Clark: A familiar roar at StateKeith Lehmann, of Lyons, hugs Evan Booth (2) after defeating Marist at Standard Bank Stadium for the Class 4A Supersectionals, Monday, June 4th, 2012 in Crestwood, IL. | Gary Middendorf~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 7, 2012 9:05PM
Can nice guys finish first?
Lyons’ baseball team is testing the late Cubs manager Leo Durocher’s theory and maybe laying it to rest.
The Lions are back at state this weekend for the fifth time since 2001, seeking their third IHSA big-school championship and fourth trophy over that span.
One of the people wishing them well in the Class 4A tourney at Silver Cross Field in Joliet is Mount Carmel coach Brian Hurry. Lyons has beaten the Caravan late in the playoffs three times since 2006, a history that could lead to some heightened emotions, if not outright bad blood.
But after the Lions knocked out Mount Carmel in the sectional final last Saturday, Hurry made it a point to make sure everyone knew his take on coach George Ushela’s club.
“They’re a program that plays the game the right way,” Hurry said. “There’s no dugout bantering. I just wish more high school programs that are talented would represent themselves the way Lyons Township does. I’ve got the utmost respect for their coaches and players for the way that they play the game and the way that they compete with class.”
Sportsmanship has been an issue in prep baseball this spring, especially in the wake of the brawl between St. Laurence and St. Rita that marred the Do It Stevie’s Way Classic and led to multiple suspensions. So it’s a good sign for the game to see a club like Lyons going about its business the right way.
Maybe that mentality is what has sustained the Lions during a roller-coaster season. They began the year ranked among the area’s best teams, but struggled at times to score runs. Before its current seven-game winning streak, Lyons was 19-12-1 and scored just 28 runs combined in those dozen losses.
The only two players back from last year’s Class 4A title team who had more than 13 at-bats are pitcher/catcher/infielder Keith Lehmann (9-2, 0.86) and pitcher/second baseman Steve Heilenbach (5-4, 2.11). Through it all, they’ve been rock-solid. They’ve teamed with Matt Robare (7-2, 1.63) to give the Lions as good a 1-2-3 pitching combo as there is in Class 4A. And it’s no surprise that a team with an abundance of live arms is one of the last ones standing.
A couple of other players who’ve contributed for Lyons are catcher/third baseman Brad Taylor, who was DH’ed for last season. “But we didn’t need him to bat last year,” Ushela said.
Then there’s Evan Booth, whose main job last season was to be a courtesy runner. “Evan’s really come on,” Ushela said. “He was a nice player for us and a role player last year. He’s been our leader.
“Last summer, we didn’t know where the heck Evan was going to play. I told him, ‘I don’t know where you’re going to contribute, but you’re going to contribute.’ ”
Booth’s hitting .361 — best among Lyons’ regulars — with seven homers and 23 RBI as a second baseman, third baseman, left fielder and DH.
He’s one of the feel-good stories for Lyons, which has come a long way in the last couple of months. “Right now, it feels the same because we’re going back to state,” Lehmann said. “But really, at the beginning of the season, we weren’t really sure if everyone was together and stuff.
“Now, I can’t even describe it — we are one now.”
And with two more wins, they would be No. 1 in Class 4A for the second straight season.