High School Lites Preview: Playoff action begins

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High School Lites Preview: Playoff action begins

The regular season meets the playoffs on this weeks edition of High School Lites. IHSA postseason action begins in Class 1A and 2A. We will pay a visit to a few schools that are predicted to play basketball into March. Will Seton or Hope Academy be in the mix? Conference titles and bragging rights are also up for grabs in the north, west and south suburbs. Who will gain momentum as March Madness approaches? 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

Girls: Lincoln-Way East (26-4) vs. Marist (31-1), 7:30pm -- 4A Sandburg Sectional Championship

The 26-4 Griffins have many weapons, including Taylor Johnson, Caitlin McMahon and Meaghan McMahon. All three helped East push past Homewood-Flossmoor in the semifinals. Can they reach the Elite Eight? It all depends if they can contain Leah Bolton. The Marist junior forward racked up 25 points and seven rebounds against Marian Catholic on Tuesday. The winner will take on the champion of the Bloomington sectional on Tuesday.

Girls: Whitney Young (30-0) vs. Trinity (30-1), 7:30pm -- 4A Lyons Sectional Championship

Want to know how good Whitney Young is this year? The Dolphins faced Proviso East, a team with ample talent and future NCAA players, and ran out to a 44-17 halftime lead in Tuesdays semifinal. Youngs Janee Thompson, Linnae Harper and Alexis Lloyd all scored in double figures in the 69-34 victory. Trinity, behind DePaul recruit Megan Podkowa, will challenge Young. They advanced by beating another girls basketball powerhouse, Fenwick, 64-45. Trinitys only loss this season? A 62-47 loss to Whitney Young in December.

FRIDAY GAMES

Girls: Aurora Central Catholic (25-6) vs. Quincy Notre Dame (31-1), 6:30pm

ACC will have their work cut out on Friday as they take on Quincy, the defending 2A state champs. Central is paced by four-year varsity standout guard Jackie Cardona. Other state semifinals scheduled for Friday include Leroy vs. Freeport Aquin (12:00pm) and Illini Bluffs vs. Cowden-Herrick (2:00pm) in Class 1A, and Breese Central vs. Stillman Valley (8:15pm) in Class 2A. All state championship games will air on Chicago Nonstop, Comcast 341.

Grayslake Central (21-4) @ 8 Huntley (23-2), 7:00pm

This year's Fox Valley Championship features a Huntley team with a stout defense and one of the most talented sophomores in Chicagoland: 6-6 forward Amanze Egekeze. The Red Raiders are looking to surpass last year's 25-5 team that reached the sectional final. Grayslake Central has a team with senior leadership in center Casey Boyle and guard Jordan Taylor. This will be a great test for the Rams, as they could also face talented North Chicago down the road in sectional play.

Ridgewood (19-6) @ Riverside-Brookfield (21-4), 7:00pm

Will history repeat itself? R-B went into Norridge four weeks ago and walked away with a 71-63 win. Ridgewood couldn't contain 6-7, 220-pound center Miki Ljuboja, who racked up 23 points and 10 rebounds in the win. The Bulldogs also feature talented players in forward Luke Nortier and guard Damonta Henry. Ridgewood has a star in senior guard Andy Mazurczak, who scored 25 points in that previous game. It'll be senior night in Riverside and the Metro Suburban title will be up for grabs.

11 Hillcrest (21-4) @ 20 Lemont (23-2), 7:00pm

The visiting Hawks can win the South Suburban-Blue conference outright. Lemont, who will be looking for a share of the title, will be one of the toughest opponents of the year for Hillcrest. The Indians have a standout point guard in Juozas Balciunas. But Hillcrest is loaded: Jayon'e Troutman, Jalen Loving and Jovan Mooring are all threats with the ball. These two teams could also end up playing each other in the loaded 3A Rich East sectional.

Joliet West (15-9) @ Lockport (16-10), 7:30pm

If there was a matchup of two of the best sneaky-tough teams in Chicagoland, Joliet West vs. Lockport could be front and center on the marquee. Lockport has quality wins this season over Waukegan, at Homewood-Flossmoor and took West Aurora to overtime. The Porters feature Kyle Ward and Courtney Cole on the attack. Joliet West, who beat Lockport 49-48 back on January 27th, has one of the best centers in the conference, senior Marlon Johnson.

19 Seton Academy (23-4) vs. Hales (10-17), 7:30pm 2A ChicagoUniversity Regional Championship

Phew. That was the collective sigh of relief by the entire Seton program Wednesday night as they survived a massive semifinal scare by University High, 72-64 in double overtime. Russell Robinson, Mark Weems, Kamai Shasi, Jordan Foster and the rest of the Sting hope the rest of the playoffs are a little more on the smooth side. They will get the defending state champs in Fridays final. Hales advanced by beating St. Francis de Sales 80-60.

Latin (17-6) vs. Parker (18-8), 7:30pm 2A Holy Trinity Regional Championship

Its already one of the best rivalries in Chicagoland. So why not have another meeting where one team moves on and the other goes home? Latin advanced by beating the host school 67-42. Senior guard Chaz Stevenson leads the attack for the Romans. Parker got here by defeating Wells 62-51. Junior guard Langdon Neal should get a lot of looks for the Colonels. Latin beat Parker in triple overtime in December. Parker followed up with a rout of Latin earlier this month. An exciting night of basketball awaits.

Every Friday night, High School Lites will bring you scores and highlights from around Chicagoland. This weeks episode will air at 11:00pm, just after MVC basketball. In addition to the games above, we will check out the 1A regional championship at Chicago Hope Academy (semifinals are on Thursday). Our cameras will also head to Glenbard North High School for our Muscle Milk Team of the Week. At this west suburban school, well introduce you to one dedicated student who is going above and beyond in bringing basketball and cheerleading to new heights. Plus, well take a drive down Memory Lane in our Flashback segment, and well have in-depth coverage of 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. Email us at: csnchicagowebsite@comcastsportsnet.com

Quick Hits from Blackhawks-Stars: Another slow start but better finish

Quick Hits from Blackhawks-Stars: Another slow start but better finish

It wasn't pretty, but the Blackhawks found a way to pick up another two points and improved to 6-0-1 over their last seven games, and 18-3-1 over their last 22.

With Minnesota's loss to Philadelphia, the Blackhawks have taken an eight-point lead for first in the Central Division and are only two points away from the Washington Capitals for home-ice advantage throughout the entire Stanley Cup playoffs.

Let's take a look at Quick Hits from the 3-2 shootout victory over the Dallas Stars on Thursday night:

What Worked: The finish and shootout. While the Blackhawks scored the game's first goal, it was another slow start by a team that has had a few of those over the last several outings and has preached working on turning in more of a complete effort. They recorded only 14 shots on goal in the first two periods, and it took more than six minutes after Patrick Kane's goal to record their next one.

But they finished on a positive note yet again, and went 2-for-3 in the shootout thanks to Kane and Artemi Panarin, who potted the game winner. Kane said after the game that he tried his move on Scott Darling during morning skate and it worked. So he went with it tonight in an effort to snap a mini shootout drought and he did.

What Didn't Work: Controlling the puck. The Blackhawks seemingly have the puck more than their opponent does almost every game, but it doesn't reflect in the shot department because they often look for the perfect pass or shot and fail to record one at all. They had 50 shot attempts with 26 of them on goal compared to the Stars' 64 attempts with 44 on goal. They know they must get better at that.

Star of the game: Corey Crawford. After allowing four goals on only 10 shots in Tuesday's overtime loss to Vancouver, the Blackhawks netminder bounced back in a huge way. He matched a season-high with 42 saves, and recorded his 30th win of the season.

He Said It: "He played amazing tonight. Reason we won the game. Hats off to him, he's done that a lot this year. For a goalie it's probably tough to show up every night, even the goals he let in last game you can't put all the blame on him, but he was outstanding tonight." — Kane on Crawford's performance

By the Numbers:

167 — Niklas Hjalmarsson blocked one shot in the win, and it was enough to set a new career high in that department, previously established during the 2010-11 campaign (166).

15 — Trevor van Riemsyk assisted on Marian Hossa's goal in the third period, giving him a career-high 15 points on the season in 50 games. He had 14 points in 82 games last year. He also extended his point streak to three games.

6 — With the victory, Crawford has earned at least 30 wins in six of his seven NHL seasons as a full-time starter. The only time he didn't reach that mark was during the lockout-shortened year in 2012-13 when he went 19-5-5.

Jake Arrieta expects Cubs to have the best rotation in baseball

Jake Arrieta expects Cubs to have the best rotation in baseball

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Jake Arrieta is a Cy Young Award winner who won't get the Opening Night assignment. John Lackey is a No. 3 starter already fitted for his third World Series ring. Kyle Hendricks led the majors with a 2.13 ERA last year and won't start until the fifth game of this season.  

Do you feel like this is the best rotation in baseball?

"We're up there, yeah," Arrieta said after homering off Zack Greinke during Thursday afternoon's 5-5 tie with the Arizona Diamondbacks at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. "I think on paper – and with what we've actually done on the field – it's tough to not say that.

"We like the guys we have. People can rank them, but time will tell. Once we get out there the first four or five times through the rotation, I think you can probably put a stamp on it then, more so than now. 

"But, yeah, we stack up just as well as anybody out there, for sure."  

Arrieta made it through five innings against the Diamondbacks, giving up three runs and eight hits in what figures to be his second-to-last Cactus League tune-up before facing the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium on April 4. 

The New York Mets blew away Cubs hitters with their power pitching and game-planning during that 2015 National League Championship Series sweep. The Washington Nationals are trying to keep Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg healthy and already watched Tanner Roark deliver for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. 

The Cubs dreaded the idea of facing Johnny Cueto in a possible elimination game at Wrigley Field last October. The Los Angeles Dodgers almost became a matchup nightmare for the Cubs with lefties Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill during the 2016 NLCS.

But slotting Hendricks at No. 5 – five months after he started a World Series Game 7 – is a luxury few contenders can afford. 

"That just speaks to our length in the rotation," Arrieta said, "and being able to keep relievers out of the game, longer than most teams. That's a big deal, especially when you get into July and August. 

"Obviously, Kyle could be a 1 or 2 just about anywhere. Not that he's not here. We've got several of those, which is a good problem to have. It's going to be favorable for us when there's a No. 4 or No. 5 guy in our rotation going up against somebody else's. Our chances are really good, especially with our lineup." 

Arrieta talked up No. 4 starter Brett Anderson as "a little bit like Hendricks from the left side" in terms of his preparation, cerebral nature and spin rate, a combination that makes him an X-factor for this rotation and an organization starved for pitching beyond 2017. 

The if-healthy disclaimer always comes with Anderson, who played with Arrieta on the 2008 Olympic team and has been on the disabled list nine times since then. Coming out of high school, Arrieta initially signed to play for Anderson's father, Frank, the Oklahoma State University coach at the time, before going in a different direction in a career that wouldn't truly take off until he got to Chicago. 

"We're all looking forward to seeing how we pick up where we left off," Arrieta said. "Judging by what we've done this spring and the shape guys are in and the health – I don't see any reason we can't jump out to an early lead like we did last year and sustain it throughout the entire season."