Fleming sets pace for Stevenson

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Fleming sets pace for Stevenson

When Mike Fleming was in seventh grade, Stevenson's basketball team was 27-7 and finished fourth in the Class AA tournament. He attended a lot of games, including the Elite Eight finals in Peoria.

It was a wonderful and eye-opening experience. He enjoyed watching Stevenson's Jong Lee, Kevin Stineman and Dylan Richter and even got an up-close-and-personal view of a young Simeon star named Derrick Rose.

"It never crossed my mind that Stevenson basketball wasn't as big as football or baseball," Fleming said. "As I got into the program, playing as a freshman and sophomore, I could see it wasn't that big. Not a lot of people showed up unless it was Warren or Libertyville or a playoff game."

Times have changed. Stevenson is 8-1 after overwhelming Streamwood 60-36 on Tuesday in the opening round of the Wheeling Holiday Tournament.

The Patriots have defeated highly rated Warren and previously unbeaten Libertyville and lost only to newly crowned Elgin Holiday Tournament champion Elgin in overtime.

Against Streamwood, Fleming converted four three-point shots and
finished with 19 points and five assists. Colby Cashew added 13 points.

"We have potential to be better than the 27-7 team," coach Pat Ambrose said. "We have a young team. We have a freshman starter and a freshman coming off the bench. And we have a sophomore who plays starter minutes. We are a work in progress. But the talent is there. We can be as good as the 2007 team if we keep on moving forward and improving."

Fleming agrees. The 6-foot senior guard is the team leader and its leading scorer (18 ppg). He also is the smartest guy in the locker room with a 29 ACT and a 4.1 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale in advanced placement courses. He wants to major in economics and play basketball in college, maybe at Colgate or Bucknell or Princeton or Cornell.

"This year is so much different than last year," Fleming said. "Last year, we were 15-13. Some guys were figuring out what their roles were and wanted to have a different role instead of doing what they had to do for the team to be successful.

"But everybody is buying into it this year. Everybody has the same mindset. Everybody wants to play basketball. In the past, the mindset was mixed. This year, everybody is close on and off the floor. Everybody enjoys playing with each other. And everybody knows their role."

Fleming is joined in the starting lineup by 6-6 senior Colby Cashaw (8 ppg, 8 rpg), 6-foot freshman guard Jalen Brunson (7 ppg, 6 assists), 6-3 junior Andy Stemple (4 ppg) and 6-6 senior Chandler Simon or 6-1 sophomore Matt Morrissey. Another valuable contributor is 6-2 freshman Connor Cashaw, Colby's brother.

Brunson, son of Chicago Bulls assistant coach and former Temple and 10-year NBA player Rick Brunson, is a prototypical point guard. He scored 22 points against Libertyville. Morrissey, son of former Chicago Bears star Jim Morrissey, is a late addition from the football team.

"Brunson has great potential," Ambrose said. "He is a piece to our puzzle right now. He isn't a star player but he gets oohs and aahs from the crowd because of the moves he makes. But he fits into our team concept."

Ambrose, 43, is in his 14th year as head coach at the Lincolnshire high school. A 1987 graduate of Naperville North, he was mentored by several outstanding high school coaches--Naperville North's Dick Whitaker, Proviso West's Mark Schneider and Hoffman Estates' Bill Wandro. When he applied at Stevenson, Warren's Chuck Ramsey put in a good word for him.

"I didn't know much about Stevenson," Ambrose said. "I knew it had untapped potential in basketball. I knew it was more known for football and baseball because of past success. But I didn't think we couldn't win there. We had to get everybody on the same page, get the kids working in the same direction, straighten out the feeder program, get more kids interested in basketball, let them see Stevenson basketball in a better light."

To relate to the kids, he put together a crack staff. Assistant Brent Mork has been with him for the last four years. Paul Swan has been coaching basketball at Stevenson for 43 years. A member of the Lake County Hall of Fame, Swan has been a volunteer varsity assistant for the last six years.

Ambrose was disappointed with last year's 15-13 team, which lost to Mundelein in the regional semifinal for the third time. "We should have been better. We had more talent than we showed, eight seniors who didn't put it all together. We didn't do a good job from A to Z, offense or defense," he said.

But this year's team could be better. "I keep telling the kids: 'The future is in front of you. The past is history. The future is a mystery.' I keep asking them what we can do today to make ourselves better," the coach said.

"Coach Ambrose is known for his sayings and quotes. He has so many of them. All of them relate to the team," Fleming said. "He says this a lot and puts in on the board: 'Play hard, play smart, play together.' That's his No. 1 saying."

Fleming has been in the program for four years and he has heard all of Ambrose's sayings. And he sees changes that he likes, things he never saw before, like a student cheering section. "It won't be long before somebody comes up with a name for them," he said.

But the most fun is on the floor. Fleming scored 27 points against Elgin and Zion-Benton and 16 in Stevenson's victory over Warren. The fever is catching on among the students and the community.

"This year, we have had success and we have talent. The gym has been packed for every game," Fleming said. "It is cool to have some big games. It is awesome to do it in front of family and friends.

"It excites me. It is rare to see two freshmen (Dunson and Connor Cashaw) with such raw talent. It is awesome to play with young guys who can come in and play in varsity games and have an impact. I didn't expected them to be as good as they are. It helps our team that much more.

"We will surprise a lot of people. I think a lot people, even after our Warren win, still doubted us. They thought it was lucky or a fluke. But I hope, after our Libertyville win, that people will realize we are a very talented team, that we are definitely for real. People should recognize that and not take us lightly. It would be a dream to play Simeon in the Class 4A final."

Has the coach got a saying for that?

Scott Boras fires back at Jake Arrieta’s critics and makes another Max Scherzer comparison

Scott Boras fires back at Jake Arrieta’s critics and makes another Max Scherzer comparison

LOS ANGELES – Scott Boras waved a Cubs beat writer over toward the VIP section behind home plate at Dodger Stadium. Holding a smartphone in hand, the super-agent started rattling off data points on Saturday afternoon, making the case for Jake Arrieta once he hits the free-agent market after this season.

Boras pushed back on the idea that Arrieta is something less than an elite pitcher and compromised by diminished velocity, launching into a defense that lasted roughly 15 minutes and drew in two more Chicago reporters before a security guard told the media to clear the field because it was an hour before first pitch.

Once again, Boras used 2014 Max Scherzer as a reference point, detailing five of six starts between May 21 and June 17 in which a Cy Young Award winner gave up seven runs, five runs, four runs, four runs and 10 runs. That didn’t stop Scherzer from making another All-Star team, going 18-5 with a 3.15 ERA, leading the Tigers to another division title and jumping to the Nationals for a seven-year, $210 million megadeal.

“I just remember going through this,” Boras said, “because when Detroit came to town, I got the ‘Oh my God, the ship is sinking.'"

The night before, Boras sat in a front-row seat with his entourage watching Arrieta during a 4-0 loss that saw aging Dodgers Chase Utley and Adrian Gonzalez crush fastballs over the center-field wall. One theory – floated by the media and essentially confirmed by manager Joe Maddon – is that Arrieta (4.92 ERA) will have to learn how to pitch in a new reality where he can’t automatically unleash a 95-mph fastball.

“That is so far remote from the truth,” Boras said. “To create a voice to your fan base to suggest that Jake is not Jake – Jake is throwing at frankly better levels than what Scherzer did. And the reality of it is that Jake has this history.

“He’s got a great history that goes on, like (Clayton) Kershaw does, like (David) Price does, like (Zack) Greinke does. These guys have not done this for one year. He did it ’14, ’15, ’16.”

Here’s how Brooks Baseball’s online database has tracked Arrieta’s average velocities across the last three-plus seasons:

2014

Four-seam: 94.59

Sinker: 94.49

2015

Four-seam: 94.93

Sinker: 95.21

2016

Four-seam: 94.32

Sinker: 94.44

2017

Four-seam: 92.64

Sinker: 92.50

Here’s the Brooks Baseball analysis of Scherzer’s fastball from 2012 through last season’s Cy Young Award campaign: 94.97, 94.46, 93.88, 94.67, 95.23.

[MORE: Scott Boras doesn't believe Jake Arrieta is feeling pressure of free agency]

Boras dismissed a question about Arrieta’s inconsistencies at the beginning of his career as he shuttled between the Orioles and their Triple-A affiliate and how that could impact the perception of a 30-something pitcher.

“I’m looking at a three-year window coming into ’17,” Boras said. “When you’re elite, you have not done it once. You have not done it twice. You’ve done it three times. Jake has had three premium years. He’s in the Cy Young voting three years in a row. That puts him in a class of all these people.

“(One) comment is: ‘Oh my God, he’s dropped in velocity.’ Fair observation. My point is they all drop in velocity. All the elite pitchers drop in velocity, because they come in the league, they’re throwing 96, they’re throwing 95, then they’re down. But what are they all doing? They’re all (within) the ranges, probably close to 92 and 93.5.”

The Boras Corp. pitch to owners and executives this offseason will also revolve around durability, advanced stats and postseason experience. Arrieta has made 25, 33 and 31 starts across the last three seasons, ranking second in the majors in WHIP (0.97) and third in soft-contact percentage (22.6) and pitching in six playoffs rounds.

Where Kershaw and Price have repeatedly had to answer questions about their big-game performances, Arrieta can cue up the highlights from the 2015 wild-card game in Pittsburgh and show off his 2016 World Series ring.

Boras clearly has an agenda, but all this is worth remembering amid all the instant analysis and overreactions to how the defending champs are playing now. It might also reinforce why Theo Epstein’s front office could view this as a bad investment and keep rolling the dice with change-of-scenery guys and trading from their surplus of hitters. 

“We’re going to sit here and evaluate a player on a 60-day moment or a 10-start moment when he has three years of his history?” Boras said. “Don’t do it. That’s not fair. It’s not an evaluation, because all their velocities drop.

“All these guys are all still doing well and all their velocities dropped. The key thing is they were able to do what they did three years running. What does Jake have an advantage over all of them at? What does Jake do better than anybody? He wins big games.”    

After getting shut down by Buck Farmer, White Sox ninth-inning rally falls short

After getting shut down by Buck Farmer, White Sox ninth-inning rally falls short

The White Sox offense waited just a little too long to come to life in the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader.

The bats were silent for eight innings before a jolt of a ninth-inning rally that saw the South Siders shave a 4-0 gap down to 4-3, only for back-to-back strikeouts to strand the would-be tying run 90 feet away and send the White Sox to a 4-3 loss at Guaranteed Rate Field.

Buck Farmer made his first big league start of the 2017 season for the visiting Detroit Tigers, and he kept the White Sox quiet, striking out 11 hitters in his 6.1 shutout innings of work. He allowed just three hits and two walks, preventing the White Sox from doing much of anything.

“Farmer certainly had a lot of action on his pitches,” White Sox manager Rick Renteria said, “so it was tough to get anything started while he was in there.

“Farmer kept us from being able to string things together. His ball had a lot of action. He hid the ball well. … He was able to contain and continue to throw strikes and move the ball out of the zone.”

It wasn’t until the ninth that the White Sox were able to string some things together. Jose Abreu led off the final frame with a double and moved to third two batters later when Matt Davidson singled. Tim Anderson’s base hit up the middle brought home Abreu to end the shutout. Then Yolmer Sanchez tripled into the right-field corner to plate both Davidson and Anderson and make it a sudden one-run game.

But Todd Frazier and Adam Engel struck out, leaving Sanchez standing at third base.

[WHITE SOX TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

White Sox starting pitcher Derek Holland had a solid outing, allowing just one run and striking out eight batters in six innings of work. He did allow seven hits and four walks, but he worked out of most jams, the only run coming on a solo home run off the bat of John Hicks in the fourth inning.

The Tigers’ offense did the rest of its damage against the White Sox bullpen, a change from Game 1 of the doubleheader, which saw the relief corps throw four scoreless innings in a 3-0 win. But in Game 2, Gregory Infante allowed two seventh-inning runs on a sacrifice fly and a Michael Ynoa wild pitch after Infante departed. Victor Martinez smacked a solo homer off Juan Minaya to give the Tigers a 4-0 lead in the top of the ninth.

It’s been a long couple days on the South Side. Friday’s scheduled day-night doubleheader turned into a lot of waiting around and just one game that didn’t get started until after a rain delay. Then came Saturday’s straight doubleheader, two games played one right after the other.

While Holland dismissed any fatigue for the White Sox — who before these long days at home came off a 10-game road trip — but whether related to fatigue or not, these two teams struck out a combined 47 times and stranded a combined 35 runners in Saturday’s two games.

That being said, the White Sox had enough left in them to come 90 feet away from erasing a four-run deficit in the ninth.

“Look how we battled into the ninth inning,” Holland said. “We were still going strong. Definitely no fatigue over here, that’s for sure.

“This was a tough one today. We had two back-to-back games and long games. They played hard. That’s what it’s all about. Those guys were battling out there.”