The year in sports 2011
Article by Iram
From a Frontier League baseball championship in the inaugural season, to the retirement of the winningest coach of all time, to team and individual state championships and near-misses, the Joliet area sports scene had something to satisfy everyone’s appetite in 2011.Narrowing the candidates for best sports stories of the year is never an easy task. But we decided on the following 12. The honorable mention list that follows contains other stories that were under consideration for the top 12.
1. Joliet SlammersThe City of Champions welcomed a new member in 2011. When the Joliet JackHammers ceased operations after the 2010 season, Silver Cross Field faced the prospect of being idle in 2011. But along came the Joliet Slammers, an expansion team in the independent Frontier League, to fill the void. The Slammers, under owner Alan Oremus, put together a strong coaching staff headed by manager Bart Zeller. They made friends with the Joliet sports community and tapped into the local talent pool for pitchers Billy Petrick (Morris) and Ryan Quigley (Joliet Catholic), outfielder Josh Flores (Lincoln-Way Central) and shortstop Brad Netzel (University of St. Francis). Quigley broke the Frontier League saves record and signed after the season with the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Slammers may not have been the Frontier League’s most talented team, but they played as a unit. They qualified for the playoffs and went on to win the title, beating the mighty River City Rascals three games to one in the championship series.
2. Gillespie retiresYou knew the time had to come, and it finally did. Local legend Gordie Gillespie, who is in more halls of fame than most of us can imagine and is a charter member of the Joliet Area Sports Hall of Fame, retired at age 85 following his second stint as baseball coach at University of St. Francis. He is college baseball’s all-time winningest coach with a record of 1,893-952 in 59 years. His baseball teams at USF were 1,020-581, at Lewis University 634-241 and at Ripon College 239-130. His football teams were 222-54-6 at Joliet Catholic and 48-33 at USF. His men’s basketball record at Lewis was 222-124, and his women’s basketball record at USF was 11-7. The grand total comes to 2,402-1,170-6 in 110 sports seasons. It is possible the record for college baseball victories will fall some day, but Gillespie’s mark for total coaching victories likely never will be touched.
3. Bolingbrook girls basketballAfter escaping Whitney Young 50-49 in overtime in the Class 4A semifinals, Bolingbrook (29-2) won its third straight girls state basketball championship with a 71-42 dismantling of Zion-Benton. Morgan Tuck, then a junior who will play college basketball at Connecticut, scored 36 points in the title game. The championship was the Raiders’ fourth under coach Tony Smith and marked the seventh straight season the Raiders brought home a trophy under Smith’s guidance. The remarkable run may not end yet, either. At the November National Letter of Intent signing day, Bolingbrook, led by Tuck, had eight girls sign with Division I schools.
4. Bolingbrook footballWith due respect to Bolingbrook girls basketball, the Raiders’ signature sports program from the beginning has been football. However, except for a runner-up finish in 1993, the Raiders had not been to a state championship game. That changed this season as Bolingbrook won the Class 8A state title, beating top-ranked and top-seeded Loyola 21-17 in a thrilling final. Coach John Ivlow’s Raiders went to war without All-State linebacker Antonio Morrison (broken bone in his left foot suffered in the quarterfinals) and had to overcome five turnovers, but they got the job done behind talented quarterback Aaron Bailey and a rock-solid defense.
5. Joliet Catholic footballJoliet Catholic continues to lead everyone with 13 state football championships and 17 visits to state title games. But the 2011 Class 5A final is one that captured a unique place in history. The Hilltoppers dropped a 70-45 decision to Montini in a game that rewrote the record books a couple of times over. Joliet Catholic’s Ty Isaac rushed for 515 yards in 26 carries and scored six touchdowns. But it wasn’t enough as Montini quarterback John Rhode passed for 587 yards and seven scores. The teams combined for a near-impossible 1,644 yards of offense. The 16 touchdown drives in the game required a total of 63 plays to complete as video-game football came to Champaign.
6. Providence baseballProvidence lost the Class 4A state championship game 8-3 to Lyons at Silver Cross Field, but that did not diminish what the Celtics accomplished. They finished 37-4 against a difficult schedule and muscled their way into the argument about the best teams this baseball-rich area has seen. Of the 16 seniors on the Providence roster, 14 were destined for careers in college baseball, half of them on the NCAA Division I level. Sam Travis was the ringleader. He hit .504 and finished with 17 home runs, 75 RBI and a 1.094 slugging percentage. He blasted long first-inning home runs in the semifinals and finals at Silver Cross Field.
7. Minooka wrestlingThe Minooka wrestling program has grown into one of the state’s best. Attempting to repeat their state championship of 2010 in their third straight visit to the Class 3A dual-team finals, the Indians reached the title match before falling to top-ranked Glenbard North 31-24. They also were second in 2009. After the season, coach Bernie Ruettiger, who was Providence’s first individual state champion and orchestrated Minooka’s rise to state prominence, announced his retirement after 12 seasons with the Indians. He was replaced by assistant Paige Schoolman.
8. Individual state wrestlingThe Joliet area, as is the norm, shined in the individual state finals. Champions in Class 3A included Providence’s Mike Togher at 135 pounds, Providence’s Edwin Cooper at 145, Minooka’s Kalvin Hill at 160 and Lockport’s Brad Johnson at 189. Reed-Custer’s Billy Chancey won the 145-pound title in 1A. Cooper’s title was his second and came on his fourth consecutive trip to the state finals. Reaching 3A championship matches and finishing second were Joliet Central’s Trayvon Zabala at 112 pounds, Providence’s Eddie Klimara at 125 and Lockport’s Shaun’Qae McMurtry at 152.
9. St. Francis footballThe University of St. Francis football team had qualified only once for the NAIA playoffs in its first quarter-century. That came in Year 2 — 1987 — when the Saints were eliminated in the opening round. But this season, coach Mike Uremovich’s team changed the landscape. The Saints, who were involved in some of the most memorable games in school history, won a playoff game for the first time, beating Morningside 21-17. They lost to Marian (Ind.) in the second round but laid the groundwork for years to come. The 34-30 loss to eventual NAIA national champion St. Xavier, the incredible 36-35 victory over William Penn and the 30-27 overtime win over Georgia State at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta were regular-season games that will live in infamy.
10 State bowlingLockport senior Kyle Anderson won the boys state bowling championship for a second straight year, the first time that has been accomplished in state history. He averaged 234.8 for 12 games at state. Romeoville’s Cal Kramer finished ninth with a 218.3 average, earning his school’s first state medal in the sport. Plainfield Central tied its best team finish by taking eighth, while Romeoville was ninth. On the girls side, Tricia Zimmerman averaged 213.6 to finish eighth and lead Plainfield Central to a school-best second-place finish. The Wildcats totaled 12,185 pins. Champion Harlem had 12,533.
11. State track championsJoe McAsey, on the anchor leg, passed four other runners to give Minooka the state championship in the Class 3A 3,200-meter relay. Danny Bahret was the leadoff runner, followed by Joey Santillo and Dan Popek. McAsey also finished third in the 800-meter run, helping the Indians tie for ninth place with Plainfield South. The Cougars reached those heights thanks largely to Sheldon Magee, who finished third in the 400 and was the anchor in the third-place 400 relay before anchoring the Cougars to a dramatic victory in the 1,600 relay. Magee finished .1 second ahead of Belleville West’s Tre Brinker. John Magee, Steven Harris and Mitchell Wolff were the other Cougars on that relay. Peotone’s Tyler Clott, meanwhile, fell short in his bid for a three-peat in the Class 1A shot put, finishing third. For the girls, Lincoln-Way East finished second in 3A behind East St. Louis. The Griffins’ Aaliyah Brown won the 100 in 11.46 seconds, the 200 in 24.00 and anchored the winning 400 relay that included Meghan Marias, Maria Perozzi and Dana O’Grady.
12. Lincoln-Wa y gymnasticsThe Lincoln-Way co-op gymnastics team, after three straight seasons of finishing second, claimed its second state championship behind junior Ajani Cargle, who won the all-around title. Lincoln-Way finished with 163.00 points to 161.50 for the runner-up Wheaton co-op. Ryan Reif was the individual state champion with a 9.40 score on the horizontal bar, and Cargle and Victor Valencia were major players in the floor exercise. Cargle won the event with a 9.65 score. Lincoln-Way’s previous title came in 2006, and the program now has nine top-five finishes in the last 10 years.
Honorable mentionJoliet Junior College announced after the season it was shutting down its football program after 62 years.Joliet Central and Joliet West installed FieldTurf at their football stadiums. This also marked the first year the Central varsity played home games on campus.Legendary Lockport volleyball coach Julia Hudson retired after 33 years.The Will County CrackerJacks, in their first season, won the wood-bat Midwest Collegiate League championship.Former Joliet Catholic baseball and football all-stater Joe Benson made his major league debut in September with the Minnesota Twins.The Joliet Junior College baseball team qualified for the NJCAA Division III World Series and went 1-2 there, with both losses to the eventual finalists.The Joliet Junior College men’s and women’s basketball teams qualified for the NJCAA Division III National Tournament and both finished seventh.The 2002 JJC overall national champion football team was inducted into the NJCAA Hall of Fame and the 1993-94 JJC national champion basketball team was inducted into the IBCA Hall of Fame.In the first race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup at Chicagoland Speedway, Tony Stewart won the rain-delayed event. It was his first victory of the season and he went on to win four more races en route to claiming the NASCAR season championship.Joliet Catholic graduate Coby Fleener enjoyed his coming-out party as a junior in a record-setting Orange Bowl, catching six passes from Andrew Luck for 173 yards and three touchdowns as Stanford whipped Virginia Tech 40-12. Then after his senior season, he was named a first-team All-American by The Sporting News.Michigan football center David Molk, a Lemont graduate, won the Rimington Trophy as the nation’s best center and was named a first-team All-American by The Associated Press, The Sporting News, the Walter Camp Foundation and the Football Writers Association of America.Lemont resident Christian VandeVelde was a member of the winning team at the 2011 Tour de France.
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