Can anyone beat Simeon at Pontiac?

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Can anyone beat Simeon at Pontiac?

The history of the Pontiac Holiday Tournament, which began in 1926, is filled with great teams, coaches and players from Centralia to Simeon, from Arthur Trout to Robert Smith, from Dike Eddleman to Jabari Parker.

Don Cash Seaton, Pontiac's coach at the time, founded the event because he believed there needed to be something for the high school basketball players to do during the holidays, to help them prepare for the state tournament in March.

Seaton's motivation went further. He sought to attract teams from all regions of Illinois and he especially looked for teams with different styles of play. He was eager to pit teams against teams that normally didn't compete against one another.

Over the decades, Pontiac has attracted virtually all of the most celebrated and successful programs in the state, including Taylorville, Centralia, Quincy, Bloom, Lockport, Peoria Manual, Pekin, West Aurora, Rock Island, Collinsville, Proviso East, La Salle-Peru, Peoria Central, Peoria Richwoods, East Moline, Carbondale and Simeon.

"What I enjoy most," said tournament director Jim Drengwitz, "is that I can recall former principal Roger Tuttlet telling me that the tournament is like homecoming. People show up for the tournament. You don't see them any other time of the year."

Drengwitz, who was principal at Pontiac from 1994 to 2007 and has served as tournament director since 1994, said his mission is to persuade the best teams available from different geographic locations in the state to come to Pontiac for the holidays.

"We don't have the diversity that we had 30 years ago because of the proliferation of holiday tournaments throughout the state," he said. "But this year I'd stack it up with any tournament in Illinois--with Simeon, Warren, Curie and Peoria Manual."

The 81st annual Pontiac Holiday Tournament is scheduled for Dec. 28-30. The opening-round pairings will pit West Aurora vs. Danville, Curie vs. Niles West, Joliet vs. Waukegan and Warren vs. Plainfield North in the upper bracket with East Moline vs. Lockport, Simeon vs. Bloomington, Peoria Manual vs. Pontiac and Oak Park vs. St. Charles North in the lower bracket.

Old-timers remember the way it was. The Palomar Motel, which once housed all the participating teams, closed 20 years ago. But local businesses such as Wright's Furniture, Pontiac Sports, Bank of Pontiac and Pfaff's Bakery have supported the three-day event for years. Local radio station WJEX-FM broadcasts every game live with Mark Myre and his staff doing play-by-play.

"Fans have shown up for years, from the 1960s and 1970s," Drengwitz said. "They appreciate the hospitality of the community and the barbecue sandwiches, always a staple of the tournament. They know we have a good product."

Old-timers talk about Jerry Leggett and his great Quincy teams of the 1980s. They recall how outgoing Leggett was. They still talk about the QuincyProvidence game that pitted Michael Payne against Walter Downing.

They talk about Wes Mason and his outstanding Bloom teams of the 1970s. And they recall Bloom star Audie Matthews, who later played at Illinois. They talk about the coaches, including Will Kellogg of Brother Rice, John McDougal and Gordon Kerkman of West Aurora, Bob Basarich of Lockport, Bob Hambric of Simeon, Dick Van Sycoc and Wayne McClain of Peoria Manual and Jack Margenthaler of La Salle-Peru, who added flavor to the tournament.

No tournament has as much history as Pontiac. Adolph Rupp took his Freeport teams to Pontiac in the 1920s, before he left to become the legendary Baron of the Bluegrass at Kentucky. Centralia's Arthur Trout and Dike Eddleman were there before Trout left to found his own holiday tournament at Centralia in the 1940s.

The A.C. Williamson Award didn't start out as an MVP award. Originally, it was selected by floor officials and presented to the player who best exemplified sportsmanship and leadership. Over time, however, it has become an MVP award that recognizes the best player in the tournament. Simeon's Derrick Rose and Peoria Manual's Howard Nathan are the only two-time recipients. But Simeon's Jabari Parker won last year as a sophomore. So he could be a three-time winner.

The all-time Pontiac team? You could win a few games with Derrick Rose, Howard Nathan, Bruce Douglas, Sergio McClain and Kenny Battle. But you might have to find room for Jabari Parker, Walter Downing, Dike Eddleman, Alando Tucker, Audie Matthews and Bob Bender.

And this is the trivia topper: Seaton invited a friend, James Naismith, the founder of the game and former coach at Kansas, to speak at a post-tournament banquet. Naismith said he was amazed at how his invention had taken off, how people would be so excited to watch kids shooting a round ball at a peach basket.

Drengwitz said the biggest fear for tournament organizers and officials always is weather. But there never has been a cancellation. Another fear is if the top-rated team lost its first two games and was eliminated. But that hasn't happened, either.

Officials always hope that Pontiac will do well so more local fans will attend the event. But Pontiac has won only once, in 1974. "We don't build the tournament around Pontiac," Drengwitz said.

He admits he doesn't see much of the tournament, however. "I'm mainly working, making sure everyone is where they are supposed to be. But the coaches are fun to work with. I have developed good friendships with many of them over the years," he said.

And he can't pass up a barbecue sandwich.

Jose Quintana giving White Sox another ace to play as early season success rolls on

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Jose Quintana giving White Sox another ace to play as early season success rolls on

The White Sox newfound brand of crisp, clean baseball is suiting Jose Quintana awfully well. 

The 27-year-old left-hander pitched another gem Tuesday night, firing eight innings of one-run ball to propel the White Sox to a 4-1 win over the Boston Red Sox in front of 15,025 at U.S. Cellular Field.

Anchored by improved offensive and defensive support, Quintana lowered his season ERA to 1.40. But more jarring — in a positive way — is that in earning the win on Tuesday, Quintana for the first time in his career won three consecutive starts. 

“It’s way better this year,” Quintana said. “The offense is, for me and for everybody, everybody tries to do his job. We’re off to a really good start and we believe this year is a good year for us, and we’ll try to do everything to stay in first place.”

Quintana’s posted consistently solid results since the White Sox plucked him from Double-A Birmingham to start in a doubleheader against the Cleveland Indians four years ago. His decidedly-not-flashy-but-effective pitching style didn’t make headlines like his prolific teammate Chris Sale, but a 3.46 ERA and an unfairly poor win-loss record landed him on plenty of lists and social media takes focused on the most underrated or overlooked players in baseball. 

That’s changed this year. Before his stellar start Tuesday, Quintana was given 8/1 odds by the sports betting website Bovada to win the American League Cy Young, the third-best of anyone (Sale led the way at 6/5). It’s still early, of course, but these six starts to begin the 2016 season stand is one of the best stretches he’s had in his career. 

Manager Robin Ventura attributed Quintana’s ace-like success in part to pitching with a little less pressure than in the past. 

“There is something to be said for going out there thinking if you give up one you’re going to lose,” Ventura said. “It’s been a few years for him. Right now (with) the feeling going on in there, he knows if he just pitches his game those guys are going to scratch out some runs for him.”

The White Sox continue to show signs of ending a head-scratching inability to support Quintana. 

Jose Abreu’s first-inning RBI triple got the White Sox scoring started and his double in the eighth added two insurance runs (a Todd Frazier groundout in the third inning plated the White Sox other run). For the fifth time in six starts this season, Quintana was supported by four or more runs, and Adam Eaton and Austin Jackson made sparkling defensive plays to keep hard-hit balls from inflicting any damage. 

Having the offense score four or more runs in 83 percent of Quintana’s starts seems unlikely — if he makes 32 starts this year, that’d mean he’d get that support in about 27 of those — but it is an improvement off the last few seasons. The White Sox scored three or fewer runs in 54 percent of Quintana’s starts from 2013-15, a span in which it’s worth noting the club also was rated as having the third-worst defense in baseball by DRS and UZR. 

“There’s more of a confidence level of him knowing he doesn’t have to do an extraordinary thing — and he might do it, like tonight,” Ventura said. “But he doesn’t feel like he has to do it on his own.”

Quintana isn’t throwing harder this year and hasn’t added a new pitch or anything like that. But Ventura’s theory on why the Colombia native is pitching better makes sense — perhaps the next step in Quintana’s career was getting a good, reliable team playing behind him.

“He’s probably one of the best right now in the league,” first baseman Jose Abreu said through a translator. 

That’s not hyperbole. Quintana has a top-10 ERA that’s backed up by a 2.12 FIP, which is a good indicator that his early-season success isn’t necessarily a small sample size-generated mirage. 

Quintana is a shining example of how so much has gone right for the White Sox this season — even on the day in which the team announced it would eat over $11 million to cut ties with veteran left-hander John Danks. Not only is he pitching better, but everyone around him is playing better. And the combination of that, so far, has taken Quintana and the White Sox to another level. 

“Everything changed,” Quintana said. “Everything is going in a good direction this year. We believe in that.”

Today on CSN: Lester, Cubs go for sweep in Pittsburgh

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Today on CSN: Lester, Cubs go for sweep in Pittsburgh

The Cubs look to sweep the Pittsburgh Pirates this afternoon, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 11 a.m. Then catch first pitch with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Today’s starting pitching matchup: Jon Lester (2-1, 1.83) vs. Juan Nicasio (3-2, 3.33)

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.  

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See what fans are talking about before, during and after the game with Cubs Pulse.

Rick Hahn: Filling fifth spot in White Sox rotation a 'fluid situation'

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Rick Hahn: Filling fifth spot in White Sox rotation a 'fluid situation'

Erik Johnson gets the first chance at the No. 5 spot in the White Sox rotation, but the situation is hardly finalized.

The White Sox announced Tuesday that they would promote Johnson from Triple-A Charlotte in time to make Thursday’s start in place of John Danks, whom they will officially designated for assignment later this week. But just because Johnson gets the first start doesn’t mean he’s here for good, general manager Rick Hahn said.

Hahn and the White Sox have made it clear they want better production from the fifth spot, whether it's from an internal or an external option.

“It’s going to be a bit of a fluid situation,” Hahn said.

Hahn is comfortable with the team’s internal options at Charlotte beyond Johnson.

Miguel Gonzalez, who started last Monday in Toronto, has a solid major league track record. Then there’s Jacob Turner, who has 27 strikeouts in 26 2/3 innings with a 3.04 ERA in five starts.

But Hahn also said the White Sox wouldn’t shy away from looking outside the farm system, either. Hahn declined to answer whether or not the White Sox would watch Tim Lincecum’s tryout Friday in Scottsdale, Ariz. before he noted the club has “scouts everywhere.”

The White Sox could also try and use their internal options to get by for several months before adding another pitcher ahead of the trade deadline.

No matter whom they turn to, the expectation is better results than the White Sox received from Danks, who was 0-4 with a 7.25 ER in four starts.

“Obviously, Erik starts on Thursday,” Hahn said. “After that, we may well make another move next week as we try to accomplish two things with that spot -- first and foremost, get greater production than we’ve been receiving thus far this year.”

“We do have a few internal options.

“If it does get to the point where we’re better off going outside the organization, obviously we’ve never been shy about doing that.”