On Thursday night, Sam Heilenbach earned what an older cousin and his older brother could never accomplish during their playing careers at Lyons. Sam became a member of a summer league championship team.
The latest member of the baseball and softball crazy Heilenbach family of Western Springs batted at designated hitter during the postseason for the Illinois High School Baseball Coaches Association’s annual season-ending tournament. Sam, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound junior right-hander, was the winning pitcher for Lyons earlier Thursday in an extra inning victory over Jacobs at Benedictine University.
In the final game of the Phil Lawler Summer Classic against Joliet Catholic, Heilenbach went 0-for-2, but walked twice and scored the second of three runs in the top of the third inning in Lyons’ 7-3 win over the Hilltoppers (19-4). Lyons won its fourth summer league title, all under Ushela, with previous wins in 2002, 2004 and 2006.
“[In the semifinal,] there was a lot of adrenaline. I was nervous at first,” Heilenbach said. “Over time, I settled down. It was a great feeling to be in control of the game.”
Lyons (33-4-1) beat Jacobs (24-4-1) on Sam Cybulski’s walk-off single to right center with no outs and the bases loaded. Eventual Jack Kaiser MVP award winner Mike Lorenz scored the winning run for a 5-4 victory in eight innings. Heilenbach pitched two innings, but allowed two walks in the seventh. The Eagles had potential go-ahead runners at second and first with two outs in the inning, but Heilenbach worked out of the jam when Aaron Meciej grounded out to first baseman Tom Prescott to end the inning.
Lyons’ other all-tournament team members were Stewart Nelson, Keith Lehmann, Alex Vannucci and Max Larsen, the winning pitcher in the title game.
After finishing second in the IHSA Class 4A playoffs in June, Lyons finished first in the Lawler Summer Classic. Lyons lost its last game of the regular season in the summer, but went undefeated in eight playoff games.
“It’s always fun,” Ushela said. “My staff has been there. The experience is for the kids. I always tell them, ‘Win it for themselves, not for me or the coaching staff.’”
Sam Heilenbach is the third of possibly four members of his family to play for Ushela. His older cousin, Jimmy, a sophomore at Illinois, played, and Sam’s older brother, Steven, won the state title in 2011, but was the losing pitcher in the recent state championship game against Oak Park-River Forest. Steven, a second baseman, will play at Illinois State next season.
Sam is a catcher, but Kyle Dilcher earned the starting job behind the plate in the summer league’s postseason. One of Sam’s future roles for Lyons next spring will be as a top relief pitcher. He missed 1 1/2 weeks during the summer league season due to a family vacation. Steven was a three-year varsity player for Lyons, something Sam will be unable to match next season.
“It was a lot of fun [this summer] with all the kids. I wasn’t surprised that we all got along from the beginning,” Sam said. “Steve has been a lot of help with the whole process. Playing baseball, he tries to make me better.”
A future Lyons varsity player could be Sam’s cousin, John, who will become a sophomore with his twin sister Erica, who plays in the softball program.
“Back when we were young, we played together every single day,” Sam said. “We also played football. All of us played basketball at middle school at McClure.”
The two sets of Heilenbach families live only a block apart in Western Springs. Now Sam has a summer league championship medal to along with Steve’s IHSA state championship medal.