CHICAGO HEIGHTS | The Marian Catholic baseball team caught lightning in a bottle, and the person who capped the bottle was Brett Lilek.
As a result, the Spartans capped their season with a Class 3A state title.
The Arizona State-bound pitcher/first baseman struck down opposing batters like lightning in the postseason, fanning 36 in three playoff starts while not allowing an earned run in four appearances. Lilek overcame some mid-season arm trouble to help lead Marian Catholic to its first state championship as it beat LaSalle-Peru, 10-2, for the Class 3A title at Joliet's Silver Cross Field.
For his outstanding season, Lilek is The Times Player of the Year.
"It is just really starting to sink in," Lilek said of the state title. "When you look at where we were with 17 losses and to put it together like we did, it was the whole team and the coaches who got it together."
As a senior leader, it was his and his classmates job to get everyone on the same page. How the team struggled is old news. The Spartans were in a tough sectional with Illiana Christian, Oak Forest, Lincoln-Way West, Crete-Monee, Lemont and No. 1 Joliet Catholic.
Lilek had a strained left bicep which caused him to miss three starts. Before the Class 3A T.F. North Regional final against Illiana Christian, Marian coach Phil Wail challenged Lilek about what kind of legacy he and his teammates wanted to leave on the program.
"Coach did that before every playoff game, and we did not want it to end," Lilek said. "I took it as to go out and win, pitch my best and let's keep winning.
"Our legacy was to go out and finish strong and make some history."
That the team did. Lilek, a 37th-round draft pick of the Seattle Mariners, came on in relief in an extra-inning semifinal win over Evergreen Park, then one-hit Illiana Christian, a team which beat Marian handily earlier in the season.
"Every start in the playoffs I went out there with that mentality," Lilek said. "We did not want our season to end. I know I didn't and everything just came together."
He struck out 10 Illiana hitters then whiffed 15 in a win over Lincoln-Way West in the Lincoln-Way West Sectional final.
On the season, Lilek was 7-4 with 89 strikeouts in 61 2/3 innings. He had a 2.16 ERA and allowed 27 walks. He was as effective at the plate in the postseason as he drove in Devin Pickett with a single in a 1-0 eight-inning win over Simeon at the Standard Bank Stadium Supersectional. In the two state tourney games in Joliet, he was 4-for-5 with three RBIs. On the season, Lilek hit .327 with 24 RBIs.
"I worked a lot on my hitting in the playoffs and was swinging the bat good," Lilek said. "I go up there and concentrate, but I also just try to hit the ball as hard as I can."
What was tough was missing three starts with the soreness in his arm. Marian struggled and lost some close games.
"It was tough, but we were losing one-run games against good teams," Lilek said. "Sure, I couldn't do anything about it, but I also had confidence in my teammates. We weren't winning, but we got it together when it counted."
And Lilek helped the team leave its legacy.