Chicago White Sox

5A: Can Morris stop Montini's bid for a 4-peat?

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5A: Can Morris stop Montini's bid for a 4-peat?

The Class 5A championship is all about teams that know how to win, and win and win some more. Montini has won four state titles since 2004, the last three in a row. Morris has won three state titles and finished second on six other occasions.
So how does Montini coach Chris Andriano define winning attitude? How does he explain coming back from a 31-14 deficit in the third quarter to beat Joliet Catholic in last Saturday's quarterfinals?
Or beating Palatine after being behind by eight with two minutes to play?
Or rallying from a four-point deficit with two minutes left to beat Aurora Christian?
Or falling behind Sycamore with 30 seconds to play, then driving the field to set up a game-winning 35-yard field goal?
"We've done some things that defy logic," Andriano admitted. "Our kids believe in the coaches, who do a good job of preparation through practice. When things don't go the way we want them to, we are willing to make changes and adjustments. In the back of their minds, the kids know there is an answer. They expect things to happen in their favor.
"They are positive. We always have one or two guys who are playmakers and spark us. Someone makes a play, a run or pass or reception or defensive play. When we're down 31-14 to Joliet Catholic, I'm thinking how are we going to do this? We have to get the next score and turn momentum. It's amazing when you get momentum on your side, good things happen. It's an incredible feeling."
Andriano shook his head in disbelief as he recited how Montini staged one miraculous comeback after another to turn defeat into victory.
"How do you explain us getting a fumble off Ty Isaac at midfield when we are behind 31-27 to Joliet Catholic?" he said. "Against Palatine, we scored with 50 seconds left and got a two-point conversion to tie. In the overtime, we got an interception that was deflected three times and won with a field goal.
"Against Aurora Christian, they have the ball and the lead with two minutes left and Joey Borsellino strips the ball from a Division I running back and recovers it. Three plays later, he catches a 20-yard touchdown pass with 20 seconds left to win the game.
"And against Sycamore, they score with 30 seconds left and make a two-point conversion to go ahead. We get a big return on the kickoff, get the ball to the 20 in three plays and kick a 35-yard field goal to win with one second left."
Andriano, 60, completing his 33rd season, said the trick is to find kids who believe, kids like Jordan Westerkamp and Joey Borsellino and Tate Briggs who come through the preparation and believe in the coaching staff and themselves.
"We are sparked by big plays that you can't imagine would happen," he said. "We have traveled a hard road. We have beaten some great teams in the last few weeks. Four-peat has been one of our sayings all year. Every time we break a huddle, that's our goal."
Briggs, a 6-foot-4, 300-pound guard, has a special reason for making the trip to Champaign this year. A year ago, he suffered a dislocated ankle and torn ligaments in the first quarter of the state final and couldn't finish. After being treated at a hospital, he returned to the stadium and watched the rest of the game from the bench.
"This is a big game for me," he said. "It was pretty disappointing not to be able to finish the game. A big goal this year was to get back to Champaign, to finish the game this time."
Montini's best lineman, Briggs has offers from Ball State, Western Michigan, Central Michigan, New Mexico and Coastal Carolina. But he is talking to schools in the Big Ten and SEC, including Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana and Vanderbilt. He hopes to get more offers and wants to play at the highest level he can.
"Every offensive lineman's dream is to get an offer from Wisconsin," he said. "I have talked to them. I went to their camp in the summer. I hope they'll offer me."
Meanwhile, Briggs is sold on Andriano's philosophy. Like his teammates, he has bought into the Montini tradition. "We believe in the coaches and do what they tell us to do. We know how to win. If you just believe in the program, we will get there. It will take us to the state title," he said.
"The challenge this week is the same as any other week. Every game is a big game. We come together in games and in practice. Every game we try to be the most physical team, to take it to them. We always try to be more physical and still be smarter than them."
Physical is the name of the game for Morris. Can Montini measure up? "We have to strap our helmets on. They will run the ball, pound it at you. We haven't played any team like them in terms of their here-we-come offense. They are very tough up front. They come after you on defense. They pose problems for our offensive line. We can't let them control the clock and put points on the board with long drives," Andriano said.
Montini (12-1) is averaging 34.5 points per game with Alex Wills or Mark Gorogianis at quarterback, Dimitri Taylor at tailback, Joey Borsellino at wide receiver and Briggs and 6-foot-3, 255-pound Fred Beaugard anchoring the offensive line. Andrew Harte is an outstanding kicker.
"I admire Montini's coaching staff more than any other I coach against," said Aurora Christian coach Don Beebe. "I have the highest respect for Andriano, a Hall of Fame coach. They are very sound on defense. They don't make mistakes. They make you beat them. You won't get big plays. You have to dink and dunk and move the chains, get a lot of first downs. That's the only way to beat them. They won't give up a home run.
"Why have they been so successful in the last four years? "Borsellino is a difference-maker at wide receiver. Gorogianis is so fast, so explosive. Andriano finds out how to exploit an opponent with a running quarterback (Gorogianis) or a passing quarterback (Wills). You must be as fast and as explosive and have an aura about you that you can beat them."
Morris coach Alan Thorson believes he has what it takes. So do several coaches who have observed the 12-1 Redskins this season. They have averaged 35.6 points per game behind a power running game led by quarterback Zach Cinnamon and running backs Reese Sobol and Jeff Perry.
Cinnamon, a transfer from Streator, has passed for 902 yards and 11 touchdowns and rushed for 459 yards and nine touchdowns. Sobol, a 5-foot-11, 175-pound senior, has rushed 176 times for 1,450 yards and 18 touchdowns. He averages 8.24 yards per carry and 111.5 yards per game. Perry, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound senior, has rushed for 607 yards and six touchdowns. Collin Grogan, a 5-foot-9, 205-pounder, has rushed for 489 hards and 11 touchdowns.
Defensively, Morris is a smash-mouth unit led by Perry, Grogan, 6-foot-5, 255-pound Indiana-bound Danny Friend and 5-foot-11, 200-pound Nik Countryman.
"Morris has a senior class that has been very impressive all the way through," said Kaneland coach Tom Fedderly, whose team handed Morris its only loss 33-30 in Week 9. "With Friend and Perry, it has been a special group for four years.
"If you are looking for an edge for Morris, it is their size. They are typical Morris, smash-mouth football, tough, a big running team. They pound you and wear you down. If they can put pressure on Montini with their front four or five, the game will be won up front."
Morris is counting on its offensive line of 6-foot, 240-pound senior center Preston Miracle, 5-foot-11, 260-pound senior guard Craig Claire, 6-foot-1, 215-pound sophomore guard T.J. Layne, 6-foot-3, 250-pound senior tackle Drew Aldridge and 6-foot-4, 255-pound senior tackle Brian Henry.
Rich East coach Barry Reade, whose team lost to Morris 44-0 in the first round of the playoff, was very impressed to say the least. "They are big and physical at all positions. They run a power I right at you. On defense, they beat you upfront," he said.
"Montini has to throw the ball to win. They will have a hard time shutting down Morris' running game. But system and attitude at Montini gets it done. Morris knows how to win, too. Morris' special teams killed us. The return teams are as good a group as I've seen. In the four games we scouted, they averaged 40 yards on kick returns and returned two for touchdowns. It's a unique weapon."
After splitting two games with Montini, Marian Central coach Ed Brucker came away convinced that opponents must throw to beat them. "Morris is a running team and that plays into Montini's hands. Montini has a championship mentality. I have been bitten by it. They feel they can win some way or somehow. They are used to winning. They have confidence in their ability.
They always seem to find a way. They know something good is going to happen."
Chris Andriano couldn't have said it better.

Young White Sox pitchers offering 'a glimpse of what's to come'

Young White Sox pitchers offering 'a glimpse of what's to come'

Carlos Rodon is on a roll, Carson Fulmer made his first big league start and Lucas Giolito’s White Sox premiere is on deck. With Reynaldo Lopez already in the majors and Michael Kopech now at Triple-A Charlotte, the first wave of the White Sox pitching future is on hand.

Rodon turned in another good outing to help the White Sox to a split of Monday’s doubleheader against the Minnesota Twins at Guaranteed Rate Field. The third-year starter overcame a slow start and delivered 6 1/3 strong innings in a 7-6 victory in Game 1 at Guaranteed Rate Field. While Fulmer was knocked out after only 1 1/3 innings in the nightcap, White Sox manager Rick Renteria is enthusiastic to see that several of his young pitchers have reached their final stage of development.

“It's a glimpse of what's to come,” Renteria said. “I think they should be excited. We're excited to finally get to have them here with us and start to see them a little bit more and we can start to gauge where we're at, where they are in their development. We look forward kind of starting to scratch the surface of what's coming in the future.”

The White Sox need look no further than Rodon’s own path to identify how a young pitcher’s development can zig and zag. The third pick of the 2014 amateur draft raced through the minor leagues, struggled with command once he arrived in the majors, found some solid footing late in the 2015 season, battled again early in 2016 before he righted the ship over the final two months. And that’s before Rodon spent three months on the disabled list with a sore left shoulder and had command issues when he returned nearly two months ago.

But now, Rodon is on yet another of those rolls in which he appears to be a front-of-the-rotation starter. His re-emergence has yet again presented the White Sox with hope that Rodon can front the new wave of starting pitchers. After Monday’s effort, Rodon has five straight quality starts with a 2.25 ERA and 36 strikeouts over his last 36 innings.

Even so, Rodon knows he has more work ahead to get where he wants.

“There’s still stuff to work on,” Rodon said. “There’s stuff I need to get better at and more strikes, more command and trying to get back to that no walk thing.”

The White Sox understood they needed to be patient with Rodon and are even more aware of how they’ll need to be now that Giolito, Lopez and Fulmer have reached their final stages of development.

Fulmer, who was up for the day as the team’s 26th man, is headed back to Charlotte. As much as he struggled in his first chance, Fulmer — who allowed two three-run homers — is almost certain to get another down the road. Even if it never pans out as a starter, Fulmer almost certainly would be given a chance to succeed in relief.

“I guess perhaps we have a longer-term view of a given player, more rope so to speak, to prove who they are, show who they are over an extended period at the big-league level,” general manager Rick Hahn said earlier this month.

The same goes for Lopez, who appears to be improving after he was placed on the DL with a strained back, and Giolito, who has shown a vast improvement after a slow start at Triple-A Charlotte. The team announced he and reliever Brad Goldberg were headed back to Triple-A following the game. The option of Goldberg makes room for Gioliito, who will be added to the 25-man on Tuesday.

“I’m still confident in my ability to go out there and throw strikes and help us win,” Fulmer said. “I’m always going to continue to learn. That’s never going to stop for me as a baseball player and I have to go through these experiences to get better as a baseball player and as a pitcher. Take the positive out of this outing and learn from what happened to tonight.”

The White Sox went into their rebuild with the long-term approach in mind, knowing how critical it was to develop. For Giolito, it was regaining the confidence that had him rated as the top pitching prospect in baseball headed into last winter.

Whether it’s simplifying his thought process, trusting his routine between starts or finding confidence in his curveball, Giolito knows he’s in a better place as he makes his first White Sox start since they acquired him last December. After posting a 5.40 ERA in his first 16 starts at Charlotte, Giolito has rebounded with a 2.78 ERA in the last eight turns he has made.

“Started out pretty rough,” Giolito said last week. “Certain times where it’s like, ‘What do I have to do? What do I need to work on?’ And then finally putting together a really, really solid routine — certain drills, certain things I’m doing every day to better myself and trusting it.

“The results are starting to come with that and I feel like I’m much better off than I was in the beginning of the year and the confidence is much better.”

Having worked with them in a spring training and later spent a month in the minors on his rehab assignment, Rodon has anticipated the arrivals of Lopez, Giolito and Fulmer. He’s excited to see what everyone can do and how they handle their on-the-job training.

“It’s fun for these guys to be back up here and part of this team again,” Rodon said. “It was good to be down there and watch them. It’s time to watch them grow up and play in the big leagues.”

Grand theft foul ball: Thievery in White Sox stands

Grand theft foul ball: Thievery in White Sox stands

The scrum for a foul ball is one of baseball's great traditions. Usually, it ends with one hyped fan hoisting the souvenir high above his or her head while surrounding fans look on with intense jealousy. 

Not Monday night, though. Something far weirder happened after a ball found its way into the Guaranteed Rate Field seats. 

One Sox fan seemed to have scooped a keepsake until a sly woman committed straight thievery, prying it right from his hands. 

The dude's baffled face is high-level entertainment as he struggles to comprehend how he just got straight up hoodwinked. 

Watch the video above to see the robbery and Jason Benetti debate Steve Stone on what really happened.