Defense in the outfield a staple for Lyons
Updated: June 11, 2011 9:25PM
One formula that led Lyons to its third state baseball title in school history Saturday was solid defensive play in the outfield.
Lyons’ all-senior outfield of Dan Zehe and Tom Walsh as a platoon in left, center fielder Brian Kelley and right fielder Mike Pett were near flawless during the postseason. It was considered rare when an opponent was able to bloop in a hit. It happened only once in the state championship game when Kelley was unable to come up with the ball on a dive in front of him in the sixth inning.
The outfield was responsible for catching five of the eight fly-ball outs hit by Providence in the Class 4A final.
For Kelley, the state title game was extra sweet for the three-sport athlete. The LaGrange resident missed his junior season after having surgery on his right hip. He was added to the varsity roster for the playoffs as a sophomore, but played in 40 of 41 games this season. He entered the Class 4A state semifinals tied for second on the team with a .400 batting average and led the team in triples with five.
“This is amazing. We came up short in football and basketball, especially basketball, but to finally get one is amazing,” Kelley said.
Pett, Kelley and Zehe batted 7-8-9 in coach George Ushela’s order in the state final. They went a combined 1-for-6 with Kelley getting the only hit in the bottom of the sixth with an infield single. Zehe was involved in one of the game’s more controversial plays when his fly ball to left field turned into a double play when Keith Lehmann was thrown out at home attempting to score.
Lyons would try to score on another sacrifice fly in the fourth, but Steve Heilenbach was called out by third base umpire Don Swanson when Providence appealed on whether Heilenbach tagged up.
Pett attributed Lyons’ outfield play this season to Kelley, who lived up to his role as the trio’s quarterback.
“It was definitely because of communication,” Pett said. “Brian Kelley tells each other when to back up throws and dive for the ball. It was because of communication and trust.”
Zehe, who scored a run in the sectional final against Glenbard West by tagging up on a sacrifice fly near home plate, played four different positions for Lyons this season: designated hitter, left field, second base and third base. He was at third for the semifinal win over Mount Carmel Friday, but back in left field for the final.
Zehe’s starting position was determined by who was pitching on a given day. Zehe was one of at last three “swingmen,” along with Lehmann and Walsh, who played different positions based on whether ace Connor Cuff started or No. 2 pitcher Zach Remijas started.
“Physically it can be grueling,” Zehe said. “You have double the reps during the season, but I like playing with my teammates.”
Zehe, who played in only a half dozen games at second, entered the state semifinals with a .340 average despite batting near the bottom of the order during the season. Pett hit. 308, but was second on the team with four triples.
“I try to go out there and be like them,” Zehe said of Kelley and Pett.