Williams adds punch to Lake Forest defense


Williams adds punch to Lake Forest defense

Trent Williams, Lake Forest's 6-foot-1, 215-pound junior linebacker, is so active that statisticians can't seem to keep up with him.

In the wake of Lake Forest's 31-19 victory over Notre Dame last Friday in the quarterfinals of the Class 6A playoff, one report had Williams with a school-record seven sacks. Another report had him with six sacks, another with four and another with three.

After reviewing the game film, Lake Forest coach Chuck Spagnoli settled on six.

Williams, who also was credited with 10 tackles, set the tone early in the first quarter by slamming into the Notre Dame quarterback, forcing a fumble, then recovering it to set up Lake Forest's first touchdown.

"He has great genetics. He has good speed and strength and understands leverage. He's a hard guy to block," Spagnoli said. "He is a relentless competitor. He has fire in his belly. His game has gotten better in the last six weeks. Nothing surprises him anymore."

In a 33-13 victory over Libertyville in Week 6, he recovered a fumble and ran 40 yards for a touchdown. In a 23-21 upset of favored Lakes in the second round of the playoff, he blocked a punt and recovered a fumble.

But six sacks in one game? Are you listening, Julius Peppers?

"It isn't important that I had a lot of sacks. It only matters that we won the game," Williams said. "We haven't played a complete game yet. The offense has struggled a bit and the defense has given up some big plays. I don't like to look at the past but at what we can do to improve as a team."

Lake Forest (9-3) will host Cary-Grove (12-0) in a Class 7A semifinal on Saturday in Lake Forest. It marks the Scouts' first trip to the semifinals. They lost in the quarterfinals in 1992 and 1993.

"We don't have any Big Ten recruits on this team, just a lot of good high school players," Spagnoli said. "I feel (defensive lineman) Tom Kutschke is a Division I prospect. But nobody seems to be interested.

"I'm happy for the kids. We have no super stars. And we only have 45 kids on the varsity. But they are playing hard. They are playing well together. They understand all of their roles and assignments."

Spagnoli doesn't choose to dwell on the past. "I'm not that good at looking back," he said. But it is easy to argue that Lake Forest could be 12-0, not 9-3 and a No. 10 seed. The Scouts lost on a forfeit to Lake Zurich (teachers strike), a pass interference penalty against Stevenson and a missed 32-yard field goal with four seconds to play against Warren.

That left Lake Forest at 5-3. But the Scouts have won four in a row behind a fly-to-the-ball defense led by Kutschke and Williams and a quick-striking offense triggered by quarterback Andrew Clifford and running back Hub Cirame.

Against Notre Dame, Clifford passed for 152 of his 162 yards and two touchdowns in the first half. Cirame rushed for 115 yards and two touchdowns. In 11 games, Clifford, who was mostly a backup last year, has passed for more than 2,500 yards.

"I'm not surprised. He is what we hoped he would be," Spagnoli said. "As a freshman and sophomore, he needed seasoning. He was immature. He had ability but, mentally, he wasn't ready to go. Last year, he started to play more and he realized how difficult it is and how important it is to stay focused. That's when the light went on for him. His leadership and mental framework are great now. He is a complete player."

The light went on for Trent Williams a year ago while watching his older brother Owen, a running back who now is red-shirting at Dayton, and working with Larry Lilja, Lake Forest's strength and conditioning coach and offensive line coach who spent more than 30 years at Northwestern.

"Playing with my brother showed me what it took to be a player. It was a learning process for me to learn what it took to be a varsity player," Trent said. "You have to play fast and smart and play for your teammates and the seniors. I'm trying to make more plays. This is the seniors' last year and I want to do this for them.

"This is my only sport. I started in third grade. There is something about the game that wants me to keep playing. I always liked hitting people. I remember what the coach (Lilja) said before the Lakes game. He said there is no other sport like football, the contact, and the kind of player it takes to play the game. I want to be that kind of player."

There may be no Division I prospects on the 2012 squad. "We just have a bunch of scrappers who play together and play fast and try their hardest in every single game," Williams said. But Williams could emerge as a big-timer as a senior. He hopes to play in college--at the highest level he can. His dream school is Michigan, where his uncle played.

"I want to get bigger and stronger and faster," he said. "But right now I'm only focusing on the task at hand."

Meanwhile, Lake Forest's offense gives opponents as much to think about as its defense.

"We spread the wealth around. Everybody can make plays," Clifford said. "I'm in the shotgun with Scott Powell at fullback and Hub Cirame at running back. It is a mixture of the spread and pro-style. Sometimes we're in the pistol and the shotgun and under center. Sometimes we are in an empty backfield or one or two backs. We give defenses a lot to think about."

"The biggest thing is they play well for each other," Spagnoli said. "They are unselfish. They care less who gets credit."

Even if they make six sacks in one game. Or was it seven?

What can the Cubs expect from the Cleveland Indians in the World Series?

What can the Cubs expect from the Cleveland Indians in the World Series?

CSNChicago.com’s Dan Hayes and JJ Stankevitz saw plenty of the Cleveland Indians while covering the White Sox in 2016, and set their sights on what kind of a challenge the Tribe will provide the Cubs in the World Series.


The American League’s second-best offense has slowed down considerably in the postseason as its .635 OPS ranks seventh among 10 playoff teams in 2016. But the Indians have received enough clutch hitting from part-timer Coco Crisp and their star in the making, shortstop Francisco Lindor, to make the most of their stellar pitching in the playoffs.

In the regular season, the Indians finished second in the American League in runs scored (777) in part because of an aggressive approach on the base paths and even though the team’s best player, Michael Brantley, was limited to 43 plate appearances because of injury. The Indians ranked second in the majors in extra bases taken with 186, two ahead of the Cubs, according to baseball-reference.com. The team also finished second in the majors with an extra bases taken percentage of 45 and led the AL with 134 stolen bases in 165 tries (81 percent).

The offense is centered around designated hitter Carlos Santana, who blasted a career best 34 home runs and posted an .865 OPS. First baseman Mike Napoli and second baseman Jason Kipnis also established career highs in homers with 34 and 23, respectively. Kipnis finished with 68 extra-base hits, including 41 doubles.

Third baseman Jose Ramirez picked up much of the slack for a team that also was without projected outfielder Abraham Almonte for half the season because of a suspension for PEDs. Ramirez had 46 doubles among his 60 extra-base hits and produced an .825 OPS in an outstanding all-around campaign that could garner him a few MVP votes. Rookie Tyler Naquin also filled a big void in the outfield with 14 homers and 43 RBIs in 365 plate appearances.

So far, Indians manager Terry Francona has divided up the plate appearances among his outfielders in October. Only right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall has received consistent playing time as the Indians have platooned Crisp, Naquin, Rajai Davis, who stole 43 bases this season, and Brandon Guyer.

-- Dan Hayes


Andrew Miller may be having the best postseason a relief pitcher has ever had. The big-ticket trade deadline acquisition threw 11 2/3 innings in the ALDS against the Boston Red Sox and ALCS against the Toronto Blue Jays, striking out 21 while allowing only five singles and two walks (that’s good for a laughable .132/.171/.184 opponent slash line). Manager Terry Francona hasn’t been shy about using Miller early in games, too — he inserted the 6-foot-7 lefty in the fifth inning of Cleveland’s ALDS Game 1 win over the Red Sox, and half of his six playoff appearances this year began in the sixth inning or earlier. Miller’s ability to throw multiple innings will put pressure on the Cubs to score early and often against the Indians’ rotation.

Francona’s willingness to use Miller early has been critical toward helping maximize the success of a starting rotation without two of its three best arms in the postseason. Carlos Carrasco (fractured gone in right hand) won’t pitch in the World Series, though Francona hinted that fellow right-handed All-Star Danny Salazar (strained flexor muscle in right forearm) could return to start in the World Series. Right-hander Trevor Bauer, who sliced his right pinky open while repairing his drone and only managed to record two outs before his finger gushed blood in Game 3 of the ALCS, will start Game 2 or 3.

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With or without Salazar and/or Bauer, though, Cleveland’s rotation has been effective. Corey Kluber is the unquestioned ace of the staff and allowed only two runs over 18 1/3 innings in three postseason starts, which stands as a continuation of his strong regular season numbers (18-9, 215 IP, 3.14 ERA, 3.26 FIP). Josh Tomlin has had a short rope, only throwing 10 2/3 innings in his two starts, but allowed three runs in that span with 10 strikeouts and three walks. Rookie left-hander Ryan Merrett threw 4 2/3 shutout innings in a clinching Game 5 win over the Blue Jays last week, too, showing no signs of “shaking in his boots” in his first postseason start.

The rest of Cleveland’s bullpen -- which tied for the second-best ERA in the American League (3.45) in the regular season -- has found success in addition to Miller in the playoffs. Hard-throwing closer Cody Allen has looked unflappable in five save opportunities, allowing five hits and three walks with 12 strikeouts. Right-handers Dan Otero (3.1 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 1 K) and Bryan Shaw (5.2 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 1 HR) have been go-to options if Miller can’t bridge the gap between the starting pitcher and Allen, too.

It doesn’t come as a surprise that Cleveland has found pitching success in the playoffs, even with so many injuries, given their 3.86 staff ERA ranked 7th in baseball.

-- JJ Stankevitz


Nobody has been as outstanding of a defensive team as the Cubs in 2016. But, the Indians are still near the top of the second tier team and have proven a remarkably improved squad over the past two seasons. Much of their improvement stems from the stellar play provided by Lindor, who ranked second in the majors in Ultimate Zone Rating (20.8) among shortstops and fourth in Defensive Runs Saved with 17, according to fangraphs.com. Combined with Kipnis, who ranked sixth in UZR (7.3) among second baseman, the Indians have a strong double play combo. Ramirez also proved to be a steady defender at third base after taking over as the full-timer following the release of Juan Uribe.

Though the club has missed the presence of starting catcher Yan Gomes, it has handled his absence extremely well. Not only does replacement Roberto Perez rate among the game’s best pitch framers, he also threw out 13 of 26 runners who attempted to steal a base with him behind the dish.

-- Dan Hayes


Francona won two World Series trophies with the Boston Red Sox, including the one in 2004 that ended that franchise’s 87-year title drought. He’s led Cleveland to two postseason berths since taking over in 2013, and the Tribe haven’t had a losing record in his four years at the helm.

The 57-year-old has been lauded for his aggressive use of Miller in the playoffs, deploying the lights-out lefty as a study bridge between a starting rotation beset by injuries and dominant closer Allen.

First baseman/catcher/designated hitter Santana is hardly a prototypical leadoff man, but he’s hit first in six of Cleveland’s eight games in the postseason after leading off 85 games in the regular season. And that’s the batting order position he’s been most effective from --- In the regular season, Santana hit .260/.385/.502 with more walks (67) than strikeouts (60) as a leadoff man. Francona’s willingness to eschew stolen bases and speed on the base paths has put early pressure on starting pitchers by having Santana on base so frequently.

Said Cubs starter Jon Lester, who pitched for Francona in the Red Sox 2007 championship run: “I know that manager on their side’s going to be prepared, I know their coaching staff’s going to be ready.”

-- JJ Stankevitz

Jon Lester says Cubs haven’t done anything yet: ‘Nobody likes second place’

Jon Lester says Cubs haven’t done anything yet: ‘Nobody likes second place’

As Cubs players and generations of fans celebrated Christmas in October, Jon Lester had to be The Grinch for a moment. Sure, the Cubs would party from Saturday night into Sunday morning, probably get “a little bit” drunk and enjoy the franchise’s first National League pennant in 71 years. But the reality of the Cleveland Indians would set in once the Cubs got rid of this hangover.

“We ain’t done anything yet,” Lester said during the Wrigley Field celebration after the Cubs eliminated the Los Angeles Dodgers. “Nobody likes second place.”

There are enough Boston Red Sox connections in this World Series that Lester already knows what to expect, starting with Indians manager Terry Francona, who became a father figure as he dealt with a cancer scare as a rookie.

There are ex-teammates from those championship teams in 2007 (Coco Crisp) and 2013 (Mike Napoli, Andrew Miller) at Fenway Park. There is the accumulated experience from throwing 119 postseason innings (2.50 ERA) and becoming one of the best big-game pitchers of his generation.

“I don’t want to sound like a smart-ass, but we got a long ways to go,” Lester said. “I know that manager on their side’s going to be prepared. I know their coaching staff’s going to be ready. I know their players are going to be ready, just based on one player alone, and that’s Mike Napoli. I know what he brings to the table. He helped transform our 2013 team.

“Come Tuesday, we got to put the gloves back on. We got to get ready to fight and grind and do what we’ve done well all year. We got four more games to win.”

After limiting the Dodgers to two runs in 13 innings, and being named the NL Championship Series’ co-MVP along with Javier Baez, Lester should be a worthy Game 1 starter opposite Corey Kluber, the 2014 American League Cy Young Award winner.

This is why Lester took a leap of faith with Cubs bosses/ex-Red Sox executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer and chairman Tom Ricketts’ family and what had been a last-place team in 2014.

Two seasons into the $155 million contract that signaled the Cubs would be serious about contending – and not just in the Baseball America/Baseball Prospectus prospect rankings – the franchise has won 200 games and four playoff rounds and remained in position to dominate for years to come.

“Theo and Jed and the front office and Tom and all these guys had a belief,” Lester said. “I believed in that belief. The talent here speaks for itself. I didn’t do anything – I came here because I wanted to win in Chicago. I’m just happy to be here and be a part of this and get to this point.

“(But) we’re four hard wins away from doing what we set out to do in spring training.”

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As bright as the future looks on the North Side, Lester will be 33 next season and his left arm has already accounted for more than 2,000 innings during his decorated career. John Lackey turned 38 on Sunday. Jake Arrieta only has one more season before becoming a free agent.

The Cubs built their franchise around young hitters, with the idea that they can figure out the pitching later with free agents, change-of-scenery trades and bounce-back guys. Easier said than done. They have a true No. 1 starter now in Lester, who as a free agent watched a recruiting video that imagined what it would be like when the Cubs win the World Series.

“This isn’t it,” Lester said. “It’s been a tough playoffs for us to this point and it’s only going to get tougher. We’re going to enjoy it. We’re going to show up Tuesday in Cleveland ready to play. We’ll see what happens.”