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It's been nearly 24 hours and I still haven't quite recovered from Horizon League Media Day. My "Horizon hangover" has nothing to do with the four Chicago Style Root Beers I consumed thanks to the wonderful catering at the Lowes Chicago O'Hare hotel.
I'm still trying to wrap my head around what happened yesterday as it pertains to two events. Well, one non-event as well as one event that I've heard was the highlight of the afternoon for everyone else. Let's get started...
The annual Horizon League Media Day festivities were supposed to begin with an announcement. There was plenty of speculation leading up to Wednesday as to what the announcement might be and what might be hiding on the easel behind the black sheet.
I even had a fun exchange with Bill Potter, the Horizon League's Assistant Commissioner for Messaging and Media when he asked me if I had peaked behind the curtain. My reply was truthful: "Bill, announcements are no fun. Speculating about announcements is where all the page clicks are at."
Little did I know that we'd be left with more speculating. The easel was removed from the press conference area when players and coaches came in to take some photos. (Where were the SID photos taken?) I didn't think anything of the absent easel at the time, thinking it would be brought back by the time we started Commissioner Jon LeCrone's State of the League address.
The Horizon League will hold its annual Media Day on Wednesday in Chicago and will release the preseason projections as well as the All-Conference teams. These rankings are voted on by the league coaches and sports information directors as well as a handful of esteemed media members that cover the league. I also get a vote.
As I've done in the past, mostly to disastrous results, I wanted to share my ballot. There is a fair amount of uncertainty in the league this season due to a high number of impact players departing the league. Just three players return from last season's All-Conference teams. Forty percent of the All-Freshman team won't take the court this season as Pat Birt transferred from UIC and Lexus Williams is likely out for the season with a torn ACL.
All that said, I think it's easy to pick the top two teams. I also think it's easy to pick the bottom two teams (which basically makes it a lock that UIC will be in the Horizon League title game this season). Trying to decide between the middle five teams seems to be a fruitless endeavor. Every team has question marks and right now we just don't have the answers. Who replaces Travis Bader in Oakland? Who scores besides Alec Peters in Valparaiso? How does Milwaukee approach the season with no hope for the postseason? Is Paris Bass the next big thing in Detroit? How good are Billy Donlon's newcomers?
Like I said, lots of questions, very few answers. So here's my early, very uninformed take on how I think the Horizon League will shake out this season.
1. Green Bay
It was really only a matter of time before Lexus Williams got hurt and there was nothing he could really do about it.
Really, we should've all seen this coming.
When it came out earlier this week that Williams suffered a torn ACL last month and is likely to miss the 2014-15 season, the Valparaiso starting point guard joined a lengthy list of recent starting point guards who have had their careers derailed momentarily.
Williams may feel like the world is against him at the moment but he is truly just fulfilling the same curse that has afflicted other Valparaiso point guards.
Before Williams was handed the keys to the offense last season, Tommy Kurth was the last freshman to start as the primary ball handler. Kurth started 23 of the last 24 games his freshman season, enduring brutal foot pain throughout the year. Kurth ultimately took a redshirt during his sophomore season and continued to battle medical issues for the rest of his career.
GARY | Should the RailCats win today vs. Kansas City, the team would end the season .500 at home.
That distinction is already a disappointment for manager Greg Tagert.
"This is something I'll be thinking about during the offseason," Tagert said before the game. "This team was created to play at this park, so we shouldn't be .500 at home. I am disappointed when we play .500 on the road, even with the old adage that you play .500 on the road I don't believe in that."
The 'Cats enter the game a game ahead of Lincoln and the Saltdogs hold the tie breaker, so Gary can't end the regular season tied with Lincoln.
GARY | The RailCats enter the final game of their three-game series against St. Paul a half-game behind Lincoln in the American Association's Central Division.
The 'Cats ended their nine-game home losing streak on Tuesday as Lincoln lost its third in a row. Right now, a three-game losing streak ties the current longest in the American Association.
Gary need to win an extra game and not tie Lincoln for the division lead because the Saltdogs hold the tiebreaker.
St. Paul Saints (45-41)
GARY | The nine-game home losing streak is officially the longest in RailCats history.
The 'Cats have a legacy of not only success at U.S. Steel Yard, but success in August under Greg Tagert.
The previous worsts that the 'Cats have been at home came in 2004 (under Garry Templeton) with a six-game losing streak and in 2010 with the same fate — six games from July 5 to July 11.
The RailCats are again a game and a half back of Lincoln after a loss by both teams on Monday. The 'Cats finish their home schedule Sunday, and with six games remaining, the best the team can record in Gary is a 26-23 record. That means that the RailCats will have to win out the remainder of their home games. If so, that will also guarantee an above .500 mark for the season.
Ryan Brockett is available for tonight's game, coming off the DL about an hour before the start of the game. In his stead, Cody Bishop joins the disabled list after twisting his ankle in Sunday's 12-inning game.
GARY | The RailCats return home, to where they are sub-.500 this season, for their last home stand, a seven-game affair that starts with three games against St. Paul.
The Saints, in the midst of a nine-game losing streak, were once in the hunt — with the RailCats — for the wild-card slot into the American Association postseason. However, the only real race left in the AA is in the Central Division. The 'Cats are a game and a half back of Lincoln, which lost Sunday and has an extra game to play.
For the record, the RailCats started August 11 games over .500, and are now 45-41 going 4-11 since Aug. 1.
GARY | If you listened to Greg Tagert's postgame interview here on nwi.com, you heard him say what fans are thinking: "We're not playing good enough baseball overall to win games."
Here are other highlight's of Tagert's comments as the team has lost seven straight home games and eight of their last 10 at U.S. Steel Yard. The last win in Gary came Aug. 1 against Kansas City.
"I'm repeating the same story every night, we've given the club our thoughts and from a staff, the extra work, all those things are in place and this is a tough stretch. It's as tough as I can remember at our home ballpark.
"In this stretch, you have the loss to Winnipeg, and everything else has been three-run, two-run, one-run deficit. We know we've been playing in some tight ballgames, but overall we're making enough mistakes ourselves to lose some ballgames.
"Tough to look at the personnel we have because it's the same personnel we had when we were 12 games over .500. I'd like us to find out which club we are in these last 18. Are we the club that's 12-over .500 or are we the club that's been playing 12-under .500.
GARY | Here's why the RailCats need to win out in the American Association's Central Division to make the postseason: Because while they're tied with Lincoln for the division lead, they're four games behind Laredo and 2 1/2 games behind St. Paul in the wild card race.
The RailCats are facing one of the best relief corps in the league in the Explorers. That Geoff Broussard has a 7-1 record, and picked up his second save of the year last night against the 'Cats, is indicative of the Explorers' propensity to lose games early and rely on their relievers. Broussard has more wins than any of the team's starters, which indicates that Sioux City relies on rallying to win late.
To beat the Explorers over the next two games — and raise their home record over .500 — the 'Cats will have to score early and often.
Sioux City Explorers (37-45)
GARY | The RailCats started practice with the sun shining and the tarp off the field. They're hoping the game continues as smooth.
The 'Cats open their first of a three-game home series today against Sioux City, a team that is as much in the hunt for the Central Division title as the RailCats.
The 'Cats are hoping to turn around their home fortunes against the Xs, having lost their last five at home and six in the previous eight-game home stand.
Then, the RailCats will count on the Explorers for some help. With Lincoln right on the 'Cats' heels, Sioux City plays the Saltdogs beginning Thursday and eight more times before the end of the season.
Lincoln is tied with the RailCats for the top of the division standings, but the Saltdogs have two more games remaining (22) to the RailCats' final 20.
GARY | The RailCats haven't been swept in a series since falling to Kansas City in three straight games June 27-29, but are on the precipice with three losses to Lincoln heading into today's game.
This is the last game of the regular season that pits the 'Cats against the 'Dogs. The only other division games left on the RailCats schedule include two more series against Kansas City and a trip and a host of Sioux City.
The RailCats are two games ahead of Lincoln in the American Association's Central Division.
Lincoln Saltdogs (38-35)
GARY | Before the RailCats can start Game 3 of the four-game series against Lincoln, the two teams must first finish Monday's game.
The rain started falling between the top and bottom of the 11th inning and the delay started at 11:04 p.m. It was called at 11:21, with both teams returning today.
To recap Monday: The RailCats scored two runs in the first, added a third in the second before Lincoln scored seven in the fifth inning. The RailCats used an error to score three unearned runs in a four-run bottom of the fifth and the score knotted there. The RailCats put a runner on third in the seventh and loaded the bases in the 10th. Lincoln hasn't had a runner as far as third base since the fifth.
Set to come up in the bottom of the 11th is Drew Martinez, Josh Romanski and Ryan Babineau for the RailCats.
11th inning (bottom)
GARY | The RailCats are hoping to turn around their fortunes with a mess of moves before the start of Monday's game against Lincoln.
The 'Cats activated Zac Mitchell from the disabled list and signed Jose Garcia, who last played in Joliet in the Frontier League.
To make space, relief pitcher Barry Fowler was placed on irrevocable waivers and Derek Smith was moved to the inactive list.
The inactive list is a guaranteed 30 days off of the roster, meaning that the injury that Smith suffered Sunday while running the bases is extensive. The earliest Smith could return to the RailCats is the postseason.
Mitchell returns from a knee infection that forced him to miss the All-Star game.
GARY | The RailCats will need two four-game series to right the ship of the regular schedule.
Thanks to the American Association all-star series, the two-day event that started the week, the RailCats had two options of how to schedule games.
Some teams, manager Greg Tagert said, took Wednesday as an off day and started this week's series on Thursday to run a four-game stretch Thursday through Sunday as normal. Because the 'Cats were already at home, they opted for a secondary plan.
The RailCats played Kansas City on Wednesday through Saturday and then Lincoln on Sunday through Wednesday to return to the typical three- or four-game schedule.
The two series mark the first back-to-back four-game series the RailCats have played this season.
GARY | As expected, the RailCats signed Bishop Noll grad and former Whiting resident Andy Loomis to a contract, anticipating making him a closer.
To free up space, Miles Walding has been placed on the disabled list, giving the RailCats just four infielders to play the four positions (Zac Mitchell is still on crutches).
Loomis was a 16th round pick in the 2008 draft by the Florida Marlins and has been in the Baltimore Orioles organization since 2012 (he also spent a season in A-ball with the Phillies). He reached as high as Triple-A with the Orioles, until he was sidelined with Tommy John surgery last August.
Kansas City T-Bones (34-36)
GARY | The RailCats enter the second game of the four-game stand against Kansas City enjoying a win Wednesday and a loss by the Lincoln Saltdogs.
Lincoln, sitting second in the Central Division, fell to Grand Prairie and dropped to five games below the RailCats in the division race. KC is seven games behind the 'Cats in the Central.
Kansas City T-Bones (33-36)
3B TJ Mittelstaedt
GARY | The RailCats return from their two-day all-star break with the biggest of big homestand series at U.S. Steel Yard.
The 'Cats open with four games against Kansas City beginning today, and the T-Bones are in third place in the Central Division, six games behind the RailCats.
After K.C. leaves, the RailCats welcome Lincoln for four games. The Saltdogs are four games behind the 'Cats in second place in the division and play against Grand Prairie prior to making the trek to Gary.
Before the game, the RailCats placed second baseman Zac Mitchell on the disabled list, activating Kagen Hopkins. Mitchell was slated to play in the all-star game Tuesday, but didn't appear. Hopkins will start in place of Dustin Crenshaw, who will start tomorrow instead. Crenshaw pitched in Tuesday's all-star game.
GARY | The RailCats haven't lost a series since dropping three straight to Kansas City June 27-29.
In the last month, the 'Cats have recorded a sweep, two series ties and five straight series wins.
To keep that streak alive, the RailCats will have to knock off Winnipeg in a rubber match of the three-game weekend series that will take both teams into the all-star break.
Winnipeg remains in first in the North Division, two games ahead of St. Paul that ended its eight-game winning streak with a loss to Fargo-Moorhead on Saturday.
The RailCats remain in first in the Central Division, four games ahead of Lincoln, which beat Kansas City 3-1 on Saturday.
GARY | The RailCats and Winnipeg Goldeyes remain No. 1 in their respective American Association divisions, but neither is safe.
The RailCats have the benefit of Kansas City and Lincoln (the Nos. 3 and 2 teams in the Central) playing against each other this weekend, so Lincoln fell five games back with a loss last night as Kansas City is seven games behind the RailCats for first.
In the North, the Goldeyes suffered more than a loss at the hands of the RailCats on Friday as St. Paul and Fargo-Moorhead (Nos. 2 and 3 in the North) are also playing each other and St. Paul extended its winning streak to eight games, having won nine of the last 10.
The RailCats will send Stephen Bougher to the mound against Winnipeg tonight. The righty is 2-1 at home with a 2.06 ERA and has lasted at least seven innings in his last two starts at U.S. Steel Yard.
GARY | After winning five straight series, the RailCats return home from Sioux City with their first series tie since June 30-July3.
The tie, courtesy of back-to-back losses to the Explorers, comes at the same time that Lincoln won four games in a row. The Saltdogs turned their six-game deficit in the American Association's Central Division into a four-game deficit.
The RailCats, 9-10 against the Central Division this season and 2-1 against Lincoln, play the Saltdogs Aug 3-6 at U.S. Steel Yard, after the All-Star break.
Not far behind Lincoln is Kansas City, a team that comes to Gary twice more -- including after this weekend's series against Winnipeg -- and the RailCats head to Kansas City one more time in August. The T-Bones are seven games right now behind the RailCats and three games behind Lincoln in the AA Central.
Against the Goldeyes, the RailCats are facing a team that is sitting atop the Northern League's North Division standings, two games ahead of the St. Paul Saints.
GARY | Should the RailCats sweep the weekend series against Amarillo, it will be the second sweep in four series, the last against Fargo-Moorhead.
As it is, this series win -- secured Saturday with a 9-2 victory -- will be the fifth straight.
On Saturday, the RailCats added coach Joe Beck to the coaching staff and will put him at first base. Keaton Willis, who had been the first base coach, remains on the staff as the strength and conditioning coach. Beck has previously coached with third base coach Dennis Pelfrey and pitching coach Chad Rhoades.
Amarillo Sox (19-40)
son aGARY | Morgan Coombs was slated to start Friday's series opener against Amarillo, but instead was placed on the disabled list before the game with Travis McGee added to the roster.
Coombs felt discomfort during his last start in Winnipeg last weekend.
McGee pitched for the RailCats earlier in the season, working four innings and picking up a suspended game in June. He had an ERA of 2.57 in his total seven innings with the 'Cats in his first stint in Gary.
The rookie has been in Windy City since his release from the RailCats roster, appearing in two games.
Coombs holds a 5-4 record with 4.32 ERA in 14 starts. He is in his third season with the RailCats, starting 21 games with a 6-9 record in 2012, and starting 16 games with a 6-3 record last season.
GARY | The RailCats have a quick turnaround, back at the ballpark nearly 12 hours after they left Tuesday.
With Tuesday's game running 2 hours, 55 minutes, including a 49-minute rain delay, 8-minute injury delay and three ejections, the game didn't end until after 11 p.m.
Today's game is an attraction to young day campers and area retirement communities and senior groups.
Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks (27-31)
GARY | The RailCats haven't lost to Fargo-Moorhead since Sept. 4, 2013, when they dropped the first of the American Association semifinals to the RedHawks.
Since then, the 'Cats have won seven straight games, including three in the postseason and three last week in North Dakota.
The season series continues with today's game against the RedHawks at U.S. Steel Yard, the RedHawks' only trip to Gary this season.
The tarp came out after 6 p.m., thanks to rain that blew through the area, but by 6:35, the tarp crew was sprinting to take it off and dry the field.
The National Federation of State High School Associations approved the use of video for coaching purposes.
While it might or might not be a good thing, coaches will have to adapt should they choose to use this technology.
Will this lead to stealing signs? I doubt if someone will put a camera in centerfield, but you can pick things up from a good angle. Now, coaches will be able to see things instantly.
Illinois Lutheran coach Mark Kjenstad said it is a matter of learning how to use this technology to your advantage. Eventually, this will be the norm in dugouts. Crete-Monee coach Gene Cahan told me he doesn't see an advantage and there may not be one, but most coaches will think the "other guy" will have an advantage, so he will use a camera.
Why is it not in softball? Basically, baseball and softball are for each gender.
GARY | The RailCats open their week of games with the announcement that the team will send five players -- and a manager -- to the American Association All-Star game in two weeks in Winnipeg.
Zac Mitchell was named to start at second base, Danny Pulfer will start at third and Drew Martinez will start in the outfield. Craig Maddox was picked as the backup catcher and Dustin Crenshaw is one of nine pitchers named to the team.
Greg Tagert will manage the team after winning the 2013 American Association Championship.
The RailCats return from a six-game road trip with a 5-1 record and have won six of their last seven games. The team plays its next six games at home, with a Thursday break in between.
GARY | The St. Paul Saints hold the season series record against the RailCats 4-2.
But the 'Cats are hoping to salvage the weekend series at U.S. Steel Yard with a win Sunday and win their first series outright since June 23-26 against Sioux Falls.
Conversely, the RailCats hold the offensive advantage over the Saints, 27-25, thanks in part to a 14-5 win on May 18 and a 7-1 win on Friday to start the weekend stretch.
St. Paul Saints (24-22)
GARY | The RailCats opened their second game of the three-game homestand with a trade.
The 'Cats sent righty reliever Coleman Stephens to Amarillo in exchange for righty reliever Ian Kadish.
Kadish played 49 games last season for the Lansing Lugnuts as part of the Toronto Blue Jays organization. He was 5-4 with a 3.36 ERA.
Kadish was signed as a free agent by the Blue Jays in 2011, with the Midwest League the highest level he reached.
Stephens played in 10 games for the 'Cats this season, including eight relief outings. He was 1-1 with a 6.23 ERA and spent eight days on the DL from June 16-24.
GARY | The RailCats are celebrating the Fourth of July with fireworks, reduced tickets for veterans and active military, and outfield running.
The 'Cats hopped off a bus as soon as it returned from Sioux Falls after Thursday's 11-7 loss. Though they hold the No. 1 spot in the American Association Central Division, the RailCats' lead is three games over Kansas City and the 'Cats are 5-5 over their last 10 games.
St. Paul Saints (23-21)
2B Sam Maus
After spending Monday looking at Valparaiso's outgoing transfer situation over the last 11 years, I figured it would be good to look and see if the Crusaders have brought in better talent than they've lost in that same time period.
I'm using the last 11 years as the focal point as it represents a) when Homer Drew took over the program again and b) 2002-03 was the last season the Crusaders didn't lose a player to transfer.
2014 -- E. Victor Nickerson (Charlotte), Darien Walker (John A. Logan/Arizona Western),
2013 -- Keith Carter (St. Louis), David Chadwick (Rice), Moussa Gueye (Alabama)
2012 -- Bobby Capobianco (Indiana), Jordan Coleman (Southwestern Ill./Hawaii), Lavonte Dority (South Florida), Alex Rossi (California)
As the 2014-15 basketball season unofficially began on Monday morning with the start of summer workouts, I'll be spending each day this week examining a different topic related to the Valparaiso men's basketball team. Today we start with a look at transfers.
From Alex to Vincent and Bouchie to Yeo, the question surrounding the Valparaiso men's basketball team is really quite simple: Do the Crusaders have a transfer problem? The answer might not be so easy.
With the recent announcement that Clay Yeo was leaving the team for Bethel with three seasons of eligibility remaining, the Crusaders have now had 31 players leave the program early since Homer Drew took the Crusaders back over in the fall of 2003.
That number may be a bit misleading given that among the 31 are five walk-ons, three players that had major health issues and three players who never took the court for Valparaiso. That said, the Crusaders have given a premature goodbye to more than 20 scholarship players over the last 11 years. Valparaiso has had a player leave in every season since 2002-03.
2014 -- Clay Yeo (Bethel)
It as hard to tell who was having more fun at the Pierre Thomas skills camp at T.F. South Tuesday -- the young campers or Thomas?
In an age where you hear so much negatives about pro athletes, Thomas is a breath of fresh air. This was a free camp and it is just one way of giving back to the community.
Another is getting kids some exercise. Instead of sitting in front of a computer screen, the kids got out and ran, caught passes, attempted to kick field goals and just had fun.
His mom, Gretta Jo Thomas said she is just as proud for the way he has come back and how the young man conducts himself as she is of him playing for the New Orleans Saints.
What Thomas gives local kids is a hero who is in the headlines for his on-the-field feats and not off-the-field escapades that many pro athletes are. His ICAN Foundation is just that. It encourages kids to have a positive outlook and encourages them to do the right things. Thomas talked about hanging around with the right people, keeping grades up and getting involved in any kind of activity.
GARY | The tarp hasn't seen the field at U.S. Steel Yard for hours and the RailCats played a simulated game as well as took batting practice to open the final pregame of their home stand.
The 'Cats entered this seven-game stint at home playing almost .500 ball, having won four and lost five since a winning streak of seven straight opened June.
The RailCats lost their first home series against Lincoln, dropping a Friday game 7-4, then splitting a Sunday doubleheader. A loss to Sioux Falls -- for the first time this season -- opened the series against the Canaries, but the RailCats won the last two games: 8-3 and 9-6.
Sioux Falls Canaries (14-24)
GARY | The RailCats are finally able to take some batting practice thanks to a break in the clouds. The tarp was on the field at 4 p.m., but was extracted at 4:38 so that the team didn't miss a third straight day of BP.
The RailCats have lost to Sioux Falls just once this year -- on Monday -- and hold a 6-1 record against the Canaries. The four-game series that ends Thursday is the third of four times the two teams meet this season. The final meeting will be July 1-3, next week.
Prior to the game, the RailCats announced that they've traded first baseman Jeremy Hamilton to Lincoln for future considerations. The team then signed infielder Adam Humes, a Frontier League player last season.
Hamilton leaves tied for a team lead in doubles with 10. (He is tied with Craig Maddox.)
Humes played in Florence in the Frontier League last season and in McAllen of the United League. He played in college at Northwood University in Texas and summer wood bat in the Alaskan Baseball League.
GARY | The tarp came off the field in time for the RailCats to take batting practice.
That's good news for the hitters, who left nine on base Monday night in a 6-3 loss. Prior to the Monday game, manager Greg Tagert said that his catchers -- Craig Maddox and Ryan Babineau -- are typically most disappointed when batting practice is missed.
The 'Cats were planning to work on bunting drills with the pitching staff Monday as well as use the time to work on defensive drills with Ryan Brockett, who is coming off of a head injury after taking a line drive to the cheek bone last week.
Brockett has been activated from the DL today, his first day available, and is expected to be in the lineup tonight.
As of 5:20, it looks like BP has been scrapped for light outfield tosses, but not actual BP as the field is still being cleaned, dried and chalked. The inside batting cages will take a beating for the second day in a row.
GARY | The RailCats held an on-field team meeting at their usual "batting practice" time, but the field at U.S. Steel Yard remains tarped.
The new tarp for the infield is larger than the old, grey one. This is white and covers more area, stretching farther into foul territory and behind home plate.
The previous tarp was given an appropriate send off after Sunday's doubleheader, as the grounds crew filled it with water and invited fans to use it as a slip-and-slide.
In his pregame interview session, manager Greg Tagert said that the RailCats batters are most frustrated when batting practice is called for rain. The tarp went on the field at about 1:30 and stayed on through BP, though there was no rain between 4:30-5:30, when the 'Cats would have been hitting.
GARY | The RailCats head into today's doubleheader in a tough pitching conundrum.
The 'Cats were only able to use Stephen Bougher for two innings in Saturday's rain out. Neither pitcher gave up a hit in the first two innings, but Lincoln starter Nick Green walked two RailCats.
The RailCats left two on through two innings before the deluge began and forced the rainout.
A reminder: the two games will be seven innings each in regulation, though in the previous two doubleheaders played at U.S. Steel Yard this year, both first games have gone extras.
Today's lineups for Game 1:
It is always a good thing to see when a former player returns to his or her prep alma mater to coach.
It is even better when that person becomes the head coach as with T.F. North's LaShaunda Sandifer. Maybe it is twice as nice as she will become the girls volleyball and girls basketball coach at North.
I remember the late Don Rising, who was the T.F. North girls basketball coach, talking with me in November of 2004 about his sophomore sensation, telling me that she would be one of the area's top players. What Don didn't say was she would be great in two sports -- basketball and volleyball. You don't get many of those anymore.
Sandifer was The Times Player of the Year in 2007 for girls basketball and 2007 Female Athlete of the Year.
She went on and played volleyball and basketball at Wright State. think about that. Playing and doing well in two sports at the NCAA Division I level.
Even the Illinois Lutheran baseball team didn't think it would win the state title via the 10-run rule.
Coach Mark Kjenstad said he was not surprised how well his team hit.
"We had batting practice like we do before every game," Kjenstad said. "We hit on the grass outside the hotel. used Wiffle balls and I know that doesn't mean you are going to hit, but our guys were ready to play."
Indeed. It was a fine finish to a great season and Kjenstad proved that nice guys do finish first.
The Chargers set a goal at the beginning of the season, you know, when we didn't know if it would ever stop snowing and the fields would never thaw out, and they made sure they fulfilled it. They didn't boast about it, but kept their focus on the end. Though their only two losses were to rival Beecher, the Chargers went forward and let nothing and no one stand in their way.
GARY | Thanks to the rainout Tuesday, the RailCats are back in the position of playing a doubleheader, something that tends to force readjustments to the four-man rotation.
With last week's doubleheader against these same Sioux City Explorers, the RailCats were already planning to use a fifth man to the rotation this week, reentering Coleman Stephens into a spot start.
Stephens will instead start today in the second game of the DH. Pursuant to American Association rules, both games will be seven innings.
The lineup won't change from Tuesday's already posted order.
GARY | The RailCats are hoping to knock off the doldrums from the one-game hiccup, but to do so, they'll need Mother Nature to cooperate.
Staring at the radar, the RailCats could either be dumped on with rain in the next half hour to hour (it's 4:30 right now), or miss the weather anomalies all together.
After falling to Sioux City on Monday, the RailCats -- the best team in the American Association's Central Division -- are hoping to redeem themselves against the Explorers, who jumped from last overall to second-to-last with the win.
As the Xs are divisional foes, the 'Cats need all the wins they can muster within the division, especially early. The Kansas City T-Bones, who sit behind the RailCats three games back in the Central, didn't play yesterday and are on a two-game winning streak, having won six of their last 10.
At 5:06, the tarp comes out, interrupting batting practice.
HIGHLAND | Blase Spoljoric knows the Tour de Highland course by the soles of his feet.
"I usually run this," the Highland man said about the paved trail looping around Wicker Park complemented by an off-shoot path tunneling under Kennedy Avenue and through downtown Highland.
"I had to get my blood pressure down and lose some weight, so I started running three years ago," Spoljoric said. "It's helped, but even though you get a lot from running, it's hard on your legs."
Spoljoric found that cycling the course, as he did Saturday morning while participating in the annual community bike ride sponsored by the Highland Chamber of Commerce, is a more pleasurable experience.
"Biking is so much easier, and you get to enjoy the scenery," said Spoljoric, who participated in his first Tour de Highland.
GARY | Nursing a seven-game winning streak, the RailCats face a Sioux City Explorers team that has lost eight in a row (including four to the 'Cats).
In addition, the Explorers are losing players as quickly as games. The Xs are down to just three infielders after Sunday's retirement of third baseman Mark Sobolewski. Sioux City has just 20 players on the roster, scrambling to fill in the two openings while in the midst of a six-game road trip.
Earlier Monday, RailCats pitcher Dustin Crenshaw was named the American Association's Pitcher of the Week.
Crenshaw made two starts last week, a seven-inning complete-game win over Sioux City and a seven-inning one-run win over Sioux Falls. The righty has allowed three earned runs in his last four starts and has 19 strikeouts with five walks all season.
GARY | The RailCats are riding a six-game winning streak, the longest of the season and the longest since last year's eight ni a row to end June.
The 'Cats hope to close out their second straight series sweep against Sioux Falls with the Sunday matinee.
Sioux Falls Canaries (6-16)
CF Drew Muren
This Friday was the 75th anniversary of the first Little League game ever played. To put that in greater perspective, that's only 38 years removed from the last Cubs World Series title.
As for making it to the Little League World Series, the region has made its share of forays to Williamsport, Pa.
In 1997, Dyer Little League advanced to the LLWS. So did Edison (Hammond) in 1972, as well as Anderson (Gary) Little League the year before.
Anderson's appearance was a historic one. The team was the LLWS's first "All-Negro Team" as proclaimed in the newspapers at the time. Anderson advanced as far as the championship game where it lost to Taiwan, 12-3, in a final more closer than the score indicates -- it remains the only LLWS championship game to go nine innings.
During the series, Anderson star Lloyd McClendon earned the moniker "Legendary Lloyd" long before he became a major league player and manager when he hit five-straight home runs in five-straight at-bats -- actually, it was five-straight swings of the bat.
GARY | The RailCats return home having won four games in a row and five of their last seven. The winning streak is the longest of the season for the 'Cats.
The RailCats played the Canaries on their season-opening road trip, winning both teams in Sioux Falls.
Against the Siouxs this season (Falls and City -- also the next two home opponents) the RailCats are undefeated.
Thanks to the four-game winning streak, the RailCats lead the Central Division by 2 1/2 games over the Kansas City T-Bones and -- at 12-8 -- are two games back of overall American Association leader Wichita (15-7).
"I thought of all the games, (Thursday) was certainly the most impressive win, just because of withstanding the little challenge that a club is going to make at you in a game you could have easily lost," manager Greg Tagert said before Friday's game. "We left the bases loaded a couple times, we hadn't made an error all season, we made three in that game, a couple breaks finally fell Sioux City's way and you're thinking in the dugout, 'we'll take 3-1 on this road trip.' But we pulled it out with a pretty gutty effort, and that was something I was pretty impressed with the club about."
People have asked what is it like for us at The Times and nwi.com when a team goes to state.
Sure, there is coverage and stories leading up to the climax of that particular prep season, but there is one thing that the student-athletes enjoy a lot.
That is the "ball cards" page that we publish whenever a team sport makes it to state. In Indiana, it is to the state championship. In Illinois, it is to the state semifinals.
No, we don't put bubble gum in them, but we put a lot of effort into making sure they look good. It gives the players a chance to fill out a simple questionnaire and to have some fun. They've earned it.
A lot of times a player will ask one of us, "If we get to state, we get the ball cards right?"
Class 4A Chesterton Sectional championship: Hobart 3, Portage 2
Portage put the tying run 90 feet away in the seventh inning of Monday's championship, at which point Hobart coach Bob Glover, Jr. reminded his team of something important.
"I was hollering, 'They've still got to score,'" Glover said after the 3-2 win. "It was like they had all the momentum, but (pitcher) Brandon (Murray) is so hard to hit. It's a situation where all they need is contact, but I've watched him miss so many bats, strike out so many guys over the years, there's nobody else in the state I'd want on the mound."
Murray responded with two strikeouts, both on curve balls, to end the game. He had 10 for the game.
"We know those guys can hit," Glover said. "We knew it wouldn't be easy. They got some good swings on some fastballs. He knew this wasn't going to be a game where he could just muscle up and blow it by them. They're too good for that. He really needed to throw his curve ball for strikes."
HAMMOND | He provokes greater ovations from Chicago Blackhawk fans than Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane combined.
Sometimes they're so resounding, it's a challenge for him to project through them.
"Twenty-two thousand fans can be a lot to overcome," Jim Cornelison said, "but they can always turn up the dial on the volume for me if they have to."
The former Lyric Opera tenor has been performing the Star-Spangled Banner and O Canada national anthems at Blackhawks home games full-time since 2008. He apparently is such a hit with the fans as -- what has become a tradition at the start of Hawks game -- the applause usually reaches its crescendo shortly after "O say can I see ..."
To clear his throat for Game 7 of the NHL Western Conference finals later that night, Cornelison performed the national anthem during the opening ceremonies for Leon's Triathlon Sunday morning at Wolf Lake Park.
Portage is playing in its fifth sectional final in a row Monday at Chesterton. The Indians broke through and won the title last season at LaPorte and Hobart coach Bob Glover Jr. compares his current Brickies to the 2013 team.
"They're a program that knows how to win this time of year," Glover said. "They were on the cusp, knocking on the door a lot of years and finally broke through last year, which is kind of where we are. We're looking to take that next step. Obviously, I feel pretty good about where we're at, but we're going to have come out and keep playing well. They're the team to beat until somebody beats them."
Portage is on a roll at the right time, having won 10 of its last 11 games.
"We're not beating ourselves and we're taking advantage of situations," coach Tim Pirowski said.
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Al Hamnik has been a reporter and columnist in Northwest Indiana for 42 years and is a member of the Indiana Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame, as well as a winner of the Indiana sportswriter of the year award, an IHSAA media award winner, a Corky Lamm Award winner and a three-time HSPA winner.
Steve Hanlon was the Prep Beat writer for The Times from 1995 through 2000 before he went to work at the Indianapolis Star. Upon returning to The Times in 2004, he covered Valparaiso University for one season before he took back the Prep Beat beat in 2005.
Jim Hunsley covers a menagerie of sports as a reporter in the Times.
Paul Oren is a beat reporter for Valparaiso University as well as various high school sports throughout the Region. He has covered NCAA tournaments in basketball, soccer, tennis and volleyball, along with numerous IHSAA state championship events.
Jim Peters graduated from Andrean (Class of 1981) and Purdue (1985), where he met and worked with current Porter County Assistant Sports Editor Greg Smith. He spent the first 10 or so years of his professional career at a chain of Northwest Indiana weeklies that covered Merrillville, Andrean, Hobart, Portage, Lake Station and River Forest before catching on at the Times in the summer of 1998. Jim covers high school sports in Porter County.
Hillary Smith has covered prep, pro and college sports -- and even a Dixie Baseball World Series -- for newspapers north and south of the Mason-Dixon Line since 1995.
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