High School Lites Preview: Semifinal weekend

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High School Lites Preview: Semifinal weekend

Looming and Lurking.

If you've followed CSN's prep coverage all season, you'll know that phrase from our CSN Top 20 rankings. It represents the teams on the cusp of making our weekly list of the top Chicagoland football teams. But it now represents Memorial Stadium in Champaign for 32 teams across Illinois-- it's within sight, but there's still some road to be traveled.

Comcast SportsNet Chicago will cover every semifinal game in Chicagoland on Saturday as teams look to secure a berth in a state championship game. We'll bring you action from the north shore all the way to Morris. Could it be an all-Catholic Blue title game in 8A? Can Benet's amazing run continue in 7A? Will Cary-Grove get back to Champaign once again? And who will win the epic rematch of the 2011 5A championship between Joliet Catholic and Montini?

Here is a snapshot of every game High School Lites will profile on Saturday night's 10:30 p.m. show. The rankings reflect the class seeds in the IHSA playoffs.

8A:

No. 4 Glenbard North (11-1) at No. 2 Loyola (11-1), 1:00 p.m.

Loyola has traditionally been known for their air-tight defense over the years. But they might get one of their biggest tests as running back Justin Jackson and the Panthers come to Wilmette. Jackson scored four touchdowns last week to help North secure a 29-23 win at Maine South. Loyola, who defeated Glenbard North 28-13 in last year's 8A semifinal, features Peter Pujals at quarterback and a defense that shut down a very good Palatine offense last week.

No. 3 Mount Carmel (11-1) at No. 1 Neuqua Valley (12-0), 6:00 p.m.

A lot has been said about Mount Carmel's option offense in this space. But check out their defensive numbers: no team has scored more than 10 points on Frank Lenti's crew in the playoffs. Defensive lineman Enoch Smith has helped contribute to those numbers. He'll have a battle Saturday in trying to keep Joey Rhattigan out of the end zone. Neuqua's dominant running back carried the ball 41 times for 293 yards and three scores against Waubonsie Valley in the quarterfinals.

7A:

No. 6 Lake Zurich (10-2) vs. No. 1 Glenbard West (12-0), 1:00 p.m. at Glenbard South

Last week's downpour --and ensuing quarterfinal game-- turned Glenbard West's field into a surface akin to a Chicago street in winter. Thus, the change to a better playing surface at Glenbard South. This figures to be a black and blue war. Both teams have shut-down defenses. West kept Wheaton North off the scoreboard last week while Lake Zurich held down a potent Boylan offense to advance. These two teams met in the playoffs last year, with Lake Zurich winning 10-3. Could be a similar score come Saturday.

No. 1 Lincoln-Way East (12-0) at No. 2 Benet (11-1), 6:00 p.m.

Mike Clark of the Chicago Sun-Times made a great point during our weekly video segment: should Benet still be treated as a Cinderella? Sure, they've bounced back amazingly from 1-8 last year. But this is a team that has earned merit with each victory. The ESCC co-champs took down Downers Grove North in a 26-24 thriller last week. Sophomore QB Jack Beneventi has played quite well. He'll face a stingy East defense that picked Edwardsville apart last week. LWE quarterback Tom Fuessel is one of the state's best.

6A:

No. 1 Cary-Grove (12-0) at No. 10 Lake Forest (9-3), 4:00 p.m.

The Trojans are no strangers to playing in November. C-G won state in '09 and finished second in '04. This year's team features a game-changing running back in Kyle Norberg. Lake Forest may not have the playoff history as Cary-Grove but they have the weapons get to Champaign. Quarterback Andrew Clifford has paced the offense while the defense has made headlines recently. Trent Williams had six sacks in last week's 31-19 victory over Notre Dame in last week's quarterfinal.

No. 1 Crete-Monee (12-0) at No. 3 Lemont (11-1), 6:00 p.m.

Yes, high school football is a team game, but this matchup features some of the area's best prep athletes. Crete-Monee's Laquon Treadwell is a nationally-ranked wide receiver who is also a solid defender in the secondary. Lemont features big-name lineman in Ethan Pocic (committed to LSU) and Tim McAullife (Bowling Green). C-M's defense has shut down quality opponents like Ottawa and their Illinois-bound running back Miguel Hermosilo. Lemont advanced by beating South Suburban rival Oak Forest.

5A:

No. 3 Montini (10-2) at No. 12 Joliet Catholic (8-4), 1:00 p.m.

Two main angles: (1) Can anything top the epic 70-45 thriller from last year's 5A title game? Montini defeated JCA despite 515 yards and six touchdowns from Ty Isaac. The USC-bound running back, along with backfield mates Tyler Reitz and Mike Ivlow, will look for revenge. (2) It's a game featuring teams who have overcome injuries. JCA's backfield has been hit by the injury bug and Montini's playmakers have missed time as well. Can Montini QB Mark Gorogianis top his 240-yard, five-TD performance last week?

No. 3 Sacred-Heart Griffin (11-1) at No. 2 Morris (11-1), 3:00 p.m.

The visiting Cyclones have scored no less than 33 points since their only loss of the season (to Cathedral of Indianapolis). Running backs Tavion Whitaker and Chris Harris have accounted for a lot of those gaudy numbers. Morris has quite the running back of their own in Reese Sobol. SHG advanced by beating Glenwood and Morris survived Washington in overtime. It figures to be a great game between teams that are synonymous with Illinois playoff football this time of year.

4A:

No. 1 Alleman (11-1) at No. 7 Evergreen Park (9-3), 6:00 p.m.

It's another intriguing rematch on our slate, as Rock Island's Alleman High School fell to the Mustangs in last year's playoffs. Evergreen Park has gone on the road to defeat North Chicago and Richmond-Burton. They beat Brooks 37-14 at home last week. Quarterback Brandon White, who has 36 touchdowns (22 passing) on the year, will face an Alleman defense that was catapulted by two key interceptions in a victory at Coal City in last week's quarterfinal. John Tracey had two touchdowns.

We'll also check in with 3A's Aurora Christian squad as they take on Sterling Newman Central Catholic, along with Chicago's Catholic League Championship contenders (Brother Rice and St. Rita) and the Public League Championship between Morgan Park and Simeon.

Our Muscle Milk Team of the Week is Crete-Monee. How have the Warriors put it together to reach the semifinals for the first time in school history? Plus, well also catch you up with Joliet Catholic in this weeks Drive segment, presented by Northern Illinois University. And well take a drive down Memory Lane in Flashback and bring you up-to-the-minute scores from across Chicagoland.

And make sure you stay with Comcast SportsNet next weekend. We will air all eight of the state championship games from Memorial Stadium in Champaign. The 1A-4A games take place on Friday November 23rd, while the 5A-8A games have the spotlight the following day. The action begins at 10am each day. Our Matt Bowen provides color commentary on the 7A and 8A games, while Susannah Collins has sideline reports on the 3A, 4A, 7A and 8A games.

High School Lites streams this Saturday night on CSNChicago.com.

We invite you to share your story ideas as well. Check us out at: highschoollites@comcastsportsnet.com

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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— Latest on the White Sox: All of the most recent news and notes.

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

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.”