White, McClendon spark Evergreen Park

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White, McClendon spark Evergreen Park

White, McClendon spark Evergreen Park

By Taylor Bell

Evergreen Park is a Class 4A school (enrollment: 838) in a conference filled with larger schools representing Class 6A and 7A. But college recruiters don't need a road map to find Jaquet McClendon. They always seem to know where talent is.

McClendon, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound junior wide receiver and outside linebacker, is a rising star in the class of 2014. Northwestern, Northern Illinois and other MAC schools have contacted him. But his stock figures to keep climbing and more Division I schools will join the hunt.

"He is the best player I've coached," Evergreen Park coach Dan Hartman said. "He is being recruited as a receiver and outside linebacker. But he is best at receiver. He has 4.5 speed. He also is a basketball player. He doesn't have much football experience. He is still developing."

In a recent game, McClendon caught four passes for 165 yards and two touchdowns. He has rushed for 300 yards and amassed 500 yards via pass receiving.

His close friend, quarterback Brandon White, offers a comprehensive scouting report:

"How good is he? Pretty good if he has the right mind. Sometimes he gets down on himself if things aren't going well. But he was in a good mood last night (in Evergreen Park's 23-7 victory over North Chicago in the first round of the Class 4A playoff).

"We're real close friends. We live a block away from each other. I try to put him in the right state of mind if he has a negative attitude toward things. If he drops a pass he gets down on himself and then he'll shut down unless I talk to him. He realizes how good he can be. I tell him if he stays focused he can be a real great athlete and go to a nice Division I school. He wants to go to Northwestern. He's a real smart kid."

As good as McClendon is, however, the key to Evergreen Park's success is White, a 5-foot-11, 190-pound senior. The three-year starter has passed for 1,320 yards and 16 touchdowns and rushed for 600 yards and 10 touchdowns in Hartman's spread option offense.

"Our quarterback will carry us," Hartman said. "Going into this season, we felt we could do some damage if our quarterback and receivers and defensive ends stepped up and became our leaders."

Last year, Evergreen Park finished 8-4 and lost to Richmond-Burton in the state quarterfinals. Ironically, the Mustangs will play at Richmond-Burton on Saturday in the second round of the Class 4A playoff.

"Last year was a new experience for our kids. They hadn't been to the playoff since 2006 and hadn't won a game in the playoff since the late 1990s. It was something to hang our hats on. That positive experience has helped us to prepare for the playoff this year," Hartman said.

The turning point was the Tinley Park game in Week 8. Evergreen Park was 4-3 and everybody understood that they needed to win two of their last three games to qualify for the playoff.

"We were at a crossroads in the season," Hartman said. "We had our ups and downs. We had injuries. We had battled through them and against the bigger teams in our conference each week. We had been in physical games before. We beat them (26-14) on our home field."

Hartman counts on White, McClendon, 6-foot-1, 280-pound senior wide receiver Mike Reuter, 5-foot-10, 165-pound junior running back Keyshawn Carpenter, 5-foot-11, 230-pound senior tackle Andy Piet, 6-foot-1, 295-pound senior linebacker DaQua Gatewood and 6-foot-2, 220-pound senior defensive end Kyle Ven Huizen.

Reuter has caught 27 passes for 500 yards and eight touchdowns. Carpenter has rushed for 650 yards. Gatewood is the team's leading tackler.

White was a basketball player before he fell in love with football as a sixth grader. "I loved the contact of the sport. I like to make big plays to win big games," he said.

He played cornerback and wide receiver in grammar school. As a freshman, he was moved to quarterback because coaches knew he was a pitcher and had a strong arm.

"I liked the idea. I like to be in charge," White said.

He quarterbacked the freshman team to a 5-4 record. After two games on the sophomore squad, he was promoted to the varsity. He started at linebacker, then started the last three games at quarterback. Last year, he guided Evergreen Park to an 8-4 record, most wins since 1994.

"We had a good team last year but it was more of a running team. We are more balanced this year," White said. "This is a better team. We have more players who contribute off the bench. What is our edge? We are focused on getting to the state final."

With White throwing and McClendon and Reuter catching, Evergreen Park's passing game has picked up this season.

"We didn't have that kind of a threat last year," White said.

He attended three passing camps last summer to improve his mechanics. He has become more accurate and more proficient at reading defenses. "I wanted to improve my game. Now I stay on top of the ball and use my legs. I used to throw with just my arm. Now I feel I'm much better at what I'm doing," he said.

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)

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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.”