Lions learn plenty during summer tourney run

LISLE – Lyons Township baseball again showed it’s among the elite baseball programs in the state this summer but came up just short in a bid to repeat as summer state champions.

The Lions won six-straight games in the Phil Lawler Classic to make it to the final of the tournament, but lost to St. Rita 11-0 in five innings in the championship game July 25 at Benedictine University.

LT made five errors and gave up 10 hits in the first two innings against St. Rita. Rita scored four runs on three errors in the first inning and seven more runs in the second.

“That’s baseball,” LT coach George Ushela said. “I wish it would have been a better game.”

The Lions were gunning for a fifth summer state final and a second in a row. Sam Heilenbach, John Heilenbach, Max Larsen and Quinton Hughes were named to the all-tournament team for the Lions.

Larsen, a senior outfielder who also was named all-tournament last summer, and Hughes, a junior new to varsity, both pitched shutouts when the tournament reached the final eight teams. Senior Sam Heilenbach manned first base, and his cousin, John, a junior, played third.

“I think we all just like hitting in warm weather,” Larsen said. “Last year was a lot of fun. This year, it’s a lot of fun.”

In the four games the Lions played at the final eight of the tournament, Ushela was able to learn a lot about his team.

“We played four different games: 1-0, 10-0, 11-0 the other way and a come-from-behind win in the first one,” Ushela said. “It’s a good learning experience. We got a lot of evaluation. It was good experience for the kids to see this. It would have been more fun to be a little more competitive in the championship game. I wish it would have gone seven innings and had a little more drama.”

Despite the lopsided loss in the final, making another deep postseason run shows just how consistent the LT program has been. In the past three years, the Lions have made four state finals between the spring and summer seasons with two wins.

“It’s got to be the coaching,” Hughes said. “Especially when tournament time comes, mentally we have to be focused for the game. We meet three hours before game time at the school. We watch videos, we hit, get mentally prepared for the game three hours before. It’s not just showing up to the field and playing. It’s all the preparations.”