Edwardsville head girls basketball coach Lori Blade raised eyebrows among local sports scribes with a cryptic quote given in the aftermath of her team’s loss to Benet Academy at the Bloomington Class 4A Super-Sectional last Monday.
“There is going to be some change coming up in the Tiger program,” she said.
Has Blade coached her last basketball game? Not a chance.
From a competitive stand point, there’s still too much to keep the legendary high school coach around for years to come.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to Belleville News-Democrat
She and her basketball Tigers haven’t lost more than three games in any one season since 2006. And while she’ll lose four contributors from a team that is 60-3 over the last two years — most notably Aaliyah Box — top scorers Rachel Pranger, Makenzie Silvey, Kate Martin, and Criste’on Waters and a whole host of experienced juniors will be back for another run at Redbird Arena and the IHSA State Tournament.
Blade alreadly is among the most successful coaches ever in Illinois at any sport. She already was the only coach with 500 wins in two sports in state history when she got her 600th softball win last spring at Belleville East and her 600th basketball win Dec. 9 at Belleville West.
She has two state basketball championships from her days at Carrollton and a second place finish with Edwardsville in 2012. At her current rate, she would join the exclusive 700-win club within four years and reach the top 5 in all-time basketball wins within seven. She’ll be inducted into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame next month.
It’s worth repeating that it’s not all about the wins to Blade, however, who I quoted last December with an explanation of what drives here.
“It’s important for girls to learn to go out and compete,” she said. “I’ve always believed that because they are not going to go on and play professionally necessarily and make a lot of money, but they are going to need to be competitive in their lives and their jobs.
“I hear all the time from kids I see down the road about how they’ve learned to be competitive and be a teammate through our program. And that’s what it’s all about.”
So what was hidden in that cryptic quote delivered off-court at Illinois Wesleyan University? Without specifics, Blade said the state’s budget crunch and related impact on Illinois schools could force some changes to the athletic program.
A Bouquet for the Bulldogs
Congratulations to the Highland girls basketball team for their determined run for a Class 3A state championships.
Their 59-57, double-overtime state semifinal loss to North Lawndale Friday was a privilege to watch, though the outcome isn’t what local fans had hoped for. The Bulldogs (31-5) bounced back Saturday to secure a well-deserved third-place finish with a 62-51 win over Morgan Park.
Kudos to head coach Mike Arbuthnot and his team: Lauren Baer, Breanna Frahm, Katie Kampwerth, Alisse Koishor, Caitlin Lammers, Alex LaPorta, Kate Marti, Liz Meadows, Abby Melosi, Emmy Nyquest, Amanda Ponce, Rece Portell, Hayley Taylor, and Madison Wellen.
New Illini Chief
It was a bold move by brand new University of Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman to can Illini head football coach Bill Cubit after just one season. Whitman was hired barely three weeks ago (by an interim university chancellor, no less), and wasted little time rebooting the program. He also broke AD protocol by announcing his decision in the media before informing the players.
It could be argued that Cubit deserved better. He took the team on an interim basis just a week before the season opener when his predecessor, Tim Beckman, was fired amid allegations he was pressing injured athletes to play. Then the University then gave Cubit a two-year contract, despite lingering questions about the future of the AD’s job. He finished 5-7 last season.
But the Illini football program has been stale for decades — save for Ron Turner’s 10-2 Sugar Bowl team in 2001 — and is in need of a makeover. Whitman has brought in Lovie Smith, the defensive coordinator through the St. Louis Rams’ Greatest Show on Turf years and a successful NFL head coach in his own right. His career record is just two wins over .500, but he took the Chicago Bears to the playoffs three times in his first seven seasons, including their first Super Bowl appearance in 20 years.
We’ll see how Smith does over time. In the meantime, his hiring represents a shakeup in Champaign. Does it also serve notice to basketball coach John Groce? He’s 13-18 (5-12 in the Big 10) in his fourth season at Illinois and hasn’t had the Illini in the NCAA Tournament since 2013.
Whitman praised Groce’s leadership and character Saturday in proclaiming his job safe — for now.
▪ Tommy Pham has toiled in the minors for all are parts of 10 season, but will celebrate his 27th birthday Monday with the reasonable expectation that he’ll be a permanent part of the Cardinals’ St. Louis roster. His speed and power impressed during the last season’s September pennant push, during which he hit .303 with four home runs with four home runs and three triples. He’ll see plenty of action in 2016 as the Redbirds fourth outfielder.
▪ Billy Southworth, who managed the Cardinals National League dynasty of the 1940s, would be 123 Wednesday.
Southworth was a 33-year-old platoon player for the Cardinals’ first World Series winner in 1926, batting .317 with an outstanding 22 doubles in just 99 games. But he’s best remembered for his three pennants, two World Series championships and .642 winning percentage in seven seasons as the Redbirds’ manager from 1940 through 1945.
He was lured away from St. Louis by the Boston Braves for the 1946 season ( just in time to watch the Cardinals win their third championship of the decade) and had the Braves in the Fall Classic by 1948.
Southworth was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 2008 and is one of 15 former St. Louis managers to be enshrined in Cooperstown.
▪ I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention former SIU Saluki standout, Steve Finley, who enjoyed a 19-year big league career. He was a two-time All-Star and six-time Gold Glove centerfielder for eight teams, notably the Arizona Diamondbacks. He’ll be 51 Saturday.
▪ Before there was Babe Ruth, there was John Franklin “ Home Run” Baker, who led the American League in home runs four years in a row from 1911 to 1914. The hall of famer, who would turn 130 Saturday, had his best season in 1913 when he clubbed a career-high (gasp!) 12 homers with 117 RBI.
The Watch List
Plenty of metro-east teams remain in the hunt for IHSA State Tournament berths. We’ll have previews and coverage on-line and in print all week long.
▪ Edwardsville and Alton will tangle in a 4A sectional semifinal Tuesday at Collinville.
▪ The Althoff Crusaders face Mount Vernon in a 3A sectional semifinal, also Tueday, at Highland.
▪ A trip to the 2A state tournament is at stake Tuesday in Carbondale when Central faces Teutopolis. The winner will be in Peoria Friday for a semifinal game.
▪ In Class 1A, the surprising Gibault Hawks will be at the Jacksonville Super-Sectional Tuesday for a game against Liberty.
▪ The lone game Wednesday pits Columbia against Centralia in the Highland 3A sectional.
Longtime BND sports writer David Wilhelm and photographer/videographer Steve Nagy depart for Jupiter, Fla., on Thursday. Watch for their daily coverage of the Cardinals’ spring online and in print starting Friday. We’ll save several key features for our annual Cardinals preview section later this month.
An Icy Welcome
I never tire of seeing service men and women reunited with their families. Kudos to the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes for keeping sports in proper perspective and giving all of us something to root for: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M4kw2T9Xm8E