With three regular season state championships apiece, Lyons Township and Oak Park-River Forest are two of the best high school baseball programs in Illinois.
For good measure, the Lions have won the Illinois High School Baseball Coaches Association (IHSBCA) summer state tournament title four times and the Huskies six times.
Both programs annually produce players who go on to play college baseball.
With so much collective success, it’s always special when the Lions and Huskies face off on the field.
“I love the rivalry we have with OPRF,” LTHS coach Kevin Diete said. “Historically, we are always competing for the conference title and usually one of us tries to make a late season run at the state title.”
In 2012, the Huskies edged the Lions 4-3 in the Class 4A state championship game. LTHS won a state title in 2011.
The teams added another chapter to their compelling rivalry last week, with LTHS winning two of three games.
The Lions’ sophomore pitcher Grant Leader allowed no hits with two walks and 10 strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings in a 3-0 win in the series opener at OPRF. Leader, who has already committed to Illinois, throws an 89-90 mph fastball plus a curveball, changeup and slider. He’s 3-0 with a 0.90 earned run average and has 38 strikeouts in 23.1 innings pitched.
“Grant Leader has been a tremendous presence on the mound,” Diete said. “He demonstrates a great deal of confidence, which in turn, makes our team play with more confidence.”
Reliever Matt Piento retired the final two OPRF hitters to complete the combined no-hitter. Connor Pasko and Scott Garrow paced the LTHS offense with two hits apiece.
Pasko is hitting .429 with 18 hits, five doubles, 14 RBIs and nine runs scored in 15 games.
“Connor Pasko has been a great vocal leader for the team,” Diete said. “He has shown great leadership with his play so far this season.”
The second game offered a similar narrative as Piento earned the victory and Ian Delleman the save in a 1-0 victory for the host Lions. Piento struck out 11 in five innings and Delleman fanned four in two innings of relief.
“Matt Piento is a rising pitcher who has pitched some electrifying innings against some competitive teams,” Diete said.
Through two games, the Lions had two wins and the Huskies two hits.
“I’m very pleased thus far how well our team has been pitching and playing defense,” Diete said. “Consistently pitching in the strike zone and making the routine plays on defense are vital to remaining competitive within any game.”
OPRF (5-6-1, 1-3-1 in the West Suburban Silver) salvaged the third game with a 5-4 win at home. After 16 straight scoreless innings in the series, the Huskies finally got on the scoreboard with four runs in the third inning.
With two outs, junior outfielder Andrew Neilson drew a walk and senior second baseman Ryan Molina was hit by a pitch to put runners on first and second. Senior outfielder David Trisko singled with a high chopper over LTHS third baseman Matt Phillipp that scored Nielson. Sophomore catcher Luke Fitzgerald followed with a single to load the bases.
Senior Amir Tillis then came up with the hit of the series for OPRF as he drove a ball to deep center field for a three-run double giving the Huskies a 4-0 lead.
In the fifth, LTHS scored three runs to get right back in the game at 4-3.
The Lions (12-3, 7-1 West Suburban Silver) tied the game at 4-all in the seventh with a double by Pasko that scored senior Wyatt Tawse. In the bottom of the seventh, shortstop Brian May drew a walk, Neilson singled and Molina was hit by a pitch to load the bases with two outs. Fitzgerald hit a ball to third base that was mishandled by Phillipp allowing May to score the game-winning run.
Juniors Brendan Barrette pitched 6 1/3 innings to earn the win and Jack Brennan recorded the last two outs for the Huskies.
The Lions blanked Willowbrook 7-0 on Saturday. Jack Ferraro (3 RBIs) and Tawse (2-for-3, 2 RBIs) led offensively, while winning pitcher Brendan Pugliese scattered six hits and struck out six in four innings.
“With the past success this program has had, I think the expectations are always high which is a good thing,” Diete said. “Striving to be the best at anything you do both on the baseball field and outside the baseball field is something we preach in the program.”
The Lions hosts rival Hinsdale Central on Thursday, April 27. The game starts at 4:30 p.m. on the South Campus of LTHS.