No. 3 Normal West, James, outduel Lyons' Lehmann

By Drake Skleba
Senior Writer

WESTERN SPRINGS – No. 3 Normal West and Lyons Township put on quite a show for the Senior Day throng at the South Campus of Lyons Township High School. In a game that had the feel – and pitching matchup – of a Class 4A Super-Sectional, the guests from McLean County slipped past Lyons, 2-1, on Saturday.

The win was the 24th consecutive victory for the Big 12 Conference champs from Normal West (30-3).

The game featured a pair of All-State pitchers, two of the most accomplished senior right-handers in the state. On the mound for the Lions was their ace, University of Michigan-bound right-hander Keith Lehmann (7-1). Toeing the rubber for the ‘Cats was the Illinois-bound Matt James (10-0). Over the next couple of years I’m sure we will be treated to this match-up again. 

The three runs in this game were all scored in the first inning.

Red-hot junior Ryan Frye singled to center to leadoff the game. Frye was batting in the leadoff spot normally reserved for the Wildcats Missouri State-bound Alex Jefferson. Jefferson, a .437 hitter with 15 RBI, was in Springfield attending the graduation of his sister, who was graduating from medical school. Super-soph Reid Birlingmair walked. Western Illinois University-bound catcher Adam McGinnis rifled a ball that hopped into right-field, driving in Frye with the first run of the game.

Junior Steve Lorenz was the courtesy runner for McGinnis and promptly stole second base. The throw down to second was dropped, and the fleet-footed Birlingmair streaked across the plate with what turned out to be the winning run.

“It was a real great team win. Two great teams. Two great pitchers,” said McGinnis. “I felt good to get the run home in the first inning. It was good for us to jump out to an early lead on Lehmann. Matthew is a stud. He is a great pitcher. Whenever Matthew James pitches, we are unbeatable.”

LT (21-10) answered with a run of their own, on an RBI infield hit from junior catcher Sam Heilenbach.

The future Big 10 Conference opponents were lights-out the rest of the game. Both pitchers allowed five hits and one earned run. Lehmann had nine strikeouts. James had three in the game. He had entered the contest with 93 punchouts in 55 1/3 innings pitched. James ties teammate Nick Hieb with a perfect 10-0 mark for 2013.

“I had a tough first inning but I settled in real well and pitched a good game,” said James. “I had some trouble getting my slider over but later in the game it worked out well for me. This was a great win and it is awesome to be the top-ranked team in the PBR.”

Normal West will open up Class 4A Regional action on Wednesday when the top-ranked Wildcats will face the winner of Monday’s East Moline-Rock Island game at 4:30 at Normal Community.

“It was a great pitchers’ duel, although after the first inning, it looked like a 14-7 game,” said Normal West head coach Chris Hawkins. “Our motto is to play anybody, anywhere. We beat one of the best (Lehmann). We haven’t seen a fastball, curveball combination like that all season. Matt pitched well for us and I want to give credit to junior Ryan Frye for his contribution in the first inning.

Lyons Township will open up Class 4A Regional action in Summit at Argo High School on Wednesday. The Lions will go up against Monday’s Proviso West-Kenwood winner, at 4:30.

“This was an outstanding game played between two very good teams with their outstanding pitchers,” said Lyons Head Coach George Ushela. “We made some key mistakes defensively that hurt us. Keith was outstanding on the mound for us and James pitched a very good game against us.”

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