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The daily pitch from Sports Editor Matt Daniels: March 10, 2024

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Sports Editor Matt Daniels with a look at what's going on around the area:

Three reasons we love sports today

➜ 1. The Parkland men's basketball team will make the short trip to Danville to vie for an NJCAA Division II national title again. The Cobras clinched their spot Sunday with a win against John Wood, assuring Parkland its fourth trip to the national tournament in the last decade.

➜ , The News-Gazette's latest high school Athletes of the Week. Read more about the duo on B-4.

➜ 3. If the weather continues to cooperate — and that's a big if every March around these parts — then high school baseball, softball and girls' soccer teams can get their season going today.

Numbers game: 11

Different high school boys' basketball programs of the 12 possible to win an IHSA state championship in Champaign since the state tournament returned to State Farm Center in 2022. DePaul College Prep repeated its 2023 feat on Saturday by becoming the first team playing up a class — the Rams won a Class 2A state title last year and are now the reigning 3A state champions — to win consecutive state titles since the four-class system came into effect in 2008. Phillips earned its first state title since 1975 with its 2A triumph, while West Central in 1A and Homewood-Flossmoor in 4A won the first state titles in their program's history. Read more about all four programs on B-5.

Crowd control

Three events I'm paying attention to

➜ 1. Illinois men's basketball at the Big Ten tournament. The Illini are the second seed in the last year of the 14-team event, which tips off Wednesday for the first time in Minneapolis. The Illini, however, don't play until 5:30 p.m. Friday in the quarterfinals at the Target Center.

➜ 2. Missouri at Illinois softball. A Wednesday doubleheader at Eichelberger Field — first pitch is at 1 p.m. — offers a chance for the Illini to earn two signature wins against one of the SEC's best teams.

➜ 3. Mahomet-Seymour at Unity baseball. The 4:30 p.m. first pitch on Tuesday in Tolono is the season opener for M-S in its first game of the post-Blake Wolters era and the home opener for Unity.

Coach's corner

Three questions with LeRoy softball coach Doug Hageman (pictured below with his daughter, Jacey, at the end of their first practice together this season). Hageman and the Panthers finished third at the Class 1A state tournament in 2023 and open this season at 4:30 p.m. Monday with a home game against Monticello:

➜ 1. My favorite sports team is ... the Illinois football team.

➜ 2. Three coaches I'd like to have dinner with are ... Dan Hageman, Don Lashmet and Chris Hodge.

➜ 3. My biggest pet peeve is ... spring weather in general about 90 percent of the season. Especially spring wind.