Stone leads Crystal Lake Central's comeback

900675.png

Stone leads Crystal Lake Central's comeback

Talk about coming back from adversity. Crystal Lake Central has come from behind in four games this season, scoring on the last drive to win.

"It's been a crazy year," coach Mike Fralick said.

The Tigers edged Huntley 27-26 by driving 91 yards in the last two minutes to score with four seconds left. They marched 70 yards to beat Woodstock 21-14. They drove 78 yards in 16 plays in eight minutes and scored with a minute left to beat Woodstock North 21-14. And they nudged Prairie Ridge 7-3, driving 90 yards to score with 22 seconds to play.

Last Saturday, they didn't need to resort to any last-minute theatrics as they trounced Hyde Park 49-7 in the opening round of the Class 6A playoff.

Jordan Wallace set the tone by returning the opening kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown. Matt MacAlpine, in his first full game back after fracturing the fibula in his left leg, scored three touchdowns. Quarterback Kyle Lavand ran for one TD and threw for another as the Tigers built a 42-0 halftime lead.

Crystal Lake Central, which finished behind only Grayslake North in the Fox Valley's Fox Division, will carry an 8-2 record into their second-round game against Grant (8-2) in the second round.

The Tigers have made positive strides since last year's 6-4 finish. "We pulled a tough draw. We lost to Cary-Grove on the road in the first round. But it was a successful season. We did some good things. Our goal always is to qualify for the playoff. And we shared the conference title," Fralick said.

This year's goal is to go beyond the second round, something the school has never done before. In his third year as head coach, with eight starters returning, with depth on both sides of the ball, Fralick felt his team was equipped to meet higher expectations. Especially on defense.

Then the Tigers learned how to spell A-D-V-E-R-S-I-T-Y. Leading rusher MacAlpine, who gained 1,000 yards last year, broke a leg in the season opener. He returned to the lineup for the first time last week but carried only four times for seven yards. He still is rounding into shape. He carried only five times against Hyde Park on Friday.

Without MacAlpine, Fralick implemented a more balanced offense. "We used to be run happy. But I've always believed in balance, pass and run. More than anything else, we have to be more balanced on offense and throw the ball a bit. When we can throw the ball, we are tough to defend," he said.

"I know our defense will be tough. It will come down to executing and being more diverse on offense. I don't know how long it as been since we've had a 1,000-yard passer. But our offense is starting to hit our stride."

The Tigers have a 1,000-yard passer now. He is 6-foot, 175-pound junior Lavand. He transferred from Marian Central in Woodstock after his sophomore year. "I like his poise. He doesn't get rattled. He has an accurate arm and does a nice job of running the offense," Fralick said.

Connor Hines, a 5-foot-8, 205-pound junior fullback, has taken over for MacAlpine. He has rushed for 600 yards in the Tigers' double wing offense. Lavand's chief target is 6-foot-2, 185-pound senior wide receiver Isaiah Mosher.

The 4-4 defense features 6-foot, 195-pound senior linebacker Darwin Stone, Hines at defensive end, 6-foot, 230-pound senior end Kyle Logan and 5-foot-10, 185-pound junior middle linebacker Nathan Talbot.

Fralick, a Woodstock graduate of 1988, played under Bob Bradshaw and Ed Brucker. He was hired as a teacher at Crystal Lake Central and worked his way up the ladder, finally succeeding coach Jon McLaughlin in 2009.

"Coach Brucker was a great influence," he said. "I learned about demeanor. I liked what he did on offense. And I run his 4-4 defense."

Fralick saw the importance of what a well-stocked weight room can do for a team. Until he arrived, weights hadn't been emphasized very much. And the weight room was small and adequate equipment. He renovated the room, moved obsolete equipment out and moved in new sets of dumbbells, power racks and new equipment for dead lifting and squats.

"Now we have one of the top weight rooms in the conference. When I was a freshman, we were at the bottom," Stone said. "I think I'm three times better than I was if the room hadn't been improved. I've put on 60 pounds since my freshman year. I benched 135 pounds; now I bench 275. I squatted 315; now I squat 500. It has made me faster and quicker, from 5.0 seconds for 40 yards to 4.5."

Stone is the leader of Crystal Lake Central's defense, one of five team captains. He hopes to play football in college, maybe at Eastern Illinois, Beloit or Southeast Missouri State. For the time being, however, he is focused on the state playoff and helping his team achieve something historic.

"As a team, we have worked so hard. We really believe we can go far in the playoff. If we stick together, we can make things happen," Stone said. "I feel when we are put in a situation where we have to make things happen and if we don't we lose, that's when we are at our best."

Stone also has rushed for 400 yards as the I-back behind Hines. "When it comes down to it, I'm in for short yardage situations," he said.

But he admits the Tigers are more effective when they are throwing the ball. "We used to be only a running team in the wing T, three yards and a cloud of dust. In the past, we'd pass only 12 to 15 teams in an entire season," he said.

"As freshmen, we were taught to work hard. Not much was expected of the team, we were told, we have to earn it. It was tough to lose MacAlpine. But the team isn't built around one person. It would have been great to have him back. But we'd be in the same spot with him playing all the time."

Starters help White Sox bullpen maintain health for lengthy stretch

johnson_game_2_post_05-23_640x360_691508803679.jpg

Starters help White Sox bullpen maintain health for lengthy stretch

The White Sox are at another point in their schedule where every inning is precious.

So even though they only managed a split in Monday’s doubleheader against the Cleveland Indians, the White Sox have to feel good not to have taxed their bullpen.

Mat Latos and Erik Johnson combined for 12.1 innings pitched and five relievers combined for another 5.1 on Monday for the White Sox, who are in the midst of a stretch of 17 games in 16 days. Given they have Chris Sale and Jose Quintana scheduled the next two games, the White Sox feel pretty fortunate at the midway point of their lengthy run.

“We didn’t really abuse anybody,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “These doubleheaders can kind of get away from you and both sides probably had that. You get out of these things without having to use anybody in both games and extending anybody.”

With the way things had recently gone for Latos and Johnson’s command issues in his last start, Monday’s doubleheader could have been trouble for the White Sox bullpen.

Latos hadn’t completed six innings since April 24 and posted a 7.84 ERA in his last four starts. And in his only major league start this season, Johnson allowed four earned runs in five innings against the Boston Red Sox on May 5.

Not only do the White Sox have two more here against the Indians, they start a four-game series in Kansas City on Thursday and then head to Citi Field for three against the New York Mets. Only then do they have another day off.

Johnson made two early mistakes, but mostly followed in the footsteps of Latos, who delivered six innings in the opening game before he departed with a 6-3 lead courtesy of a three-run homer by Brett Lawrie.

While Johnson left a 3-0 fastball up to Rajai Davis and he ripped it for a two-run homer, which put Cleveland up 3-1 in the fifth, he faced only five over the minimum through six innings.

“EJ did a good job for us, we just weren’t really getting anything going,” Ventura said.

Johnson — who was optioned to Triple-A Charlotte after the start — entered the seventh inning at 93 pitches. With his team trailing by two, Ventura hoped to steal another inning from his right-hander. The Indians took advantage as Juan Uribe homered and scored another run off the combination of Johnson and reliever Matt Purke, who allowed a hit in 2.1 scoreless innings.

“You want to help the team out and save the bullpen as best you can, especially on these nine and nines,” Johnson said. “That’s your job as a starter for a regular nine inning game, whether it’s a doubleheader or not.

“I’m thankful for the opportunities and if they keep coming I’m going to keep coming back here.”

For now, the opportunity belongs to reliever Tommy Kahnle, whom was added as the 26th man before the doubleheader. By optioning Johnson to Charlotte, the White Sox will employ an eight-man bullpen.

Preview: Cubs look to snap losing streak vs. Cardinals on CSN

cubs_pgl_hit_05-23_640x360_691482691886.jpg

Preview: Cubs look to snap losing streak vs. Cardinals on CSN

The Cubs look to snap a three-game losing streak against the St. Louis Cardinals tonight, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 5:30 p.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: Jason Hammel (5-1, 2.31 ERA) vs. Michael Wacha (2-4, 4.03 ERA)

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

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

— Channel finder: Make sure you know where to watch.

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

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

Preview: Chris Sale targets 10th win as White Sox battle Indians on CSN+

ventura_game_2_post_05-23_640x360_691502147636.jpg

Preview: Chris Sale targets 10th win as White Sox battle Indians on CSN+

The White Sox continue their series with the Cleveland Indians tonight, and you can catch all the action 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.

Tonight’s starting pitching matchup: Chris Sale (9-0, 1.58 ERA) vs. Josh Tomlin (6-0, 3.56 ERA)

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

[SHOP WHITE SOX: Get your White Sox gear right here]

— Channel finder: Make sure you know where to watch.

— 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.