Phil Pash’s Sports Notes

Phil Pash’s Sports Notes

By Phil Pash

Joy in Wrigleyville: And so it came to pass that yet another savior was brought to the city of big shoulders by the great lake to lift the people of Wrigleyville out of the black depression that had hung over them for these many years.

And the healer’s name was Dusty Baker, and he had many experiences in lifting people from great depressions as he had done in his last assignment in the weird city by the bay. But he said he was not appreciated there by his owner, and so he sought other lands and other peoples to help.

And there came so many cries of anguish from the state of the great rivers that he had to answer the call. Not to mention that his new employers laid on him between $14 and $16 million for four years of his healing power.

And this was considered a great sum because his media-mogul employers were known far and wide for squeezing every last bit of dust from every last nickel—as others of their ilk had done before them … while also not appreciating their many loyal workers.

But the new healer warned that he would not be able to provide a cure all by himself, that his new owners would need to spend more money to acquire quality workers for him to fulfill the dreams of the loyal, but shabbily treated fans, both living and dead.

And so the new Baker man said: “I’m not a messiah or a miracle worker. It might take some time, but the name of my game is progress. Once you start seeing that, you can determine how far away you are.”

But the people of Wrigleyville could only cry out that they haven’t won a World Series since 1908 and have made the playoffs only three times since 1945, their last World Series appearance. And they pointed to that, since 1945, they’ve had only 16 seasons of .500 or better, with not so much as back-to-back winning seasons since 1971 and 1972.

The Baker man had great success in 10 years in the weird city by the bay, winning 840 times while losing 715, and over his last six seasons there, he averaged 91 victories. “Please do that for us,” cried the people of Wrigleyville in unison.

And maybe he shall. Only the passage of time and seasons will tell. But one minor prophet who lived hours from the city of big shoulders said, “Hey, wait a minute, you guys were all pumped up when Don Baylor became the new healer, and what happened to that deal?”

It also was pointed out that the people of Wrigleyville have seen many new healers over the years — 19 in the last 30, and only two had winning records. But they refused to be beaten down, chanting, “Wait ’til next year.”

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Good Playoff Job: If there is a better radio sportscasting team in the area than the one headed by Don Werntz on 93.7-FM in the Freeport area, I haven’t heard it. I went to the Freeport Aquin-South Beloit 1A playoff game Saturday afternoon, but still took along a radio and headset to listen in.

Werntz & Co. were great. Two guys doing the play-by-play, a third on the sidelines with a mic. A halftime show, and after the game, interviews with the two coaches, stats and replays of the big plays. What a professional job. High school coaches have to be tickled when they find out Werntz is going to call their games. If they’re not, they should be.

Like everyone else ringing Conley Field in Freeport, I expected a different game than the one that unfolded. South Beloit’s passing wasn’t the key, its running was, and the SoBo defense that stopped Aquin’s meat-grinder running attack.

The final score was 34-16 South Beloit, giving the SoBos a semifinal home game Saturday against Kewanee Wethersfield, the team that sidelined South Beloit last season and went on to win the state 1A title. Both teams have 11-1 records. South Beloit is the only Winnebago County team left alive, and if it wins Saturday, it will play for a state title over the Thanksgiving weekend.

Aquin, which reached the quarterfinal round for the fourth straight year, finished 11-1. The Bulldogs did a similar thing in 1999, going unbeaten until losing in the playoffs. In five years at the Aquin helm, coach Marty Janecke has a 46-12 record and has taken all five of his teams to the playoffs. Aquin has two state titles to its credit, in 1981 and 1986, both under coach Mike Curry.

Rochelle is the only other Rockford area team left in the playoffs, beating Morris 21-6 in a 5A battle of unbeatens. The 12-0 Hubs will be home to New Lenox Providence in a semifinal game Saturday.

North Boone finished 10-2 after being ousted from the Class 2A playoffs by Aledo 32-6; Lena-Winslow (8-4) lost to Elmhurst Immaculate Conception 27-8 in Class 3A; and Byron (10-2) had its season ended by Addison Driscoll 39-18 in Class 4A.

Twenty-seven area teams started on the playoff trail four weeks ago; only two are left.

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One To Go: The Northern Illinois march continued Saturday. Michael Turner rushed for 225 yards and five touchdowns as the Huskies clinched at least a share of the Mid-American Conference West Division championship with a 49-21 victory at Eastern Michigan.

NIU won its seventh straight game and remained the only MAC team without a loss in conference play, climbing to 7-0 in the conference and 8-3 overall. Northern closes out its regular season Saturday by entertaining Toledo at Huskie Stadium. Game time has been moved up to 11:05 a.m. to accommodate the cameras of Fox Sports Net.

The seven-game winning streak is NIU’s longest since it became a Division 1-A program in 1968.

Turner, just a junior, racked up his fourth 200-yard game of the season and sixth of his career. He also became the fifth Huskie to reach the 3,000-yard mark for his career, climbing to 1,702 on the season and 3,080 for three seasons. He entered the game ranked second in the nation in rushing at 147.7 yards per outing.

Placekicker Steve Azar became NIU’s all-time leading scorer as his seven PAT kicks gave him 254 points—one more than John Ivanic (1987-90). Ivanic, you may recall, used to be a TV anchor on WREX-TV-13 of Rockford.

Illinois came close to the biggest upset of the Big Ten season, but finally lost to unbeaten Ohio State 23-16 in overtime at Champaign. The 12-0, 7-0 Buckeyes are a victory over Michigan away from playing for the national title. Illinois’ chances for a bowl bid ended with the loss. The Illini are 4-7, 3-4.

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Big Local Crowds: The Rockford Lightning opened their season with a 123-121 CBA victory over the Great Lakes Storm before 5,832 fans in the MetroCentre Saturday night. Ronnie Fields hit the game-winning basket with 1.4 seconds left. Rockford improved to 2-0 by beating the Sioux Falls Skyforce 128-105 in another home game Sunday afternoon, witnessed by less than 2,000. Stacey King, who coached the Lightning last season, now directs the Skyforce.

On Saturday afternoon in the MetroCentre, the Rockford IceHogs beat Muskegon 2-1 to take over first place in the UHL Western Conference with 19 points on a 9-7 record, including one loss in a shootout. More than 3,000 fans watched. On Friday night, the Hogs pulled 5,135 into the MetroCentre for a 3-2 shootout victory over Missouri.

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Packers Stumble: It’s not hard to understand why the Packers don’t like playing in the Metrodome up in Minneapolis. It’s because they look very unPackerlike. Was that the same team that lost only once in its first nine games? Sure didn’t look like it.

Brett Favre was intercepted three times (three times!) as the Packers lost to the now 3-7 Vikings, 31-21. Daunte Culpepper looked more like Favre than Favre as he threw for two TDs and ran for another to lead the Vikes.

The Packers now are 8-2, have lost nine of their last 11 in the noisy Minnesota dome and missed a chance to become the earliest team to clinch a division title in a 16-game season. If they had beaten the Vikings, they would have wrapped up the NFC North. But not to worry, it will happen.

The Bears played St. Louis in Monday Night Football, and we weren’t going to hold the press for a few pithy comments on another Chicago loss, which would make them 2-8 and all alone in the NFC North basement. The Bears play host to Detroit Sunday in Champaign, while the Packers are at Tampa Bay.

On Dec. 1, it’s the Bears at the Packers.

Did you hear about Donovan McNabb, one of Illinois’ favorite sons? The Philadelphia Eagles QB broke his right ankle on the third play of the game, but stayed in and threw four TD passes to spark a 38-14 victory over Arizona. He completed 20 of 25 passes for 255 yards, but had no rushing attempts for the first time in 53 career starts, including playoffs.

It was diagnosed as a sprain during the game, but later confirmed as a broken ankle. The Eagles say McNabb’s status is in doubt for the final six games, but he said, “In my mind, I’ll be out there” for the next game. Don’t you just love the grit of guys like that? Just like Favre, high-paid but refusing to slack off for a minute.

That’s one of the lessons sports can teach.

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