Ernst sees light at Lincoln-Way West

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Ernst sees light at Lincoln-Way West

Trying to establish himself as a first-year head coach and striving to build a program at a school that is only four years old, Dave Ernst said he could see "the light at the end of the tunnel" in the last five weeks, since the second half of a 15-7 loss to Thornton.

"We lost but I saw things were coming together," Ernst said. "Our kids fought to the end. We reached their one-yard-line with 18 seconds left but a holding call brought the ball back. It was such a disappointment after fighting to get back into the game. We didn't want to feel that way again."

The setback left Lincoln-Way West at 3-3. But the Warriors have won four games in a row since then, including last Friday's 35-0 rout of Rochelle in the first round of the Class 5A playoff. They'll face their biggest test of the season against top-seeded and unbeaten Kaneland on Saturday in New Lenox.

Ernst, 47, isn't surprised by Lincoln-Way West's early success, which is rare for a start-up school. A 1983 graduate of Lincoln-Way (Central), he coached under Matt Senffner at Providence for 12 years, then coached with current Lincoln-Way East coach Rob Zvonar under Rob Glielmi at Lincoln-Way Central for eight years before joining Mark Vander Kooi's staff at Lincoln-Way West. When Vander Kooi became athletic director at Lincoln-Way East, Ernst got his chance.

"A lot of the stuff that Glielmi was teaching at Lincoln-Way Central rubbed off on Zvonar and me. In the 1990s, his program dominated the south suburbs among the public schools," Ernst said. "We have a lot of tough kids who want to win and are willing to do what they have to do to win.

"We have some talented kids--like tackle Colin McGovern, who is committed to Notre Dame, the best player I've been around in 24 years of coaching--but the biggest thing is their willingness to fight and claw and scratch and do everything they have to do to win."

Adam Slattery, a 6-foot-2, 167-pound senior who is a three-year starter at wide receiver, may not be headed to major Division I school but he is typical of the "fight, claw and scratch" type of player that has turned Lincoln-Way West into a winning program.

"It's cool to be part of a program that is so young, only four years old," Slattery said. "When we came in, we knew we were the ones who would start a tradition. We took it upon ourselves to make it the best we could. Winning makes everything right.

"We turned it around right away. We were overmatched without seniors. We were thrown into the fire right away. We found out how hard it is to win and how hard you have to work. The standard now is to win, make the playoff and establish ourselves as a state championship contending team.

"We want to set an example for others to follow. We want to show what it takes to win. We work hard in practice and in the summer and in the off-season. We are committed. Eighty percent of the team had 100 percent attendance for off-season lifting."

Slattery and the first class of graduates know it isn't easy to start a tradition. But he pointed out that Joliet Catholic and Lincoln-Way East had to start sometime. So he argues that there is no better time for Lincoln-Way West to start its tradition.

"That is the attitude of the first class to graduate," Slattery said. "How bad do you want to win? Like Joliet Catholic and Lincoln-Way East, we don't accept losing. Coach Ernst has done a great job. He knows how to win. He is the real deal. I wouldn't want any other coach."

Slattery is Lincoln-Way West's all-time leading receiver with more receptions for more yards and more touchdowns than anyone in school history. But he acknowledges that four years is hardly a record book, especially in a program that prefers running to passing.

"I wouldn't be opposed to seeing us throw 30 passes a game. But whatever we're doing, we're winning. I'd rather block or do whatever it takes to win," he said. "Until my freshman year, I thought of myself as a baseball player. But I like the atmosphere of football in high school, the team concept. How could you not want to be a part of that?"

Slattery, who grew up in Lansing, was a quarterback while playing for the New Lenox Mustangs and New Lenox Junior Knights from second through eighth grade. As a freshman at newly opened Lincoln-Way West, he was shifted to wide receiver. He was moved up to the sophomore team, then to the varsity.

Last year's team finished 7-3, losing to Joliet Catholic in the first round of the playoff. With five returning starters on offense and five on defense, Ernst was optimistic about 2012. As a Class 5A school in a Class 7A league, however, he understands the odds aren't in his favor.

Perhaps it is a good thing that Ernst believes in luck. "From all my years with Senffner at Providence and Glielmi at Lincoln-Way Central, one of things you see is luck. You have to stay healthy. At Lincoln-Way Central, we lost 11 starters one year after thinking we'd make a run (at the state title)," he said.

"I believe in luck. Sure, you make your own luck most of the time. But luck is involved in winning a state title and making a long run in the playoff. The football bounces in weird ways sometimes. The whole idea is not to get distracted."

Ernst believes he has what it takes to contend with a Kaneland team that has lost only twice in the last three years. A key factor is 5-foot-9, 160-pound junior running back Javier Montalvo, who has rushed for 600 yards in the last three games. He ran for 203 yards and two touchdowns against Rochelle.

"We had three tailbacks playing and Montalvo started to get more carries beginning with the Thornton game," Ernst said. "He has made a big impact. He is a wrestler and he doesn't like to get tackled. He has emerged as our go-to running back."

Montalvo runs behind McGovern, a 6-foot-7, 297-pound senior, 6-foot-2, 250-pound junior tackle Brennan Mulroe and 6-foot-4, 245-pound senior guard Derrek Gurnea. Quarterback Justin Keuch, a 5-foot-9, 150-pound junior, has passed for 1,100 yards and seven touchdowns.

Ernst said McGovern is "as good an offensive tackle as I've seen. He is fast, quick and intelligent. You see a lot of big kids but he is an athlete." Mulroe is back after missing two weeks with a torn ACL.

The defense features 6-foot-4, 200-pound senior tackle Matt Sorganan, 6-foot, 190-pound senior linebacker McKenna Wychocky, 6-foot-2, 240-pound junior tackle Josh Hilt, 5-foot-9, 180-pound senior linebacker Jake Bohne, 5-foot-7, 150-pound senior cornerback Andy Hensel and Alex and Andrew Gray, a pair of junior safeties who are 6-foot-3, 180-pound identical twins.

Sorganan was on the prep team last year. He saw only five snaps during the entire season. He was only 6-foot-1 as a junior. "But he had a great off-season. Now he is one of the best players on the team. His father played in the NFL. He is a late developer. His best days are in front of him," Ernst said.

The same can be said for Lincoln-Way West.

Former Bears DE Corey Wootton announces retirement

Former Bears DE Corey Wootton announces retirement

Former Bears defensive end Corey Wootton announced his retirement on Tuesday after a six-year NFL career.

The 28-year-old released this statement on his Twitter page:

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Wootton spent his first four seasons in Chicago before going to the Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions for one-year stints in 2014 and 2015.

Wootton had the best years of his career in 2012 and 2013, his final two seasons with the Bears. He played in all 16 games both seasons and combined for 10 sacks, 48 tackles and three forced fumbles.

Wootton was selected by the Bears in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL Draft.

David Rundblad, Blackhawks mutually part ways

David Rundblad, Blackhawks mutually part ways

The Blackhawks and David Rundblad have mutually agreed to terminate the defenseman’s contract, as generalfanager.com reported on Monday night.

With the contract terminated, the Blackhawks will not carry any type of Rundblad-related cap hit. If the Blackhawks had bought out Rundblad, they would have carried a $133,333 cap hit this season and a $183,333 the next season.

Per generalfanager.com, the Blackhawks now have approximately $2.3 million in cap space.

Rundblad was placed on waivers on July 1. The defenseman spent part of the 2015-16 season playing in Switzerland. He returned to the Blackhawks last spring and played in three of the team’s seven playoff games against the St. Louis Blues.

But Rundblad could never find a consistent place in the Blackhawks’ lineup. General manager Stan Bowman talked in July of Rundblad wanting a fresh start.

“He’s still a young guy, wants to get back to playing a lot of hockey and that’s why he wanted to go to Europe mid-season. We were willing to honor that request. We’ll let him find a spot where he knows he’ll be a regular player every day,” Bowman said in July. “He has a bright future. We wish him well. But it’s hard as a guy trying to establish yourself in the NHL if you don’t play a lot of minutes. But I think we’ll see David back in the NHL in a few years. I think he wants to find a better fit where he’ll play a lot.”

White Sox bullpen taking pride in slogging through heavy, high-stress workload

White Sox bullpen taking pride in slogging through heavy, high-stress workload

It might be figuratively held together with chicken wire and duct tape at this point, and it hasn’t been entirely effective recently. But the White Sox bullpen can’t be criticized for a lack of effort. 

Over the last four days, White Sox relievers have had to throw 19 1/3 innings. To recap: Starter Jacob Turner only lasted 3 1/3 innings Friday against the Detroit Tigers, then Chris Sale was scratched from his start Saturday after blowing up over the team’s uniforms and earning a five-game suspension. The White Sox bullpen shouldered Johnny Wholestaff duties and threw eight innings on Saturday — right-hander Matt Albers started and pitched two of those innings despite throwing an inning in the team’s last two games — in lieu of the team’s All-Star ace. 

David Robertson, who pitched a third of an inning in relief Saturday, pitched twice on Sunday (he allowed three solo home runs to the Tigers to blow the save in his second game). Nate Jones appeared in the first three games of the Tigers series, too, totaling 2 1/3 innings. 

On Monday, both Jones and Robertson were given a much-needed rest day. So Zach Duke, Albers and Dan Jennings were called upon by manager Robin Ventura to cover seven outs against the powerful Cubs lineup. Albers blew the save, but Jennings’ strikeout of Jason Heyward with the go-ahead run on second set up Tyler Saladino’s walk-off single to net the White Sox a 5-4 win. 

“We’ve picked up a lot of innings lately,” Robertson said. “Everybody’s just giving it everything they got right now. It’s obviously, we would’ve loved to have nothing but zeros go up, but that’s not the way baseball works. We’re facing a lot of good lineups. And we’ve just hung tough and tried to at least give us a chance to win. Thankfully, we’ve been very fortunate to walk off these last three games.” 

It’s not just the volume of innings that’s taxing the bullpen, though. With three consecutive walk-off wins — the first time the White Sox have done that since Aug. 4-6, 1962 — have come plenty of high-stress pitches. Over the last week, the White Sox bullpen has the highest average leverage index in baseball, and that’s with this group shouldering the generally low-leverage early innings of Saturday’s game in place of Sale. 

“The more we work, the more proud we are of what we do,” Jennings said. 

Still, this group could probably use a breather. Without an off day until Aug. 1, though, the only way to get one is to be ruled out for a game, as Robertson and Jones were on Monday. 

“Hopefully we can rotate, I know there’s some other guys that I know might need a day so maybe hopefully Nate and Robertson are really fresh tomorrow and we can build off that,” Jennings said. “(Or) maybe we can get that eight, nine, 10-run win where we can kind of sit back and relax a little bit, hopefully.”

Manager Robin Ventura said he went with seniority in choosing who to cover Jones and Robertson’s innings Monday, which helps explain why he didn’t use 2015 first-round pick Carson Fulmer against the Cubs. Fulmer’s recent control issues — he only threw 12 of 30 pitches for strikes in blowing a lead against the Tigers on Friday — could’ve played a factor, too. 

“You’re trusting the guys who have been here,” Ventura said. “You’ve got some new faces that are out there, it would’ve been asking a lot to bring them in and put them in that.”

White Sox relievers have squandered leads in each of the team’s last four games, though: Fulmer on Friday, Jones on Saturday, Robertson on Sunday and Albers/Jennings on Monday. In addition to a short outing from Turner and no outing from Sale, the White Sox are missing right-handers Jake Petricka and Zach Putnam from a group that looked to be fairly deep earlier in the season. 

The White Sox relief corps could certainly use a day off or at the least, as Jennings said, a blowout win where some of those young arms — Fulmer, Michael Ynoa and Tommy Kahnle — could polish off some low-pressure innings. But those easy wins have been few and far between this season: The White Sox only have three wins by more than three runs since May 14. 

So if that trend continues, this group is going to have to continue to cover plenty of high-stress innings without a break, at least for the next week. 

“Obviously the bullpen the last few days had to pick up the team, and we take pride in that,” Albers said. “Especially Nate and D-Rob were down today, shoot, they’ve been pitching every day too. Everybody else started to try to pick them up. That’s what we’re here for.”