Cacciatore seeks to extend Boylan's streak

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Cacciatore seeks to extend Boylan's streak

Danny Appino said he was excited to play his senior season of football at Rockford Boylan for his uncle, coach Dan Appino, who had guided the Titans to back-to-back 14-0 state championships.

But the 5-foot-7, 158-pound slotback was as surprised as everyone outside the coach's immediate family when he opted to leave Boylan last spring to become the head coach at Rockford Auburn.

"It was a surprise to me," Danny Appino said. "The family knew. Rumors were going around. Then he announced his decision to the team. But coach (John) Cacciatore has done a nice job and we love playing for him."

Appino's sudden departure caught Cacciatore by surprise, too. He appeared to be a fixture at Boylan, like former football coach Bill Thumm and basketball coach Steve Goers. In 10 years, Appino's teams were 97-19 with only three losses in the last five years.

A Boylan graduate of 1992, Cacciatore had served as freshman coach for six years and sophomore coach until he was hired to succeed Appino this year. He seemed to be content being an assistant in a program that has experienced only one losing season since 1982 and has failed to qualify for the state playoff only once in the last 22 years.

"You like to think you are ready. Then you see how enormous the job is," Cacciatore said. "I have great appreciation for what coach Appino did. Coaching at the freshman and sophomore level isn't like the varsity.

"Coaching is great, my favorite part of the job. But the other administrative parts that go with it...well, there are different demands at that level. It's the other things that open your eyes to how big a job it is."

Cacciatore, 38, came prepared for the task. Before joining Appino's staff, he played for legendary coaches Gordie Gillespie and Dan Sharp at College of St. Francis in Joliet.
   
"I wasn't thinking about taking the job when Appino left," he said. "There was a point in my career where I thought I would never be a head coach. But there was a point when I was playing for Bill Thumm when I thought I wanted to be a head coach. Was I ready at age 38? If you don't do it now, I said to myself, are you walking away from your biggest opportunity ever?"

He deliberated for three days, had discussions with his wife and two young children, then decided to apply for the job. School officials chose not to look beyond the school itself for a successor. Seven days later, Cacciatore was hired. He still teaches four classes of U.S. History.

"I'd be lying if I said pressure was nothing here," he said. "You know it going in, even at the sophomore level. You feel there is a need to live up to what the varsity is doing. Dan set a standard. One advantage I had was not knowing what I didn't know and just coach the best way I know how. Winning has made it easier.

"Coming off two 14-0 seasons and two state titles, I inherited a group of seniors that when I had them as sophomores went undefeated. A dozen of them went to the varsity and contributed to our playoff run in 2010. They have been a successful group since they walked into the school."

Thirty-eight victories in a row and counting. Rockford Boylan still has a long way to go before it approaches the all-time state record of 64 set by Pittsfield in 1966-73. Think of it, nine unbeaten seasons in a row. In fact, five schools have posted longer winning streaks than Boylan.

Last Saturday, the Titans rallied from an early 10-0 deficit to oust Jacobs 28-10 in the first round of the Class 7A playoff. Demarcus Vines scored on a 39-yard run and a 75-yard punt return, safety Matthew Johnson recorded his 12th and 13th interceptions of the season and quarterback Brock Stull threw a 34-yard TD pass to Luke Salamone.

Boylan (10-0) will host Fenwick (8-2) on Saturday in the second round.

Danny Appino and Peter Cimino don't have time to sort out the numbers or examine the record book. It is enough for the two Boylan seniors  to bask in the realization that they have never played in a losing game in four years of high school competition. And the thought of playing on three 14-0 state championship teams in a row boggles their minds.

Appino and Cimino are used to Cacciatore. They played on his unbeaten sophomore team. "A lot of things he does are unique, some quirks, but we've had time to adjust. We're getting used to his style. Coach Appino went to a spread offense. Coach Cacciatore has a wing T style. He knows his football," Danny said.
   
"We have a lot to play for. It makes us keep working hard. We have a lot of motivation. You don't want to be on the team that loses a game. Growing up, we knew about the Boylan tradition. We're excited to work at it and be a part of it. The whole community works at it."

This team may not be as glitzy as last year's squad, which featured All-State defensive lineman Dean Lowry, now a freshman standout at Northwestern, and running back Tyreis Thomas. But Cacciatore's first squad is averaging 43.4 points per game and has allowed only 89. Only one opponent has scored more than two touchdowns and six have been limited to no more than one.

"We have no Dean Lowrys or Tyreis Thomases. We have Peter Cimino, Demarcus Vines and Zackary Matthews," Danny Appino said. "We are smaller but faster. It makes us work hard. Our goal has been the same every year on the varsity--take one week at a time, win conference and do well in the playoff. We are where I expected us to be. It's been a fun year so far and we're looking forward to the postseason."

At Boylan, defense is the name of the game. Cacciatore is the offensive play-caller but defensive coordinator Chris Rozanski, who has been at Boylan for 10 years, calls the shot for the 3-3-5 defense.

"I'm the offensive play-caller but defense is the first priority," Cacciatore said. "There is nothing worse than watching a team ground the ball down your throat. I coach like I'm down by 21 points. The strength of our program is we are all sold on the system. If it isn't broke, don't fix it.

"What have I learned? I feel the most important thing to this point is, while I have more time to do things on offense, I spend time on defense trying to figure out how to continue to stop teams. The better we get on defense, the more productive we are on offense. The defense is what allows the offense to play on a shorter field."

The defense is anchored by 5-foot-11, 190-pound free safety Peter Cimino, safetu Matthew Johnson, 6-foot-1, 220-pound junior middle linebacker Zackary Mathews, 5-foot-10, 180-pound senior linebacker Ryan Johnson and 6-foot, 190-pound senior linebacker Ty Sharp, nephew of Joliet Catholic coach Dan Sharp. Cacciatore describes Mathews as "the backbone of what we do."

The offense features 5-foot-9, 160-pound senior running back Demarcus Vines, who has rushed for over 800 yards and 20 touchdowns, 6-foot-3, 165-pound junior quarterback Brock Stull, who has passed for 600 yards, 6-foot-2, 245-pound junior tackle Joe Fehrle, 6-foot- 220-pound tackle Nick Verstraete and 6-foot-3, 270-pound senior center Sam Bellone.

Another plus is  senior kickerpunter Sean Slattery.

"We're still looking for the perfect game when we can take the ball and get points on every possession," Cacciatore said.

"Are we better than the last two teams? After the first one, we all looking around and said: 'Wow. I can't believe what we did.' Then we won again and we didn't think we were so good. Now we're at the same place. How will we do with this group of guys? All the pieces have fallen into place for the titles to happen."
   
"Each team has its own special stamp," Cimino said. "My brother Frank was the quarterback on the 2010 team. Then there was Lowry and Thomas. Now it's Vines and Appino and Mathews. We focus on team speed on defense. We play physical and smart. It's a very close knit group.

"We've never lost a game in high school. We try not to think about it. We try not to think about the streak. We dont want to jinx ourselves. People outside the team bring it up. 'You're the team that hasn't lost,' they say. No one has ever done it. We just always try to be positive."

After wild seventh, Carson Fulmer wants another big-time opportunity for White Sox

After wild seventh, Carson Fulmer wants another big-time opportunity for White Sox

The White Sox called up Carson Fulmer from Double-A Birmingham a week ago with the expectation he could add a strong, powerful arm to the back end of a bullpen that’s been taxed quite a bit this season. 

After he struggled in his first high-leverage appearance in the majors, though, the White Sox remain confident their 2015 first-round pick will be an important part of the team’s bullpen down the stretch this summer. 

Fulmer only threw 12 of 30 pitches for strikes and allowed three game-deciding runs in seventh inning of the White Sox 7-5 loss to the Detroit Tigers in front of 22,611 at U.S. Cellular Field Friday night. The leverage indexes of Fulmer’s first two appearances on the West Coast — which spanned 2 2/3 scoreless innings — were .01 and .05 (a leverage index of 1 is average), with those coming in a 8-1 loss and a 6-1 win. On Friday, Fulmer’s leverage index was 2.98. 

Fulmer said nerves weren’t behind his erratic outing, in which plenty of those 18 balls weren’t close to the strike zone. 

“I want to be in those situations,” the 22-year-old Fulmer said. “When you go out there and don’t do your job, it’s obviously frustrating. But you have to have a quick memory and throw it over your shoulder and prepare yourself for tomorrow.”

Fulmer’s electric mid-90’s fastball and wipeout curveball were rendered ineffective by his inability to command them in his two-thirds of an inning. He walked Justin Upton, gave up a single to Tyler Collins and walked Jarrod Saltalamacchia to load the bases with nobody out, and after a pair of groundouts brought a run in, he walked Cameron Maybin to re-load the bases.

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After that walk, Fulmer was pulled in favor of Nate Jones, who surrendered a go-ahead, ultimately game-winning two-run single to Tigers All-Star first baseman Miguel Cabrera. 

At some point, the White Sox were going to have to test Fulmer. With starter Jacob Turner only lasting 3 1/3 innings, and Fulmer looking comfortable in his first two appearances in the majors, manager Robin Ventura calculated that the seventh inning Friday was a prime opportunity. 

“He’s going to have to have it sooner or later,” Ventura said. “From the way the first (two) went, we felt comfortable he was going to come in there and be able to do that. But tonight, that doesn’t happen. But you have the confidence he can come back from this and be very effective in that spot.”

Morneau, who’s provided offense for bullpens over 14 major league seasons, agreed with his manager’s confidence in Fulmer. 

“We see a lot of good things in him,” Morneau said. “It’s obviously not up to me, but hopefully we get him back out there quick and let him settle back down and get comfortable, because he can really help this team.” 

White Sox relievers entered Friday with the fifth-highest leverage index in baseball, a product of the high volume of one-, two- and three-run games this team has found itself in this season. All those stressful innings — as well as Jake Petricka’s season-ending injury and Zach Putnam’s elbow issue from which he isn’t likely to return anytime soon — have put a considerable strain on Jones, Dan Jennings, Matt Albers, Zach Duke and David Robertson.

Fulmer, by virtue of being in the White Sox bullpen, will get another opportunity at a high-leverage inning. And while his first foray into a pressure-packed relief appearance didn’t go well, he hopes to quickly get a chance to put Friday in the rearview mirror. 

“I can’t ever use the excuse of it being my first big-time experience, especially for me being put in that situation,” Fulmer said. “Hopefully I get the opportunity to do it again. I’ll continue to stay prepared, just like I was tonight, and hopefully the odds turn in my favor. That’s all I can control.” 

Sky see winning streak snapped in loss to Connecticut Sun

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Associated Press

Sky see winning streak snapped in loss to Connecticut Sun

ROSEMONT, ILL. 

Jonquel Jones had her first-career double-double with 20 points and 10 rebounds — both career highs — and Alex Bentley scored 21 points to help the Connecticut Sun beat the Chicago Sky 94-89 on Friday night.

Alyssa Thomas and Jasmine Thomas added 16 points apiece and Chiney Ogwumike had 10 for the Sun (8-16).

Jones scored five consecutive points to cap a 13-4 run that gave Connecticut a 78-74 lead with 4 minutes left and the Sun led the rest of the way. Connecticut hit all eight of its free-throw attempts in the final 42 seconds to seal it.

Elena Delle Donne led Chicago (11-13) with 20 points. Cappie Pondexter added 16 points, and Tamera Young had 14.

The Sun, ranked 11th in the AP WNBA power poll, made 26 of 32 free-throw attempts — both season highs and committed a season-low seven turnovers.

The fifth-ranked Sky shot 52.3 percent (34 of 65) from the field.

Game changer: Dexter Fowler’s return fuels Cubs in Milwaukee

Game changer: Dexter Fowler’s return fuels Cubs in Milwaukee

MILWAUKEE – Cubs fans, Dexter Fowler feels your pain: “It sucks being on the couch and watching your team struggle.”

It only took five pitches on Friday night at Miller Park before Fowler answered the questions about how much this lineup missed his presence and how long it would take him to get back into a rhythm.

“You go, we go” is what manager Joe Maddon tells Fowler, and a sellout crowd of 42,243 roared when the All-Star leadoff guy hammered a 94-mph Jimmy Nelson fastball off the black batter’s eye in center field, setting the first-inning tone in a 5-2 win over the Milwaukee Brewers.

“I was just happy to be back around the boys,” Fowler said after going 3-for-4 with a walk, three RBI and two runs scored in his return. “It’s like being back home.”

Fowler’s strained right hamstring alone doesn’t begin to explain all this, because he had been hitting .207 in June, the rotation cooled off, the bullpen became unreliable and a 24-games-in-24-days stretch wore this team out before the All-Star break. But the Cubs were 27 games over .500 and had a 12.5-game lead in the division on June 19, the night Fowler went on the disabled list with what sounded like a minor injury.

If panic didn’t completely set in around a first-place team, underlying issues kept bubbling to the surface, the Cubs losing 15 of their last 21 games before that summer vacation.

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But the second-half Cubs (58-37) now look energized, beating the American League’s best first-half team (Texas Rangers) and the defending National League champs (New York Mets) at Wrigley Field before rolling up Interstate 94 for a virtual home game.

Now here comes Fowler, who jumpstarted the offense again with the bases loaded in the second inning, lining a two-run double down the left-field line and saying postgame that he felt no lingering issues with the hamstring.

“He’s an asset at the top of the lineup,” winning pitcher Jason Hammel said. “Tough at-bat. And he can get you. It was nice to see him run around out there again.”

Yes, Hammel (9-5, 3.35 ERA) ate a handful of potato chips to help prevent cramping in the 86-degree heat, lasting five innings before five relievers combined to hold the Brewers (40-54) scoreless the rest of the night. For all the buzz about Theo Epstein’s front office upgrading the bullpen by the Aug. 1 trade deadline, Maddon may already have a shiny new toy in Carl Edwards Jr.

The skinny right-hander entered the game in the sixth inning, with a runner on second, and cut through the heart of Milwaukee’s order, forcing Ryan Braun to ground out and striking out Jonathan Lucroy and Chris Carter on six pitches combined.    

Just like that, the Cubs are getting answers from within, after all the outside noise screamed: Do something! The fans chanted “Let’s go, Cubbies!” before closer Hector Rondon got the final out and his 17th save. This is again looking like the team Fowler envisioned when he turned down the Baltimore Orioles for a one-year, $13 million guarantee, shocking the industry by showing up in Arizona in late February.     

“It’s really apparent how important he is to us,” Maddon said. “It just looked right.”