs All-Decade Team at second base, where El Mago was born

Javier Báez joins Cubs All-Decade Team at second base, where El Mago was born

With the 2010s coming to a close, NBC Sports Chicago is unveiling its Cubs All-Decade Team, highlighting the players who made the biggest impacts on the organization from 2010-19.

There may not be a player in baseball more exciting to watch than Javier Báez.

Whether at the plate, in the field or on the bases, Báez is a human highlight real. He’s one of the most powerful hitters in baseball; he has a cannon for an arm, exemplary defensive range and is a tagging maestro. He’s a dynamic baserunner who uses his elite baseball instincts to go station-to-station while magically avoiding tags along the way.

Yeah, there’s a reason Báez is known as “El Mago.” It’s not a matter of if he’ll make an incredible play each game, but a matter of when. Things come easy for the 27-year-old full of flair who makes the most difficult plays seem routine.

Báez is a career .270/.310/.484 hitter who’s hit 110 home runs in parts of six big-league seasons. One of those long balls came in his big-league debut (Aug. 5, 2014), a go-ahead blast against the Rockies in the 12th inning. The legend of El Mago was born.

Báez is the Cubs starting shortstop, though that hasn’t always been the case. Starlin Castro was the starter in 2014; Addison Russell claimed the title from Castro in the second half of 2015, holding it down until late in the 2018 season. Russell hit the injured list that August as the Cubs simultaneously acquired Daniel Murphy in an attempt to jump-start the offense.

By the time Russell returned, Báez was a clear-cut NL MVP candidate. The latter still bounced around the infield from time-to-time, but with Murphy entrenched at second, shortstop became Báez’s primary position. He’s been the starter ever since.

Báez has played 2,646 2/3 career innings at shortstop compared to 1,856 at second base (and 629 1/3 at third). He’s exclusively a shortstop these days, but the El Mago second base days aren’t forgotten.

Báez was the co-recipient of the 2016 NLCS MVP award (along with Jon Lester) and has started back-to-back All-Star Games (2018 at second, 2019 at shortstop). He was the runner-up for the 2018 NL MVP award, posting career highs across the board: .290/.326/.554, 34 homers, 111 RBIs, 129 OPS+.

And yet, it feels like Báez is only getting started. Nevertheless, his career to date has more than earned him a spot on our Cubs All-Decade Team at second base. With that, we'll leave you with this:

Adam Boqvist's entry-level contract with Blackhawks officially kicks in

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AP

Adam Boqvist's entry-level contract with Blackhawks officially kicks in

The youth movement is underway in Chicago and it's happening quicker than expected.

Adam Boqvist played in his 10th NHL game of the season on Sunday, officially triggering the first year of his entry-level contract. That means he will become a restricted free agent at end of the 2021-22 season. If he appeared in nine games or fewer, his contract wouldn't have kicked in until next season, which would've bought the Blackhawks an extra year of Boqvist playing at a cap hit of $894,167.

"Maybe that was a discussion very early on but as far as coach perspective, we like him," head coach Jeremy Colliton said on whether he and GM Stan Bowman had conversations about burning Boqvist's first year. "I think he's played well and it's an opportunity with some injuries to give him some ice time. He's handled it well so far."

Boqvist is the second rookie on the Blackhawks this season to burn their first year, joining No. 3 overall pick Kirby Dach. Whether the decisions were dictated by circumstances or not, the Blackhawks have seen enough of both of them to feel they can have an impact on the team in the short term without hindering their developments in the long term.

The number to watch now is 40. Like Dach, if Boqvist appears in 40 or more games this season, it will count as a full season and bring him one year closer to unrestricted free agency. Any player that's accrued seven full seasons or is at least 27 years old as of June 30 of that respective year can become an unrestricted free agent.

Boqvist appeared in six games for the Blackhawks during the month of November before getting reassigned to the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League on Nov. 14 when Connor Murphy was ready to return from his groin injury.

But with Calvin de Haan (shoulder) expected to be out long term and Duncan Keith still out with a groin injury, the Blackhawks called up Boqvist for insurance and because they lacked defensemen with offensive upside. It appears he will remain with the big club for the time being and it serves as a chance for their No. 8 overall pick in 2018 to prove he can handle NHL minutes on a consistent basis during a desperate time for the Blackhawks.

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