Huntley claims Jacobs tournament crown

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Huntley claims Jacobs tournament crown

By Gene Chamberlain
Yourseason.com

It was a case of holi-deja vu for Huntleys Amanze Egekeze.

The 6-foot-6 sophomore forward did exactly the same thing against Crystal Lake Central Friday in the finals of the Jacobs Christmas Tournament that he did a month earlier to Dundee-Crown in the finals of Sycamores Strombom Thanksgiving tournament. Egekeze took control with his team struggling, got them the lead, and then the Red Raiders did the rest behind Bryce Only, Troy Miller, and Justin Frederick for a 55-49 victory.

The loss was the first of the season for Central.

Its always nice to have that type of talent on your team, Huntley coach Marty Manning said. He kind of got us back in the game.

Huntley (10-1) trailed by as much as eight in the first quarter, but Egekeze started working inside after the Red Raiders fell behind 19-13 early in the second quarter. He hit six second-quarter field goals in seven attempts to score 12 of his game-high 21 points then, and Huntley took a 28-25 halftime lead.

Once (Centrals) Kyle Fleck got two fouls, and we knew Amanze had a definite height advantage, we wanted to get the ball into him as much as possible and he took advantage of it, Manning said.

In the second half, Only and Frederick hit buckets right away to expand the lead to seven and it never got below four again.

I thought Troy and Bryce and Justin got our lead up for us in the second half, but without Amanze doing what he did in the second quarter, we probably would have been down eight at the half.

Miller had 13 points, Only nine and Frederick eight points and six boards. Only hit four straight points afer Central cut the deficit to 49-43 and then the Red Raiders were shooting free throws the rest of the way.

They were much more fundamental than we were tonight, Central coach Rich Czezlawski said. That and we didnt have an answer for Amanze.

Central (11-1) got got 17 points from Nick Marchetti and 11 points from Corbin Murphy.

Cubs' Dexter Fowler still steaming after first-ever ejection

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Cubs' Dexter Fowler still steaming after first-ever ejection

Three hours after being ejected, Dexter Fowler was still fuming.

Fowler - who leads Major League Baseball in on-base percentage - only got two at-bats Thursday night against the Washington Nationals before he was directed to hit the showers by home plate umpire Vic Carapazza.

Fowler struck out looking in his first two times to the plate and expressed his frustration with Carapazza on the field after his third-inning at-bat.

It didn't take long for Carapazza to give Fowler the boot.

Here's the rundown of the conversation, according to the Cubs's leadoff hitter:

Fowler: Was that pitch at the top of the zone?
Carapazza: Yes.
Fowler: Are you going to call them away, too, and down? What are we doing? I wanna know the strike zone.
Carapazza: That's enough.
Fowler: Enough of what? I'm asking you a question.

"And he threw me out," Fowler said. "I was surprised he didn't answer the question. He just walked away and said, 'That's enough.' I said, 'You're not gonna answer my question?' And he threw me out.

"I figure I got two more at-bats; I wanted to know the strike zone. Are you gonna call them up? Are you gonna call them away? Whatever. Just let me know. That's all."

Fowler said he has never been ejected from a game in his life at any level.

He admits he's said more than that before and hasn't gotten tossed. And he's also occasionally asked umpires where their strike zone is.

"People have answered my questions and I walked off," Fowler said. "That's all you want is an answer. ... Everybody knows I'm respectful. I wasn't being disrespectful at all. I just asked a question. It sucks I got thrown out of the game."

Fowler has been the Cubs' most productive offensive player this season, but his teammates still found a way to earn a 5-2 victory over the Nationals in his absence.

Joe Maddon was on his way out to argue when Fowler was tossed, but the Cubs manager wasn't as interested in getting into the whole ordeal after the game like his centerfielder was.

"I was arguing that we are a team that does not expand our strike zone," Maddon said. "That was my argument."

Why Dusty Baker believes these Cubs are better positioned than his Kerry Wood/Mark Prior teams

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Why Dusty Baker believes these Cubs are better positioned than his Kerry Wood/Mark Prior teams

The Washington Nationals PR guy made sure a red backdrop spelling out the team’s website and Twitter handle framed Dusty Baker’s pregame media session for the TV cameras. But you could still see an even bigger blue screen covered with Cubs logos and Wintrust advertising inside this corporate conference center.  

There are so many layers to Baker, so much history with a guy who’s spent almost 50 years in professional baseball, building a resume that’s probably one bullet point away from the Hall of Fame and shouldn’t be defined by Kerry Wood and Mark Prior.   

“Boy, this is different than the old interview room,” Baker said Thursday at Wrigley Field. “Look at this place. Before, I was in kind of like the dungeon over there around the corner. And then I walked in here and I saw the lights and stuff and I was ready to ‘Saturday Night Fever.’”

Inside their state-of-the-art clubhouse, the Cubs now have a Celebration Room, which they got to use after a 5-2 victory over the Nationals that pushed their best-in-baseball record to 21-6 with an absurd plus-96 run differential.  

Back managing a star-studded first-place team after two seasons away from the game, Baker knows all about huge expectations after guiding the 2003 Cubs to five outs away from the World Series, and then missing the playoffs with a 2004 team that won 89 games and might have been even better on paper.

So far, the 2016 Cubs are even better than the hype, and Baker believes they will be better positioned to withstand the attrition that wrecked what once looked like a great foundation.   

“I know they have more depth than we had,” Baker said. “They have a better bullpen than we had then, which is no consolation, but that’s why I had to stretch out my starters longer than I even wanted to, because we didn’t have the bullpen. Not to say we didn’t have a good bullpen, but at that time we had to make a big trade in order to make that push.”

A media/fan-driven narrative unfairly labeled Baker as a bad caretaker for young pitchers, and the way it ended with a last-place finish in 2006 probably helps explain the occasional shouting from the stands on Thursday night: “Dusty sucks!”  

“What kind of upset me a little bit is how much money they spent as soon as I left,” Baker said. “But I had to also realize that the Cubs weren’t spending money then because we were in the middle of the transition for the Tribune Company to be sold. 

“When you look back on things, ‘How come you didn’t do this?’ Or, ‘How come we didn’t do that?’ And then again, baseball takes a backseat to baseball business.”        

Baker is a three-time Manager of the Year who has won 1,690 games and already guided three different franchises to the playoffs. Cubs-Nationals would be a fascinating matchup in October.   

“Sometimes people appreciate you more when you’re gone than when you’re there,” Baker said. “On the other hand, I think many times about how I wanted to be the guy that won it in Chicago. We were close. 

“Now I’m in a similar situation in D.C. (The Nationals) haven’t been in existence that long. But baseball’s been in D.C. for a long period of time. This is the third try at baseball in D.C. since I’ve been alive. So now I got a new goal – to be the first guy to manage a team, take it to the World Series and win in D.C.”

Erik Johnson struggles in rotation audition as White Sox fall to Red Sox

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Erik Johnson struggles in rotation audition as White Sox fall to Red Sox

The situation regarding the fifth spot in the White Sox rotation is still fluid after Erik Johnson made his first start on Thursday night.

When he announced Tuesday that John Danks would be designated for assignment, White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said little is certain about the final spot in the rotation after the club parted with its struggling veteran pitcher.

The team’s next move is to be determined as the White Sox optioned Johnson back to Triple-A Charlotte after a 7-3 loss to the Boston Red Sox in front of 20, 126 at U.S. Cellular Field. Johnson retired seven of his last eight he faced, but not before he allowed four earned runs with eight hits and three walks in five innings.

“I felt like I found my rhythm there,” Johnson said. “I definitely -- I know I have more to offer for this team and I know I expect more out of myself.”

Not much looked easy for Johnson, who officially was promoted from Triple-A Charlotte earlier in the day.

After he struck out leadoff man Mookie Betts in the first, Dustin Pedroia homered on the first pitch he saw from Johnson. It would be a sign of things to come for Johnson, the 2015 International League pitcher of the year.

Johnson put two more men on in the first, including a walk to Hanley Ramirez, one of 16 combined free passes by the clubs. He put at least one runner on in four of the five innings worked and stranded six men in his first three frames alone as Boston built an early 4-1 lead.

The Red Sox forced Johnson to throw 81 pitches through three innings.

He pitched well in the fourth and fifth innings, which allowed the White Sox to rally. But the 108 pitches needed to complete those innings knocked him out early.

“It was a tough one to navigate through,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “Erik finally got his footing and got through it. But you’re looking at a high pitch count, he’s up over 100. It can be better.”

Hahn and the White Sox quickly moved on from Danks because they don’t want to see their chances of contending this season done in by a weak link in the rotation. Hahn said Tuesday he has several other options at Triple-A if Johnson’s first audition lasted one start.

The White Sox could again turn to Miguel Gonzalez, whom they signed early last month and has already made one start. He allowed five runs in Toronto on April 25 in a contest the White Sox eventually rallied to win.

The right-hander, who won 30 games for the Baltimore Orioles from 2012-14, last pitched on Wednesday night for Charlotte. He allowed two runs and eight hits in 5 2/3 innings with seven strikeouts and has a 2.65 ERA in 17 innings for the Knights. Gonzalez has 18 strikeouts and only four walks.

The club could also call upon Jacob Turner, who has a 3.04 ERA in five starts at Charlotte. But Turner has struggled in his past two outings, allowing seven earned runs and 12 hits in 9 2/3 innings.

If the White Sox -- whose fifth starters are 0-5 with a 7.44 ERA in 32 2/3 innings -- aren’t satisfied with their internal options, Hahn said they’d consider external ones, too.

The White Sox offense had plenty of chances against Henry Owens and an entourage of Boston relievers to earn the win.

But the big hit avoided them every time.

Jose Abreu grounded into a double play in the first with runners on the corners and no outs, a play which tied the game as Adam Eaton scored from third. Abreu also struck out with two on in the third and and Melky Cabrera and Brett Lawrie couldn’t come through later in the inning with the bases loaded.

Avisail Garcia’s solo shot in the fourth got the White Sox within 4-2. But Abreu flew out to left with the bases loaded to end the threat.

Hector Sanchez drew a bases-loaded walk in the fifth to make it a one-run game. But Lawrie was thrown out at home on Austin Jackson’s one-out fly to shallow right -- a call Robin Ventura contested because he believed Ryan Hanigan improperly blocked home plate. Replay officials disagreed with Ventura and the White Sox trailed by a run.

Red Sox relievers retired 12 of the last 14 men they faced and Boston scored three times off the White Sox bullpen to pull away.

“Obviously, I beat the throw,” Lawrie said. “Yeah, he blocked me.

“I thought I was in there because I got through him. Yep, just one of those things again.

“(They made) pitches when they needed to. But that’s how baseball goes sometimes. So gotta suck it up and move on to tomorrow.”