New head coach Kevin Diete already has lived the high expectations of the Lyons Township High School baseball program.
Diete is a 2003 LTHS graduate and was the starting third baseman on the Lions’ Class AA state championship team that year. He was an assistant for previous LTHS head coach George Ushela in 2008 and has been the sophomore coach at Lincoln-Way Central the past six years.
“There’s always going to be that pressure, but I think that’s what kind of brings out the best in every team, if they can handle that pressure and adversity going on, moving forward,” Diete said. “I kind of want that pressure and hopefully it’ll give me a lot of learning experience as I progress throughout my career.”
The Lions expect to be in the hunt once again after graduating another talented senior class that helped them finish 27-9 and 13-5 in the West Suburban Conference Silver Division to share the title with York.
LTHS won 17 straight and 21 of 22 before losing in its Class 4A sectional semifinal to state runner-up St. Rita.
Senior pitcher Thomas Hickey and senior second baseman Jack Oremus are returning all-conference players.
Returning starting senior outfielder/pitcher Charlie Harrigan is committed to play at Lewis University. Seniors Chris Cooper, Josh Craggs, Nick Gron, Jacob McMillan, Cody Smith, Michael Vargas, Jeff Wolf and Kyle Yang and juniors Spencer Decker, Quinton Hughes and Matt Stevens also saw varsity action.
Diete will receive assistance from Ushela, the Lions’ head coach the past 14 seasons, and Ryan McMillin, a 2009 LTHS graduate who played at Western Michigan. Diete played for St. Joseph’s College (Rensselaer, Ind.).
“Getting advice from Coach Ushela will be helpful, and I’ll let the players play and compete on a daily basis. It’s going to be a focus on success, letting them have fun and learning the game,” Diete said.
“Traditionally we’ve always been strong in pitching and defense. I think it’ll be the same this year, especially in pitching. From what I’ve seen, our defense has looked very promising.”
Hickey was among the area’s top pitchers in 2014 with an 8-1 record, 0.98 earned-run average and 56 strikeouts in 43 innings and threw a three-hitter in the 5-3 regional final victory over Oak Park and River Forest. When not pitching, he’ll play middle infield or first base.
“He has a pretty good fastball that really jumps out of his arm and a nice sharp curveball that goes with it,” Diete said.
Oremus hit .350 with 15 runs batted in and six doubles and shared third on the team with 24 runs scored.
“(Oremus) looks very, very polished as an infielder,” Diete said. “We’ve been mixing him up at shortstop and third base. Wherever he can fit in, that’s where we’re going to put him.”
Harrigan batted .356 with 28 RBIs, two home runs, 14 extra-base hits, a .968 on-base plus slugging and 21 runs. He could play outfield and first and third base and will be a more prominent pitcher after going 0-1 in six appearances as a junior.
Wolf (5-1, 1.93 ERA), Hughes and junior Kam Fezekas also could be in the rotation. Hughes only worked two innings in 2014 and underwent shoulder surgery last summer.
Gron (catcher), Cooper (outfield, first base) and McMillan (third base) are contending for larger roles. Diete said Matt Phillipp, the lone sophomore on the roster, will remain on varsity if he can earn consistent action.
“I think I’ll have a better feel a month from now when I see the players and how they adjust to different situations,” Diete said. “I would expect to see more seniors than juniors (playing), but I think a good amount of juniors can compete and win some starting roles.”