JOLIET | Before the Class 3A playoffs began Marian Catholic baseball coach Phil Wail challenged his seniors by asking them what legacy they wanted to leave.
At that point, it didn't look like the team had enough to make a run. The Spartans beat Oak Lawn in the regular-season finale to finish 17-17. Had they lost the game, they would have entered the postseason under .500.
The East Suburban Catholic Conference schedule was a meat grinder as Marian was 5-11 in league play. This group decided its legacy would be to play into June and it has. The Spartans will try to win the program's first state title when they face LaSalle-Peru at 11 a.m. today at Silver Cross Field.
It is ironic that due to the program's past lack of success is why Marian does not get the multiplier applied to non-boundary schools and it was put into Class 3A. Because of its success, it will be in 4A next season.
This is truly a different team with the same players than it was a month ago.
Friday's winning pitcher Brett Lilek talked about the team getting chemistry and that is part of why the team is having success.
"We had a house party and we just do things together (off the field)," Lilek said. "We are playing together."
That has translated to doing the right things on the field. That means not worrying about individual statistics like many did in the early season. If you have watched Marian recently, it is getting its bunts down, doing the little things.
The team traveled to Sanford, Fla. in the spring and bonded, but they drifted apart, several players said, as the season moved on. It was a fast start, a lull in the middle and now coming on like gangbusters.
Good pitching is a big reason Marian will try to win the school's second team title, joining the football program.
Lilek has not given up an earned run in his three postseason starts. He struck out 10 in the 4-0 T.F. North Regional final win over Illiana Christian, 15 in a win over Lincoln-Way West, a game in which both Lincoln-Way West's runs were unearned. He threw a two-hit, 11-strikeout shutout on Friday.
And don't forget "Humbuddy Bud," the baseball in their dugout with that inscription on it. It has also been a "Marian" thing that the players like to take "seriously."
"There's a few Humbuddy Buds out there," said Robby Cifelli, who hit his first high school homer on Friday. "It's with us."
The Spartans are where they want to be and though it was little rocky of a road, they are in position to make history. Coach Phil Wail said he will go with either Ben Santori or Ryan Waaso today.
This column is solely the writer's opinion. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.