Arroyo turns Elmwood Park into a winner

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Arroyo turns Elmwood Park into a winner

Elmwood Park coach Luis Arroyo said his team is writing a Cinderella story this season. But who would believe it?

This is a program that hadn't won a conference championship in 27 years, hadn't produced a winning team or qualified for the state playoff since 1991 and hadn't won more than six games in a season since 1985.

Until last Friday.

Elmwood Park wrote another chapter to its fairy tale by beating Ridgewood 34-14 to conclude a 7-2 regular season, claim the Metro Suburban championship and secure a spot opposite perennial state power Joliet Catholic in the first round of the Class 5A playoff. Elmwood Park will host the Hilltoppers on Saturday night in a Class 5A match-up.

"We were all talking about Joliet Catholic. Everybody on the team thought we'd get them. We all had a gut feeling," said 6-foot-2, 285-pound senior offensive tackle Connor Murphy, referring to last Saturday's pre-pairings speculation.

"When we saw we got them, we said: 'Let's do it.' We saw it right away, the seedings. Everybody got excited. We figured we'd meet them sometime in the playoff, so why not in the first round? We would rather want to play a big team. We have played good teams but we haven't played a team of their caliber and reputation. We want to show that we are in the playoff for a reason, not just another team."

Murphy is one of a core of 17 seniors who have gone through four years of football at Elmwood Park. This is Arroyo's fifth year. His first four teams were 0-9, 1-8, 2-7 and 4-5. It wasn't pretty. But there has been progress. Murphy and his teammates acknowledge that all of the off-season conditioning and hard work has paid off this season.

"We stuck it out. All of us have a feeling: 'We did it. We're conference champions.' Others gave up and said we couldn't do it. And we did it," Murphy said. "Elmwood Park has forever been called the loser team. But when we won conference, Ridgewood and others said: 'Way to win, way to take it away from everybody. You proved yourselves.'

"The school never was behind us before. They always say: 'Why do you play football? We don't want to play for a losing team.' Now they are all behind us and support us. We had to prove ourselves to everyone. We worked hard in the summer for four years to get better. Now it is paying off."

Nobody is happier than Arroyo. A Holy Cross graduate of 1993, he coached at Evergreen Park, Ridgewood and St. Joseph before arriving at Elmwood Park. Having coached against Elmwood Park on several occasions, he knew what he was getting into. He knew it wouldn't be easy. But he relished the challenge of trying to turn a perennial losing program into a winner.

"I inherited a small school (enrollment: 1,000) that played against big schools," Arroyo said. "I knew it would be a challenge. I try to coach them to play this game. They didn't know what winning was all about. Play hard and learn the fundamentals, we told them. The mentality was a lot of hungry kids who wanted to play. We try to teach dedication and work in the off-season and work on things that will make you successful.

"It was very difficult and humbling at first. I was thinking I would be able to make some sort of impact in my first year. They had won only three games the year before I became head coach. Then we went 0-9 and 1-8 and 2-7 and I began to wonder if I had made the right decision.

"But the opportunity to run a program is priceless. It's my second home. I learned the off-season is absolutely critical to gaining every possible advantage. It really is a 365-day-a-year commitment...into the weight room, into speed work and explosion drills, exercises that they hadn't been exposed to."

Even though his team was struggling on the field, Arroyo could see progress during practice time. In Year 3, he didn't have to explain right or left formations. The kids realized that all of their time in the weight room was time well spent. They were getting bigger and stronger and faster and better. They were buying into what Arroyo was selling.

Despite last year's 4-5 finish, Arroyo identified a lot of positives. Elmwood Park split with Ridgewood, knocking them out of the playoff. "We knew if we could played better, we could have qualified for state," the coach said.

His message to Murphy and the other seniors? "Don't have any regrets. Get into the weight room. Do one more day of repetitions. These kids bought into what we were selling. This is a Cinderella story. It's a great thing to be a part of," Arroyo said.

"With 12 starters returning, we had high expectations to win some games and compete for the conference title. The kids believed it. This group of seniors had success at the lower levels. They competed well. They had confidence that they could compete with anyone."

Elmwood Park is 7-2 going into its first-round game against Joliet Catholic. The Tigers are averaging 28.2 points per game, have rushed for 2,000 yards and have intercepted 22 passes.

The offensive line is anchored by Murphy, 6-foot-1, 290-pound senior tackle Ray Morales, 6-foot-2, 250-pound senior center Jonathan Batula and 5-foot-9, 180-pound tight end Mike Tinajero. They block for a committee of running backs--5-foot-5, 150-pound senior David Benavidez, 5-foot-8, 170-pound senior Jimmy Gonzalez, 5-foot-10, 180-pound senior Carlos Sandoval and 5-foot-11, 169-pound junior James Angelico. Quarterback Patrick McNulty, a 5-foot-10, 165-pound senior, directs traffic.

The ball-carriers stepped up when starter Rocco Fanella broke his spine in Week 4. Benavidez has emerged as the leading rusher with over 500 yards while Gonzalez has rushed for 450.

In last Friday's 34-14 victory at Ridgewood, Benavidez rushed 15 times for 147 yards and scored on runs of 63, 6, 26 and 14 yards. Gonzalez carried 13 times for 121 yards.

The 4-4 defense features Angelico, 5-foot-9, 165-pound junior Trent Woods and 5-foot-7, 165-pound senior Gene Cadetto at linebacker, Tinajero at tackle, Sandoval at free safety and 5-foot-11, 165-pound senior Mitch Cervantes at cornerback. Sandoval has six interceptions while Woods has four, three against Fenton. Tinajero has 20 tackles for loss.

When Fanella went down, the team lost its vocal leader on the field. But the players bonded together. And Fanella remains a key component, cheering and encouraging his teammates from the sideline.

"We're like brothers out there," Murphy said. "When Fanella went down, we said we would play like every play was our last. When someone struggles, we boost them up. Everyone's drive has changed. We had size and talent in the past but we block better and run better now.

"Now we walk through the halls and in the gym and see the banner for the 2012 Metro Suburban Conference champions and we say: 'Hey, we're enshrined.' It means every time someone who didn't want to go 100 percent in the summer, we told him to go 100 percent and now it is paying off."

Todd Frazier's late RBI single lifts White Sox past Blue Jays

Todd Frazier's late RBI single lifts White Sox past Blue Jays

The White Sox haven’t had much success with runners in scoring position of late. Todd Frazier hasn’t had much all season long.

But Frazier’s two-out RBI single in the eighth inning Friday night broke a tie and the White Sox held on for a 3-2 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays in front of 27,196 at U.S. Cellular Field. The victory was the fourth in five games for the White Sox, who improved to 37-37. Frazier’s hit was the only one with a runner in scoring position in 14 tries for a team that entered the game hitting .245 in those situations. He finished 2-for-4.

Though Frazier has provided the White Sox with plenty of thump, he’s had a trying season with runners in scoring position. He entered his eighth-inning at-bat with Jesse Chavez just 9-for-61 with two home runs and 23 RBIs with runners in scoring position, including a third-inning ground out. But Frazier got a 1-1 fastball from Chavez and ripped it into left field to put the White Sox ahead and end a frustrating night for the offense, particularly the bottom of the order.

The White Sox had left a man in scoring position in all but one inning up until that point. They tied the game at 1 in the fourth inning on an RBI groundout by Avisail Garcia and pulled ahead in the fifth on a solo homer by Melky Cabrera, who went 3-for-4 against his former team.

Prior to Frazier’s single, Cabrera grounded out to first as Edwin Encarnacion made a spectacular stop and fell down in foul territory. Tim Anderson, who doubled and went to third on a fly ball, didn’t advance on the play. But Frazier made it all moot.

Carlos Rodon had another strong outing, though he surrendered the lead right before he exited.

Rodon struck out eight and tamed a red hot offense for 5 2/3 innings. The left-hander fell behind 1-0 in the second inning and looked as if he may be in trouble before escaping the jam with a strikeout of Junior Lake to strand two. That began a stretch in which Rodon retired 11 of 14 batters and allowed the White Sox to rally for a 2-1 lead.

But Rodon couldn’t hold it, in part because of a sixth-inning balk call by first-base ump Angel Hernandez that earned pitching coach Don Cooper an ejection. Rodon hit Michael Saunders to start the sixth and he advanced on the balk and tagged up on a fly out to center. The extra 90 feet became critical when Kevin Pillar’s infield single tied it. Todd Frazier made a diving stop on the play at first base and Rodon took one too many steps to tag first base just behind the slide of Pillar.

Rodon allowed two earned runs and six hits with two walks.

The White Sox bullpen picked up the slack. Matt Albers, Nate Jones and Zach Duke combined for 2 1/3 scoreless innings to get the ball to Robertson. Robertson then pitched out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam for his 19th save in 21 tries.

Sky: Delle Donne's 31 points not enough in loss to Liberty

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Associated Press

Sky: Delle Donne's 31 points not enough in loss to Liberty

NEW YORK (AP) — Not even a broken nose could slow down Tina Charles.

She had 21 points and 13 rebounds to lead New York to an 80-79 victory over the Chicago Sky on Friday night for the Liberty's sixth consecutive win — their longest streak in six years.

"I do what my teammates need me to do," Charles said. "I know how much my team relies on me especially not having (Epiphanny Prince) here."

Charles was sporting a clear mask after she broke her nose Wednesday in a double-overtime win over Atlanta.

"It was the first time in my life that I had to wear a mask," the reigning AP player of the week said. "The situation is what it is. It's a contact sport and injuries do happen. I'm just happy that the Hosptial for Special Surgery and our medical staff was able to give me the mask so I could play tonight."

Charles leads the league in scoring and rebounding and had 12 points in the first half to help New York build a 50-40 halftime advantage.

Sugar Rodgers added 13 points for the Liberty (10-4), who are third in the AP power poll. It's the first time since 2001 that New York has won 10 of its first 14 games.

The Liberty led by 11 midway through the fourth before the Sky rallied to 78-77 with 2:24 left. Neither team would score again until Sugar Rodgers hit an acrobatic backdoor floater with 39.5 seconds remaining. Elena Delle Donne answered with a tough pullup nine seconds later.

Chicago let New York run down the clock on its next possession before Charles missed a hook across the lane. Delle Donne got the rebound setting up one final chance for the Sky with just over 2 seconds left, but her jumper from the wing missed.

"Couple things went wrong and we didn't run it to the way we were supposed to," Delle Donne said of the last play. "Things got a little crazy and had to throw up a desperation shot. We wanted more of a post up and that just didn't happen."

She finished with a season-high 31 points to lead Chicago (6-8). Cappie Pondexter added 20 for the seventh-ranked Sky, who have dropped four of five.

Both teams wore warm-up shirts in honor of Orlando club shooting victims. The Liberty donated $10,000 to the OneOrlando fund that was set up to support the victims' families and survivors.

Contreras helps Cubs end 4-game skid by beating Marlins

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USA Today Sports Images

Contreras helps Cubs end 4-game skid by beating Marlins

MIAMI - One week into his major league career, Chicago Cubs super-sub Willson Contreras says he's simply trying to contribute and enjoy himself.

So how much fun is he having?

"A lot," Contreras said, practically shouting the words. "A lot."

No wonder - he's batting .412 with three homers, and the latest helped the Cubs break their longest losing streak of the season at four games by beating the Miami Marlins 5-4 Friday night.

Contreras hit a two-run homer in a four-run first inning, and his RBI single in the seventh put the team with the best record in the majors ahead to stay.

Manager Joe Maddon said Contreras' contribution as a reinforcement for the injury-hampered Cubs has been indispensable.

"It's like oxygen - it's absolutely necessary," Maddon said. "The life he has brought to the group is absolutely necessary. He's different in all the best ways."

While Contreras again excelled as a reinforcement, the NL Central leaders endured another setback when second baseman Ben Zobrist left the game after he was hit by a pitch that bruised his left ankle. X-rays were negative, but Zobrist said he'll likely miss at least one game.

Four pitchers held the Marlins to two hits, including Justin Bour's grand slam.

Each team scored four runs in the first inning, when Kris Bryant and Contreras homered for the Cubs. It was the first time in the majors this year that both teams scored at least four runs in the first, according to ESPN.

Despite the early onslaught, both starters settled down before departing with the score still 4-all.

The Cubs' Kyle Hendricks pitched five innings and allowed only one hit - Bour's slam. All four runs were unearned because of an error by shortstop Addison Russell.

"That was the most grinding of a one-hitter," Hendricks said. "It was a weird game."

Miami's Tom Koehler gave up six consecutive hits in the first but still pitched six innings.

Trevor Cahill (1-2) threw a scoreless sixth. Hector Rondon retired all four batters he faced for his second four-out save in a row, and his 13th overall.

Mike Dunn (0-1) retired only one of the five hitters he faced in the seventh, walking two and hitting Zobrist.

"I can't remember the last time I went out there and couldn't throw anything over the plate," Dunn said. "I didn't give the team a chance."

Dunn also allowed a one-out run-scoring single by Contreras, who has eight RBIs after seven games in the big leagues.

"He looks like an established big league hitter," Hendricks said. "He just hits balls hard. It's really fun to watch. To be that young and come up and do it, it's unbelievable. And we need it right now."

Contreras started at catcher and moved to first base late in the game. He's expected to be in the lineup again Saturday, although he's unsure where.

"I don't know if I'm going to play left field or first base; I caught a few flyballs in right field today," he said. "So I'll be ready, man."