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.

It’s World Series or bust for Cubs while carrying Aroldis Chapman’s baggage

It’s World Series or bust for Cubs while carrying Aroldis Chapman’s baggage

Aroldis Chapman is the ultimate baseball mercenary for a team that hasn’t won the World Series since 1908. The Cubs say they are going into this with their eyes wide open, knowing the superstar closer comes with off-the-field baggage and plans to cash in as a free agent this winter.

For all the talking points about being good neighbors and family friendly, the Cubs care about money and winning, which makes them just like any other professional sports franchise.

Chapman behaved in Yankee pinstripes, handled the New York market and performed with game-over efficiency, going 20-for-21 in save chances. The Cubs wanted a lefty with a 105-mph fastball and a 15.2 strikeouts-per-nine-innings-pitched career rate, making a 4-for-1 trade by rationalizing that they would rather be with Chapman in the playoffs than against him.

So the Cubs – and not the first-place Nationals or even-year Giants – had to deal with the bad optics and the lost-in-translation moments before Tuesday’s 3-0 loss to the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field. Chapman did not make a good first impression while getting questions about domestic violence and the 30-game suspension Major League Baseball imposed to start this season.

But if Chapman gets the last out in October, does it even matter if he’s a good guy?

“Ugh,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Was Ty Cobb wonderful? I mean, I don’t know. All these different people that I’ve read about – something happened with (the Sox) in, what was it, 1919?

“At the end of the day, I’m here to get to know him on our terms – me and him. (And) he’s been a great teammate from everybody I’ve read or discussed (it) with.

“That’s the lenses I’m looking at it through right now.”

[RELATED: Hector Rondon says Cubs had to take chance and close Chapman deal]

Chapman joined a team that began the day with a 98.8-percent chance to make the playoffs on the Baseball Prospectus odds report and a 56-1 record when leading entering the ninth inning. This is all about what Chapman can do in October and how his presence can help the Cubs survive three postseason rounds.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch highlighted that the Cardinals haven’t scored a run off Chapman since September 2011, back when Tony La Russa managed a World Series team.

“Again, he did do his suspension,” Maddon said. “He has talked about it. He’s shown remorse. And then everybody else has their right to judge him as a good or bad person.

“That’s your right. But I know there are times where I’ve been less than perfect. I think we’ve all been less than perfect in particular moments that nobody’s ever known about. 

“I want to get to know Aroldis. I think he can be a very significant member. And he’s got the potential, yes, to throw the last out of the World Series. And if he does, I promise you, I will embrace him.”

[MORE: Cubs make business decision to look beyond Chapman's domestic violence suspension]

Inside baseball’s conservative bubble, Maddon has to be the game’s most liberal manager, a hands-off, big-picture guy who lets his players run the clubhouse. The Cubs believe his positive vibes and presence will help Chapman’s transition.

“I’m probably the most non-judgmental person you’ve ever met,” Maddon said. “I don’t go in that direction. I do get upset sometimes when people jump to conclusions without knowing everything.

“(Gather) all the information for yourself and make your own opinion. Draw your own conclusion, as opposed to maybe hearing one thing and then all of a sudden jumping on a negative bandwagon.

“I want to get to know him, get to understand him, have good conversations with him. And then, maybe at that point, I could draw some conclusions. But never having been around him, it’s very hard for me to do that.”

Chapman’s Wrigley Field debut will be electric, the triple digits lighting up the huge video board. At that point, the focus should shift back onto baseball. But the equation doesn’t change in a bottom-line business. There is only one outcome that will truly make Cubs fans happy with this deal.

“They expect me to come here, do my job and try to guide us to the World Series,” Chapman said through coach/translator Henry Blanco. “Especially in this city, they haven’t won a World Series in a long time, so they want me to do everything I can to help us win.”

How Joe Maddon helped inspire James Shields' gem over Cubs

How Joe Maddon helped inspire James Shields' gem over Cubs

Joe Maddon's mere presence may have hurt the team he manages Tuesday night.

As the Cubs invaded U.S. Cellular Field for the final night on the South Side of this Crosstown series, Maddon's current team was tasked with facing one of his old friends.

James Shields pitched for Maddon in Tampa Bay for seven years and the veteran right-hander took the hill for the White Sox Tuesday night, spinning a gem — 7.2 shutout innings allowing four singles and four walks.

After the game, Shields — nicknamed "Big Game James" by some — credited Maddon for his outing.

"I get amped up every game pretty much. But I always want to get amped up in front of my old manager," Shields said. "I have a lot of respect for Joe. He helped build me into who I am today. 

"I always want to go out there and show him, especially being 34 years old, that I’ve got this thing."

Maddon certainly noticed.

The Cubs manager admitted "that's what he looks like" when talking about Shields' outing.

The Cubs had pursued Shields in free agency prior to the 2015 season and came close to deal before the right-hander opted to sign with the San Diego Padres for four years and $75 million.

Part of the reason was Shields' competitiveness and desire to finish every game he starts.

"During the first part of the game, I went up to [John] Lackey and I said Shieldsy went to John Lackey Junior College at some point in his life," Maddon said. "I said I used to compare Shieldsy to you all the time back in Tampa Bay, whenever James would [refuse to come out of a game].

"So Johnny giggled about that. Very similar guys — highly competitive, believe they can beat anybody on any given day. You gotta love that about him. He's very good."

White Sox likely will place 2B Brett Lawrie on disabled list

White Sox likely will place 2B Brett Lawrie on disabled list

The White Sox will "probably" place second baseman Brett Lawrie on the disabled list before Wednesday’s Crosstown game at Wrigley Field, manager Robin Ventura said.

Lawrie initially was diagnosed with a tight left hamstring July 21 against the Detroit Tigers, causing a firestorm of speculation he had been traded when he was removed from the game. He was initially considered day-to-day after undergoing an MRI on Friday, and manager Robin Ventura said before both Monday and Tuesday’s games against the Cubs he could’ve been available in an emergency. 

But Lawrie suffered a setback sometime Tuesday, and with two games under National League rules at Wrigley Field requiring more bench pieces, Ventura didn’t want to head to Clark and Addison short-handed. 

“It just seemed like he was going backwards today, during the game, of his knee,” Ventura said. “There's no way you can go over there and play the National League rules with nobody on the bench.”

[MORE: Shields picks up bullpen as White Sox top Cubs again]

Infielder Carlos Sanchez was removed from Triple-A Charlotte’s game Tuesday night and is expected to replace Lawrie on the White Sox roster. 

Lawrie is hitting .248/.310/.413 with 12 home runs and 22 doubles over 94 games this season. 

Tyler Saladino has done well in his short stint in the starting lineup since Lawrie’s injury, going 4-15 with a walk. His walk-off single on Monday netted the White Sox their third win in what now is a four-game winning streak, the team’s first since May 6-9.