Ernst sees light at Lincoln-Way West

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Ernst sees light at Lincoln-Way West

Trying to establish himself as a first-year head coach and striving to build a program at a school that is only four years old, Dave Ernst said he could see "the light at the end of the tunnel" in the last five weeks, since the second half of a 15-7 loss to Thornton.

"We lost but I saw things were coming together," Ernst said. "Our kids fought to the end. We reached their one-yard-line with 18 seconds left but a holding call brought the ball back. It was such a disappointment after fighting to get back into the game. We didn't want to feel that way again."

The setback left Lincoln-Way West at 3-3. But the Warriors have won four games in a row since then, including last Friday's 35-0 rout of Rochelle in the first round of the Class 5A playoff. They'll face their biggest test of the season against top-seeded and unbeaten Kaneland on Saturday in New Lenox.

Ernst, 47, isn't surprised by Lincoln-Way West's early success, which is rare for a start-up school. A 1983 graduate of Lincoln-Way (Central), he coached under Matt Senffner at Providence for 12 years, then coached with current Lincoln-Way East coach Rob Zvonar under Rob Glielmi at Lincoln-Way Central for eight years before joining Mark Vander Kooi's staff at Lincoln-Way West. When Vander Kooi became athletic director at Lincoln-Way East, Ernst got his chance.

"A lot of the stuff that Glielmi was teaching at Lincoln-Way Central rubbed off on Zvonar and me. In the 1990s, his program dominated the south suburbs among the public schools," Ernst said. "We have a lot of tough kids who want to win and are willing to do what they have to do to win.

"We have some talented kids--like tackle Colin McGovern, who is committed to Notre Dame, the best player I've been around in 24 years of coaching--but the biggest thing is their willingness to fight and claw and scratch and do everything they have to do to win."

Adam Slattery, a 6-foot-2, 167-pound senior who is a three-year starter at wide receiver, may not be headed to major Division I school but he is typical of the "fight, claw and scratch" type of player that has turned Lincoln-Way West into a winning program.

"It's cool to be part of a program that is so young, only four years old," Slattery said. "When we came in, we knew we were the ones who would start a tradition. We took it upon ourselves to make it the best we could. Winning makes everything right.

"We turned it around right away. We were overmatched without seniors. We were thrown into the fire right away. We found out how hard it is to win and how hard you have to work. The standard now is to win, make the playoff and establish ourselves as a state championship contending team.

"We want to set an example for others to follow. We want to show what it takes to win. We work hard in practice and in the summer and in the off-season. We are committed. Eighty percent of the team had 100 percent attendance for off-season lifting."

Slattery and the first class of graduates know it isn't easy to start a tradition. But he pointed out that Joliet Catholic and Lincoln-Way East had to start sometime. So he argues that there is no better time for Lincoln-Way West to start its tradition.

"That is the attitude of the first class to graduate," Slattery said. "How bad do you want to win? Like Joliet Catholic and Lincoln-Way East, we don't accept losing. Coach Ernst has done a great job. He knows how to win. He is the real deal. I wouldn't want any other coach."

Slattery is Lincoln-Way West's all-time leading receiver with more receptions for more yards and more touchdowns than anyone in school history. But he acknowledges that four years is hardly a record book, especially in a program that prefers running to passing.

"I wouldn't be opposed to seeing us throw 30 passes a game. But whatever we're doing, we're winning. I'd rather block or do whatever it takes to win," he said. "Until my freshman year, I thought of myself as a baseball player. But I like the atmosphere of football in high school, the team concept. How could you not want to be a part of that?"

Slattery, who grew up in Lansing, was a quarterback while playing for the New Lenox Mustangs and New Lenox Junior Knights from second through eighth grade. As a freshman at newly opened Lincoln-Way West, he was shifted to wide receiver. He was moved up to the sophomore team, then to the varsity.

Last year's team finished 7-3, losing to Joliet Catholic in the first round of the playoff. With five returning starters on offense and five on defense, Ernst was optimistic about 2012. As a Class 5A school in a Class 7A league, however, he understands the odds aren't in his favor.

Perhaps it is a good thing that Ernst believes in luck. "From all my years with Senffner at Providence and Glielmi at Lincoln-Way Central, one of things you see is luck. You have to stay healthy. At Lincoln-Way Central, we lost 11 starters one year after thinking we'd make a run (at the state title)," he said.

"I believe in luck. Sure, you make your own luck most of the time. But luck is involved in winning a state title and making a long run in the playoff. The football bounces in weird ways sometimes. The whole idea is not to get distracted."

Ernst believes he has what it takes to contend with a Kaneland team that has lost only twice in the last three years. A key factor is 5-foot-9, 160-pound junior running back Javier Montalvo, who has rushed for 600 yards in the last three games. He ran for 203 yards and two touchdowns against Rochelle.

"We had three tailbacks playing and Montalvo started to get more carries beginning with the Thornton game," Ernst said. "He has made a big impact. He is a wrestler and he doesn't like to get tackled. He has emerged as our go-to running back."

Montalvo runs behind McGovern, a 6-foot-7, 297-pound senior, 6-foot-2, 250-pound junior tackle Brennan Mulroe and 6-foot-4, 245-pound senior guard Derrek Gurnea. Quarterback Justin Keuch, a 5-foot-9, 150-pound junior, has passed for 1,100 yards and seven touchdowns.

Ernst said McGovern is "as good an offensive tackle as I've seen. He is fast, quick and intelligent. You see a lot of big kids but he is an athlete." Mulroe is back after missing two weeks with a torn ACL.

The defense features 6-foot-4, 200-pound senior tackle Matt Sorganan, 6-foot, 190-pound senior linebacker McKenna Wychocky, 6-foot-2, 240-pound junior tackle Josh Hilt, 5-foot-9, 180-pound senior linebacker Jake Bohne, 5-foot-7, 150-pound senior cornerback Andy Hensel and Alex and Andrew Gray, a pair of junior safeties who are 6-foot-3, 180-pound identical twins.

Sorganan was on the prep team last year. He saw only five snaps during the entire season. He was only 6-foot-1 as a junior. "But he had a great off-season. Now he is one of the best players on the team. His father played in the NFL. He is a late developer. His best days are in front of him," Ernst said.

The same can be said for Lincoln-Way West.

White Sox offense can't stay hot in loss to A's

White Sox offense can't stay hot in loss to A's

A day after having quite the offensive party, the White Sox didn’t save any production for Friday.

The White Sox couldn’t muster any offense in a 3-0 loss to the Oakland Athletics in their series opener at Guaranteed Rate Field in front of 25,370 fans.

After recording 18 hits in Thursday’s game against the Minnesota Twins, the White Sox were held to just seven on Friday, but it felt like fewer. They went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position.

Mike Pelfrey, who fell to 3-6 on the season, took a step back after delivering a strong performance in his last outing against the Toronto Blue Jays.

The 33-year-old struggled with his command against the A’s all night. He pitched 4 2/3 innings and issued five walks. Pelfrey also allowed all three runs on four hits and two homers.

The A’s got on the board early with a two-run shot to center field by Khris Davis. In the fifth, Pelfrey allowed another homer, a solo shot, to Matt Joyce to make it 3-0.

The White Sox bullpen staved off any further production and combined for 4 1/3 shutout innings between four relievers. But they weren’t able to generate any of their own.

Not even ejections from Tim Anderson and Rick Renteria could spark a cold offense.

The White Sox best chance came in the bottom of the ninth, where Melky Cabrera and Jose Abreu opened with back-to-back singles. After an Avisail Garcia flyout, Todd Frazier popped one over A’s first baseman Yonder Alonso, but Abreu was thrown out at second. Matt Davidson flew out to center field at the warning track to end the game.

Friday marked the start of a season-long 10-game homestand, somewhere the White Sox were happy to be after playing 15 of their last 19 on the road.

Bulls have emerged from a ball of confusion to parts unknown

Bulls have emerged from a ball of confusion to parts unknown

The big red button was pressed and Jimmy Butler was ejected from the Chicago Bulls’ present and future as they finally made the decision to rebuild after two years of resisting.

Trading Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the ability to draft Lauri Markkanen represents the Bulls committing to the draft lottery and fully going in on the Fred Hoiberg experience for the foreseeable future, as the prospect of trying to improve through shrewd moves in the East while also facing the likelihood of Butler commanding a $200 million contract wasn’t palatable to their pocketbook or their sensibilities.

On one hand, making a decision — any decision — can be applauded on some levels after years of their relationship with Butler being complicated at best. But the idea of rebuilding and the application of it are often two separate ideals, because the evaluation of a rebuild can often be as murky as the land the Bulls just left.

“What we’ve done tonight is set a direction,” Bulls Executive Vice President John Paxson said. “We’ve gone to the past where we make the playoffs, but not at the level we wanted to. You know in this league, success is not determined that way. We’ve decided to make the change and rebuild this roster.”

“We’re gonna remain patient and disciplined. The development of our young players is important. The coaching staff has done a phenomenal job. We’re gonna continue down that path. We’re not gonna throw huge money at people.”

The Bulls aren’t exclusive to this territory, the land in which they’ve inhibited for the last couple seasons, which makes the Butler trade about more than one thing.

Not equal parts but part basketball, part fiscal, part narrative and finally, masking some mistakes that have been made over the years but are not as easily rectified. Trading Butler seemed to be the easiest vessel used as an elixir to wash away missteps. Trading a star in Butler is also the easiest way to get heat off a coach or front office in today’s NBA, because few franchises like to make wholesale changes midstream or early in it.

Trading Butler — along with shipping their second-round pick in a box marked for the Bay Area — was also financial, considering many felt if he made it through the tumultuous evening that he would finish his career as a Bull, raking in a hefty sum of cash on the back end.

It’s because of these factors that the evaluation of this trade and subsequently, a painful rebuild, cannot be in a vacuum. (Note: No rebuild is painless, it’s the size of the migraine a team can endure that determines the type of aspirin necessary).

Just taking a look at the players the Bulls got back in the Butler trade illustrates the gray area they’ve now immersed themselves into. The Bulls fell in love with Dunn before he came to the NBA, and aren’t as bothered by him being a 23-year old second-year player who struggled mightily in his rookie year.

Zach LaVine is an explosive athlete who can put up 20 every night — when he’s on the floor. Recovering from an ACL injury is no given, as evidenced by a young phenom who once graced the United Center hardwood before his body betrayed him.

And Lauri Markkanen is a rookie with promise, but nobody can make any promises on what type of career he’ll have, or if he’ll fulfill that promise with this franchise in the requisite time.

“There’s always risk in anything,” Paxson said. “But here’s a guy that’s 22 years old and averages 20 a game (LaVine). He can score the basketball, he can run. He can shoot the basketball. He shot over 40 percent from three. That’s an area we’re deficient in. Markkanen shot over 40 from three in college. Again, it’s an area where we’re deficient. It’s trying to find the type of player that fits the way that we want to play going forward.”

[RELATED: Jimmy Butler bids emotional farewell to Chicago]

General Manager Gar Forman stated after the announcement of the trade that the Bulls would have to hit on their next few draft picks to stop this rebuild from being elongated, but even then there’s no guarantee.

The Sacramento Kings drafted a rookie of the year, then two future max contract players in the same year, followed by another player who’ll command close to max money very soon. But nobody remembers Tyreke Evans, DeMarcus Cousins, Hassan Whiteside and Isaiah Thomas leading the Kings from the wilderness and into glory, unless recent memory has been scrubbed away from everyone.

Inconsistencies in organizational structure combined with multiple coaching changes and an inability to develop the right young players kept the Kings on the dais of the draft lottery every April.

The Timberwolves, heck, nobody could say they missed when selecting LaVine, Karl-Anthony Towns and getting Andrew Wiggins in a trade for Kevin Love. It’s because it takes more than the right draft picks, or in the Sacramento Kings’ case, the right infrastructure and environment, to foster an atmosphere of winning.

The Bulls were ready, despite their claims that this was a decision that came across their table right before the draft, because common sense has to be applied. No team makes knee-jerk, franchise-altering decisions that will have reverberations for years to come on the whim of a trade offer from Tom Thibodeau. This was likely decided when the Bulls went out with a whimper in the first-round after shocking the NBA world in the first two games against the Boston Celtics, when their fortunes changed on the trifle of Rajon Rondo’s broken wrist.

It was decided that Hoiberg, the man who endured chants calling for his firing in the second half of the decisive Game 6 loss, needed to have the right type of roster to be accurately judged as a successful hire or failure, and Butler couldn’t be part of those plans.

And just as Hoiberg has been dealt an uneven hand, Butler wasn’t given the type of roster that would accurately judge how he could flourish as a leader, max player and face of the franchise — and probably had less time to show one way or the other relative to his coach.

The longer Butler stayed, the more empowered he would become as his individual accomplishments would rack up because of the dedication he applied to game, the drive he had to place himself in the upper echelon of NBA players.

The better Butler got, the more pressure Hoiberg would be under to mix and match his roster and to foster a relationship with Butler he might’ve been ill-suited to fix. The better Butler got, the more pressure the front office would be under to maximize a prime it didn’t see coming, a prime they can’t truly figure when there’s an expiration date on given Butler’s unlikely rise to stardom.

So getting rid of Butler was the solution and the Bulls have now chosen their path, definitively and with confidence. Emerging from a ball of confusion to parts unknown, from one land of uncertainty to another.