Chicago Sports Exchange: Chi Teams Take Wins In Weekend Of Raised Stakes

Credit: World TeamTennis Chicago Smash teammates Bethanie Mattek-Sands (left) and Sloane Stephens celebrate a point during the World TeamTennis Finals against the New York Empire from the Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.

As the major American team sports have gotten the hang of playing within the age of COVID-19 (well, most of them anyway…), its been easy to forget that an initial, somewhat less-publicized class of individual and team competitions have actually played through the majority of the summer.

The PGA Tour has putted along with fan-less golf tournaments since early June and NASCAR got plenty of publicizing through the issues surrounding Bubba Wallace, but that drama had actual competitions as a backdrop.

Less theatrically, both men’s and women’s soccer — the MLS and the National Women’s Soccer League — have successfully put on returning tournaments to crown a 2020 champion, the NWSL having crowned its titlist last week in a final that saw a Chicago team, the Red Stars, come up short.

Losing in a championship contest is always heartbreaking, though it should also come with a sense of pride. This week’s showcase team — the Chicago Smash of World TeamTennis — did just that Sunday and in the most heartbreaking of fashions, losing in a Super Tiebreaker with the game’s deciding point (21-20) having to be reviewed electronically before the eventual champion New York Empire could celebrate.

It isn’t quite Hue Hollins screwing over Scottie and the ’94 Bulls, but Sunday’s memorable clash may be the makings of another long-held Chicago-New York rivalry.

We’ll see if the Smash and the Empire battle for more WTT titles, but regardless of what the future holds, the Smash should definitely be given props for making it this far and the WTT deserves props for putting together a grind of a bubble tournament in West Virginia over the past few weeks that got a fraction of the news play of the NBA, NHL or even the WNBA’s bubbles.

An expansion team just founded this year, the Smash get to join the Red Stars as Chicago’s latest near-champions and they did so led by stellar Chicagoan tennis representative coach Kamau Murray and his star pupil Sloane Stephens. The Smash’s stock is way up — here’s to hoping Murray, Stephens and the Smash bring a title home in 2021.

Buy — Blackhawks Steal Game 1 in Edmonton

Who expected 6 goals from the Hawks in their first game since March, playing as a bottom seed in the NHL’s expanded Stanley Cup Playoffs and bubbled up on the home ice of their first-round competitor, Edmonton?

It didn’t look good early Saturday in Game 1 when Oilers star Connor McDavid deflected a shot past the expectedly rusty Corey Crawford, but the Hawks carried the remainder of the game, powered by five combined points from star rookie Dominik Kubalik and downing Edmonton 6-4. It seems the good folks in Alberta, Canada are going to get real tired of “Chelsea Dagger” by the end of the Hawks’ bubble run. Game 2 is tonight and could be the next step in the Hawks getting into the final 16 of the Cup tournament, something that was very unlikely when the hockey season took a pause.

Buy — Sox and Cubs Sweep Weekend Away

Saturday was a particularly winning day for Chicago, it saw not only the South Siders and North Siders win but the Smash win its way into the WTT Finals and the Sky take down the defending WNBA champions (more on that in a minute).

With their Saturday wins, both the Sox and Cubs assured themselves winning weekends but Sunday saw each team complete sweeps — the Cubs taking down Pittsburgh 2-1 in extras and the Sox banging Kansas City 9-2 to complete a weekend where they out-scored the Royals 23-9 in three games.

The Sox definitely needed their sweep, it boosting their record above .500 (5-4) and showing off an emerging chemistry with the young talent that was boosted with the debuting Nick Madrigal showing why his call-up to the majors was so anticipated. A potentially challenging Milwaukee team awaits in the state to the North for two games starting tonight, hopefully the Sox won’t have to quarantine upon returning to Chicago.

Quarantining could potentially be an issue for Kris Bryant, but the slugger’s COVID scare is the only thing negatively affecting the National League-leading Cubs right now. Sitting at 7-2 after the Sunday win, the Cubs are set up for four games in Chicago and four in KC with the same Royals that the Sox just beat up. Maybe the Cubs are potentially running into a wounded animal, but its likely they’ll be able to beef up some more and run past the 10-win mark sometime this week, looking more and more like real contenders in the NL.

Buy — Sky Sitting Atop “Wubble” With Two More Wins

We wrote last week about the impressive Sky opening up its condensed WNBA season on national TV with a thrilling win over rival Las Vegas. Since then they’ve gone 2-1 with a convincing win over the Los Angeles Sparks this past Tuesday and a tough, competitive victory over the Washington Mystics on Saturday night.

The defending-champion Mystics are still a contender, even with top stars Tina Charles and Elena Delle Donne each taking medical exemptions to not play this risky slate of games, but the Sky are showing great depth, tough rotational defense and an array of offensive contributions, namely from Gabby Williams and Cheyenne Parker, who each led Chicago with 16 in Saturday’s contest. Parker also scored the deciding bucket.

Five Sky scored in double-digits against D.C. and that came with an off effort from Azura Stevens, who led the team in scoring through the first three games.

Now 3-1 and tied atop the league with D.C., the Sky are back in action Tuesday against Dallas.

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