North Chicago falls short as Peoria Central wins 3A championship

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North Chicago falls short as Peoria Central wins 3A championship

By Michael O'Brien
YourSeason.com

PEORIA, ILNorth Chicago senior Aaron Simpson was a star as soon as he stepped on the high school court, helping the Warhawks advance deep into the state playoffs his entire career. He was generally at his best in March.

That Simpson magic helped spark a North Chicago fourth-quarter comeback Saturday, but it wasnt enough. Peoria Central beat the Warhawks 72-64 to win the Class 3A state championship.

Simpson scored 26 points, shooting 10-for-26 from the field. He scored 10 points in the fourth quarter, his layup with 4:28 to play brought North Chicago within four points, but that was as close as it would get.

Simpson finishes his career as North Chicagos all-time leading scorer, with third- and fourth-place trophies in the state tournament.

We are going to miss Aaron, North Chicago coach Gerald Coleman said. Its a sad day for me. I had been waiting on him since sixth grade. To coach him was awesome. We always had 25 points before tip-off.

The Warhawks led for most of the first quarter, but Peoria Central started to assert itself midway through the second quarter. The Lions had a definite size advantage.

They made us change a lot of shots, that was a factor, Simpson said.

Peoria Central led by 14 late in the third quarter. North Chicago staged a steady, valiant comeback at that point, using a 13-5 run to cut the deficit to four on Simpsons layup. But the effort took a toll.

Fatigue got to us, Simpson said. We were tired. We didnt have a lot of guys that were able to come in and play for us.

Simpson made a point to compliment Peoria Central senior Jerrell White.

White is a great player, Simpson said. He played a lot of defense on me.

Sophomore JaVairius Amos-Mays scored 17 and grabbed eight rebounds and sophomore Kurt Hall scored 11 and had eight rebounds for the Warhawks (25-7).

We have three very good sophomores, Coleman said. Im very excited about next years team.

The first half was a showcase for Peoria Central senior Aldonis Foote, who threw down two spectacular dunks and blocked a North Chicago three-point attempt five rows into the seats. He scored 17 points.

I didnt know he could do that, Simpson said. I was surprised too.

Peoria Centrals last state title was in 2004, the second consecutive championship for the team captained by Shaun Livingston, who was in the NBA just a few months later.

The Lions have won five state championships and their program is one of the most prestigious in the state.

Good for our school, our program, our city, Peoria Central coach Dan Ruffin said. Peoria High is the pride of Peoria right now. My kids were fantastic today.

Over the past two seasons, North Chicago has slowly begun to earn some respect. The Warhawks beat two highly-regarded programs: Marshall and Springfield Lanphier, to advance to the title game.

We made it a step better than last year, Coleman said. Im proud of our kids. I thought they left it out on the court.

"There are a whole lot of teams that would love to be in second place. Its good for our community.

Jose Quintana giving White Sox another ace to play as early season success rolls on

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Jose Quintana giving White Sox another ace to play as early season success rolls on

The White Sox newfound brand of crisp, clean baseball is suiting Jose Quintana awfully well. 

The 27-year-old left-hander pitched another gem Tuesday night, firing eight innings of one-run ball to propel the White Sox to a 4-1 win over the Boston Red Sox in front of 15,025 at U.S. Cellular Field.

Anchored by improved offensive and defensive support, Quintana lowered his season ERA to 1.40. But more jarring — in a positive way — is that in earning the win on Tuesday, Quintana for the first time in his career won three consecutive starts. 

“It’s way better this year,” Quintana said. “The offense is, for me and for everybody, everybody tries to do his job. We’re off to a really good start and we believe this year is a good year for us, and we’ll try to do everything to stay in first place.”

Quintana’s posted consistently solid results since the White Sox plucked him from Double-A Birmingham to start in a doubleheader against the Cleveland Indians four years ago. His decidedly-not-flashy-but-effective pitching style didn’t make headlines like his prolific teammate Chris Sale, but a 3.46 ERA and an unfairly poor win-loss record landed him on plenty of lists and social media takes focused on the most underrated or overlooked players in baseball. 

That’s changed this year. Before his stellar start Tuesday, Quintana was given 8/1 odds by the sports betting website Bovada to win the American League Cy Young, the third-best of anyone (Sale led the way at 6/5). It’s still early, of course, but these six starts to begin the 2016 season stand is one of the best stretches he’s had in his career. 

Manager Robin Ventura attributed Quintana’s ace-like success in part to pitching with a little less pressure than in the past. 

“There is something to be said for going out there thinking if you give up one you’re going to lose,” Ventura said. “It’s been a few years for him. Right now (with) the feeling going on in there, he knows if he just pitches his game those guys are going to scratch out some runs for him.”

The White Sox continue to show signs of ending a head-scratching inability to support Quintana. 

Jose Abreu’s first-inning RBI triple got the White Sox scoring started and his double in the eighth added two insurance runs (a Todd Frazier groundout in the third inning plated the White Sox other run). For the fifth time in six starts this season, Quintana was supported by four or more runs, and Adam Eaton and Austin Jackson made sparkling defensive plays to keep hard-hit balls from inflicting any damage. 

Having the offense score four or more runs in 83 percent of Quintana’s starts seems unlikely — if he makes 32 starts this year, that’d mean he’d get that support in about 27 of those — but it is an improvement off the last few seasons. The White Sox scored three or fewer runs in 54 percent of Quintana’s starts from 2013-15, a span in which it’s worth noting the club also was rated as having the third-worst defense in baseball by DRS and UZR. 

“There’s more of a confidence level of him knowing he doesn’t have to do an extraordinary thing — and he might do it, like tonight,” Ventura said. “But he doesn’t feel like he has to do it on his own.”

Quintana isn’t throwing harder this year and hasn’t added a new pitch or anything like that. But Ventura’s theory on why the Colombia native is pitching better makes sense — perhaps the next step in Quintana’s career was getting a good, reliable team playing behind him.

“He’s probably one of the best right now in the league,” first baseman Jose Abreu said through a translator. 

That’s not hyperbole. Quintana has a top-10 ERA that’s backed up by a 2.12 FIP, which is a good indicator that his early-season success isn’t necessarily a small sample size-generated mirage. 

Quintana is a shining example of how so much has gone right for the White Sox this season — even on the day in which the team announced it would eat over $11 million to cut ties with veteran left-hander John Danks. Not only is he pitching better, but everyone around him is playing better. And the combination of that, so far, has taken Quintana and the White Sox to another level. 

“Everything changed,” Quintana said. “Everything is going in a good direction this year. We believe in that.”

Today on CSN: Lester, Cubs go for sweep in Pittsburgh

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Today on CSN: Lester, Cubs go for sweep in Pittsburgh

The Cubs look to sweep the Pittsburgh Pirates this afternoon, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 11 a.m. Then catch first pitch with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Today’s starting pitching matchup: Jon Lester (2-1, 1.83) vs. Juan Nicasio (3-2, 3.33)

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

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Rick Hahn: Filling fifth spot in White Sox rotation a 'fluid situation'

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Rick Hahn: Filling fifth spot in White Sox rotation a 'fluid situation'

Erik Johnson gets the first chance at the No. 5 spot in the White Sox rotation, but the situation is hardly finalized.

The White Sox announced Tuesday that they would promote Johnson from Triple-A Charlotte in time to make Thursday’s start in place of John Danks, whom they will officially designated for assignment later this week. But just because Johnson gets the first start doesn’t mean he’s here for good, general manager Rick Hahn said.

Hahn and the White Sox have made it clear they want better production from the fifth spot, whether it's from an internal or an external option.

“It’s going to be a bit of a fluid situation,” Hahn said.

Hahn is comfortable with the team’s internal options at Charlotte beyond Johnson.

Miguel Gonzalez, who started last Monday in Toronto, has a solid major league track record. Then there’s Jacob Turner, who has 27 strikeouts in 26 2/3 innings with a 3.04 ERA in five starts.

But Hahn also said the White Sox wouldn’t shy away from looking outside the farm system, either. Hahn declined to answer whether or not the White Sox would watch Tim Lincecum’s tryout Friday in Scottsdale, Ariz. before he noted the club has “scouts everywhere.”

The White Sox could also try and use their internal options to get by for several months before adding another pitcher ahead of the trade deadline.

No matter whom they turn to, the expectation is better results than the White Sox received from Danks, who was 0-4 with a 7.25 ER in four starts.

“Obviously, Erik starts on Thursday,” Hahn said. “After that, we may well make another move next week as we try to accomplish two things with that spot -- first and foremost, get greater production than we’ve been receiving thus far this year.”

“We do have a few internal options.

“If it does get to the point where we’re better off going outside the organization, obviously we’ve never been shy about doing that.”