5A: Can Morris stop Montini's bid for a 4-peat?

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5A: Can Morris stop Montini's bid for a 4-peat?

The Class 5A championship is all about teams that know how to win, and win and win some more. Montini has won four state titles since 2004, the last three in a row. Morris has won three state titles and finished second on six other occasions.
So how does Montini coach Chris Andriano define winning attitude? How does he explain coming back from a 31-14 deficit in the third quarter to beat Joliet Catholic in last Saturday's quarterfinals?
Or beating Palatine after being behind by eight with two minutes to play?
Or rallying from a four-point deficit with two minutes left to beat Aurora Christian?
Or falling behind Sycamore with 30 seconds to play, then driving the field to set up a game-winning 35-yard field goal?
"We've done some things that defy logic," Andriano admitted. "Our kids believe in the coaches, who do a good job of preparation through practice. When things don't go the way we want them to, we are willing to make changes and adjustments. In the back of their minds, the kids know there is an answer. They expect things to happen in their favor.
"They are positive. We always have one or two guys who are playmakers and spark us. Someone makes a play, a run or pass or reception or defensive play. When we're down 31-14 to Joliet Catholic, I'm thinking how are we going to do this? We have to get the next score and turn momentum. It's amazing when you get momentum on your side, good things happen. It's an incredible feeling."
Andriano shook his head in disbelief as he recited how Montini staged one miraculous comeback after another to turn defeat into victory.
"How do you explain us getting a fumble off Ty Isaac at midfield when we are behind 31-27 to Joliet Catholic?" he said. "Against Palatine, we scored with 50 seconds left and got a two-point conversion to tie. In the overtime, we got an interception that was deflected three times and won with a field goal.
"Against Aurora Christian, they have the ball and the lead with two minutes left and Joey Borsellino strips the ball from a Division I running back and recovers it. Three plays later, he catches a 20-yard touchdown pass with 20 seconds left to win the game.
"And against Sycamore, they score with 30 seconds left and make a two-point conversion to go ahead. We get a big return on the kickoff, get the ball to the 20 in three plays and kick a 35-yard field goal to win with one second left."
Andriano, 60, completing his 33rd season, said the trick is to find kids who believe, kids like Jordan Westerkamp and Joey Borsellino and Tate Briggs who come through the preparation and believe in the coaching staff and themselves.
"We are sparked by big plays that you can't imagine would happen," he said. "We have traveled a hard road. We have beaten some great teams in the last few weeks. Four-peat has been one of our sayings all year. Every time we break a huddle, that's our goal."
Briggs, a 6-foot-4, 300-pound guard, has a special reason for making the trip to Champaign this year. A year ago, he suffered a dislocated ankle and torn ligaments in the first quarter of the state final and couldn't finish. After being treated at a hospital, he returned to the stadium and watched the rest of the game from the bench.
"This is a big game for me," he said. "It was pretty disappointing not to be able to finish the game. A big goal this year was to get back to Champaign, to finish the game this time."
Montini's best lineman, Briggs has offers from Ball State, Western Michigan, Central Michigan, New Mexico and Coastal Carolina. But he is talking to schools in the Big Ten and SEC, including Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana and Vanderbilt. He hopes to get more offers and wants to play at the highest level he can.
"Every offensive lineman's dream is to get an offer from Wisconsin," he said. "I have talked to them. I went to their camp in the summer. I hope they'll offer me."
Meanwhile, Briggs is sold on Andriano's philosophy. Like his teammates, he has bought into the Montini tradition. "We believe in the coaches and do what they tell us to do. We know how to win. If you just believe in the program, we will get there. It will take us to the state title," he said.
"The challenge this week is the same as any other week. Every game is a big game. We come together in games and in practice. Every game we try to be the most physical team, to take it to them. We always try to be more physical and still be smarter than them."
Physical is the name of the game for Morris. Can Montini measure up? "We have to strap our helmets on. They will run the ball, pound it at you. We haven't played any team like them in terms of their here-we-come offense. They are very tough up front. They come after you on defense. They pose problems for our offensive line. We can't let them control the clock and put points on the board with long drives," Andriano said.
Montini (12-1) is averaging 34.5 points per game with Alex Wills or Mark Gorogianis at quarterback, Dimitri Taylor at tailback, Joey Borsellino at wide receiver and Briggs and 6-foot-3, 255-pound Fred Beaugard anchoring the offensive line. Andrew Harte is an outstanding kicker.
"I admire Montini's coaching staff more than any other I coach against," said Aurora Christian coach Don Beebe. "I have the highest respect for Andriano, a Hall of Fame coach. They are very sound on defense. They don't make mistakes. They make you beat them. You won't get big plays. You have to dink and dunk and move the chains, get a lot of first downs. That's the only way to beat them. They won't give up a home run.
"Why have they been so successful in the last four years? "Borsellino is a difference-maker at wide receiver. Gorogianis is so fast, so explosive. Andriano finds out how to exploit an opponent with a running quarterback (Gorogianis) or a passing quarterback (Wills). You must be as fast and as explosive and have an aura about you that you can beat them."
Morris coach Alan Thorson believes he has what it takes. So do several coaches who have observed the 12-1 Redskins this season. They have averaged 35.6 points per game behind a power running game led by quarterback Zach Cinnamon and running backs Reese Sobol and Jeff Perry.
Cinnamon, a transfer from Streator, has passed for 902 yards and 11 touchdowns and rushed for 459 yards and nine touchdowns. Sobol, a 5-foot-11, 175-pound senior, has rushed 176 times for 1,450 yards and 18 touchdowns. He averages 8.24 yards per carry and 111.5 yards per game. Perry, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound senior, has rushed for 607 yards and six touchdowns. Collin Grogan, a 5-foot-9, 205-pounder, has rushed for 489 hards and 11 touchdowns.
Defensively, Morris is a smash-mouth unit led by Perry, Grogan, 6-foot-5, 255-pound Indiana-bound Danny Friend and 5-foot-11, 200-pound Nik Countryman.
"Morris has a senior class that has been very impressive all the way through," said Kaneland coach Tom Fedderly, whose team handed Morris its only loss 33-30 in Week 9. "With Friend and Perry, it has been a special group for four years.
"If you are looking for an edge for Morris, it is their size. They are typical Morris, smash-mouth football, tough, a big running team. They pound you and wear you down. If they can put pressure on Montini with their front four or five, the game will be won up front."
Morris is counting on its offensive line of 6-foot, 240-pound senior center Preston Miracle, 5-foot-11, 260-pound senior guard Craig Claire, 6-foot-1, 215-pound sophomore guard T.J. Layne, 6-foot-3, 250-pound senior tackle Drew Aldridge and 6-foot-4, 255-pound senior tackle Brian Henry.
Rich East coach Barry Reade, whose team lost to Morris 44-0 in the first round of the playoff, was very impressed to say the least. "They are big and physical at all positions. They run a power I right at you. On defense, they beat you upfront," he said.
"Montini has to throw the ball to win. They will have a hard time shutting down Morris' running game. But system and attitude at Montini gets it done. Morris knows how to win, too. Morris' special teams killed us. The return teams are as good a group as I've seen. In the four games we scouted, they averaged 40 yards on kick returns and returned two for touchdowns. It's a unique weapon."
After splitting two games with Montini, Marian Central coach Ed Brucker came away convinced that opponents must throw to beat them. "Morris is a running team and that plays into Montini's hands. Montini has a championship mentality. I have been bitten by it. They feel they can win some way or somehow. They are used to winning. They have confidence in their ability.
They always seem to find a way. They know something good is going to happen."
Chris Andriano couldn't have said it better.

Cubs will have Ian Happ one phone call away at Triple-A Iowa

Cubs will have Ian Happ one phone call away at Triple-A Iowa

MESA, Ariz. – After an impressive camp where he looked like the next homegrown Cubs hitter to roll off the assembly line, Ian Happ will go to Triple-A Iowa and get ready to make his big-league debut, or perhaps build his value for a trade-deadline deal.

Along with Happ, the Cubs assigned outfielder John Andreoli and catcher Taylor Davis to minor-league camp on Monday while optioning pitchers Eddie Butler and Rob Zastryzny to Iowa, cutting their roster to 31 as the Opening Night picture comes into focus.

Happ – the ninth overall pick in the 2015 draft out of the University of Cincinnati – batted .417 with five homers, four doubles and 17 RBI in 24 Cactus League games.

"Offensively, what was there not to like?" general manager Jed Hoyer said. "I feel like he hit the ball hard every at-bat for six weeks. It's always fun to see a young guy like that come in and open a lot of eyes."

Happ, 22, is a switch-hitter who can play second base and the outfield, skills that could help him escape from Des Moines once the need arises on the major-league level.

[MORE CUBS: How Cubs came to fully believe in the legend of Kyle Schwarber]

Though there are questions about Happ's defense, Theo Epstein's front office and Joe Maddon's coaching staff clearly value versatility and trust young talent, moving Addison Russell to shortstop in 2015 and elevating rookie catcher Willson Contreras last season.

Stay tuned to see when/if the Cubs will have a spot at Wrigley Field, but Happ looks like he will be on a fast track.

"Whenever you're in Triple-A, you're always a call away," Hoyer said. "Sometimes it happens quicker than you think. We never expected Addie would be up in April of that year, and he was. I feel like with Willson last year, if you had asked me in spring training – would he be up in June? – I probably would have thought it would be more like a September call-up or something like that.

"You never know. Things happen. When you have good players in the minor leagues, sometimes it speeds up on you a little bit."

Derek Holland ends spring on strong note as White Sox down Dodgers

Derek Holland ends spring on strong note as White Sox down Dodgers

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Derek Holland ended a productive spring with his best outing to date on Monday afternoon.

Healthy and excited to officially kick off his White Sox career, Holland delivered six strong innings in a 5-2 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Monday. The left-hander allowed two earned runs and five hits in six innings pitched, walking two and striking out one. Holland is expected to pitch once more in Milwaukee on Saturday before pitching in the third game of the regular season.

“Definitely feel good,” Holland said. “Feel very confident with everything, very happy with how the spring went. I worked on what we needed to work on to get myself ready for the season and stay healthy and I’m very happy with that. But most of all when you get out there and pitch, the defense, you have to keep them on their toes, and I thought the last out was the perfect example of that.”

Holland was referring to a nice diving catch by Jacob May that prevented at least one run from scoring. The longtime Texas Rangers pitcher was pleased to have established his fastball early and mixed in his offspeed pitches and changeup.

“I wanted to make sure we were going the distance,” Holland said. “I didn’t want to have a setback, and I thought we did a great job.”

The White Sox appear to have narrowly avoided one setback on Monday and are awaiting word on another. An X-ray on the left wrist of infielder Tyler Saladino was negative after he was hit by a pitch while getting in work in a pair of minor-league games. Saladino has been diagnosed with a bruised wrist.

The team is still awaiting word on pitcher Jake Petricka, who took a comebacker off his pitching hand in the seventh inning. Petricka exited the game, got his hand wrapped in ice and left to take an X-ray.

The White Sox are also waiting to learn the results of Carlos Rodon’s second opinion. Rodon was scratched from Friday’s start with a tight bicep tendon and had a physical exam and took an MRI, both of which showed he had no structural damage. Rodon traveled to Los Angeles early Monday for the second opinion with Dr. Neal ElAttrache.

Even if he receives the all clear, the White Sox will remain cautious, manager Rick Renteria said. “It’s almost like you have to re-start the process a little bit,” Renteria said. “It would be foolish to try to anticipate or push him into any direction without first of all ultimately having whatever the diagnosis is or the validation or whatever it might be of the second opinion. Once we get that, we’ll know hopefully tomorrow how we can ultimately proceed. I wouldn’t think we’d try to ramp him up quickly.”

The club also expects to have more clarity on the status of right-handed pitcher Juan Minaya on Tuesday. Minaya, who has been out since March 15 with an abdominal tear, was re-evaluated on Monday. Minaya had a 3.18 ERA and nine strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings this spring.

Matt Davidson also had two hits in the White Sox victory and drove in a run. Melky Cabrera hit a solo homer, his first of the spring. Yolmer Sanchez blasted his third homer of the spring, a two-run shot.

Zach Putnam struck out two in a scoreless inning.