By Dan McGrath

As expected, the rigors of Catholic League competition prepared the Leo baseball team for postseason play, and the Lions find themselves one victory away from claiming an IHSA Class 2-A regional title.

They’ll face the University of Chicago Lab School—better known as U-High–at Chicago Christian’s Schaffer Athletics Complex, 6100 Cal Sag Road in Palos Heights, at 1 p.m. Saturday, May 20. The winner advances to next week’s 2-A Sectional at Joliet Catholic.

Both Leo and U-High sailed through the first round of the regional with mercy-rule victories over Public League opponents, the Lions besting King and the Maroons polishing off South Shore. U-High is 11-8 overall and finished second in the Independent Schools league with a 10-2 record.

A split with perennial Catholic League contender Montini and a Senior Night victory over Horizon Charter gave Leo some momentum headed into the postseason. A 5-4, nine-inning victory over Montini on May 9 was probably the Lions’ most impressive win since they knocked off Brother Rice in their Catholic League opener back in March.

They took a 4-1 lead into the sixth inning, only to have Montini tie things with a three-spot. It remained 4-4 through the seventh and eighth, but Mitchell Hall led off the bottom of the ninth with a booming triple to right-center field. Esai Jacinto scored him with a sharp single to left, and a 5-4 Leo victory went into the books. 

Montini got even with a 12-5 victory in Lombard two days later, but it was a close, competitive game until the Broncos pushed four runs across in the bottom of the sixth.

“I think we’ve proved we can be competitive with the good teams in the Catholic League,” Coach Mike Anderson said. “That’s something to build on.” 

Seniors Mitchell Hall, Amar’e Hall, Kyrent Cole, Matthew Hernandez, Joaquin Huerta, Esai Jacinto and Nate Sims were recognized in a pre-game ceremony before the Horizon game. Baseball is fairly new to the near-West Side charter school, and not until gametime did Anderson realize he had scheduled a mismatch.

“Games like this really don’t do us any good,” he said. 

The regional first-rounder was a mismatch as well. But it gave the Lions a chance to rest their regulars, play their youngsters and line up their pitching so they’ll be at full strength for Saturday.

“We’re really looking forward to it,” Anderson said. “A regional title would be a great thing for these kids who have put so much into this.”