Updated July 31, 2012 – 1:15 p.m.
For the fourth time over the last 10 years (and first time since 2006), the Lyons Township baseball team won the Illinois High School Baseball Coaches Association’s Phil Lawler Summer Classic with a 7-3 win over Joliet Catholic Academy at Benedictine University on Thursday night.
Fueled by a strong performance on the mound and at the plate by junior Max Larsen, the Lions knocked off the Hilltoppers. Larsen scattered five hits over six innings and knocked in three runs. Lyons also edged Jacobs 5-4 in eight innings during Thursday afternoon’s semifinals. Joliet Catholic beat Catholic League rival St. Laurence 7-4 in the other semifinal matchup.
In the championship game, LT (33-4-1) continued its recent postseason mastery of highly regarded Catholic League clubs by taking an early 2-0 lead. The Lions’ Tom Prescott drew a walk with the bases loaded, scoring Stewart Nelson, before Larsen followed with an RBI hit in the first inning.
The Hilltoppers (19-4) responded with three runs in the second inning to take a 3-2 lead. Brock Pluth provided the key hit with a two-RBI single with two outs.
Larsen rallied LT with an RBI single to right field in the third, tying the game at 3-3. Sam Cybulski added a groundout to bring home Sam Heilenbach, and a Joliet Catholic error capped off the Lions’ three-run frame.
Larsen shined on the mount through the middle innings, allowing no runs and two hits between the third and sixth. Prescott and Larsen chipped in RBI singles in the seventh to extend the Lions’ advantage to 7-3.
“It was a great game for us,” Larsen said. “I didn’t have my best stuff but I battled. After losing the [spring] state championship, we really worked hard for this.”
Hard-throwing righty Keith Lehmann, one of the top players in Illinois, pitched a scoreless seventh in relief of Larsen to nail down the victory for the Lions.
“Keith Lehmann throws right around 90 [miles per hour],” LT coach George Ushela said. “He’s got a good curveball and changeup. He’s an even more polished pitcher [now] compared to the spring season.”
Lyons senior Mike Lorenz won the 2012 Jack Kaiser Memorial Most Valuable Player Award, hitting .692 (9-for-13 at the plate) during the tournament. Lorenz, Larsen, Nelson, Lehmann and Alex Vannucci earned IHSBCA All-tournament recognition.
“Our pitching was outstanding all summer,” Ushela added. “Max battled today and he’s a great competitor. It’s a great feeling to win this tournament again.”
LT advanced to the Elite Eight of the IHSBCA summer tournament by winning the Fenwick Regional. In the regional final, the Lions routed Maine West 10-0 behind Vannucci’s two-hitter and home runs from Heilenbach, Lehmann and Nelson. Maine West defeated Oak Park in extra innings in the regional semifinals.
“The first five weeks of the summer season we don’t necessarily play to win,” Ushela said. “It’s a time to evaluate our players and put them in different situations. See how they react.
“When the summer playoffs begin, we play to win. We play the kids who give us the best opportunity to advance. It’s a cliché but we really treat the next game as the most important one and take them one at a time. Our primary goal is to play well no matter who we’re playing.”
Looking ahead to next spring, the Lions should be prohibitive favorites to win the West Suburban (Silver) Conference with perennial rival Oak Park. The Huskies nipped LT 4-3 in the Class 4A State championship game back in June. Regarding summer league state titles, the Lions move into second place all-time, trailing only Oak Park, which has claimed six summer titles during the 37-year history of the tournament.
The Lions and Huskies renew their rivalry in late April of 2013 during a regular season meeting.