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.

White Sox outlast Twins to move back above .500 mark

White Sox outlast Twins to move back above .500 mark

The White Sox have had to lean heavily on their bench in June and J.B. Shuck delivered one of the unit’s bigger hits to date.

The backup outfielder’s two-out RBI single in the eighth inning on Thursday afternoon capped a three-hit day and a stellar week for Shuck. It also lifted the White Sox to a 6-5 win over the Minnesota Twins in front of 26,158 at U.S. Cellular Field.

Despite blowing two leads, the White Sox, winners in seven of their last 10, managed to hang on for their third straight series victory. David Robertson converted his 21st save in 23 tries for the White Sox, who moved back above .500 for the first time since June 10.

“He's been playing great,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “I think getting multiple at-bats consistently has really helped his swing. He was always a good pinch-hitter, but when you put him in there he would sputter a little bit.

“He's been swinging it great.”

Down three key relief pitchers, the White Sox also are without Austin Jackson for at least several more weeks. Melky Cabrera is set to miss one or two more games with a sore wrist. They lost Matt Davidson, who was promoted on Thursday, to a fractured right foot in his 2016 debut. And Avisail Garcia has been inconsistent at the plate, which means there are plenty of at-bats to go around.

Following a slow start to the season, Shuck has started to warm up and take advantage.

In the previous series against the Toronto Blue Jays, Shuck homered twice — his first and second homers since April 2014.

He added a third big hit in the eighth inning off left-hander Fernando Abad when he dumped a single into left to score Garcia, who drew the first of two, two-out walks to start the rally. Shuck also doubled during a fourth-inning rally and singled in the sixth. It was his most hits in a game since April 13, 2014.

“Growing up as a kid, you always play bottom of the ninth scenario, so it’s fun to get an opportunity to do it and come through,” Shuck said. “It’s a big win for the team, and to help out is fun.

“I knew we were going to have a chance there once it got over the shortstop’s head, and to see them score and give us the go-ahead run was a great thing.”

Carlos Rodon was off to a great start before the Minnesota lineup got going.

Ahead 2-0 in the fourth, Rodon allowed back-to-back homers to Robbie Grossman and Brian Dozier with two outs. Before that, Rodon retired the first 11 batters he faced, including five strikeouts.

The White Sox regained a three-run advantage in the fourth inning and Rodon responded with a perfect fifth. But he struggled in the sixth and allowed Minnesota to creep back within a run. Rodon gave up a double and a RBI single before he walked Grossman with one out and Dozier followed with an RBI single. Matt Albers stranded a pair to keep the White Sox ahead 5-4.

Rodon exited after allowing four earned runs and five hits in 5 2/3 innings. He walked one and struck out six.

The Twins tied it with a run off Zach Duke and Nate Jones in the seventh.

The White Sox offense figured out how to attack Tommy Milone and forced him out of the game in the fourth inning.

Todd Frazier got things rolling with a solo homer in the second inning — the 14th consecutive solo homer hit by the White Sox — to make it a 1-0 game. The team is one shy of tying a franchise record with 15 straight solo home runs, which was set from Sept. 2-25, 1965.

Jose Abreu singled in a run in the third to put the White Sox up two.

The White Sox regained the lead for Rodon in the fourth after Minnesota tied it in the top half. Garcia singled in Brett Lawrie, who started the inning with a double.

Garcia stole second base and scored on an RBI single by Davidson, his first big league RBI since Sept. 27, 2013 with Arizona. But en route to scoring in the inning, Davidson fractured his foot running the bases.

After Shuck doubled and Tim Anderson walked to load the bases — his first career free pass in 86 plate appearances — Milone hit Adam Eaton to force in a run and make it 5-2. But Neil Ramirez took over and got Abreu to bounce into an inning-ending double play.

With Anderson, who reached base four times, on second and one out in the seventh, Abreu struck out and Frazier flew out.

That set the stage for Shuck, who is 8-for-18 with four RBIs in his last five games.

“He's coming up getting some big hits, a ball in the gap,” Ventura said. “This is good for him and good for us at the same time.”

Matt Davidson fractures right foot in White Sox debut

Matt Davidson fractures right foot in White Sox debut

It’s getting to the point where White Sox rookies may just want to remain in the minors.

Matt Davidson became the latest victim of an odd trend afflicting the club this season when he sustained a fractured bone in his right foot in Thursday’s 6-5 victory over the Minnesota Twins at U.S. Cellular Field. Davidson, who was making his season debut, is the third White Sox rookie to be injured before or during his first game this season.

Outfielder Jason Coats exited a June 4 contest and was given a concussion test after he collided with J.B. Shuck and catcher Kevan Smith injured his back in pregame warmups before he was set to debut in Toronto on April 25 and has played one game since.

“We're hot that way,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “I think they're afraid to come up. It's odd. I think Smitty was the oddest of all of them.”

A product of a December 2013 trade that sent Addison Reed to the Arizona Diamondbacks, Davidson was promoted to the majors for the first time since September 2013 only hours earlier. He was in the midst of his best month at Triple-A Charlotte since the trade and was named to the Triple-A All-Star Game earlier this week.

Davidson’s fourth-inning RBI single drove in his first run since Sept. 27, 2013 and gave the White Sox a 4-2 advantage. But sometime during his trip around the bases — he reached third on J.B. Shuck’s double and scored when Adam Eaton was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded — Davidson injured his foot. He took an MRI late Thursday and the White Sox expect to have more information on Davidson on Friday.

“You could see it when he went from second to third,” Ventura said. “I know he's not a good runner, but it was remarkably poor at that point for him to keep going.

“It's just crazy.”

Davidson is the latest member of the White Sox to be headed for the disabled list. Earlier this month, Austin Jackson partially tore his meniscus, which required surgery, when he awkwardly stepped on a base. The team is also without three relief pitches as Jake Petricka and Daniel Webb are out for the season and Zach Putnam is mulling surgery as he battles ulnar neuritis in his right elbow.

“You hate to see a guy like that put in the work,” shortstop Tim Anderson said. “I was in Triple-A with (Davidson) and he worked his butt off. It’s sad to see him go down like that.”

Fire take on banged up San Jose on Friday

Fire take on banged up San Jose on Friday

A quick look at the injury list for Friday’s match between the Chicago Fire and the San Jose Earthquakes tells two different stories.

The Fire (2-7-5, 11 points) have a few players who are coming back from injury and may be limited, but no players are listed as out, which has been rare this season. Matt Polster could make his return from a concussion suffered June 15 against Indy Eleven. Arturo Alvarez, Collin Fernandez and Khaly Thiam are also listed as questionable for Friday.

Visiting San Jose (5-4-7, 22 points) would love to trade injury lists and have just a few banged up bodies. The Earthquakes have seven players listed as out, including the typical starting centerback pair of Clarence Goodson and Victor Bernardez.

Goodson has been out with a back injury since starting the first two matches of the season and Bernardez went down in the Earthquakes’ 1-1 draw with the LA Galaxy on June 25. When Bernandez left in the ninth minute, Fatai Alashe, typically a midfielder, played at centerback next to Marvell Wynne, who has played centerback but usually plays as a right back.

“You’ve just got to deal with it,” San Jose coach Dominic Kinnear said after the LA game. “Looking down the bench, we don’t really have a center back, per se, so Fatai is the next one in line. It’s just the thought of, ‘What’s the best combination?’ and Fatai was the easy [choice].”

Andres Imperiale, another defender, is also out along with Jordan Stewart, Mark Sherrod, Marc Pelosi and Bryan Meredith.

The good news for San Jose is that Chris Wondolowski is expected to make his return after playing with the U.S. in the Copa America.

“We will have to have the possession, be smart,” Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said of Friday’s game. “I think they have a very narrow style of play.”

Paunovic spoke of how important Wondolowski is to San Jose. Wondolowski has seven goals in 12 games this season. Next to him up top has typically been former Fire striker Quincy Amarikwa, who has a goal and three assists.

The Earthquakes went winless in the five matches without Wondolowski, including a U.S. Open loss at Portland, and are 0-4-4 on the road this season.

While the Fire don’t have as many injuries, they are coming off shorter rest. The Fire played Tuesday against Columbus in the Open Cup while the Earthquakes were already out of the tournament so they had a few extra days rest.

The Fire are coming off one of the team’s better performances of the year, a 2-1 win against Columbus. Confidence should be high against a wounded San Jose team.

“I think to be fair we’re playing some good football,” Fire forward David Accam said. “For us, even though we’re not getting results I have confidence in my teammates and confidence in this team and I know for sure we will start getting results. For now we just have to keep enjoying what we’re doing and the results will come.”