Bears

Yorkville eyes return to Sweet Sixteen

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Yorkville eyes return to Sweet Sixteen

All coaches can relate to what Dan McGuire has experienced in his first season at Yorkville.

"We have been up and down," McGuire said. "We have had moments where we said: 'Wow!' We are really athletic. But at other times we look like we should be playing sophomore basketball."

McGuire is saying 'Wow!' these days. Yorkville is 20-7 after beating Sandwich 45-31 in its Class 3A regional opener on Tuesday night and will carry a five-game winning streak into Friday night's final against Aurora Central Catholic.

Yorkville is seeking its third trip to the supersectional. The Foxes qualified in 1995 and 2002 under former coaches Chris Nelson and Jerry Farber. They were 25-2 and 26-2 in 2004 and 2005 under Farber but never got out of the sectional. Last year's 15-10 team lost to Morris in the regional semifinal.

Even though he graduated four starters from last year's squad, McGuire felt this year's team would be better than its third-place finish behind Rochelle and De Kalb in the Northern Illinois Big 12. Five of its seven losses are to conference rivals, two to Rochelle and De Kalb.

"We knew we had some good athletes," McGuire said. "Last year, we had a lot of seniors so these kids didn't play much. They had to take time to get used to playing varsity basketball and a new system. But they are a good group, a bunch of fighters."

McGuire, a 1998 graduate of West Aurora, played basketball for veteran coach Gordon Kerkman. But he didn't play basketball in college. Instead, he played football and tennis at Aurora University.

He was an in-school suspension teacher at West Aurora when he learned of a job opening at Yorkville. He was a volunteer assistant on the freshman team, then moved up to Farber's varsity assistant. When Farber retired last year, McGuire became head coach.

The Foxes are led by 6-foot-1 senior Stefen Jones (14 ppg), who played only three or four minutes per game last season but has developed into a major force this season. He had 11 points, all in the second half, to spark Yorkville's victory over Sandwich.

Other starters are 6-foot-6 senior Josh Williams (10 ppg, 7 rpg), 6-foot senior Brandon Holmes (6 ppg, 4 assists), 6-foot senior Cody Bailey (10 ppg) and 5-foot-10 senior Derek Piszczek (6 ppg), a four-year varsity player who has come back after undergoing serious knee surgery last summer. Taylor Carter, a 6-foot-2 junior, is a sparkplug off the bench.

Against Sandwich, Williams had 11 rebounds and Carter converted two three-pointers in the fourth quarter and sealed the victory.

"We're not big but we're athletic and we play at a fast tempo," McGuire said. "We have five good players who start. Opponents can't zero in on one player. A lot of guys have stepped up in different games.

"To keep going (deep into the playoff), our seniors have to show leadership and step up and do things at the end of games that we need to do to win...contest shots, rebound, little things that separate wins and losses."

McGuire said the most important thing that has turned this team into a 20-game winner is chemistry, something he wasn't sure of when the season began with so many inexperienced players vying for playing time.

"These kids get along," he said. "They don't care who scores 20 points or no points. They just want to win. They make an extra pass for a kid to get a layup. There is no animosity. You never know what will happen when you are dealing with high school kids who are stepping into new roles of leadership. But these kids have handled the challenge."

Matt Nagy is winning over his players by being himself

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USA Today Sports Images

Matt Nagy is winning over his players by being himself

Despite losing 34 of his 48 games as the Bears’ head coach, John Fox’s players generally liked him and were disappointed to see him fired on New Year’s Day. That’s not to say they were blindsided by it — losing leads to people losing their jobs, even if the culture at Halas Hall had changed for the better following the disastrous end of the Marc Trestman-Phil Emery era. 

It was with that backdrop that Matt Nagy was offered and accepted the position of Bears head coach a week after Fox’s firing. Four and a half months later, Nagy has seemingly made a strong first impression on his new team, with one reason standing out among many: He’s genuine in who he is and what he does.

“I would say Nagy can be stern, and he can be playful also,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “I think when you’re a first-year coach, you want to win (over) your guys, and you want to be firm, and he’s doing that. You can’t really tell he’s a rookie coach or whatever. I feel like he was born for this, and he’s doing a great job.”

Granted, no player is going to publicly blast their new boss — especially not before he’s even coached a game yet. But veteran players also aren’t oblivious to who can and cannot work out as a head coach, and there haven’t been any “damning with faint praise” types of comments that were more common five years ago at the beginning of the Trestman era.

Will this win Nagy any games come September? No. But consider this sort of like team chemistry: It won't win a team anything, but if a team doesn't have it, it can be costly. 

“He’s a cool coach, man,” linebacker Danny Trevathan — who played for Fox in both Denver and Chicago — said. “He’s always giving us little details and smiling but we know he’s a hard worker just like we are. He’s up there working just like we are. He’s always putting us in the right position and he takes care of us. On the back end, where I come from, you take care of coaches like that. You go out and make plays for those coaches.”

From an observational standpoint, Nagy comes across as genuinely excited not just to be a head coach, but the head coach of the Bears. Players respect that approach — he's not coming in acting like a hired gun, and he's shown through these OTAs and practices that he cares about them, even if they haven't spent much time together yet. And he's also not strutting into Halas Hall every day with an over-inflated ego based on his promotion. That resonates, too. 

“I like the way he came in,” Trevathan said. “He came in humble but he was hungry. He came anxious, moving around in the meetings. I like that. That gets me fired up. I feel like we’ve got a good leader up here in the head coach.”

Reynaldo Lopez is changing his place in the White Sox rebuild: 'When I'm on the mound, I'm the best and I don't care about the rest'

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USA TODAY

Reynaldo Lopez is changing his place in the White Sox rebuild: 'When I'm on the mound, I'm the best and I don't care about the rest'

Rebuilds are full of surprises.

Fans can pencil in any names they want into their 2020 lineups, but there’s almost no one who’s going to have a 100-percent success rate when it comes to predicting exactly what the next contending White Sox team will look like.

Reynaldo Lopez carried plenty of hype when he was acquired from the Washington Nationals in the Adam Eaton deal prior following the 2016 season. He had a high prospect ranking before he was called up last summer. He hasn’t materialized out of nowhere.

But with names like Lucas Giolito, Michael Kopech, Alec Hansen, Carlos Rodon and others to compete with for one of those coveted rotation spots of the future, was anyone going to use the term “ace” to describe Lopez?

Well, in this rebuilding season’s most pleasant surprise for the White Sox and their fans, that’s exactly what Lopez has been. He’s been hands down the team’s best starting pitcher, and he’s making the case that he shouldn’t be considered an ancillary piece in this rebuilding process but a featured one.

He might not be getting the attention that others are. But he’s doing the most with his opportunity of being at the big league level right now. In the end, as long as you’re getting batters out, who cares how much attention you get?

“It’s not about what people say or what they are talking about,” Lopez said through a translator. “It’s about the confidence I have in myself, and I have plenty of confidence in myself. For me, I’m the best. I’m not saying the other guys are not. I’m just saying that’s the confidence I have. When I’m on the mound, I’m the best and I don’t care about the rest.”

Sunday marked the best start of Lopez’s young career, so said the pitcher himself. He was terrific in shutting down the visiting Texas Rangers, holding them to just two hits over eight scoreless innings.

It was one heck of a bounce-back performance considering what happened last time out, when he was roughed up for six runs in just two innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The difference? His attitude, his focus, his intensity, his conviction.

“I just changed my attitude in the game,” Lopez said. “I was more positive today than I was in my last outing and that was one of my biggest differences.”

“I do think he came out a little bit more focused, to be honest,” manager Rick Renteria said. “The intensity level was a little higher today. I think he threw the first couple pitches 97, 98 miles an hour, where his last outing they were at 93, 94. There wasn’t a whole lot of commitment or conviction to his pitches (against the Pirates). I think, as we talked after the last outing, (pitching coach Don Cooper) spoke to him a little about making sure he brought that intensity that he has the ability to do, to bring it from Pitch 1 and he did today.”

Renteria liked it all, and he saw something different in his pitcher when he went out to talk to him with two outs in the eighth. Lopez issued a two-out walk, and Renteria considered lifting Lopez from the game.

Lopez made sure his manager wouldn’t pull the plug on this outing.

“I hid the baseball in my glove because I didn’t want to leave the game,” Lopez said. “I asked me, ‘How are you? Are you good?’ And I told him, ‘Yes, I’m good.’ Then he asked me again, ‘Do you think you are able to get him out?’ And I said yes, ‘This is my game, and I’m going to finish it.’”

What did Lopez do with his extra life? He finished it all right, blowing Shin-Soo Choo away with a 96-mile-an-hour fastball. Then he showed as much emotion as he’s ever shown on a major league field. He earned that celebration.

“When you see your manager come out and you’ve already gone through most of your game in terms of what you might think you have in number of pitches available to you, and you reiterate that you want to finish a particular batter because you want to get out of that inning, and you do it, it's an accomplishment,” Renteria said. “It's a big accomplishment. For him, pretty good hitter. He battled him and he was able to get out of that inning and complete a very, very strong eight-inning outing.”

It’s the kind of exclamation point on a dominant afternoon that could stir some big plans in White Sox fans always dreaming of the future. What Lopez has done this season has been a strong case for a spot in that future rotation and a spot at the front of it, at that. Following Sunday’s gem, Lopez owns a 2.98 ERA with at least six strikeouts in four of his nine starts.

There’s a lot of development and a lot of time left before the White Sox contention window opens. But Lopez pitching like this offers a glimpse into the crystal ball, a look at what could be for an organization that’s acquired so much talent over the last two years.

You might not have seen it coming like this, but the future arriving in the form of Lopez is a sign that brighter days are ahead on the South Side.