High School Lites Preview: Semifinal weekend

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High School Lites Preview: Semifinal weekend

Looming and Lurking.

If you've followed CSN's prep coverage all season, you'll know that phrase from our CSN Top 20 rankings. It represents the teams on the cusp of making our weekly list of the top Chicagoland football teams. But it now represents Memorial Stadium in Champaign for 32 teams across Illinois-- it's within sight, but there's still some road to be traveled.

Comcast SportsNet Chicago will cover every semifinal game in Chicagoland on Saturday as teams look to secure a berth in a state championship game. We'll bring you action from the north shore all the way to Morris. Could it be an all-Catholic Blue title game in 8A? Can Benet's amazing run continue in 7A? Will Cary-Grove get back to Champaign once again? And who will win the epic rematch of the 2011 5A championship between Joliet Catholic and Montini?

Here is a snapshot of every game High School Lites will profile on Saturday night's 10:30 p.m. show. The rankings reflect the class seeds in the IHSA playoffs.

8A:

No. 4 Glenbard North (11-1) at No. 2 Loyola (11-1), 1:00 p.m.

Loyola has traditionally been known for their air-tight defense over the years. But they might get one of their biggest tests as running back Justin Jackson and the Panthers come to Wilmette. Jackson scored four touchdowns last week to help North secure a 29-23 win at Maine South. Loyola, who defeated Glenbard North 28-13 in last year's 8A semifinal, features Peter Pujals at quarterback and a defense that shut down a very good Palatine offense last week.

No. 3 Mount Carmel (11-1) at No. 1 Neuqua Valley (12-0), 6:00 p.m.

A lot has been said about Mount Carmel's option offense in this space. But check out their defensive numbers: no team has scored more than 10 points on Frank Lenti's crew in the playoffs. Defensive lineman Enoch Smith has helped contribute to those numbers. He'll have a battle Saturday in trying to keep Joey Rhattigan out of the end zone. Neuqua's dominant running back carried the ball 41 times for 293 yards and three scores against Waubonsie Valley in the quarterfinals.

7A:

No. 6 Lake Zurich (10-2) vs. No. 1 Glenbard West (12-0), 1:00 p.m. at Glenbard South

Last week's downpour --and ensuing quarterfinal game-- turned Glenbard West's field into a surface akin to a Chicago street in winter. Thus, the change to a better playing surface at Glenbard South. This figures to be a black and blue war. Both teams have shut-down defenses. West kept Wheaton North off the scoreboard last week while Lake Zurich held down a potent Boylan offense to advance. These two teams met in the playoffs last year, with Lake Zurich winning 10-3. Could be a similar score come Saturday.

No. 1 Lincoln-Way East (12-0) at No. 2 Benet (11-1), 6:00 p.m.

Mike Clark of the Chicago Sun-Times made a great point during our weekly video segment: should Benet still be treated as a Cinderella? Sure, they've bounced back amazingly from 1-8 last year. But this is a team that has earned merit with each victory. The ESCC co-champs took down Downers Grove North in a 26-24 thriller last week. Sophomore QB Jack Beneventi has played quite well. He'll face a stingy East defense that picked Edwardsville apart last week. LWE quarterback Tom Fuessel is one of the state's best.

6A:

No. 1 Cary-Grove (12-0) at No. 10 Lake Forest (9-3), 4:00 p.m.

The Trojans are no strangers to playing in November. C-G won state in '09 and finished second in '04. This year's team features a game-changing running back in Kyle Norberg. Lake Forest may not have the playoff history as Cary-Grove but they have the weapons get to Champaign. Quarterback Andrew Clifford has paced the offense while the defense has made headlines recently. Trent Williams had six sacks in last week's 31-19 victory over Notre Dame in last week's quarterfinal.

No. 1 Crete-Monee (12-0) at No. 3 Lemont (11-1), 6:00 p.m.

Yes, high school football is a team game, but this matchup features some of the area's best prep athletes. Crete-Monee's Laquon Treadwell is a nationally-ranked wide receiver who is also a solid defender in the secondary. Lemont features big-name lineman in Ethan Pocic (committed to LSU) and Tim McAullife (Bowling Green). C-M's defense has shut down quality opponents like Ottawa and their Illinois-bound running back Miguel Hermosilo. Lemont advanced by beating South Suburban rival Oak Forest.

5A:

No. 3 Montini (10-2) at No. 12 Joliet Catholic (8-4), 1:00 p.m.

Two main angles: (1) Can anything top the epic 70-45 thriller from last year's 5A title game? Montini defeated JCA despite 515 yards and six touchdowns from Ty Isaac. The USC-bound running back, along with backfield mates Tyler Reitz and Mike Ivlow, will look for revenge. (2) It's a game featuring teams who have overcome injuries. JCA's backfield has been hit by the injury bug and Montini's playmakers have missed time as well. Can Montini QB Mark Gorogianis top his 240-yard, five-TD performance last week?

No. 3 Sacred-Heart Griffin (11-1) at No. 2 Morris (11-1), 3:00 p.m.

The visiting Cyclones have scored no less than 33 points since their only loss of the season (to Cathedral of Indianapolis). Running backs Tavion Whitaker and Chris Harris have accounted for a lot of those gaudy numbers. Morris has quite the running back of their own in Reese Sobol. SHG advanced by beating Glenwood and Morris survived Washington in overtime. It figures to be a great game between teams that are synonymous with Illinois playoff football this time of year.

4A:

No. 1 Alleman (11-1) at No. 7 Evergreen Park (9-3), 6:00 p.m.

It's another intriguing rematch on our slate, as Rock Island's Alleman High School fell to the Mustangs in last year's playoffs. Evergreen Park has gone on the road to defeat North Chicago and Richmond-Burton. They beat Brooks 37-14 at home last week. Quarterback Brandon White, who has 36 touchdowns (22 passing) on the year, will face an Alleman defense that was catapulted by two key interceptions in a victory at Coal City in last week's quarterfinal. John Tracey had two touchdowns.

We'll also check in with 3A's Aurora Christian squad as they take on Sterling Newman Central Catholic, along with Chicago's Catholic League Championship contenders (Brother Rice and St. Rita) and the Public League Championship between Morgan Park and Simeon.

Our Muscle Milk Team of the Week is Crete-Monee. How have the Warriors put it together to reach the semifinals for the first time in school history? Plus, well also catch you up with Joliet Catholic in this weeks Drive segment, presented by Northern Illinois University. And well take a drive down Memory Lane in Flashback and bring you up-to-the-minute scores from across Chicagoland.

And make sure you stay with Comcast SportsNet next weekend. We will air all eight of the state championship games from Memorial Stadium in Champaign. The 1A-4A games take place on Friday November 23rd, while the 5A-8A games have the spotlight the following day. The action begins at 10am each day. Our Matt Bowen provides color commentary on the 7A and 8A games, while Susannah Collins has sideline reports on the 3A, 4A, 7A and 8A games.

High School Lites streams this Saturday night on CSNChicago.com.

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

How a fan's kind gesture surprised Mark Buehrle on his big day

How a fan's kind gesture surprised Mark Buehrle on his big day

It’s one of the more iconic moments in White Sox history, and now Mark Buehrle has a key piece of memorabilia after a fan’s kind gesture.

Already overwhelmed by a series of gifts from the White Sox on Saturday afternoon, Buehrle was in disbelief when 17-year-old Tommy Maloney walked onto the field during a number-retirement ceremony and presented him with the flipped-through-the-legs ball from 2010 Opening Day.

The memento was one of four gifts Buehrle received from the White Sox along with a new truck, a four-seat All-Terrain Vehicle and a personalized piece of art created by White Sox outfielder Ron Kittle commemorating many of the highlights of the pitcher’s White Sox career. It was just another part of an overwhelming, emotional day for Buehrle, who was honored for his 12 seasons in a White Sox uniform.

“Pretty cool,” Buehrle said. “I don’t recall signing it for him when it happened. I don’t really remember where it went. But one, for him to give that up, that was pretty awesome.”

Maloney’s father, Matt, contacted the White Sox earlier this month to see if Buehrle wanted to meet with the fan who had the ball from a moment in White Sox history that has been replayed thousands upon thousands of times.

The Maloneys also reached out to the White Sox back in 2010, too. They informed the club they had the ball that Buehrle retrieved and flipped through his legs to Paul Konerko, who caught it with a barehanded to retire Cleveland’s Lou Marson in the fifth inning of the April 5, 2010 contest. Buehrle autographed the ball in 2010, but neither he nor the White Sox asked for Tommy Maloney, who was 8 at the time, to hand it over.

“At that point it’s just a cool ball, it’s not part of White Sox history,” said Brooks Boyer, White Sox vice president of sales and marketing.

As he looked for a unique artifact for Buehrle to offer another layer to Saturday’s ceremony, Boyer came across Matt Maloney’s most recent email. He definitely thought Buehrle would have interest in reuniting with the fan who held a key artifact from a play that has become legendary around these parts over the years.

But Boyer also asked if the Maloneys would want to donate the ball to Buehrle.

“We didn’t have the unique thing,” Boyer said. “We just didn’t have it.

“Here it is.”

How it had gotten in Tommy Maloney’s hands in the first place was interesting enough. The Munster, Ind., high schooler said his father got tickets for the 2010 season opener and he left school early to watch Buehrle, his favorite pitcher as a kid. The seats were in the first row behind the far right edge of the White Sox dugout, the same ones he was in for Saturday’s ceremony.

After the improbable play to steal a hit from Marson, Buehrle fell to his knees, which brought manager Ozzie Guillen out of the dugout. Somehow Guillen retrieved the ball and upon returning to the dugout, flipped it to Maloney, who had earlier asked him for a ball several times. Even though it was a prized possession, Tommy Maloney said he’d have no problem surrendering it again if he were asked.

The White Sox rewarded Maloney for his sacrifice as club chairman Jerry Reinsdorf determined that the youngster would present Buehrle with the ball on the field. But the White Sox didn’t tell Maloney he would present the ball until Saturday, surprising him with the news about an hour before the game.

“It’s awesome the way it played out,” Maloney said. “He’s such a great guy. He was hugging me in the dugout. He looked at me when I went up there to give him the ball and said, ‘Give me a hug.’ ”

Maloney not only stood on the field before the ceremony, he had a chance to briefly meet Buehrle in the dugout. He also received another autographed baseball. And after he was applauded by the sellout crowd, several fans stopped by Maloney’s seat to pose for a picture.

Buehrle was touched by the gesture.

“I was like, ‘Brooks, we’ve got to do something here,’ ” Buehrle said. “’He can’t just give the ball and walk out of here empty-handed.’ So I ended up signing him a ball and I don’t know if we have something else in mind, but it was pretty awesome.”

Jon Lester, Cubs rotation trends in right direction with win over Marlins

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USA TODAY

Jon Lester, Cubs rotation trends in right direction with win over Marlins

MIAMI – Jon Lester dropped his head and wiped the sweat from his face. The Cubs ace didn’t jerk his neck and twist his body, hoping the swing and the sound somehow fooled him. The slow turnaround revealed the obvious – his 75-mph curveball flew over the left-field wall and nearly into the Clevelander bar billed as an adult playground.  

Lester gripped the next ball, stared out into the visual noise at Marlins Park and went to work on Saturday after J.T. Realmuto’s three-run homer in the first inning. This is the stuff, determination and tunnel vision that’s been the antidote to the pressures of playing at Fenway Park and Wrigley Field and made Lester such a big-game pitcher.

Lester retired the next 13 hitters he faced, 15 of the next 16 and 18 of his last 20 at a time when the Cubs needed that kind of performance to buy time for their young hitters, survive a brutal schedule and weather a series of injuries. 

A 5-3 win pushed the Cubs to 38-36 as Lester (5-4, 3.83 ERA) and the overall rotation continue to trend in the right direction.