LA GRANGE – As the winner of four summer state titles, Lyons Township coach George Ushela has shown he wants his kids to compete and play at a high level no matter what season it is.
The Lions, which won the summer state tournament last year, entered as the top seed in the Fenwick regional and received a first-round bye before beginning play on Tuesday.
Despite picking up the top seed after beating a number of strong teams throughout the summer, Ushela still holds his team up to a high standard and can’t help but be frustrated with the typical mistakes that come with summer baseball.
“We’re not playing stellar baseball, but we’re winning,” Ushela said. “There’s glimpses of the ability to play really stellar baseball. Some of that is that we have pretty high standards here as well and we’re used to meeting those standards.
“When you graduate seniors, the 18-year-olds get replaced with 16-year-olds and there’s an adjustment phase for us coaches with the ability levels.”
Working in new players and replacing the top ones is a transition for both players and coaches. Another factor is that a number of players compete in travel baseball or aren’t always available for other reasons.
Three main varsity returners for LT – Sam Cybulski, Sam Heilenbach and Max Larsen – have been key contributors in the summer. However, the other faces are new.
“We have players that have skills,” Ushela said. “They’re just working on becoming more consistent. Some of that is there is a fatigue factor with the heat and some kids play multiple sports and travel on the weekends.”
Considering Ushela is a coach focused on fundamentals and basic execution, the lack of practice time in the summer is the biggest difference between the seasons.
“In the summer all we do is get together and play,” Ushela said. “The only practice is pregame. That’s a major thing because we don’t practice the things like fielding bunts and covering first. In the spring we do that probably every other practice.
“The other thing is the kids play. There’s a varsity and a JV game three times a week so they’re kind of assured playing time whether they’ve earned it or not. We want to give them playing time so we can evaluate them, too.”
Ushela added that the summer season sets the tone for spring position battles, although he admitted a lot will change between now and then.