Hebron to celebrate its 60th

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Hebron to celebrate its 60th

For those of us who recall sitting in front of a tiny black-and-white television set--was it an Emerson or Philco or RCA Victor?--and watching the first live telecast of the Illinois high school basketball tournament in 1952 and listening to Jack Drees describe the action...well, it is hard to believe that Hebron's state championship team is celebrating the 60th anniversary of the event this year.

"Sometimes it feels like 60 years and sometimes it doesn't," said Bill Schulz, the 6-foot-11 center on that storybook Hebron team. "Memories are getting faded now. The whole experience we had, a bunch of young kids, it was tremendous. It gave all five of the starters a Division I scholarship.

"We have been close for all these years. We still see each other a couple of times a year. Normally this time of year my wife and I are in Florida or Arizona. But we got notice last October that they planned on something for March 18. So we aren't going to Cubs spring training, not this year. We're staying home."

Schulz and two other starters, Phil Judson and Ken Spooner, definitely plan to attend the March 18 reunion in Hebron. Another starter, Paul Judson, Phil's twin, was involved in a serious automobile accident on Thanksgiving near his home in Florida and currently is rehabbing at home under the care of his older brother, former White Sox pitcher Howard Judson. He hopes to be able to make the trip in March.

The fifth starter, Don Wilbrandt, died in 1998.

Reserves Jim Wilbrandt, Bill Thayer, Jim Bergin and Joe Schmidt also will attend the reunion. The other, Clayton Ihrke, is deceased.

The 60th anniversary celebration, or 5260 as the organizing committee has dubbed it, is being planned by Bobette and Mel Von Bergen, who own a vegetable farm on the east side of Hebron. Bobette is a 1961 graduate of Hebron.

"This is our third reunion," Bobette said. "We did the 40th and 50th. My brother was in the seventh grade in 1952. He was involved in basketball and went to games with my folks. He didn't go to the championship game. He watched on TV, a little black-and-white screen. I think everybody in Hebron and the surrounding area bought TVs that year.

"It was something we were very proud of," Bobette said. "We didn't realize how big it was at the time. Basketball was big in Hebron. We always had players come back at different times for the booster club. Then we decided we should celebrate it."

The 5250 celebration was highlighted by a book signing by Scott Johnson, an assistant executive director of the Illinois High School Association, who wrote the book, "Once There Were Giants," with his wife Julie Kistler. It was published by the IHSA in 2002.

The March 18 event will feature "A Taste of Hebron" with food provided by local restaurants, including roasted chicken from Crandall's and mostaccioli from Back House. Schulz, Spooner and the Judson twins will participate in a Q&A session. A luncheon with the champions is scheduled. Townspeople will dress in 1950s attire.

At the time, Hebron had a population of 700. The school had an enrollment of 98 students. Today, the town has 1,100 residents. But, like most towns, hard economic times have had a negative effect. Two subdivisions went bankrupt. The water tower in the form of a basketball, built in the 1980s, remains the town's landmark. But most factories have closed. So has Gabel's drugstore and several other businesses. The bank has moved to a
different location.

But who can forget Hebron?

It not only was the first school to win a state championship on live television, it was the first district school to win and it was the smallest school ever to win, before or since. It was Cinderella in sneakers. Everybody was cheering for the little school that could.

The Little Giants, coached by Russ Ahearn, won 34 of 35 games. Surprisingly, at the end of the regular season, they were ranked No. 1 in the state ahead of such traditional powers as Centralia, West Rockford, Quincy and Thornton.

In the state finals, they defeated Champaign 55-46, Lawrenceville 65-55, Rock Island 64-56 and Quincy 64-59 in overtime. In the final, Schulz scored 24 points, Paul Judson 13, Phil Judson 12 and Don Wilbrandt 10 as Hebron overcame Quincy's Bruce Brothers, who finished with 20 before fouling out.

"Not too many people are around who remember back then," said Schulz, who suffered a slight stroke in October. "I work out on Monday, Wednesday and Friday in a gym and most of the people I work out with are the same age. They all remember it. Everybody was for us, other than the people from Quincy. It was kind of a feel-good deal, the whole experience."

Spooner said it is "amazing" how many people he comes in contact with who aren't even 60 years old but have heard the story about Hebron. He still is amazed that a school of 98 students could beat schools with enrollments of 1,000 and 2,000 students, big schools such as Danville, Oak Park, Quincy and Kankakee.

"It amazes me how many people were impacted by what we did," Spooner said. "Everybody was cheering for us because of the smallness of the school but we only had five or six players who warmed up during the regular season. People who came from little schools were inspired by what we did.

"It was a numbing experience when it was over. We were jumping around on the floor. I have a picture of me jumping in the air and yelling after we won. Personally, I didn't realize what it meant for many, many years. We had reunions but nothing fancy until the 50th. At the book signing, a neighbor had to wait in line for 2 12 hours to have me sign a book. It hit home to me at that point.

"The same thing happened at Peoria. People wanted to meet us. We felt like rock stars. It was overwhelming. It was the first time that it really sunk in for me, the impact that our whole experience had on people. I still have my old jersey and a lot of scrapbooks."

So do the Judson twins. "Sixty years? It does feel like it when you look at the calendar. It's gone by pretty quickly, the older you get. But it feels like we could go out and play a little bit. Every day somebody reminds me of the team," Phil said.

What he remembers most are some of the games, how they were trailing a big and muscular Rock Island team by three points at the start of the fourth quarter in the semifinals, then scored 14 points in a row to win.

"When the tournament began, the coach wrote the number 11 on a chalkboard. "Win the next 11 games and you win the state title," Ahearn told his players. In those days, the small schools started at the district level, then moved to the regional with the bigger schools.

"When we got to the final against Quincy, the coach told us that they had an All-American in Bruce Brothers," Phil said. "Back then, you didn't see TV or listen to the radio or read the newspapers. So you didn't know about your opponents.

"Quincy finished third the year before and had three starters back. But we expected to win. We weren't intimidated. The coach said they had a zone press. We hadn't heard about it. He said (Taylorville star) Billy Ridley couldn't dribble through it, that we had to pass the ball, not dribble.

"We handled it really well. Spooner passed to Schulz at the top of the key and he passed to Paul or me on the weak side. Then one of us would break to the middle. We had a three-on-two fast break. We finally pulled it out in overtime."

After 60 years, he still remembers every play, every shot, every exciting moment. He can't wait until March 18.

Preview: White Sox aim for 20th win in series finale vs. Red Sox on CSN+

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Preview: White Sox aim for 20th win in series finale vs. Red Sox on CSN+

The White Sox aim for win No. 20 in their series finale against the Boston Red Sox tonight on Comcast SportsNet Plus. Coverage begins with White Sox Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on White Sox Postgame Live.

Today’s starting pitching matchup: Henry Owens (0-0) vs. Erik Johnson (0-0)

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

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David Ortiz paces Red Sox past Carlos Rodon, White Sox

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David Ortiz paces Red Sox past Carlos Rodon, White Sox

Carlos Rodon hasn’t been too far off the mark in his outings early in 2016.

His April 18 start aside, the team’s 2014 first-round pick has thrown the ball very well. Yet six starts into his sophomore campaign, Rodon has a 1-4 record.

The young White Sox left-hander made only one big mistake on Wednesday night and Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz took advantage. Ortiz’s fifth-inning home run off a Rodon fastball got the Red Sox on track and they tacked on several runs late to snap a three-game winning streak for the White Sox, who fell 5-2 in front of 14,383 at U.S. Cellular Field. Jose Abreu homered, but that was all for the 19-9 White Sox, who were stymied by seven sharp innings from Clay Buchholz.

“Just one pitch, and that’s the name of this game I guess,” Rodon said. “One pitch changes the game pretty dramatically. That’s why people love baseball I guess.”

Rodon has discovered the importance of one pitch several times this season.

He threw an outstanding game in his first start at Oakland on April 6 only to be felled by an opposite-field homer by Mark Canha. In his last turn in Baltimore, Rodon was on cruise control before his defense did him in. Later in the contest, Rodon allowed another opposite-field blast to Nolan Reimold, which sealed the southpaw’s fate.

On Wednesday, Ortiz taught him a lesson after Rodon issued a two-out walk to Xander Bogaerts with the White Sox leading 2-1 in the fifth. Rodon left a 1-1 fastball over the plate and Ortiz turned on it and drove it 397 feet to right on a windy, cold night.

“Don’t throw a fastball down the middle to Big Papi,” Rodon said.

It was the sixth homer of the season and 509th of his career for Ortiz, who is set to retire after the season ends.

But Big Papi wasn’t done yet.

He followed a pair of one-out singles in the seventh inning with one of his own against Zach Duke. Ortiz beat a White Sox shift and dribbled a single through an open spot on the left side of the infield to drive in run No. 22 on the season and put Boston ahead 4-2. The Red Sox added another run in the eighth.

Ortiz, 40, is hitting .311/.404/.633.

“He comes up big in certain situations,” White Sox leadoff man Adam Eaton said. “Ortiz is a heck of a hitter, and he’s gonna make you pay.”

The White Sox couldn’t do the same with Buchholz, who entered the game 0-3 with a 6.51 ERA. Eaton said the right-hander kept them off-balance by using all five of his pitches. Buchholz appeared to have trouble keeping the ball down in the first as Eaton flew out deep to left ahead of a Jimmy Rollins single and Abreu’s two-run homer, his first since April 19. Abreu’s fourth homer snapped a 61-plate appearance drought and put the White Sox ahead 2-0.

But Buchholz settled in and retired 19 of the last 22 batters he faced, including 10 in a row.

He limited the White Sox to two runs and three hits while striking out six.

“We got off well there, Jimmy getting on and Jose hitting a homer, but we can’t stop there,” Eaton said. “You know as an offense you can’t stop there.”

A lack of run support has also been an early theme in Rodon’s starts.

The team has scored a total of 10 runs with Rodon on the mound in six starts. Entering Wednesday, his 2.1 run support average per nine innings ranked 67th among 73 qualified starters, according to baseball-reference.com.

The limited backing has often left Rodon -- who minus his April 18 start against the Los Angeles Angels has a 3.03 ERA -- susceptible to one mistake costing him the game.

“I think he learns something every time out there,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “There's something to be gained from it and for him, he's going to be better for it. He's got great stuff, a competitor and all that, but you always learn stuff as you're going through this. Even looking at Sale or Quintana, they're still doing things and you learn something every time you're out there. Carlos is no different.

“We know he's a good pitcher, but even the good ones run through tough stretches.”

Jose Abreu's hot streak a good sign for White Sox

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Jose Abreu's hot streak a good sign for White Sox

Jose Abreu made it official on Wednesday night -- he’s on fire.

Everyone around the White Sox has known this hot streak would soon arrive. They saw signs in Toronto and again in Baltimore as he began to drive the ball to right with authority. They heard the sounds his lumber produced when he smacked another pitch.

But the first baseman confirmed it in the first inning Wednesday when he snapped a 61-plate appearance homeless streak with a towering two-run homer to left. And the idea that the White Sox have played as well as they have without consistent production from Abreu has the club very optimistic about its chances to contend this season.

“It’s awesome,” leadoff man Adam Eaton said. “You know it’s going to happen. He’s never not going to get going and be the type of hitter he is.”

“You’ve seen the month we’ve had and realistically without him producing a tremendous amount, without really the hitters producing a tremendous amount. The pitching staff has really carried us.”

Abreu has been a dominant force in the lineup in each of his two previous seasons. The 2014 American League Rookie of the Year has produced 9.3 Wins Above Replacement in his first two seasons, according to baseball-reference.com.

But until this last week, Abreu hasn’t been himself.

He hit .229/.303/.354 in April with 13 RBIs, the fewest he’s ever had in the opening month of the season. He chased pitches that weren’t his and got away from his game, rifling inside fastballs to right field. Yet the lengthy slump from a player who hit .303/.364/.540 with 66 homers and 208 RBIs in his first two seasons hasn’t dramatically hurt the White Sox, who entered Wednesday with the best record in the AL.

Abreu said the stretch reminds him of 2009 when he got out to a slow start and his team, the Elefantes de Cienfuegos, continued to play well in the Occidental Division of the Cuban National Series. Despite Abreu’s early slump, Cienfuegos finished in second place in the division and earned a postseason birth as it did in each of Abreu’s final eight seasons.

“I’ve had this moment before in Cuba,” Abreu said through an interpreter. “I was struggling and the team was winning games.

“We won that year. That’s the same kind of feeling as I’m having right now because we’re getting all together, working hard and pulling in the same direction and that’s probably something God has for us for the season and I’m happy.”

Manager Robin Ventura might like similar results from this situation. Abreu finished the 2009 season hitting .399/.555/.822 with 30 homers and 76 RBIs in 393 plate appearances. Projected out to 600 plate appearances, Abreu would wind up with 45 round-trippers, or nine more than his career high.

No matter what kind of numbers Abreu produces, it’s clear he’s in a better position to do it after a slow start. From April 25 through Tuesday, Abreu hit .406/.486/.531 with nine RBIs in 37 plate appearances. While he hadn’t gone deep in that span, Abreu walked five times and struck out only three.

Abreu said it’s a function of improved timing. He feels right when he drives the ball on a line to right as he did throughout a four-game series in Baltimore. Those are the signs Ventura has seen plenty of lately.

“It sounds better,” Ventura said. “His hands work better. It just seemed like he could pull the inside pitch a little better and drive some more to right field. He was working on it, probably gave up a couple of at-bats trying to find it, knowing it might not look right. We could tell what he was trying to do, and I think it has helped him as we got home, how it feels for him.”

Eaton looks forward to what it can mean for the White Sox. The offense entered Wednesday with 45 runs in the past eight games after it produced 62 in the first 21.  

“He stays inside the ball really well, he goes the other way really well,” Eaton said. “That’s where his power is and somebody hangs one, he’ll pull it

“When he starts doing that and barreling balls the other way, and they throw a 95-mph heater on the inside part of the plate, he shoots it to right with authority and that’s when you know Jose is going.

“It should be interesting once he gets going and gets in a rhythm.”