Can Grayslake Central beat North Chicago jinx?

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Can Grayslake Central beat North Chicago jinx?

Can "Casey and the Midgets" snap the North Chicago jinx and win a sectional championship for the first time in school history?

That's the question that Grayslake Central coach Brian Moe is asking as he prepares his 20-8 team for Friday night's Class 3A regional championship game against Grayslake North. If the Rams win, they'll likely meet old nemesis North Chicago in a sectional semifinal next Tuesday.

"How do we get by North Chicago? Can we ever beat them?" Moe said. "That's been our trend--to lose to North Chicago in the sectional. They are a big challenge for us. They've been there. They've won a sectional. They have a great coach in Gerald Coleman and a great player in Aaron Simpson. They put up a lot of points. We have to try to figure out a way to slow them down."

Grayslake Central's history against North Chicago is full of woulda, shoulda, coulda, close but no cigar. Last year, the Rams lost to North Chicago by four. Three years ago, they were tied with three minutes to play. In the State Farm Classic in Bloomington last December, they led by five at halftime. It all adds up to a lot of frustration.

"We have to make them work for baskets and be patient on offense," Moe said. "They do a great job of making you take shots that you aren't used to taking."

Moe, a 1989 graduate of Glenbrook South, is in his fourth year at Grayslake Central. He played basketball at Augustana on a team that reached the Final Four in Division III. After teaching and coaching at Glenbrook North, Mundelein and Wauconda, he was hired at Grayslake Central.

He has won 20 or more games in three of his four years. He lost to North Chicago in the sectional final in 2008. His 21-10 team lost to Vernon Hills at the buzzer in the sectional. He was 21-7 in 2010. Last year's 17-13 squad lost to North Chicago in the sectional semifinal.

But this year's 20-8 squad might be different. The Rams beat highly rated Huntley in the Fox Valley Conference cross-over game last Friday, sending a message to future opponents--and maybe North Chicago--that they have to be taken for real.

"Potentially, this is the best team I have had," Moe said. "We have a 6-foot-9 center, a shooter, a scorer and we play good team defense. We play man-to-man full-court and pressure the ball. We share the ball and play together. We play six seniors and a junior. We have a lot of experience."

Grayslake Central is led by 5-foot-7 senior guard Jordan Taylor (19 ppg), a three-year starter who is the team leader and has scored more than 1,000 points in his career. But Taylor is closer to 5-foot-5 than 5-foot-7.

Other starters are 6-foot-9 senior Casey Boyle (13.7 ppg, 10.3 rpg), who has some Division II offers, 6-foot senior point guard Sayvonte McWilliams (7.6 ppg, 3 assists, 4 rpg), 5-foot-10 junior Danny Reed (7.5 ppg, 3 rpg), and 6-foot-2 senior Tyler Smith (6.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg).

"Smith is our wild card," Moe said. "When he plays well, we look good. He is athletic and long and attacks the basket. But when he struggles, we struggle, too.

"The big thing we have to do is rebound. We are 'Casey and the Midgets.'Rebounding has been an issue for us. When Casey was out for four games with an ankle sprain in the last few weeks, we went 1-3. Now he's back and we hope he gives us an edge."

The four-class system may have a lot of critics but Moe isn't one of them. He has won the conference or regional in each of his four years and hopes to sweep both of them--and the sectional--for the first time this season.

"We have benefited from the four-class system," he said. "We are able to dodge Warren, Mundelein, Libertyville and Zion-Benton in the regional, the big Class 4A schools. Playing in Class 3A has been helpful to us. That's where we belong, With an enrollment of 1,300, it is perfect for us. We can't compete against schools with enrollments of 4,000 on a consistent basis."

'Yay me!': Cubs celebrate David Ross' 100th career homer

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'Yay me!': Cubs celebrate David Ross' 100th career homer

"Yay me!"

That's how David Ross announced his presence to the Chicago media Friday afternoon, almost four hours after hitting his 100th career homer.

Ross' three-run blast in the fourth inning (before a pair of rain delays lasting 93 minutes) helped lead the Cubs and Jon Lester to a 6-2 victory Friday.

"It was just my personal thing," Ross said. "It was nice to have a nice, round number. One hundred in The Show is pretty cool for me. But it affected the game and impacted the game, so it's even better. It wasn't just a blowout or a meaningless homer when you're down a bunch."

The Cubs have been counting down to 100 since last season and finally got to celebrate with "Grandpa Rossy," who sported a Papa Bear T-shirt after the game.

Joe Maddon gave Ross a bottle of wine and Lester gifted his personal catcher a bottle of champagne in a box signed by everybody on the roster.

"The boys were excited. I was excited," Ross said. "I think my favorite part while all this has been going on is rounding second base and looking in the dugout. Makes me smile every time seeing everybody so happy for me and counting down for me.

"They're as happy as I am, so that makes me feel good."

As soon as Ross made contact, he knew it was gone, slowly walking a few steps and uncharacteristically admiring it a bit before beginning his trot.

He got a curtain call, too, and he acknowledged hitting his 100th blast was extra special coming in front of the Cubs fanbase.

"I run down in the outfield before the game and ever since I hit 99, that's all I hear: 'Hit a homer, Grandpa,' I mean, nobody even knows my first name anymore," Ross joked.

"It was cool. There was even a David Ross sign a little girl had today. I mean, who doesn't like seeing that? Stuff like that is just really cool."

It was Ross' fourth homer of the season and he now has 17 RBI and an .828 OPS. Compare that to the 39-year-old's one homer, nine RBI and .519 OPS last season.

"It's awesome," Lester said. "Obviously, going into last year, we all knew where he was. I did. He'll admit: He didn't swing the bat like he wanted to last year.

"It's just nice to see him feel comfortable and be the old Rossy. I'm glad he did it. It's kinda nice he did it the day I was pitching to add a little bit to it."

Ross' 100th homer ball wound up glancing off the Nuveen sign in left field and wound up on Waveland. The fan that ended up with it only asked for a photo with Ross in return.

"Who wants a picture of me?!" Ross laughed. "I'm surprised he didn't ask for [Kris Bryant] or [Anthony Rizzo] or something like that. Again, yay me!"

White Sox change their minds, Chris Sale to start Sunday

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White Sox change their minds, Chris Sale to start Sunday

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Robin Ventura changed his mind and Chris Sale will now face the Kansas City Royals on Sunday afternoon.

The White Sox manager announced his decision Friday afternoon, a little less than 24 hours after the club said it would keep its rotation in order following Thursday’s rainout. Rather than face Kansas City, the choice meant that Sale would have been pushed back and faced the New York Mets on Monday instead.

But as Ventura and his coaching staff discussed their options (he had five pages full of potential rotation options on Thursday), ultimately it made the most sense for Sale to face a divisional opponent. Sale is set to face Edinson Volquez in the series finale at 1:15 p.m.

“This is the better play,” Ventura said. “(Sale) didn’t throw very much the other day. We have a division team. A lot of things going into it. Just keep him on schedule and keep him pitching. It’s that simple.

“You play these guys a lot. They’re in your division. You have a chance for (Sale) to still go out there. You look at it with what he did the other day. It made a little more sense to have him go Sunday.”

Sale lost for the first time in 10 starts all season on Tuesday. He threw only 89 pitches against the Cleveland Indians, which has the White Sox comfortable with keeping him on schedule and working on a normal four days of rest instead of needing another.

“He was out of the game quicker than usual last time so we can do it,” pitching coach Don Cooper said. “We feel good about Sale against anybody. Division team, that might have had something to do with it.”

The White Sox said Jose Quintana would start Monday against the Mets with Mat Latos on Tuesday and Friday’s starter, Miguel Gonzalez, throwing on Wednesday.

No matter what happens in Friday’s game, Ventura said he likely plans to stick with Carlos Rodon against the Royals on Saturday and Sale on Sunday.

Jorge Soler's power shines through rainy Cubs victory

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Jorge Soler's power shines through rainy Cubs victory

Jorge Soler picked the perfect walk-up song for 90s Music Day at Wrigley Field.

The Cubs outfielder strolled up to Snap's "I've Got the Power" and promptly delivered on that claim by driving in the first two runs of an eventual 6-2 Cubs victory over the Philadelphia Phillies on Friday at Wrigley Field that included a 56-minute rain delay in the seventh inning and another delay in the ninth lasting 37 minutes.

In the first inning, Soler muscled a ball through the dampened infield to drive home Ben Zobrist and then crushed a 1-2 pitch 461 feet in the fourth, becoming the second player ever (see: Bryant, Kris) to hit the left-field scoreboard in a game at Wrigley.

"I would've been pleased on any given Par 5 to hit that particular drive," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "That thing was far, loud and far. He's gonna keep doing that. He's gaining some confidence. You can see the difference in his game, the way he's moving. His confidence is rising right now."

Four batters later, David Ross crushed his 100th career home run out onto Waveland Ave., a three-run shot that broke the game open for the Cubs.

Bryant followed with another blast onto Waveland in the fifth inning, providing all the offense Jon Lester and the Cubs bullpen needed on the afternoon.

Lester allowed only two runs (one earned) in 6.1 innings, striking out seven and surrendering six hits and a pair of walks.

The unearned tally against Lester came on a sacrifice fly from Maikel Franco immediately after Dexter Fowler and Javy Baez each made an error on the same play, setting up runners at second and third and one out in the third inning.

"Dexter catches that ball 101 times out of 100," Maddon said. "You just don't do that. And then, of course, the ball off the corner of the [third base] bag, that's just really awkward stuff.

"We got ourselves right through the long ball. We hit some balls really well today. Give our guys credit on coming back from kind of a lethargic start and then eventually, we really got into a nice groove."

Lester's second run came in the seventh after he exited the ballgame following a double from Odubel Herrera. Trevor Cahill allowed two straight singles to plate Herrera before getting out of the inning with back-to-back strikeouts.

Lester improved to 5-3 and lowered his ERA to 2.48 in the process, rebounding nicely from a rough start (five earned runs in 2.2 innings pitched) in San Francisco last weekend.

"It's one start," Lester said. "The way our pitching staff has been going this year, I think when somebody has a bad start like that, ti's easy to kinda panic. I've had 'em before in my career. I've had worse.

"It's just part of the game. I wasn't worried about it. Worked on some things in the bullpen and came back out and obviously threw the ball a lot better today. Better results, just better overall stuff compared to [San Francisco]. I wasn't worried about last start."

Soler's game Friday continued his recent hot streak. He's gone 9-for-26 over the last nine games with two doubles, three homers, six RBIs, eight runs and four walks.

In that time, Soler has raised his average 40 points from .174 to .214 and his OPS 162 points to .692 on the season.