Stavrakas rebuilds Lane baseball tradition

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Stavrakas rebuilds Lane baseball tradition

Dean Stavrakas is 68 years old, perhaps a bit late to be starting from scratch, but he is determined to rebuild Lane Tech's baseball fortunes. And he is off to a pretty good start.In his first year, Stavrakas took his team to the championship game of the Public League playoff for the first time since 2002. The Indians finished 21-11, and prospects for the 2013 season are positive with 17 juniors and five sophomores returning to the varsity squad.Not the least of whom is pitcher Jack McLaughlin, a 6-foot-2, 180-pound right-hander who posted an earned run average under 2.00 this season despite an 0-4 start. He could be the best pitcher in the Public League in 2013."He could beat anyone in the city on any given day," Stavrakas said.Lane Tech's once-dominant baseball program, which has a long tradition dating to the 1930s and 1940s, has struggled for the last decade. Like most sports in the city, with the exception of basketball, baseball has been on a steady decline."It's taken a huge drop," Stavrakas said.It isn't the way it used to be.Lane Tech won state championships in 1945 under Percy Moore and 1956 under George Wallenta. Jerry Szukala's 1994 team finished fourth. Ed Papciak, perhaps the school's most successful coach, was one of the first eight inductees into the Illinois High School Baseball Coaches Association's Hall of Fame in 1978.The Indians were perennial contenders for the city title and a berth in the state finals. But they haven't qualified for the state tournament since 2001.The baseball program has produced at least a dozen major leaguers, including former Chicago Cubs star Phil Cavarretta, Buzz Capra, Irv Medlinger, Ben Church, Frank Dasso and Jim Woods, who pitched Lane Tech to the 1956 state title. Other standouts included Shotgun Becker, Bud Felichio and Lou Ryniec.Stavrakas is convinced that this year's team, which lost to Simeon 2-1 in the Public League final, "took a big step to bringing Lane Tech back in baseball. We have 73 kids in the program on three levels, 28 on the varsity. Now we have jelled has a ball club."And the Indians soon will have a new home field. The Chicago Cubs have announced that they will build a new 4 million facility at the school. It will be named Kerry Wood Field in honor of the recently retired Cubs pitcher who donated 1 million to the project.Stavrakas still is learning what Lane Tech is all about. He is a South Sider, raised near 84th and Wolcott, in the Calumet High School area. Growing up, his greatest memory was watching the Prep Bowl football game between Calumet and Leo before a crowd of more than 66,000 at Soldier Field.He loved the military so he attended Morgan Park Military Academy, then graduated from Howe Military Academy in Indiana in 1961. He majored in business at MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Ill.He won over 400 games while coaching baseball at Hales Franciscan for one year, St. Benedict for 10 years and Lake View for nine years. Since 1998, he has operated his own post-construction and festival cleaning business."I played baseball for as long as I could, in college and semi-pro," he said. "I love the game with a passion. I coached semi-pro teams for many years and helped to send eight players to the major leagues, including Ron Kittle, Al Levine, Scott Spiezio and Joe Fasano."How did he end up at Lane Tech?"(Athletic director) Rich Rio and I have been friends for years," said Stavrakas, whose son George is head coach of the girls softball team at Lane Tech. "He said I was welcome to come to Lane Tech and end my career."He resigned from Lake View last year. In 2008, the principal said he was bringing too much notoriety to the school."We qualified for the city final for the first time since 1977," Stavrakas said."He didn't like the fact that baseball was getting so much publicity."It was very frustrating. He turned his back on sports. He couldn't deal with the fact that we had been so successful. It hurt me. "The day after I resigned, Rich Rio said he'd like me to come to Lane Tech to end my career. It gave me five years of additional life. I'd love to do it for a couple more years."

Buckeyes going back to College Football Playoff, will face Clemson in Fiesta Bowl

Buckeyes going back to College Football Playoff, will face Clemson in Fiesta Bowl

The College Football Playoff field is set, and for the second time in three years, the Ohio State Buckeyes will compete for a national championship.

The selection committee revealed the four-team field for this season's Playoff, with Ohio State coming at No. 3. The Buckeyes will battle No. 2 Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl. The other Playoff semifinal pits No. 1 Alabama against No. 4 Washington in the Peach Bowl.

While Ohio State has been considered one of the best teams in the country throughout the season, the Buckeyes' inclusion in the Playoff field is not without controversy, as they are the first team to play in the Playoff without winning their conference championship. But Ohio State had a sterling resume with three wins over top-10 teams: Michigan, Wisconsin and Oklahoma. The Buckeyes' lone loss came against a top-10 Penn State team.

The 2014 national champion, Ohio State returns to the Playoff after missing out last season. Big Ten champion Michigan State represented the conference last year, getting crushed by Alabama in the Cotton Bowl. Two years ago, the Buckeyes beat the Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl and then beat the Oregon Ducks in the national championship game.

Big Ten champion Penn State, which won the conference title game Saturday night with an instant-classic comeback victory over Wisconsin, ended up fifth and was left off the bracket. So too was sixth-ranked Michigan, which didn't compete for a conference championship but was ranked fifth in the final set of rankings prior to Sunday's bracket reveal. The Nittany Lions and Wolverines combined for five wins over top-10 teams this season.

There was plenty of conversation that red-hot Penn State could surge into the Playoff, just like Ohio State did two years ago. The Lions are riding a nine-game winning streak, defeated Ohio State earlier in the season and claimed the championship in what has been the hands-down best conference in college football this season. And boy did they impress Saturday night in their most recent showing, erasing a three-touchdown deficit to come back and beat Wisconsin.

Michigan, too, had a mighty compelling case to make. The Wolverines, owners of one of the best defenses in the country all season long, beat three top-10 teams during the regular season and took the No. 2 team in the country to double overtime just last weekend.

But in the end, we did not get the first Playoff field to feature two teams from the same conference. Penn State and Michigan will learn their bowl fates — likely going to New Year's Six bowl games — later Sunday.

Big Ten poll update: Penn State jumps Michigan in last pre-Playoff AP poll

Big Ten poll update: Penn State jumps Michigan in last pre-Playoff AP poll

The College Football Playoff selection committee will reveal the four-team Playoff field shortly, but in the AP poll, Big Ten champion Penn State did vault ahead of Michigan.

The Nittany Lions, fresh off their instant-classic comeback win in Saturday night's Big Ten title game, jumped up three spots, from No. 8 to No. 5, passing the Wolverines, who dropped from No. 5 to No. 6 with no game to play this weekend.

Who knows if that will be the thinking of the committee or if Penn State's performance Saturday was impressive enough to get it above Washington or Clemson and into the final four.

In the AP poll Sunday, Ohio State checked in at No. 2 behind No. 1 Alabama. The Buckeyes didn't play Saturday either, but those top two spots figure to be how the top two spots of the Playoff field will look. Clemson and Washington stayed the Nos. 3 and 4 teams in the poll, which seems to be a likely possibility in the Playoff, as well.

Wisconsin, defeated by Penn State on Saturday night, dropped just two spots from No. 6 to No. 8, jumped by Penn State and Oklahoma, which was victorious in its regular-season finale against Oklahoma State, claiming the Big 12 championship in the process.

Iowa moved up one spot from No. 22 to No. 21, while Nebraska dropped a spot from No. 23 to No. 24. Neither team played this weekend.