High School Lites preview: Conference showdown week

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High School Lites preview: Conference showdown week

Its Conference Showdown Week on High School Lites. Pivotal games dot the Chicago basketball landscape this weekend. The keys to the West Suburban Gold title could end up going to the Downers Grove South-Proviso East winner. In the Southwest Suburban Red, will Andrew remain undefeated after Fridays tilt at Thornwood? And who takes control of the Mid-Suburban West: Schaumburg or Barrington? Here is a snapshot of each game that we will cover on this Fridays edition of High School Lites. All rankings reflect the CSN Top 20, sponsored by The Marines:

Thursday games

No. 1 Simeon (16-1) @ Vocational (15-6), 4:00 p.m.

Simeon head coach Robert Smith said that Mondays loss to nationally-ranked Findlay Prep woke the team up a bit. Nowhere was that more apparent than in Wednesdays victory over Urban Prep-Englewood. Jabari Parker had a game high 32 points in the 83-39 victory. That sets the stage for Thursdays game against a Vocational team that took care of Carver on Wednesday, 67-55. The Wolverines will travel to Memphis Saturday for a game against Southwind (TN) in the Penny Hardaway Hoop Fest.

GIRLS: Lincoln-Way Central (10-8) @ Bolingbrook (14-1), 7:00 p.m.

Connecticut-bound senior forward Morgan Tuck is close to unstoppable. She had 32 points and 20 rebounds Tuesday night against Lincoln-Way East (a double-double at halftime) in a 78-48 victory. Lincoln-Way Central has stayed above water this season thanks to the efforts of players like Rachel Post and Autumn Schultz. If the Knights are to improve on their 77-22 loss to Bolingbrook earlier in the season, containing Tuck is a must.

No. 2 Proviso East (14-0) @ No. 10 Downers Grove South (13-2), 7:30 p.m.

Not many teams can say that they will face two top-five opponents in one season, much less in one week. And back-to-back. Such is life for the 10th ranked Mustangs, who face the Pirates for first place in the West Suburban Gold Thursday, then turn around to battle No. 4 Warren on Saturday. Souths Jerron Wilbut and Jamall Millison comprise one of the top backcourts in the state, but Proviso Easts powerful lineup is one that could play in Peoria. Talented St. Louis-bound guard Keith Carter is every bit as good as advertised.

Friday games

No. 15 Whitney Young (8-6) @ North Lawndale (12-5), 5:30 p.m.

Both the Phoenix and the 15th-ranked Dolphins are coming off conference losses on Wednesday, which makes Fridays Red-West contest all the more important. 6-10 sophomore center Jahlil Okafor is coming off a 34 point performance for Whitney Young. Davonte Johnson, Kelvin Grayson and Alonzo Singletary are some of the key contributors for North Lawndale, who are among the teams chasing Marshall in conference play.

No. 5 Andrew (13-0) @ Thornwood (11-5), 6:30 p.m.

The weather forecasters are calling for snow Friday nightbut a thunderstorm might happen in South Holland. Cheesy references aside, the Thunderbolts and Thunderbirds tangle in a game for the outright lead in the Southwest Suburban Red. Both teams stand at 5-0 in the conference. Andrews Adekoya brothers (Jubril and Jawad) will be tested by Thornwood seniors Darrell Combs (G) and Khapri Alston (F). The two teams meet again in Tinley Park on February 21st.

No. 16 St. Ignatius (13-2) @ No. 9 De La Salle (13-2), 7:30 p.m.

Which Catholic North team will be left standing at the top of the mountain? The Wolfpack and Meteors comprise two of the three conference leaders (St. Rita being the other). The game has added significance because it represents a rematch of the Jack Tosh Holiday Tournament championship, won by St. Ignatius in overtime. Iggys Brian Howard hit a clutch three in that game but Gavin Schilling and Alvin Ellis of De La Salle are eager to answer the call this time around.

St. Patrick (7-7) @ No. 19 Notre Dame (14-4), 7:30 p.m.

Its one of the classic rivalries in the state. The visiting Shamrocks have won three of their last four, including Saturdays 62-45 triumph over Niles West. They have a pair of talented seniors in forward Ismar Seferagic and guard Royale Ewing. The Dons have won three straight and have wins this season over Crete-Monee, Brother Rice and Marist to their credit. And its all about balance with Notre Dame. No player on their roster is averaging in double figures, but keep an eye on junior guard Matt Mooney.

Niles North (12-5) @ Glenbrook North (13-3), 7:30 p.m.

The Spartans don't have to worry about Abdel Nader on the Niles North roster anymore. However, they have to be concerned about the Vikings' 5-6 point guard Malachi Nix. He is quick on both sides of the floor and has range with his shot. Niles North can tie Glenbrook North for first in the Central Suburban North with a win, but look for head coach Dave Weber and company to respond. Guard Kurt Karis and forward Mark Johnson have been on fire of late.

Glenbard West (11-2) @ Oak Park-River Forest (10-4), 7:30 p.m.

Now that Ka'Darryl Bell is back, look out. The Bradley-bound guard has returned to the OPRF lineup after missing a month with an injury to his right wrist. But this game might come down to the big men. The Huskies feature three players 6-7 and above, including Gabe Levin (16 points, 12 boards against Lyons on Saturday). The Hilltoppers boast twin towers Michael and Matthew Mache (both 6-6) and 6-8 center Pat Mazza.

No. 4 Warren (12-2) @ Lake Zurich (11-9), 7:30 p.m.

The Blue Devils continue to keep their foot on the gas in 2012. Their last two wins have been by a combined 49 points (Libertyville and Lakes). Seniors Nathan Boothe (C) and Darius Paul (F) continue to dominate opponents. But Lake Zurich has been sneaky-tough this year. They have nice wins over Barrington and Stevenson. Their go-to guy is 6-6 Mirko Grcic, a versatile player who can do damage in the paint and from beyond the arc.

Schaumburg (13-4) @ Barrington (12-6), 7:30 p.m.

First place in the Mid-Suburban West is up for grabs Friday night in Barrington, with the host Broncos coming off a 61-41 rout of Fremd. Future Western Illinois forward John Schneider is back in their lineup. He will be playing in his third game of the season after breaking his finger. The Saxons will counter with senior forward Christian Spandiary and junior point guard Kyle Bolger. Barrington took the December 16th contest at Schaumburg, 45-44.

Every Friday night at 10:30, High School Lites will bring you scores and highlights from around Chicagoland. This week's episode will air just after the Blackhawks-Panthers game and SportsNet Central. We'll also have in-depth feature stories and take a look back down Memory Lane in our Flashback segment. This week, be sure to check out CSN's Muscle Milk Team of the Week, Crane High School. The Condors have several college prospects, including 6-9, 230-pound sophomore Cliff Alexander. Could they play in Peoria this March? Curie has only lost to one team: the Simeon Wolverines, who will be featured in our Drive segment, sponsored by Greater Than.

High School Lites streams live every Friday on CSNChicago.com.

We invite you to share your story ideas as well. Check us out at: csnchicagowebsite@comcastsportsnet.com

This is becoming Willson Contreras' team, whether or not Cubs add Alex Avila or another veteran catcher

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This is becoming Willson Contreras' team, whether or not Cubs add Alex Avila or another veteran catcher

This is slowly becoming more like Willson Contreras’ team, whether or not the Cubs add a veteran catcher like Alex Avila before the July 31 trade deadline. Yadier Molina took the in-game, All-Star photo of Nelson Cruz and Joe West, but Contreras is coming for moments like that, too.

In a Cubs clubhouse filled with calm, serious young players who were fast-tracked to Wrigleyville, Contreras is the one who got left exposed in the Rule 5 draft at the 2014 winter meetings and spent parts of eight seasons in the minors before making his big-league debut.

As much as the Cubs needed that ice-cold demeanor from guys like Kris Bryant and Addison Russell to end the 108-year hex, they will use Contreras’ fire to try to win the World Series again.

“I feel like I’m in the heart of the team,” Contreras said. “I’m behind the plate. I just want to play with my energy, no matter if I hit or not. We need that energy for the second half. And it’s going to be there.”

The Cubs flipped a switch after the All-Star break, sweeping the Baltimore Orioles and Atlanta Braves and moving to within one game of the Milwaukee Brewers, their play screaming at Theo Epstein’s front office to keep buying. Contreras caught the first 45 innings of that six-game winning streak where the rotation finally clicked and hit .409 (9-for-22) with two homers, three doubles and seven RBIs on that road trip.

Contreras is a power source when a 49-45 team talks about going on a run and the defending World Series champs point to all this room to grow in the future. The model will be staring at Contreras this weekend at Wrigley Field when the Cubs try to keep the St. Louis Cardinals down (46-49) and give their front office something to think about (sell?) between now and July 31.

“We look at Yadier Molina,” catching/strategy coach Mike Borzello said. “We know that he’s just an intelligent baseball player. I always try to remind Willson: 'That’s what we’re trying to accomplish, making you not only a threat offensively and defensively, but with your mind.'

“He’s always listening. He wants to learn. He plays with high intensity, high emotion. I always challenge him to be a smart player. That’s the best compliment you can get.”

[CUBS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

After a disappointing first half where it looked like the vaunted pitching infrastructure might collapse — and veteran catcher Miguel Montero went on an epic rant that could have foretold a divided clubhouse in the second half — Contreras seemed to be in the middle of everything.

With Contreras behind the plate, Jake Arrieta began his salary drive toward a megadeal, Jose Quintana dazzled in his Cubs debut, Jon Lester recovered from the worst start of his career and John Lackey pitched well enough to delay any awkward conversations about going home to Texas instead of going to the bullpen.

“It was never tough,” said Arrieta, who has chopped his ERA from 5.44 to 4.17 since the middle of May. “It was just a matter of him getting to understand what we like to do as starters.

“He’s learned really quickly. He’s a tremendous athlete back there. I’m very confident that I can bury a curveball, or I can throw a changeup in the dirt, and I know that guy’s going to block it, even with a guy on first or second base. There’s not a ton of guys around the league that you can feel that much confidence in.

“Willson’s been great, and he’s only going to get better.”

Quintana, who breezed through seven scoreless innings against the Orioles (12 strikeouts, zero walks) after that blockbuster trade with the White Sox, gave this review of Contreras: “We were on the same page really quick, believe me. We talked before the game about how we want to go, how we want to call our pitches. He called a really good game, and I appreciate that.”

The Cubs will still be looking for a more-PC version of Montero, whether it’s someone like Avila, who works for his dad, Detroit Tigers general manager Al Avila, or circling back to an old target like Texas Rangers catcher Jonathan Lucroy (essentially off-limits to a division rival when the Brewers shopped him last summer). Dropping Montero in late June forced Victor Caratini up from Triple-A Iowa, making Contreras the senior catcher with a World Series ring at the age of 25.

“It’s almost like a quarterback in the NFL — there’s so much for them to absorb,” manager Joe Maddon said. “When you come from the minors to the major leagues as a catcher, most of the time in the minor leagues, you’re just developing physical abilities, physical tools, blocking, footwork, throwing, maybe pitcher/catcher relationship.

“But understanding the calling of a game — it’s hard to really develop that on the minor-league level. You have the manager, then maybe a pitching coach and there’s a lot going on. You don’t have that time to put into the game plan or to sit down and talk to this guy. It’s a little bit more superficial. I don’t mean that in a disparaging way — it’s just the way it is.”

Whatever the Cubs do next, it will be with the idea of preserving Contreras in mind. Of the six big-league catchers qualified for the batting title, only two other catchers — World Series winners Buster Posey (.917) and Salvador Perez (.824) — have a higher OPS than Contreras (.822) so far this season. Among National League catchers, Contreras also has the most errors (13) and runners thrown out (19). Outside of Bryzzo, Contreras has the highest WAR (2.6) on the team.

If you think Contreras is emotional, energetic and entertaining now, just imagine what he will be like when he really knows what he’s doing.

“He asks all the right questions,” said Borzello, who won four World Series rings as a New York Yankees staffer. “We go over every game, and between every inning, we talk. We’re working in the right direction. I think he wants it as much as anyone I’ve ever been around.”

Bears training camp preview: 3 burning questions for tight ends

Bears training camp preview: 3 burning questions for tight ends

With training camp starting next week, CSN Chicago’s Chris Boden and JJ Stankevitz are looking at three burning questions for each of the Bears’ position groups heading into Bourbonnais. Thursday's unit: the tight ends.

1. Will Zach Miller make the 53-man roster?

Miller didn’t play a single down from 2012-14, and has missed seven games in two seasons with the Bears, but he’s been productive when on the field: 110 targets, 81 receptions, 925 yards and nine touchdowns. But the Bears signed Dion Sims to an $18 million contract and then drafted Adam Shaheen in the second round of the draft, moves that seemingly put Miller in a precarious position heading into Bourbonnais. Not helping Miller’s case is the Lisfranc fracture he suffered last November, which kept him sidelined through OTAs and veteran minicamp in May and June. He’d be a valuable player for the Bears to keep around, but at the same time, training camp could be a perfect storm for Miller to be among the cuts.

“They’re going to cutting it close for training camp,” coach John Fox said of Miller (and Danny Trevathan) in June. “But right now they’re right on target and that’s kind of what we expected all offseason.”

2. What can we expect from Adam Shaheen?

Shaheen was among the bright spots during May and June, hardly looking like someone who played his college ball at Division II Ashland while going against NFL defenders. But those were just shorts-and-helmets practices without any contact, so it’d be premature to project anything about Shaheen off of them. The real test for Shaheen will be when he puts the pads on in Bourbonnais and gets his first experience with the physicality of the NFL after a few years of being head and shoulders — literally — above his competition in college. It’s unlikely Shaheen will live up to his “Baby Gronk” hype in Year 1, but if he handles training camp well, he could be a valuable red zone asset for Mike Glennon as a rookie. 

“You don’t know until you put the pads on,” Shaheen said. “That’s what I’m excited for.”

3. How productive can this unit be?

Between Sims — who had a career high four touchdowns last year with the Miami Dolphins — and Shaheen, the Bears have two new, big targets for an offense that tied for 24th in the NFL with 19 passing touchdowns a year ago. If Miller sticks around, this group would have enviable depth. But even if he doesn’t, the Bears liked what they saw from Brown last year (16 receptions, 124 yards, 1 TD in six games). There are fewer questions about the tight ends heading into training camp than the receivers, and it wouldn’t be surprising if Glennon leans on this unit, especially early in the season.