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


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.

The new Cubs are out to write their own history

The new Cubs are out to write their own history

The Cubs felt so nervous just before a 7:09 first pitch on Saturday night that Javier Baez found the camera looking into the home dugout, waved with a big smile and started pumping his fist, hamming it up for the video board as Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion” blasted through the Wrigley Field sound system.

The Cubs then ran out onto the field and systematically destroyed the Los Angeles Dodgers, ending this National League Championship Series in six games with a 5-0 win that featured almost no tension or suspense, obliterating for now the narrative around this franchise.

The old stadium still kept shaking, from Kris Bryant’s RBI single in the first inning to the clapping to Anthony Rizzo’s “Intoxicated” walk-up music to a standing ovation for Kyle Hendricks, who outpitched the supposed best pitcher on the planet in Clayton Kershaw.

“We don’t care about history,” Bryant said. “This is a completely different team, different people all around. It doesn’t matter. This is a new Chicago Cubs team. And we are certainly a very confident group.”

Sure, 1908 will hover over the entire World Series, which begins Tuesday night against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field. But this is the new normal for Bryant, who within two years has won 200 games, four playoff rounds, a Rookie of the Year award and probably MVP hardware.

This team isn’t going away, either. With a chance to win the pennant for the first time since the Truman administration, the Cubs started two rookies who began this season at Triple-A Iowa – catcher Willson Contreras and outfielder Albert Almora Jr. – in a lineup that featured Bryant (24), Rizzo (27), Baez (23), Addison Russell (22) and Hendricks (26).

Contreras caught a shutout and posed for a moment at home plate watching his line-drive homer off Kershaw fly into the left-field bleachers in the fourth inning. Rizzo – who had looked overmatched earlier in the playoffs – became the first left-handed hitter to homer off Kershaw during this calendar year.

And when Rizzo tried to wave off Baez for the ball Josh Reddick popped up to the right side of the infield in the fifth inning, Baez cut right in front of Rizzo to catch it, continuing a long-running gag among the Cubs infielders.

“I don’t think they’re oblivious, because that’s sort of insulting in some ways,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “They know the history. I just don’t think they care. They think they’re a good team and they love to play. And we have some guys that definitely shine on the big stage.”

Baez – a September call-up last year who couldn’t get an everyday spot during the regular season – showed off his bat speed and unbelievable defensive instincts and emerged as the NLCS co-MVP along with big-game pitcher Jon Lester. Sold on the idea of all this young talent someday coming together, Lester joined a last-place team after the 2014 season, taking a leap of faith, even at $155 million.

“I don’t feel like there’s pressure at all in our clubhouse,” said Almora, the first player Theo Epstein’s front office drafted here in 2012. “There’s just hunger and excitement and desire to win.

“None of us were around in 1945…so we just got to write our own history.”

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This is what the Cubs have been talking about since the New York Mets swept them out of last year’s NLCS, since the Ricketts family invested almost $290 million more in free agents, since unconventional manager Joe Maddon made “Embrace The Target” the theme of spring training.

Whatever your preconceived notions of the old Cubs are, know that this group has an amazing sense of balance. They are youthful and experienced. They play as a team and with individual flair. They have style and get dirty. They are analytical and sort of oblivious. They are loose and intense. And the ending hasn’t been written yet.

“We still got a long ways to go,” Lester said. “We’ll enjoy tonight – don’t get me wrong – we’ll have a celebration. We’ll have a good time. We’ll smile, we’ll hug each other, probably get drunk a little bit…but we got some work to do.”

Kyle Hendricks outduels Clayton Kershaw and delivers legendary performance that puts Cubs in World Series

Kyle Hendricks outduels Clayton Kershaw and delivers legendary performance that puts Cubs in World Series

John Hendricks sent a text message to his son at 11:24 a.m. on Saturday: “Good luck tonight!! Remember, great mechanics and preparation will prevail. Just let it go!!” It ended with three emoji: a smiley face with sunglasses, the thumbs-up sign and a flexed biceps.

The Cubs have bonded fathers and sons for generations, and Hendricks immediately understood what it meant for his boy when the Cubs traded Ryan Dempster to the Texas Rangers minutes before the deadline on July 31, 2012, telling Kyle: “You win in this city, you will be a legend. There is no doubt about it. This is the greatest sports town in the United States.”

This is the intoxicating lure of the Cubs. It didn’t matter that Kyle had been an eighth-round pick out of Dartmouth College, and hadn’t yet finished his first full season in professional baseball, and would be joining an organization enduring a 101-loss season, the third of five straight fifth-place finishes.

Kyle’s low-key personality will never get him confused with an ’85 Bear, but he delivered a legendary performance in Game 6, outpitching Clayton Kershaw at the end of this National League Championship Series and leading the Cubs to the World Series for the first time in 71 years.

Five outs away from the pennant, a raucous crowd of 42,386 at Wrigley Field actually booed star manager Joe Maddon when he walked out to the mound to take the ball from Kyle and bring in closer Aroldis Chapman. Kyle, the silent assassin, did briefly raise his hand to acknowledge the standing ovation before descending the dugout steps. 

After a 5-0 win, Kyle stood in roughly the same spot with Nike goggles on his head and finally looked a little rattled, his body shivering and teeth chattering in the cold, his Cubs gear soaked from the champagne-and-beer celebration.

“It’s always been an uphill climb for me, honestly,” Kyle said. “But that really has nothing to do with getting guys out. My focus from Day 1 – even when I was young, high school, college, all the way up until now – all it’s been is trying to make good pitches. 

“And as we moved up, you just saw that good pitches get good hitters out.” 

At a time when the game is obsessed with velocity and showing off for the radar gun, Kyle knows how to pitch, putting the ball where he wants when he wants, avoiding the hot zones that lead to trouble, mixing his changeups, fastballs and curveball in an unpredictable way that takes advantage of the team’s intricate scouting system and keeps hitters completely off-balance.

“Kyle didn’t even give them any air or any hope,” general manager Jed Hoyer said.

Amid the celebration, scouting/player-development chief Jason McLeod spotted Kyle’s dad and yelled at John: “You f------ called it!” John – who once worked in the Angels ticket office and as a golf pro in Southern California – had moved to Chicago two years ago to work for his good friend’s limo company and watch his son pitch at Wrigley Field. John had told McLeod that Kyle would one day help the Cubs win a championship.

“That was one of the best pitching performances I’ve ever seen,” McLeod said. “Ever.”

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The media framed Kyle as The Other Pitcher, even though he won the ERA title this season, with all the pregame buzz surrounding Kershaw, the three-time Cy Young Award winner and 2014 NL MVP. Except Kershaw gave up five runs and got knocked out after five innings, while Kyle only gave up two singles to the 23 batters he faced, finishing with six strikeouts against zero walks and looking like he had even more left in the tank at 88 pitches.

“It was incredible,” Ben Zobrist said. “That was the easiest postseason game we’ve had yet and it was the clincher to go to the World Series. 

“He’s just so good, so mature for his age. He just has a knack to put the ball where he needs to. He’s smart and he’s clutch. He deserves to win the Cy Young this year.”

Where Kershaw’s presence loomed over the entire playoffs, Kyle has always been underestimated, coming into this season as a fourth or fifth starter with something to prove, and even he didn’t see all this coming. But big-game pitchers can come in all shapes and sizes and don’t have to throw 97 mph. 

“He wants the ball,” John said. “Every big game – I don’t care if it was Little League or wherever – he wants the ball. Plain and simple, (he’ll) get the job done.”