Siemian, Wildcats open home slate in style

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Siemian, Wildcats open home slate in style

EVANSTON -- It was a little bit of deja vu for coach Pat Fitzgerald and the Northwestern Wildcats in the home opener Saturday.

A week after Trevor Siemian led a late drive to sneak out of Syracuse with a one-point win, the sophomore quarterback was back at it against Vanderbilt in a 23-13 win over the Commodores at Ryan Field.

The Wildcats' offense had sputtered all game until Siemian made his second appearance in the contest with his team down 10-6 in the third quarter. He completed 5-of-6 passes and engineered an 86-yard drive, ending in Venric Mark's seven-yard touchdown scamper.

The Commodores (0-2) promptly marched down the field on the next drive, but the Northwestern (2-0) defense held up in the red zone and forced a field goal.

Rain started to trickle down as Siemian took the ball on the Wildcats' next drive, which seemed to be fizzling out as the clock ticked down under four minutes. But on a third-and-15, the 6-foot-3 Florida native fired a pass toward wide receiver Rashad Lawrence on the sideline, who appeared to come down with the catch before losing control of the ball and fumbling out of bounds.

The referees reviewed the play and after a few tense moments, confirmed the call on the field that it was, indeed, a 34-yard reception and -- more importantly -- a first down.

"I didn't think he held on to it, to be honest with you," Siemian said. "And then it took a while and I thought maybe they're gonna swing it our way. Credit to Rashad. He made a heck of a catch. For him to be able to stick that one was huge for us."

Siemian finished the march down field and Jeff Budzien kicked an 18-yard field goal, his third of the day.

On the ensuing possession, Northwestern defensive end Tyler Scott forced a fumble from Vanderbilt quarterback Jordan Rodgers -- the younger brother of Packers superstar Aaron Rodgers -- and the Wildcats recovered, all but ending the game.

"As a defense, we said we weren't done," Scott said. "We wanted to go out there and get some pressure on Jordan and cause him to throw the ball away or do something. It turned out even better."

Wildcats quarterback Kain Colter put the final stamp on the victory with a 29-yard dash to the endzone after he appeared to be trapped on another third-and-15. Colter finished with 66 yards on the ground and 42 through the air.

"Great to get a win. Very appreciative of our students. The crowd tonight was great," Fitzgerald said of the 31,644 fans in attendance, many of whom stuck around despite the fourth-quarter rain.

"It was the largest crowd we've had for a non-conference opener in a long time. To see the amount of students today with us not being in class yet was something special. You play for that, hopefully represent them the right way and I was just very appreciative of them coming out."

The fans didn't have much to cheer about in the first half, as the Wildcats put up just 85 yards of offense, only 10 of which came through the air. Colter and Siemian combined for an ugly 3-for-10 completion rate.

"Offensively, we fought ourselves today for a while," Fitzgerald said. "I'm not trying to discredit Vanderbilt. They played well and they had a great plan. But we have to throw the ball better, we have to catch the ball better and we've gotta execute better if we're gonna win moving forward.

"That was probably my biggest disappointment going into half, was the plays we left out there...I think we can be better than that. I really do. That's what we talked about at halftime."

Whatever Fitzgerald said apparently worked, as Northwestern outscored the Commodores 20-3 in the second half, including 17 fourth-quarter points. Siemian finished 10-of-16 for 91 yards while Mark racked up 158 all-purpose yards, including 123 rushing.

Rodgers finished with 217 yards, but only 86 came in the second half and 55 of those came on one big play during Vanderbilt's lone scoring drive after halftime.

The Wildcats held the Commodores to just three yards per carry on the night and forced the only two turnovers of the game.

"The defense played outstanding," Mark said. "They kept getting stops and the offense struggled, but once again, the defense stopped them. We finally got it clicking on all cylinders."

Fitzgerald agreed.

"I thought our defense gave us a chance to stay in the ballgame," Fitzgerald said. "I thought we played very well, very sound...We got good pressure on the quarterback and we affected him. There's no question about that."

The Wildcats will be home for the rest of September and head into next week's matchup with Boston College undefeated, no matter how close -- or flawed -- the victories were.

"The Wildcat Way is the way we play," Mark said. "Coach always harps on playing with passion and because we represent the Big Ten, we don't take any opponent lightly. We're going to come every week ready to play the game."

Willson Contreras showing why he belongs as big part of Cubs' plans

Willson Contreras showing why he belongs as big part of Cubs' plans

NEW YORK — Jeurys Familia schooled Willson Contreras, the New York Mets closer blowing the Cubs rookie away in the ninth inning on Thursday night at Citi Field with five pitches clocked between 96 and 98 mph.

Contreras fouled off one pitch in the middle of that at-bat but whiffed three times, striking out swinging with the bases loaded after Familia intentionally walked Anthony Rizzo, trying to protect a one-run lead.

“He learned a lesson,” manager Joe Maddon said of Contreras, replaying the end of that 4-3 loss against a closer who’s 27-for-27 in save chances this season. “Familia didn’t even throw one strike, I don’t think, among all those hitters, but his stuff moves that harshly. It’s really that good. I would like to believe the next time they see him, they might have a different approach.”

[MORE CUBS TALK: Cubs aren’t sweating loss to Mets or NLCS flashbacks]

That’s yet another reason why the Cubs don’t plan to send Contreras back to Triple-A Iowa, understanding how valuable he could become in October and beyond.

“He’s shown that he belongs here,” Maddon said. “He’s definitely shown that he can do this. (He’s saying): ‘I’m staying here. I’m not going anywhere.’”

There are looming roster decisions, with Adam Warren scheduled to make a spot start against the Cincinnati Reds next week at Wrigley Field after getting stretched out at Triple-A Iowa. Tommy La Stella (hamstring) could be activated from the disabled list as soon as this weekend. Dexter Fowler (hamstring) might not return to the lineup until after the All-Star break. The Cubs haven’t really given a timeline on Jorge Soler (hamstring).

But Contreras has already proven his versatility, moving to left field and first base while living up to his catcher-of-the-future label and hitting .325 (13-for-40) with three homers and 10 RBIs through his first 13 games in The Show.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

As long as Contreras continues to absorb the team’s game-planning system — and learn all the different personalities on this pitching staff — his rocket arm might also help the Cubs control the running game better than they did during last year’s National League Championship Series loss to the Mets.

“That was like the floor — to bring him up as a third catcher and get his feet wet, see how it goes,” president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said, “knowing that we could easily send him back down. But we always were transparent about leaving open the possibility that he might take off and hit the ground running. And he certainly has.

“No pun intended, he’s willed himself into this position. No decrees about this formally, but he’s obviously played himself into a position to take on real responsibility and help the team win. He’s earned his spot on the team.”

Blackhawks agree to terms with Spencer Abbott on one-year deal

Blackhawks agree to terms with Spencer Abbott on one-year deal

The Blackhawks have agreed to terms with forward Spencer Abbott on a one-year deal, the team announced Friday.

The 28-year-old winger scored 14 goals and 21 assists in 42 games last season with the Frolunda Indians of the Swedish Hockey League. He also tallied one assist in nine postseason games.

Abbott is familiar with the Blackhawks organization, spending some time during the 2014-15 season with the Rockford IceHogs, where he appeared in 19 games and registered 12 goals and nine assists. He also recorded three goals and three assists in eight playoff games.

Abbott will likely begin the season in Rockford, but gives the Blackhawks some depth up front at a low cost.

Injury Report: Dexter Fowler close to return; Sox lose another while making debut

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Injury Report: Dexter Fowler close to return; Sox lose another while making debut

Each week, CSNChicago.com takes a look at the injury report from both the Cubs and White Sox, presented by Service King.

CUBS

Dexter Fowler (hamstring) is due to come off the disabled list early next week and the Cubs initially believed he may not even need a rehab stint, so he could make his return atop the Cubs lineup on the upcoming homestand. That is, however, if he's OK after getting drilled by a slugging toddler.

Jorge Soler (hamstring) traveled with the Cubs to New York and there is still no timetable for his return or when he would head out on a rehab assignment. He is participating in batting practice and has been seen taking some grounders in the field.

Tommy La Stella (hamstring) and Clayton Richard (finger) are both currently on rehab assignments with Triple-A Iowa and both guys could be back with the big-league club soon. However, the Cubs may leave Richard in the minors for a little while to figure out his struggles (7.30 in 22 games with Chicago).

WHITE SOX

The White Sox are having terrible luck with players making their debut this season.

Matt Davidson’s first game with the White Sox on Thursday started off great, recording an RBI-single in his second plate appearance. But it didn’t end well. Davidson suffered a broken right foot while rounding the bases trying to advance on a J.B. Shuck double. The White Sox recalled Carlos Sanchez on Friday to replace Davidson.

Melky Cabrera has missed a few games and will miss few more with a right wrist sprain. Cabrera left Saturday’s game after rolling his wrist diving for a fly ball, but X-rays came up negative.

Justin Morneau continues to progress from his elbow surgery he had back in December. If things go as planned, he could begin a rehab assignment next week. The White Sox veteran is traveling with the team this weekend to Houston and will re-evaluate at the end of the series.

Zach Putnam was placed on the 15-day disabled list on June 21 with ulnar neuritis in his right elbow. Putnam has a pair of options: surgery (two types) or rehab. The White Sox reliever is hoping to avoid any sort of surgery, which would effectively end his season. For now, Putnam will continue to rest his arm and let the inflammation decrease. He will travel with the team to Houston and could attempt to play catch soon.