By Dan McGrath
The rebuilding Leo Lions baseball team pulled off one of its most significant victories in recent school history on Monday, April 26, overcoming a 4-0 deficit to beat Marmion 7-6 in the Catholic League opener for both teams at Chicago State.
Sophomore Matthew Hernandez inherited a bases-loaded jam and a 6-6 tie in the top of the seventh inning, but pitched out of it. In the bottom of the seventh, freshman Lalo Santana lined a double down the right-field to bring home the winning run as Leo (2-3) halted a three-game losing streak.
“The kids fought to the last pitch,” Coach Mike Anderson said. “I was really proud of them.”
After losing the entire 2020 season to COVID issues, the Lions have embarked on a thorough rebuilding program. They’re hoping to emulate the success the Chicago Cubs had with a rebuilding plan that produced a World Series title in 2016, or the Chicago White Sox with a rebuild that has transformed them into American League contenders this season.
Rebuilding usually means going young, and the Lions are doing that with a roster that includes no seniors. Evan Hill and P.J. Brown are experienced, multi-position juniors whose leadership and versatility provide Coach Anderson with a strong nucleus for a team otherwise consisting of freshmen and sophomores.
Obviously there’s risk involved with such heavy dependence on youth. But sophomores Hernandez, Esai Jacinto, Kyrent Cole, Jacob Douglas and Nate Sims and freshmen Santana and Shawn Phillips all come from high-level youth leagues. It will take them a while to adjust to the game at the high school level, but they know how to play baseball, which gives them an advantage over the woefully inexperienced teams Leo has fielded in recent years.
Despite a 2-3 record, early results have been encouraging. The Lions pounded out 15 hits in a season-opening, come-from-behind 11-9 win at Lindblom, with Hill slugging a home run and two triples. The hard-throwing right-hander also pitched into the seventh inning of the Marmion game.
The bats went silent in a 4-1 loss at TF South two days later, and a 13-3 loss at perennial Public League contender Brooks on Saturday, April 17 looks worse than it was.
Leo spotted Brooks a big early lead with two shaky innings, but settled down, cleaned things up and blanked the hosts the rest of the way.
The Tuesday, April 20 game at Thornwood was a weather casualty and will be made up later in the season. Next up for the Lions is another Catholic League encounter with Loyola Academy at Chicago State on Thursday, April 29.