Defending champ Lyons advances to 4A title game

By  Drake Skleba

JOLIET – On one side stood the defending Class 4A state champion Lyons Township. On the other side stood Minooka, which has taken down powerhouses JCA, Providence, O'Fallon, Moline and numerous other highly-ranked teams over the course of the season. On Friday, Minooka stood poised to take down the largest giant of all in the second Class 4A semifinal at Silver Cross Field.

In the end, Lyons proved to be too formidable for Minooka, as the defending champs won their 13th consecutive state-tournament game, rolling to a 6-2 win.

Junior ace right-hander Keith Lehmann (10-2) threw a five-hitter at the Indians and LT (27-12) will take on West Suburban Silver rival Oak Park-River Forest for all the marbles in Class 4A on Saturday. The all-WSC-Silver Championship game will begin around 5 p.m. 

A great pitching match-up was on the card as Minooka's ace Bellarmine University-bound lefty Josh Jimenez (11-3) opposed Lehmann. Lehmann's fastball sat in the 87-88 mph range, reaching as high as 91, and mixed three pitches for strikes.

LT picked up an unearned run against Jimenez in the top of the first and Indians answered with a run of their own. In the top of the second the Lions regained the lead on a booming RBI double from Lion lead-off man Evan Booth.

“I was really proud of myself for coming up with the big RBI double in the second,” said Booth. “Minooka had just tied us up and it was important for us to take charge of the game.”

In the third inning with two out and two men in scoring position, Lion No. 9 hitter junior Stewart Nelson had the hit of the game. Nelson delivered a huge clutch two-out, two RBI single to give the Lions a 4-1 lead. The hit finished the night for Jimenez, who deserved a better fate. Three of the four runs he allowed were unearned.

“I was very happy with my performance tonight,” said Nelson. “I just went up there and wanted to get a nice hit and get those two runs home. Keith pitched a great game for us tonight. We hope to come out tomorrow and play well.”

Minooka (27-14) picked up a run in the fourth on a sac-fly from its No. 9 hitter senior Nick White.

LT added a pair of unearned runs against Minooka sophomore right-hander Mitch Vogrin. Vogrin fired 4 1/3 innings in relief to extend his unearned run streak to 36 2/3 innings. Vogrin has a 0.00 ERA for the Indians. The 5-foot-9 Vogrin’s fastball sat in the 86-88 range, reaching 89 on occasion. He also impressed with an occasionally sharp 74-75 mph curveball.

Lehmann helped himself with his second hit of the game an RBI single to give himself a four-run cushion.

Lehmann faced nine Minooka batters over the last three innings, ending the game on a Minooka base-runner interference aided double-play.

“We came together as a team and we played real good baseball,” said Lehmann. “I had a rough first inning but really settled down to pitch a good game. All my pitches were really working well in the later innings.
“I have the utmost respect for Oak Park,” added Lehmann. “They are great competitors on the field and that should be a great championship game tomorrow.”

Minooka will take on Grant (25-12) for third place around 3 p.m.

“Keith Lehmann did a great job on the mound for us,” said Lyons Township head coach George Ushela. “We played solid defense behind Keith turning two double-plays. Evan had a big RBI double for us and Stewart who has really been hitting well for us had the big two-run single in the third.

“We're really happy to be playing our conference rival Oak Park tomorrow. We were pulling for them earlier today and I know they were pulling for us. We have a pretty good conference in the West Suburban Silver.”