When senior Matt Phillipp began playing Lyons Township varsity baseball in 2015, Kevin Diete also became as head coach.
Finishing 17-18 that season, the Lions improved to 21-10 in 2016.
“(Diete) implemented a new system in practice that has been really effective,” Phillipp said. “Last year, we definitely took a step up, and I think this year we’re going to really do well. We’re definitely taking steps in the right direction.”
The Lions bring high expectations with returnees that include Phillipp and senior Mike Courtney, two of their four 2016 All-West Suburban Conference Silver Division selections.
They finished second in conference to sectional finalist Oak Park and River Forest at 13-5 before losing in the Class 4A regional final for the second straight year, 8-0 to 2015 state runner-up Mt. Carmel.
“So far I’ve been encouraged by the work ethic and effort I’ve seen in the offseason. We’re hoping to be competitive and really give a lot of effort,” Diete said. “Just informally, the coaching staff has been talking about trying to make it past a regional championship. The second (goal) is to bring a conference championship. (Our keys are) players staying healthy, perfecting fundamentals and having solid defense.”
In 2016, Phillipp led the pitching staff with a 5-2 record, 2.50 earned run average and 24 strikeouts in 44 2/3 innings. The third base candidate also hit .337 with 11 runs batted in.
Second baseman Courtney batted .299 with 14 RBIs and was second for LT with 22 runs scored. He also pitched 6 1/3 innings in relief.
“One thing we have this year is really good team chemistry,” Phillipp said. “I think my work ethic in the offseason is going to work out. I’ve been playing a lot of long toss, hopefully adding some velocity to when I’m pitching.”
Speedy senior Scott Garrow (14 RBI, 21 runs) played center field and at times led off in 2016.
Senior Justin Williams (.329, team-high 19 RBIs and 7 doubles) was the primary catcher but may share time with junior Bryce Moskiewicz. When not catching, Williams can play first base and Moskiewicz outfield.
Sophomore pitcher Grant Leader verbally committed to Illinois in January. The late 2016 varsity call-up appeared in both playoff games, striking out five in 2 1/3 innings.
Seniors Sam Frieze and Ian Delleman and juniors Matt Piento and Mikey Martino are among other pitching candidates.
Seniors appearing in between 13 and 10 games last year were corner outfielder Wyatt Towse (.353), infielder Connor Pasko (8 RBIs) and pitcher/utility Josh Veroeven.
Other team members are seniors JohnLuca Moschetto, Drew Mrazak, Nate Myslicki, Brendan Pugliese, Sal Sanchez and Daniel Vale and juniors Ricardo Cruz, Jack Ferraro, Nicholas Hughes, Michael Mitchell, Bobby Penna, Will Stenner and Jack Tabachka.
Sophomore pitcher Michael Walsh appears injured for the season.
“It’s nice to get four returners back in the lineup. Hopefully that confidence will filter to other players,” Diete said.
Phillipp and Courtney are considering college baseball. Already set are Garrow (Lewis), Williams (Grinnell), Pasko (Southeastern Community College) and Moschetto (Carthage).
“I think that we’ll have a lot of good pitching,” Courtney said. “If we play our game, get a lot of scrappy runs over and keep our bats alive, be the best defense in state, we’ll do really well.”