High School Lites: Championship Weekend


High School Lites: Championship Weekend

It's the reward for all the hours spent in the weight room in March. Or the prize for battling through two-a-days in 95-degree August heat. It's why the Rocky soundtrack gets played as a motivator every Friday night in September. Or why the high-fives and words of encouragement seem more emphatic in October. It's all based on the hopes and dreams that every Illinois high school football player has: Playing in Memorial Stadium on Thanksgiving weekend. It's the chance to play for a first place trophy.

Comcast SportsNet Chicago is the place to be for all eight Illinois state championship football games, with live action starting Friday and Saturday at 10 a.m. Every matchup is in HD and all postgame press conferences will be streamed live on CSNChicago.com. CSN contributor Matt Bowen provides analysis for the 7A and 8A title games and anchorreporter Susannah Collins will handle sideline duties throughout the weekend.

Here is a snapshot of every game we will profile on Saturday night's High School Lites at 10:30pm:


Stockton (13-0) vs. Maroa-Forsyth (12-1), Friday - 10:00am

If you throw out Stocktons 22-15 victory over Lena-Winslow on October 12th, the 13-0 Blackhawks would be averaging 53 points per game (instead, its only a paltry 51). They scored on seven straight possessions in last weeks 51-14 victory over Stark County. Maroa-Forsyths only loss this season came to 3A title contender Tolono Unity. This will be the Trojans fourth trip to the finals since 2006. Coach Josh Jostes teams have won at least 10 games every season since 2005.


Mercer County (13-0) vs. Belleville Althoff (10-3), Friday - 1:00pm

The Cinderella season continues for the 10-3 and 15th seed -- Crusaders, who have stunned some kingpins in the playoffs, including Casey-Westfield and Camp Point Central. Their defense is tight. Cornerback Michael Harris has 10 interceptions on the year. Itll be an interesting matchup against quarterback Tanner Matlick and a Mercer County offense that put 80 points on the board in a game earlier this year. Coach Nat Zunkels Eagles advanced by beating Clifton Central 26-7.


Aurora Christian (12-1) vs. Tolono Unity (12-1), Friday - 4:00pm

Head Coach Don Beebe has to impressed with what his team has accomplished this year. Their only loss was a 31-27 nail-biter to 5A finalist Montini, and their passing game has been top notch. Quarterback Ryan McQuade has top targets in Cory Windle and Chad Beebe (Dons son). The Unity Rockets have a short drive to Memorial Stadium (8 miles). Two-way player Connor Grace will get a lot of looks on offense. The running back amassed 205 yards last week against Greenville.


Rock Island Alleman (12-1) vs. Rochester (12-1), Friday - 7:00pm

Like Unitys Rockets, these Rochester Rockets score in bunches as well (11 of their scoring totals have been 41 or higher). The big question, though, surrounds running back Dylan Hathaway. Rochesters leading rusher (1,600 yards this season) re-aggravated an ankle injury last week. Can Alleman answer the call? They are coming off a convincing 23-7 win over Evergreen Park. Senior quarterback John Tracey leads the Pioneers in passing and rushing yards.


Montini (11-2) vs. Morris (12-1), Saturday - 10:00am

Its good to be a furniturecabinet maker in the Lombard area. The 11-2 Broncos will be looking to bring their fourth consecutive state title back to the trophy case at Montini. Wide receiver Joe Borsellino and running back Dimitri Taylor are two players to keep an eye on when Montini has the ball. The Morris Redskins, another familiar name in late-November football, features Indiana-bound DLTE Danny Friend, quarterback Zach Cinnamon and running back Reese Sobol.


Cary-Grove (13-0) vs. Crete-Monee (13-0), Saturday - 1:00pm

Its uncharted waters for Crete-Monee, as they will be playing for their first state championship. Itll be a game of contrasting styles as well. Crete-Monee has the aerial assault game with quarterback Marcus Terrell and elite wide receiver Laquon Treadwell. Cary-Grove, looking for their second title since 2009, loves to run the ball. Running back Kyle Norberg is having a dream season. Both defenses, though, have been clutch all season long and could be the deciding factor.


Glenbard West (13-0) vs. Lincoln-Way East (13-0), Saturday - 4:00pm

Lincoln-Way East quarterback Tom Fuessel has made some incredible, highlight-reel runs to the end zone this year. The NIU recruit has a nice complement in the backfield with running back Nick Colangelo. Lincoln-Ways defense is one of the best in state, as is the defense for the Hilltoppers. GBW has kept eight opponents to a touchdown or less this year. Quarterback Henry Haeffner and running back Devante Toney will look to bring a state title back to Glen Ellyn for the first time since 1983.


Glenbard North (12-1) vs. Mount Carmel (12-1), Saturday - 7:00pm

Mount Carmel quarterback Don Butkus sprained his left ankle against Neuqua Valley last week. His status is day-to-day. Will that put more pressure on running backs Matt Domer and Draco Smith? The two backs, along with a bruising defense, have carried the Caravan far this year. Glenbard North has a bruiser all their own: Justin Jackson. The running back (who also plays defense and special teams) carried the ball 46 times for 230 yards and factored in all four of GBNs scores last week.

Our Muscle Milk Team of the Week is Cary-Grove. The Trojans won a state title in 2009. Can they do it again in 2012? We'll also bring you highlights of the Chicago Prep Bowl, featuring Public League champion Simeon and Brother Rice, the winner of the Catholic League crown. Both schools are familiar with the Prep Bowl and are looking to end the season on a positive note at Soldier Field. Plus, well have one final feature on the on the thrilling Hilltopper football season -- it's Joliet Catholic's 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.

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

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

What can the Cubs expect from the Cleveland Indians in the World Series?

What can the Cubs expect from the Cleveland Indians in the World Series?

CSNChicago.com’s Dan Hayes and JJ Stankevitz saw plenty of the Cleveland Indians while covering the White Sox in 2016, and set their sights on what kind of a challenge the Tribe will provide the Cubs in the World Series.


The American League’s second-best offense has slowed down considerably in the postseason as its .635 OPS ranks seventh among 10 playoff teams in 2016. But the Indians have received enough clutch hitting from part-timer Coco Crisp and their star in the making, shortstop Francisco Lindor, to make the most of their stellar pitching in the playoffs.

In the regular season, the Indians finished second in the American League in runs scored (777) in part because of an aggressive approach on the base paths and even though the team’s best player, Michael Brantley, was limited to 43 plate appearances because of injury. The Indians ranked second in the majors in extra bases taken with 186, two ahead of the Cubs, according to baseball-reference.com. The team also finished second in the majors with an extra bases taken percentage of 45 and led the AL with 134 stolen bases in 165 tries (81 percent).

The offense is centered around designated hitter Carlos Santana, who blasted a career best 34 home runs and posted an .865 OPS. First baseman Mike Napoli and second baseman Jason Kipnis also established career highs in homers with 34 and 23, respectively. Kipnis finished with 68 extra-base hits, including 41 doubles.

Third baseman Jose Ramirez picked up much of the slack for a team that also was without projected outfielder Abraham Almonte for half the season because of a suspension for PEDs. Ramirez had 46 doubles among his 60 extra-base hits and produced an .825 OPS in an outstanding all-around campaign that could garner him a few MVP votes. Rookie Tyler Naquin also filled a big void in the outfield with 14 homers and 43 RBIs in 365 plate appearances.

So far, Indians manager Terry Francona has divided up the plate appearances among his outfielders in October. Only right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall has received consistent playing time as the Indians have platooned Crisp, Naquin, Rajai Davis, who stole 43 bases this season, and Brandon Guyer.

-- Dan Hayes


Andrew Miller may be having the best postseason a relief pitcher has ever had. The big-ticket trade deadline acquisition threw 11 2/3 innings in the ALDS against the Boston Red Sox and ALCS against the Toronto Blue Jays, striking out 21 while allowing only five singles and two walks (that’s good for a laughable .132/.171/.184 opponent slash line). Manager Terry Francona hasn’t been shy about using Miller early in games, too — he inserted the 6-foot-7 lefty in the fifth inning of Cleveland’s ALDS Game 1 win over the Red Sox, and half of his six playoff appearances this year began in the sixth inning or earlier. Miller’s ability to throw multiple innings will put pressure on the Cubs to score early and often against the Indians’ rotation.

Francona’s willingness to use Miller early has been critical toward helping maximize the success of a starting rotation without two of its three best arms in the postseason. Carlos Carrasco (fractured gone in right hand) won’t pitch in the World Series, though Francona hinted that fellow right-handed All-Star Danny Salazar (strained flexor muscle in right forearm) could return to start in the World Series. Right-hander Trevor Bauer, who sliced his right pinky open while repairing his drone and only managed to record two outs before his finger gushed blood in Game 3 of the ALCS, will start Game 2 or 3.

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With or without Salazar and/or Bauer, though, Cleveland’s rotation has been effective. Corey Kluber is the unquestioned ace of the staff and allowed only two runs over 18 1/3 innings in three postseason starts, which stands as a continuation of his strong regular season numbers (18-9, 215 IP, 3.14 ERA, 3.26 FIP). Josh Tomlin has had a short rope, only throwing 10 2/3 innings in his two starts, but allowed three runs in that span with 10 strikeouts and three walks. Rookie left-hander Ryan Merrett threw 4 2/3 shutout innings in a clinching Game 5 win over the Blue Jays last week, too, showing no signs of “shaking in his boots” in his first postseason start.

The rest of Cleveland’s bullpen -- which tied for the second-best ERA in the American League (3.45) in the regular season -- has found success in addition to Miller in the playoffs. Hard-throwing closer Cody Allen has looked unflappable in five save opportunities, allowing five hits and three walks with 12 strikeouts. Right-handers Dan Otero (3.1 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 1 K) and Bryan Shaw (5.2 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 1 HR) have been go-to options if Miller can’t bridge the gap between the starting pitcher and Allen, too.

It doesn’t come as a surprise that Cleveland has found pitching success in the playoffs, even with so many injuries, given their 3.86 staff ERA ranked 7th in baseball.

-- JJ Stankevitz


Nobody has been as outstanding of a defensive team as the Cubs in 2016. But, the Indians are still near the top of the second tier team and have proven a remarkably improved squad over the past two seasons. Much of their improvement stems from the stellar play provided by Lindor, who ranked second in the majors in Ultimate Zone Rating (20.8) among shortstops and fourth in Defensive Runs Saved with 17, according to fangraphs.com. Combined with Kipnis, who ranked sixth in UZR (7.3) among second baseman, the Indians have a strong double play combo. Ramirez also proved to be a steady defender at third base after taking over as the full-timer following the release of Juan Uribe.

Though the club has missed the presence of starting catcher Yan Gomes, it has handled his absence extremely well. Not only does replacement Roberto Perez rate among the game’s best pitch framers, he also threw out 13 of 26 runners who attempted to steal a base with him behind the dish.

-- Dan Hayes


Francona won two World Series trophies with the Boston Red Sox, including the one in 2004 that ended that franchise’s 87-year title drought. He’s led Cleveland to two postseason berths since taking over in 2013, and the Tribe haven’t had a losing record in his four years at the helm.

The 57-year-old has been lauded for his aggressive use of Miller in the playoffs, deploying the lights-out lefty as a study bridge between a starting rotation beset by injuries and dominant closer Allen.

First baseman/catcher/designated hitter Santana is hardly a prototypical leadoff man, but he’s hit first in six of Cleveland’s eight games in the postseason after leading off 85 games in the regular season. And that’s the batting order position he’s been most effective from --- In the regular season, Santana hit .260/.385/.502 with more walks (67) than strikeouts (60) as a leadoff man. Francona’s willingness to eschew stolen bases and speed on the base paths has put early pressure on starting pitchers by having Santana on base so frequently.

Said Cubs starter Jon Lester, who pitched for Francona in the Red Sox 2007 championship run: “I know that manager on their side’s going to be prepared, I know their coaching staff’s going to be ready.”

-- JJ Stankevitz

Jon Lester says Cubs haven’t done anything yet: ‘Nobody likes second place’

Jon Lester says Cubs haven’t done anything yet: ‘Nobody likes second place’

As Cubs players and generations of fans celebrated Christmas in October, Jon Lester had to be The Grinch for a moment. Sure, the Cubs would party from Saturday night into Sunday morning, probably get “a little bit” drunk and enjoy the franchise’s first National League pennant in 71 years. But the reality of the Cleveland Indians would set in once the Cubs got rid of this hangover.

“We ain’t done anything yet,” Lester said during the Wrigley Field celebration after the Cubs eliminated the Los Angeles Dodgers. “Nobody likes second place.”

There are enough Boston Red Sox connections in this World Series that Lester already knows what to expect, starting with Indians manager Terry Francona, who became a father figure as he dealt with a cancer scare as a rookie.

There are ex-teammates from those championship teams in 2007 (Coco Crisp) and 2013 (Mike Napoli, Andrew Miller) at Fenway Park. There is the accumulated experience from throwing 119 postseason innings (2.50 ERA) and becoming one of the best big-game pitchers of his generation.

“I don’t want to sound like a smart-ass, but we got a long ways to go,” Lester said. “I know that manager on their side’s going to be prepared. I know their coaching staff’s going to be ready. I know their players are going to be ready, just based on one player alone, and that’s Mike Napoli. I know what he brings to the table. He helped transform our 2013 team.

“Come Tuesday, we got to put the gloves back on. We got to get ready to fight and grind and do what we’ve done well all year. We got four more games to win.”

After limiting the Dodgers to two runs in 13 innings, and being named the NL Championship Series’ co-MVP along with Javier Baez, Lester should be a worthy Game 1 starter opposite Corey Kluber, the 2014 American League Cy Young Award winner.

This is why Lester took a leap of faith with Cubs bosses/ex-Red Sox executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer and chairman Tom Ricketts’ family and what had been a last-place team in 2014.

Two seasons into the $155 million contract that signaled the Cubs would be serious about contending – and not just in the Baseball America/Baseball Prospectus prospect rankings – the franchise has won 200 games and four playoff rounds and remained in position to dominate for years to come.

“Theo and Jed and the front office and Tom and all these guys had a belief,” Lester said. “I believed in that belief. The talent here speaks for itself. I didn’t do anything – I came here because I wanted to win in Chicago. I’m just happy to be here and be a part of this and get to this point.

“(But) we’re four hard wins away from doing what we set out to do in spring training.”

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As bright as the future looks on the North Side, Lester will be 33 next season and his left arm has already accounted for more than 2,000 innings during his decorated career. John Lackey turned 38 on Sunday. Jake Arrieta only has one more season before becoming a free agent.

The Cubs built their franchise around young hitters, with the idea that they can figure out the pitching later with free agents, change-of-scenery trades and bounce-back guys. Easier said than done. They have a true No. 1 starter now in Lester, who as a free agent watched a recruiting video that imagined what it would be like when the Cubs win the World Series.

“This isn’t it,” Lester said. “It’s been a tough playoffs for us to this point and it’s only going to get tougher. We’re going to enjoy it. We’re going to show up Tuesday in Cleveland ready to play. We’ll see what happens.”