CHICAGO HEIGHTS | For Marian Catholic baseball coach Phil Wail, the Spartans tournament run is a special one.
Not because the team struggled in the middle of the season, but he is taking his alma mater to the Class 3A state semifinals where Marian will play East Suburban Catholic Conference foe Nazareth Academy at noon at Silver Cross Field in Joliet.
"I went to school here, got a good education and it means a lot to come back and do something for the school," said Wail, 1998 Marian grad. "It is kind of nice to come back to coach where you went to school and to take a team to state."
Marian Catholic is making its first-ever appearance in the state baseball finals and really has not had much of a history in the sport. Its last regional title — until this year -- was in 1987 under Ron Guagenti. The 23 wins this season are the second-most in the program's history with Guagenti's 1986 squad going 27-8. Its last over .500 season was in 2005 (20 wins). Overall, Marian is 687-739.
After a thrilling 1-0, eight-inning win over Simeon on Monday at the Standard Bank Super-Sectional, senior Devin Pickett reflected on how big that win was for the program.
"When you consider we've been a school for what 52 or 53 years and this is our first super (sectional) win, that is amazing and it makes it that much better," Pickett said. "I think maybe now people will take notice of the program, especially seventh and eighth graders. They see what we have done and they will want to come here and play here.
"This is a pretty good school academically and maybe it's a way for people to take notice."
For Wail, it has been trying. This is his fourth year and he said he learned one thing that has helped. It wasn't changing his philosophy.
"Patience," Wail said. "I learned how to have patience and you need to. The first couple of years, I wasn't patient and maybe expected more than what you have.
"I think that alone helped us and helped me. If the kids see you are patient, they will respond better."
It is tough to coach at your old school and when you are not in the building, as is the case with Wail, that can make it tougher. He teaches at Heritage Middle School in Lansing.
"At times, because if there is a problem, you are not here to deal with it," Wail said. "I am lucky that we have good people here who call me and take care of things."
This weekend is also a chance for the Spartans to take care of business and put their program on the state baseball map.
This column is solely the writer's opinion. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.