Lions in the hunt for return trip to State

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By CHRIS PUMMER

Last year the Lyons Township baseball team started the way you would expect a defending Class AA State championship team to jump out of the gate. But second-half injuries would take their toll as the team did a backslide to a still-impressive 24-11 mark.

After falling in the regional final when a pitcher from Argo tossed a one-hitter, LT started its summer season with a modest 11-11 record before catching fire and sweeping to a summer State title.

With that title still in the Lions' minds, they're looking for a chance to put their two good halves together to claim their second spring titles in three years.

"We played very well," Lions coach George Ushela said. "We pitched well, played good defense, hit well and ran well. We also did it against really good competition. We were pretty encouraged. Things feel into place, and the kids are pumped to do it again."

A pair of seniors that were a part of LT's 2003 State title team, as well as two summer State championship squads, are back to lead the Lions again.

Dan Brewer, who was limited to 21 games last year due to injuries, will be back at shortstop. The Bradley-bound senior had an eye-popping .470 batting average last spring and has tremendous range at his position. His return alone will be a boost to the Lions, who went only 8-5 without him in the lineup last season.

Dan Sorce will also lead the pitching staff. The senior lefty went 8-2 with a 2.05 ERA last spring, but the ERA could have been even better if not for a couple bad innings. Sorce was the MVP of the summer State tournament, tossing a one-hitter in the early rounds and also winning the championship game.

While Brewer and Sorce have the most experience on the squad, they'll be only two pieces of the puzzle.

Joe Walsh, who batted .314 while playing in place of Brewer at short, will slide over to third base. The senior will also be the Lions' fourth or fifth pitcher.

Juniors Justin Birks and Andy Cannon will split time behind the plate, and Casey McMurray, who can also play catcher, will play mostly in the outfield. Ushela also hopes to use McMurray's speed at the top of the lineup.

Brian Dunne is competing for the second-base job, but because he can also play first base and the outfield, Ushella sees his bat in the lineup on a regular basis.

Junior Dan Weston, who hit .380 last spring, will start in centerfield on days he's not pitching. He figures to slot in behind Sorce in the rotation. Kyle Corcoran will be the third starter, and McMurray will share time with Walsh in the fourth spot.

LT will open March 24 at home against perennial Class A power Montini, followed by a Saturday game at home against Brother Rice and another home game the following Monday against Reavis.

The tough non-conference games are part of what will be a grueling schedule for the Lions, who also hope to contend in the West Suburban (Silver) Conference. They lost out to Oak Park last year, and the Huskies will be only one of several powerhouse teams that stand between LT and a conference title.

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