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After the Lyons Township baseball team rocked the host Caravan 9-1 to win the Mount Carmel Sectional Championship, many labeled the victory as an "upset." In reality, perhaps the defending Class A State champion Lions are finally realizing their considerable preseason potential which included a high ranking in several area newspapers.
The Lions' formula for success on Saturday included a shutdown pitching performance from Keith Lehmann, plenty of early offense and flawless defense. In total, LT (25-12-1) turned in arguably its best all-around performance this season.
Lehmann (9-2) threw a complete-game gem, scattering five hits while striking out five and issuing no walks. He kept the powerful Caravan offense in check by forcing 13 ground balls.
"Keith pitched really well," LT coach George Ushela said. "We beat a very good team because of Keith and we also played really good defense. Our hitters were disciplined and capitalized on some mistakes by their pitcher [Tyler Laurisch]."
The Lions jumped on Laurisch (10-4) immediately, scoring five runs in the first inning. Evan Booth led off the game getting hit by a pitch and Steve Heilenbach followed with a single. With their table setters aboard, the Lions went to work on the scoreboard via RBI hits from Lehmann (single), Matt Robare (double), Brad Taylor (single) and Stewart Nelson (single). Mike Lorenz chipped in a sac fly during the Lions' merry-go-round frame.
"The first inning was a nice cushion," Lehmann said. "I got to settle down on the mound. We can play with anybody in the state if we play our game."
After tacking on a run in the second with a Robare RBI single, the Lions extended their lead to 8-0 in the third as Heilenbach had an RBI single coupled with a passed ball scoring another run. Lehmann (2-for-3, two RBIs) put the final nail in the Caravan coffin with an RBI double in the sixth.
Mount Carmel (32-6) scored its lone run in the fourth inning when Sam Kint hit a sac fly to score Laurisch, who was the first Caravan runner to reach base on a one-out single in the frame.
Defensively, Booth made a spectacular over the shoulder snow cone catch, highlighting the Lions' seamless effort.
"We were able to get in three good days of practice," Ushela said about the Lions' postseason preparation. "We worked on fundamentals and got in some BP [batting practice]. Since then, we have been playing well and [Saturday's game] against Mount Carmel was exceptional."
LT faces Marist (29-11) tonight (Monday, June 4) at 7:30 p.m. at Standard Bank Stadium in the Crestwood Supersectional. With a victory, the Lions advance to Friday's State semifinals held at Silver Cross Field in Joliet. Last year, the Lions defeated Catholic League Blue powerhouses Mount Carmel and Providence in the State semifinals and final, respectively.
Of course, first things first for the surging 2012 Lions.
"We're very excited about the opportunity to play Marist, a very good team," Ushela said. "There were some ups and downs for us during the season. This is a free spirited group, but our team is more focused now. We're jelling at the right time."
Robare (7-2) will start against the RedHawks, who have outscored their first four opponents 40-8 in the playoffs.