Harris sparks Lyons late-season comeback

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Harris sparks Lyons late-season comeback

Lyons Township was 2-4 after crushing losses to West Suburban Silver rivals Hinsdale Central 24-20 and Oak Park 35-34 in Weeks 5 and 6. Star running backcornerback Matthew Harris had missed the last three games with a bruised lung. The team physician wouldn't let him play.

One more loss and Harris and his teammates would be handing in their equipment and looking to the off-season. But the four team captains--Harris, Nick Demes, Connor Onion and Billy Cramsie--weren't about to call it quits.

"After the Oak Park game, all of the captains looked at each other and began to talk. I talked to the other captains in the locker room. Later, we called each other that night," Harris said.

"We asked ourselves: 'What can we do differently?' Our job is to lead the team. We had to take it upon ourselves to show leadership. We worked too hard to not make it to the playoff. We had to put in more work. We had to trust in each other and trust in the coaches to get the job done.

"We didn't know what the problem was. But we knew everyone wasn't giving their all. The players needed to step it up, on the field and in practice. We had to make sure everyone was doing the right thing and, if not, call them out on it."

Walking on the sideline during the Oak Park game, Harris noticed something that bugged him. "As a team, we couldn't come up with a big play that we needed at the right time," he said.

At a team meeting before the next practice, the captains aired their feelings. "We made sure we had a lot of energy at practice, a game-like situation. We fed off a high intensity practice. We knew we couldn't lose another game and get into the playoff," Harris said.

Win or go home? Isn't that a lot of pressure? "Not that much. We knew we would play some good teams but we knew we hadn't played to our highest potential yet. If we play at our best, it is pretty hard to top our team. Our best game of the year is yet to come," Harris said.

In the wake of Lyons' recent four-game winning streak, capped by last Friday's stunning 34-28 upset of highly rated Marist, Harris' projection is scary. The La Grange school will travel to challenge another favorite, O'Fallon (8-2), on Saturday night in the second round of the Class 8A playoff.

Against Marist, Lyons built a 13-point halftime lead, extended its margin to 34-14 midway in the fourth quarter, then held off the fast-finishing RedHawks. Harris scored on a 50-yard return of an interception. Quarterback Zach Mahoney scored once and completed 15 of 25 passes for 236 yards and two touchdowns to Jemari Burks.

"Our seniors took more of a leadership role," Lyons coach Kurt Weinberg said, explaining his team's turnaround. "They became more player driven after losing to Oak Park and being 2-4. They extended themselves in a good way to make sure we got it rolling in the right direction."

Weinberg also noted that the Lions weathered an injury storm. Not only had Harris missed three games but Mahoney missed one. Similar to last year's 7-5 finisher, this year's squad is healthy and playing at its best when it counts the most -- at the end of the season.

"We didn't have the regular season that we wanted to but we got cranked up when we needed to," Weinberg said. "Remember, our conference is the first or second strongest in the state. Six teams qualified for the playoff and were 4-2 in the first round. The West Suburban Silver challenges and prepares you."

The ringleaders are Harris, a 6-foot, 180-pound senior who has been recruited to play cornerback at Northwestern; Demes, a 6-foot-4, 280-pound senior offensive tackle who is committed to Pennsylvania; Onion, a 6-foot, 180-pound senior defensive back; and Cramsie, a 6-foot, 210-pound senior linebacker who also may be headed to the Ivy League.

"They are our catalysts," Weinberg said. "They came out of that team meeting with more fire in their eyes."

Mahoney, a 6-foot-3, 190-pound senior, has completed 70 percent of his passes for nearly 2,000 yards. Leonard Ross, a 6-foot, 190-pound sophomore, was brought up to sub for an injured starter and has amassed 350 yards in only three games.

The defense features Cramsie, Harris, Onion, 6-foot-1, 245-pound senior tackle Jimmy Mitchell, 6-foot-1, 210-pound senior linebacker John Phillipp and 6-foot, 215-pound senior linebacker Patrick Kelley.

"Intensity-wise, Marist was our best game of the year up to now," Harris said. "People saw how much class we have. After knocking down someone, we helped them up. We don't depend on one person to make a big play. We all lean on others to make big plays."

Harris didn't begin to play football until eighth grade. When he was 8 years old, he ran track with his older brother Russell, who went on to become an All-American at Wartburg College in Iowa. Matthew ran sprints and competed in the long jump and hurdles. Last spring, he was fourth in the long jump in the state meet.

In eighth grade, Harris joined the Western Springs youth football team. His best friend's father was the coach. He was aware of Matthew's speed (he was timed in 4.35 seconds for 40 yards at Illinois' camp last summer). Football seemed to be a good sport to exhibit it. Matthew took to it from the first snap.

"I loved it right away. I loved game plans. I loved contact. I loved being the one to make plays. I loved the team aspect," he said. "And I became aware that cornerback is a much coveted position (in college and the NFL). That's why I love it, the challenge. If I am going to get beat, I will come back and try to shut him down on the next play."

He said he chose Northwestern over Wisconsin in early July because it is close to home, it is Chicago's Big Ten school, he is impressed with coach Pat Fitzgerald and his staff and he is thrilled by the family atmosphere.

"It was a real tough decision. Sometimes I would lean to one school, then the other. I took visits to both schools within two days of each other," Harris said. "In the end, I chose Northwestern because of how welcoming they were to me and my family, so sincere."

Now he is focusing on the playoff. He wears No. 11 in memory of his father, who was born on Nov. 11 and died in 2007. "I'm playing for my dad," he said.

"We are clicking at the right time. We haven't played our best game yet. We haven't shined like we should be shining. When we can show how good we are, the more we win. Our record doesn't show how good we are. We have fire but sometimes we fall asleep. We have to make sure we are clicking all the time. We can't take any snaps off. We need to focus all the time."

If Nationals are playoff preview, what should Cubs do at trade deadline?

If Nationals are playoff preview, what should Cubs do at trade deadline?

WASHINGTON – Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio has perspective after sitting through the darkest days of the rebuild, the sign-and-flip cycles and moments like “Men Playing Against Boys,” the way ex-manager Dale Sveum once sized up the team during a 2012 series against the Washington Nationals.

Bosio trusted future “World’s Greatest Leader” Theo Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and the rest of a growing front office would deliver talent during the 101-loss season that led to the Kris Bryant No. 2 overall draft pick and the Ryan Dempster/Kyle Hendricks buzzer-beater deal at the trade deadline.   

So while Bosio is a hardened realist who understands the banged-up Cubs haven’t played up to their potential, he also knows these are first-division problems. 

“If Theo and Jed can find a way to make our team better, you can bet they’re going to do it,” Bosio said. “But at the same time, they’re not going to sacrifice our future. They know that the team (here has) a lot of holdovers from the World Series club. There’s a lot of holdovers from the team that went to the National League (Championship Series in 2015). We’ve been through that. And when it comes crunch time, we produce.”

With that in mind, a look at where things stand five weeks out from the July 31 trade deadline as the defending champs begin a potential playoff preview on Monday at Nationals Park:

• If Max Scherzer flirts with another no-hitter or a 20-strikeout game on Tuesday, the questions will start all over again about adding a hitter. Javier Baez even let this slip over the weekend after a win over the Miami Marlins: “Pretty much not having a leadoff guy right now is kind of tough.” But shipping Kyle Schwarber to Triple-A Iowa is not necessarily the start of an offensive overhaul.

“Our focus is going to be on pitching,” Hoyer said. “I would never say never to something like that, because I don’t know what’s going to present itself as we get closer to the deadline. I will say this: When it comes to our offense, I really do see it as these are our guys. We’re as deep with position players as any team in baseball. These guys have performed exceptionally well. Most of these guys have won 200 games over the last two years.

“We believe in them for a reason. We don’t have rings on our fingers without all these guys.”

• With Jake Arrieta and John Lackey on the verge of becoming free agents, the Cubs feel like they should start working on their winter plans this summer and begin remodeling the rotation. The 38-37 record makes you wonder how ultra-aggressive the front office will be to win a bidding war for a frontline starter, but the Cubs are only 1.5 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers, a first-place team for now that was supposed to be rebuilding this year.   

But the Cleveland Indians got to the 10th inning of a World Series Game 7 with Trevor Bauer, Josh Tomlin and Ryan Merritt making nine playoff starts combined, because they had Corey Kluber and a dynamic bullpen.

The primary focus will have to be on the rotation, but adding another high-leverage reliever to work in front of lights-out closer Wade Davis would shorten games and help preserve Carl Edwards Jr. (170 pounds) and Koji Uehara (42 years old).   

“At some point, you’re going to assess your own team,” Hoyer said. “Sometimes strengthening a strength can work. You see teams that sometimes have a good offense – and add another good hitter – and all of a sudden we’re going to beat you in a different way.”

• Without making this summer’s blockbuster deal for a closer – the way the Cubs landed Aroldis Chapman – Washington risks wasting Bryce Harper’s second-to-last season before free agency and another year of Scherzer’s $210 million megadeal.

Six different Nationals have saved games for a 45-30 team and the bullpen ranks near the bottom of the majors with a 4.88 ERA. Can’t blame that on Dusty Baker, who has notched more than 1,800 wins as a manager and guided four different franchises to the playoffs.

But it won’t be easy to find a quick fix for the Washington bullpen or Cubs rotation. The American League opened for business on Monday with only three of its 15 teams more than three games under .500, and one being the White Sox, who are (obviously) not seen as a realistic trade partner for the Cubs.

“The American League is incredibly jumbled up,” Hoyer said. “That’s why a lot of deals don’t happen this time of year, because people are still sorting it out. The next five weeks of baseball will determine a lot of that. Some of those teams that are in the race now will fall back.

“There’s a lack of teams right now that have a true sense of sellers. I think there are a lot of teams right now that are close enough that they’re not going to admit it that they’re going to be sellers. That five weeks will determine a lot about who ends up on which side of the fence.”

Dwyane Wade rocks an absolutely ridiculous man purse in Paris

Dwyane Wade rocks an absolutely ridiculous man purse in Paris

From the NBA Draft and a crazy Jimmy Butler trade to...Dwyane Wade's questionable fashion choices?

Just another Bulls offseason.

D-Wade and wife Gabrielle Union are vacationing in Paris and the Bulls guard was photographed with a ridiculous doggie man purse thing:

Here's another shot:

The Black Clark Kent... #ThomBrowne #parisfashionweek #Thrumyeyes

A post shared by dwyanewade (@dwyanewade) on

Now, take my assessments of "questionable" and "ridiculous" with a grain of salt given I know nothing about fashion (I still wear American Eagle shirts I wore in high school), but c'mon now.

The only thing more absurd than the bag is the cost: $2,600 (!!!!!!!).

$2,600? That's 10 Bulls games at the 100 level! That's a quarter of the Bulls' home slate. 

Unreal.

Then again, Butler wore a fanny pack when arriving in Minnesota with his new team:

Here's another shot of Mr. G Buckets' fanny pack:

before we leave london. might as well have @ifeanyi_koggu hit her with the GO route. he did not catch the ball.

A post shared by Jimmy Butler (@jimmybutler) on

Also, here are a couple photos of D-Wade and Butler having a grand ole time while chillin' in Paris:

D.A.M.N haha. My Guy!!! #Morelife

A post shared by dwyanewade (@dwyanewade) on

That @marquette.basketball connection and that Paris vibe!!! @jimmybutler

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This has been your pointless Chicago sports news of the day. Back to regularly scheduled programming.