LTHS junior pitcher Tom Hickey, from Brookfield, has emerged as the Lions' staff ace this spring. He's also drawing recruiting interest from several college baseball programs. (David Pierini/Staff Photographer)

Lyons Township High School junior pitcher Tom Hickey began this season as a bit of an unknown commodity.

The Brookfield resident had been more of a field player than a pitcher until last summer, when he earned a spot in the Lions’ rotation.

“I pitched a little when I was 12 but then I broke my arm and then I didn’t start pitching again until last summer,” Hickey said. “I usually played the field and I never really got the opportunity to pitch until traveling team last season.”

Hickey’s injury, a fractured elbow, kept him out just two months but he is only now beginning to test the limits of his skill. He has emerged as the ace of the staff on an inexperienced but talented LTHS squad that has won eight of its last nine games to improve to 14-8.

Hickey is 5-1 with a 1.05 earned-run average. The varsity rookie has given up 30 hits and 17 walks while striking out 29 in his first 40 innings.

“He’s got pretty good command,” LTHS coach George Ushela said. “He’s got a real good changeup and his fastball is getting faster each time he goes out, it seems like. He’s got a good frame and he’s probably going to get stronger as he develops some too.”

The 6-foot-4-inch Hickey has a lanky frame and good mechanics, so Ushela isn’t worried about the previous injury.

“He’s got a good arm angle and he throws strikes, although he’s had some flurries where he’s walked guys,” Ushela said. “Walks have been a little bit of a nemesis for us so far this year, but he pitches with confidence and the guys play with confidence behind him.”

Hickey gained big-game experience last summer when he started the IHSBCA state championship game against St. Rita. The Mustangs routed the Lions 11-0 but all 11 of their hits were singles and Hickey surrendered only one sharp hit. Though he gave up eight runs in two innings of work, most of the runs against him were unearned.

“Tom didn’t pitch terribly,” Ushela said. “We made six errors in the first two innings and blew a double play ball that would have ended the first inning.”

Hickey’s performance has been crucial because another top pitcher, junior Quinton Hughes, hasn’t pitched all season because of injury. But his success hasn’t come as a surprise to Ushela.

“Last summer we saw [the potential],” Ushela said. “He was a position player as a freshman and he pitched on the sophomore team last spring.

“Last summer was the first time I’d really seen him pitch other than Saturdays in March. I work with the freshman and sophomore pitchers maybe five or six times in March, then I don’t see them until summer varsity.”

Hickey, who wants to pitch in college and is starting to draw some interest from scouts, is enjoying his role.

“It’s a big part because it’s a lot of competition to get a spot so you’ve to keep your focus on and keeping working at it,” Hickey said. “[The best part] is just going out there and competing, trying to get a ‘W’ for our team.”

In addition to Hickey, other Brookfield residents like senior first baseman Buck Domabyl, junior first baseman/outfielder Chris Cooper and junior infielder Michael Vargas have contributed to the Lions’ success this spring.