Mount Carmel's Laurisch too good to be true

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Mount Carmel's Laurisch too good to be true

On the surface, Tyler (T.J.) Laurisch is simply too good to be true. But his academic test scores and his baseball statistics don't lie.

On the baseball field, the 6-foot-1, 175-pound senior is the leader of Mount Carmel's baseball team that was ranked No. 1 in the Chicago area prior to Saturday's 1-0 loss to St. Laurence. It snapped the Caravan's 23-game winning streak and spoiled its bid to become only the fourth unbeaten state champion in the 72-year history of the Illinois high school tournament.

Laurisch, a pitcher, third baseman and outfielder, bats third in the lineup and is hitting .375 with six doubles and 18 runs-batted-in. As his team's No. 1 starting pitcher, he is 8-1 with a 1.93 earned run average in 50 23 innings with 46 strikeouts and 12 walks.

In a year in which veteran observers claim there is no prohibitive favorite for Player of the Year recognition, as was the case in recent years, Laurisch has emerged as a worthy candidate. What other player has contributed so much to his team's success?

"He is a complete player," Mount Carmel coach Brian Hurry said. "He impacts our team more because of his role and the success he has in those roles. He is our No. 3 hitter, our No. 1 pitcher and plays three positions. Because of what he means to our team, he deserves to be considered for Player of the Year."

"Player of the Year? I don't think of myself as an individual, just part of the team, what the coach always preaches," Laurisch said. "But It would mean everything to me. To put up the numbers I have, it would mean that all the hard work we put in during the off-season is paying off."

In the classroom, Laurisch ranks No. 1 in the senior class. He scored 34 on the ACT, including a perfect score in math. On Tuesday, he will decide whether he will enroll at Harvard or Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to study mechanical engineering and play baseball.

"Harvard is Division I, MIT is Division III. Harvard has the edge there. But MIT is the top engineering school in the country," he said. "When it comes down to it, it will be about financial aid, who gives me the best deal. I would like to go to Harvard if they provide the money."

Laurisch has other things going for him. He is vice president of the student council and vice president of the school's chapter of the National Honor Society. He also is a member of the mock trial team and the Scholastic Bowl team, all while finding time to study four hours after school and play soccer with his 13-year old sister Alexia.

"I've always been academically inclined. My parents stressed education first. Then I could go out and play sports," he said. "I was always encouraged to get straight A's. In high school, I've received nothing lower than an A-plus. My lowest grade was a B-plus in fifth grade social studies. I was disappointed. I knew the reason I got it was I didn't study enough and blew off a test. I told myself I wouldn't do it again.

"The trick is to stay focused. I set my sights on a goal and I won't let myself not achieve it. Since my freshman year, I wanted to be No. 1 in my class. Grades have always been important to me. As freshmen, everybody tried to get a feel for who was most competitive. I'm extremely competition in class and on the field."

He started playing baseball at age four. As a freshman, he played basketball and baseball, but he quickly realized that basketball conflicted with his work on the Scholastic Bowl team. So he pursued academics. He acknowledged that baseball was his best sport, something he couldn't give up.

"Baseball is different from other sports," he said. "I approach athletics like academics. You fail a lot in baseball, in hitting and pitching. You face a lot of adversity. You will go 0-for-5 or give up three runs in an inning. You have to be resilient. The big challenge is how you keep your composure when you strike out three times in a row."

According to Laurisch, losing last year to eventual state champion Lyons in the Class AA semifinals was a turning point. "We got hungrier. For the seniors, it was sad. As a junior, I knew I wouldn't do anything to prevent us from winning state this year. It's a result of all of us buying into what the coach preaches, ever since winter workouts. The only way we will win is if we work as a team," he said.

"Coming back from last year (he batted .390 and won seven of 10 decisions on the mound), I knew my pitching had to be more refined...more control and velocity, spotting my pitches, knowing when to throw my slider and fastball, knowing what to do in certain situations.

"As a hitter, I'm seeing the ball a lot better. Last year, I was leaning back too much. My weight transfer was off. This year I'm picking up pitches better out of the pitcher's hand."

Laurisch isn't the only one reason why Mount Carmel is 23-1 going into Monday's game at Loyola. He is one of seven very experienced players from last year's 34-9 squad. Others are first baseman Sam Kint, a 6-foot-4, 230-pound senior who is hitting .402 with 33 RBI; senior catcher Dan Pappas, who is hitting .349 with 14 RBI; and junior shortstop Jerry Houston, who is hitting .440 with 11 doubles, 22 RBI and 29 runs scored.

Kint set school records for homers and RBI's last year. Pappas, nephew of former Mount Carmel star and major leaguer Erik Pappas, is committed to West Virginia and described by Hurry as "the heart and soul of our team, our leader, the guy who controls the game."

Hurry, who has a record of 366-128 since becoming head coach in 2000, has developed the winningest program in the state over the last decade. This year's team is seeking a sixth sectional title since 2002. He qualified for the state quarterfinals in 2003 and lost to Lockport in the Class AA final in 2005.

He has produced six players who signed professional contracts and sent 60 players to college, over 20 to Division I programs. But he insists that Houston "can be the best player I have coached. He will be a pro prospect. Because of his overall talent and skills, he is our best player, our leadoff hitter, our catalyst on offense. He is a special talent," Hurry said.

Hurry, 38, a 1991 graduate of St. Francis de Sales, was a reserve middle infielder for legendary coach Gordie Gillespie's 1993 NAIA championship team at College of St. Francis.

While student teaching and coaching baseball at St. Francis de Sales in 1997, Hurry was looking for a social studies job and was told of an opening at Mount Carmel. He was offered a position there, as well as at Joliet Catholic. Living in Joliet at the time, he leaned to filling the vacancy at Joliet Catholic.

But he was told he would be head sophomore coach at Mount Carmel. "That was very important to me," he said. When Joliet Catholic didn't call back, he took the job at Mount Carmel. "The timing was right," he said.

Hurry inherited a very good program and a great athletic tradition to boot. In 13 seasons, his teams have averaged 29 victories per year. He also has a new field at 64th and Blackstone that he describes as "the best baseball facility in the state." And he has two able assistants who have been with him since the beginning, John Difilippo and Ish Jaquez.

"Potentially, this is the best team I have had," Hurry said. "We're off to the best start in school history. We have depth in talent and senior leadership, a lot of guys with a lot of experience. I haven't talked to our team about our record or the rankings. We just focus on the game that day.

"Sure, I want to win them all. It would have been very special to go down in history. But the most important thing is to win the last game of the season, even if we lost three or four games. Our goal always has been to win the last game, regardless of our record."

Mount Carmel hasn't dominated opponents. In fact, last week, the Caravan won four one-run decisions and they beat Brother Rice in extra innings. Then they lost 1-0 at St. Laurence on Saturday as Laurisch was outpitched by St. Laurence's Kevin Smith, who allowed only three hits.

"The nature of the sport of baseball is different than football or basketball," Hurry said.

"One pitcher can beat you. There are a lot of uncontrollables, unlike football and basketball. In baseball, you can do a lot of things right and still not have the results. I believe baseball is the hardest sport to win. You'll never see a baseball team win 10, 11 or 12 state championships like in football."

At the moment, he'll settle for one state title.

Blackhawks sign goaltender Jeff Glass to two-year deal

Blackhawks sign goaltender Jeff Glass to two-year deal

The Blackhawks added organizational depth to their goaltending position by inking Jeff Glass to a two-year deal that runs through the 2017-18 season, the team announced Thursday. His deal carries a $612,500 cap hit, according to CapFriendly.com.

Glass, 31, signed a contract with the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League in January, and played well enough to earn himself a deal at the professional level.

He owns a 5-4-1 record with a 2.38 goals against average, .917 save percentage and two shutouts in 10 games since joining the IceHogs, and has earned victories in four of his last five games.

A third round selection by Ottawa in 2004, Glass has yet to make his National Hockey League debut, but he's making strides in the right direction by jumping Mac Carruth on Rockford's depth chart and rotating with Lars Johansson.

The move provides insurance for a Blackhawks team that is relatively thin at the goaltending position outside of Corey Crawford and Scott Darling, the latter of whom will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. 

And given the uncertainty of Darling's status heading into the summer, Glass could compete for the backup job next year. He also fills the expansion draft requirements if Chicago chooses to go that direction, although it's unlikely he'll be claimed by Las Vegas.

Braves Way: How Cubs are still focused on next wave of young talent

Braves Way: How Cubs are still focused on next wave of young talent

MESA, Ariz. – Chairman Tom Ricketts wants the Cubs to be known someday as one of the greatest sports franchises in the world, right up there with global brands like the New England Patriots, Manchester United and Real Madrid.

But the most relevant blueprint for baseball operations right now might be the Atlanta Braves model that won 14 consecutive division titles between 1991 and 2005, an unbelievable run that still only resulted in one World Series title.

In a "Chicks Dig The Long Ball" era, the Braves had 60 percent of a Hall of Fame rotation (Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz) and a manager (Bobby Cox) who would get his own Cooperstown plaque.

The Braves Way still didn't only revolve around baseball immortals. The churn of young talent and under-the-radar contributors makes big-time prospects Eloy Jimenez and Ian Happ — and somehow finding a next wave of pitching — so important to The Plan.

"The Braves did such a great job during their run of always breaking in a guy or two," general manager Jed Hoyer said this week. "There's a lot of benefits to always trying to break in a guy every year, trying to add new blood every single year. Young guys are great even for a veteran team, because they provide the spark. They provide new energy.

"I thought Willson (Contreras) was a big part of that last year. Coming up in the middle of the season, it was like a great spark for our guys. Maybe one of these guys can provide that spark."

During that 15-year window, the Braves had 14 different players show up in the National League Rookie of the Year voting:  

1991: Brian Hunter, Mike Stanton
1992: Mark Wohlers
1993: Greg McMichael 
1994: Ryan Klesko, Javy Lopez
1995: Chipper Jones
1996: Jermaine Dye 
1997: Andruw Jones 
1998: Kerry Ligtenberg 
1999: Kevin McGlinchy
2000: Rafael Furcal 
2001: –
2002: Damian Moss
2003: –
2004: –
2005: Jeff Francoeur

The Braves produced Rookie of the Year winners in 1990 (David Justice), 2000 (Furcal) and 2011 (Craig Kimbrel). That gap in the early 2000s foreshadowed a relative down cycle where the Braves averaged almost 82 losses losses between 2006 and 2009 and made zero playoff appearances.

Jason Heyward's big-league debut in 2010 coincided with a run of four straight seasons where the Braves averaged 90-plus wins and made the playoffs three times.

[MORE: Why Joe Maddon sees Kyle Schwarber as the leadoff guy in Cubs lineup]

Baseball America put Jimenez (No. 14) and Happ (No. 63) on its preseason top-100 list of prospects. Whether it's making an impression on Joe Maddon's coaching staff, being showcased for a future trade or getting more comfortable in the spotlight, Jimenez and Happ will be two players to watch when the Cubs begin their Cactus League schedule on Saturday.

"Everyone thinks our future is here," Hoyer said. "It's really important to never get caught in that. You always want to have guys in the minor leagues ready to come up. Having organizational depth is really important. Those guys are good players and they're going to help us at some point."

Jimenez is a dynamic 6-foot-4 corner outfielder from the Dominican Republic who figures to begin his age-20 season at advanced Class-A Myrtle Beach. Happ, a 2015 first-round pick, finished last season at Double-A Tennessee and can switch-hit and move between the infield and the outfield.

Contreras is trying to make the leap from energizer to everyday frontline catcher. Albert Almora Jr. — who also contributed to a championship team as a rookie — is trying to earn the center-field job. The Cubs already trusted Carl Edwards Jr. in the 10th inning of a World Series Game 7 and now hope he can keep evolving into an Andrew Miller-type reliever.

The Cubs need the assembly line that's rolled out Anthony Rizzo (June 2012), Kyle Hendricks (July 2014), Javier Baez (August 2014), Kris Bryant and Addison Russell (April 2015) and Kyle Schwarber (June 2015) to keep delivering talent.

"It's something that we have to be really mindful of," Hoyer said, "to make sure that we continue to put a lot of focus on player development, the same kind of focus that we put on it when we were rebuilding, because those guys are going to have a huge impact on us."