By Dan McGrath

The opener on Wednesday, March 13 may well have been indicative of how the 2024 baseball season will go for Leo the Lions. Or how they hope it will go

Playing “small ball” and reasonably clean ball throughout, the Lions pushed across four runs in the top of the seventh inning and beat Public League campaigner Kennedy 6-2 at Kennedy’s Wentworth Park field. 

“That’s got to be our formula – pitching and defense and scratch out runs,” Coach Mike Anderson said. “We don’t have a lot of big hitters, so we’ll have to create scoring opportunities and take advantage.”

Leo’s 2023 squad that claimed a Class 2-A regional title and a win over Catholic League champion Brother Rice featured seven seniors: shortstop Joaquin Huerta, center fielder Mitchell Hall,  three-year starters Matthew Hernandez and Esai Jacinto and two-year mainstays Nate Sims, Kyrent Cole and Amare Hall.

This year’s team has one senior, first baseman Clyde Akins. But most of the sophomores and juniors who will fill out the roster have grown up playing baseball, unlike in past seasons, when Anderson and his staff were trying to teach the basics of the game at the high-school level while competing in the always-tough Catholic League.

Sophomore Derrick Davis will anchor the pitching staff along with junior Aiden Lott, who was needed behind the plate for the opener. So Davis got the start and worked five strong innings, allowing only an unearned run while striking out six.

Lott also was nicked for an unearned run pitching the sixth and seventh. Shortstop Ian Dunn moved behind the plate to catch him, with Davis taking over at short. Such roster maneuverability will be an asset as the season progresses.

Leo took a 2-1 lead in the third inning on sophomore Devin Vassel’s double, Lott’s single and Akins’ two-run double to deep right field.

Two walks, an error and a wild pitch produced a game-tying unearned run for Kennedy in the bottom of the sixth, and then “small ball” was the story of Leo’s four-run seventh.

Three walks loaded the bases, and Lott’s high-bounding infield single scored two when Kennedy’s infielders had trouble corralling the ball. Vassel then scored on a throwing error, and Lott steamed around from second with the final run on a routine grounder to third base,

“It’s always nice to get a ‘W,’ but it’s especially sweet on Opening Day,” Anderson said.

The Lions will try to make it two in a row in a nonconference game against  Christ the King at 2 p.m. Saturday, March 16 at Columbus Park, 500 S. Central, Chicago.