Lyons Township High School senior second baseman Troy Stukenberg feels the difference at the plate this baseball season.
“Junior year to senior year, it’s a big difference for confidence at the plate, every aspect of the game,” Stukenberg said. “Not that I’m a better hitter. I’m just more confident, not being intimidated by seeing a senior on the mound, some sort of (college) commit.”
As the Lions prepare for the Class 4A playoffs, Stukenberg already has hit his way into the LTHS record books.
He’s already has surpassed the Lions’ records for hits in one season and career during the tenure of head coach Kevin Diete, which began in 2014. The previous records were 38 by Bryce Moskiewicz in the 2018 season and 67 from Danny Machaj from 2018-19.
“That was a cool thing. I didn’t really realize it until Coach Diete said something,” said Stukenberg, who will play at St. Xavier.
The Lions (23-9) are looking for continued clutch hitting and pitching as they seek another regional title, this time as the No. 1 seed in the IHSA Class 4A Mt. Carmel Sectional. They open postseason play at home in the regional semifinal round on May 24 against No. 16 Kelly or No. 17 Proviso East.
In 2022, the Lions won their first regional since 2013, as underdogs.
“We’ve had a really good season. Hopefully we just continue our momentum,” Diete said. “I would say that our hitting overall from top to bottom is better than last year. And the pitching has been more consistent. That was kind of a question mark coming in and we’ve had some really good pitching. We just have to keep it up.”
Senior center fielder and leadoff hitter Frederick Ragsdale III, who will play at Kent State, is the Lions’ leader in single-season and career stolen bases in the Diete era. Ragsdale has tried to add some pop to his high on-base percentage this season.
“I’m definitely a more an aggressive hitter,” Ragsdale said. “I would try to get on base as much as possible, which meant more walks, but now I feel like I’m more confident in my bat so I’m putting more balls in play, extra-base hits, first-pitch singles.”
The Lions’ pitching staff is talented and young with junior starters Nate Anderson and Brady Chambers and sophomore Tucker King. Senior Tristan Clark has been the top reliever.
“It’s really felt normal. I didn’t feel nervous [on varsity],” said King, a late callup in 2022. “I just feel like I’m doing my own thing, and everything’s just been going good. I’d like to keep it going.”
The Lions played their best in last year’s playoffs with plenty of enthusiasm. This team may have more.
“I feel like a lot of our main core is the same as last year, so that energy is just carrying on,” Ragsdale said. “We have a lot of good new players that have carried with the energy and have brought over even more.”
On May 20, the Lions reached the finals of the Do It Stevie’s Way 219 Tournament but lost to Providence 11-2. Ragsdale and Sam Viniard each had two-hit games. Jack Falls and Patrick Engels had the RBIs.
Earlier that day, the Lions scored three in the top of the seventh for a 4-3 semifinal victory over St. Rita. Mike Mango had a two-run triple to tie the game and scored the winning run on Ragsdale’s single. Clark pitched a 1-2-3 seventh with two strikeouts after Anderson fanned eight over six innings.
LTHS beat Marist 7-2 on May 17. James Georgelos, Luke Nicholaus and Stukenberg had two-hit efforts. King (9 strikeouts in 6 innings) and Anderson combined on a four-hitter.
The Lions lost to De La Salle 12-6 on May 22.