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Lyons Township junior Keith Lehmann is one of the premier high school baseball players in Illinois. He's certainly showing his elite ability during the Class 4A State playoffs. Lehmann laced a two-run double in the first inning and added an RBI single in the third inning of the Lions' 3-2 win over Marist in the Crestwood Supersectional on Monday night.
Direct beneficiaries of Lehmann's clutch bat-work were LT pitchers Matt Robare and Steve Heilenbach, who collaborated on a solid effort to hold off the RedHawks. Robare wiggled his way out of bases loaded jams in the first two innings. Heilenbach came on in relief to do a splendid job, allowing just two hits and striking out five in four frames. LT leadoff man Evan Booth also enjoyed a big day, finishing 3-for-4 with two runs scored.
The Lions (26-12-1) face Minooka on Friday in the state semifinal at Silver Cross Field in Joliet (5 p.m.). West Suburban (Silver) Conference rival Oak Park takes on Grant in the other semifinal matchup. LT is two wins away from defending its Class 4A State Championship and claiming its fourth title overall (1967, 2003, 2011). The championship game is scheduled for Saturday at 5 p.m.
Marist, which squandered numerous scoring chances, closes out the season at 29-12. Mike Hearne took the loss for the RedHawks.
The Lions earned their way to the supersectional championship by knocking off Mt. Carmel 9-1 for the sectional title on Saturday.
LT's formula for success included a shutdown pitching performance from Lehmann, plenty of early offense and flawless defense. In total, LT 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 with 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. Booth led off the game getting hit by a pitch and Heilenbach followed with a single. With their table setters aboard, the Lions went to work on the scoreboard via RBI hits from Lehmann (single), 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 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, 2 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 scoring 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 to highlight 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."
Last year, the Lions defeated Catholic League Blue powerhouses Mount Carmel and Providence in the state semifinals and final, respectively.