CHICAGO HEIGHTS | After struggling through the regular season with an 18-17 record, the Marian Catholic baseball team ran the table and danced on Silver Cross Field after beating LaSalle-Peru 10-2 for the Class 3A title in June. The 17 losses were the most by a state champion.
With the Illinois High School Association multiplier rule, the Spartans move up to Class 4A, where bigger challenges await them.
Gone is Times Player of the Year Brett Lilek (Arizona State) and igniter and leadoff man Robby Cifelli (John Carroll), but coach Phil Wail returns a good share of last year's team.
Senior third baseman and co-captain Brad Bohlen said the Spartans have something else that led them through the playoffs and it has carried through to this year.
"Chemistry," Bohlen said. "You have to have it and took us some time to get it, but we had it through the playoffs and this year we just know what we have to do."
Senior pitcher Ryan Waaso said there is a bit of a target on their backs because they were state champs.
"I went to an all-conference (East Suburban Catholic Conference) all-star game and people were coming up to me and asking, 'How did you guys finish first in state?' and rightly so," Waaso said. "I just answered that we got hot real quick."
The schedule is made up mostly of Class 4A teams as it was last year and in years' past. That helped last year, shortstop Erik Callaghan said.
"We play a tough schedule and no matter what class, it prepares you for the playoffs," Callaghan said. "I think teams will have that little extra when they play us. We have to go out and play like we didn't win anything because this is a new year and we have to prove ourselves again."
Last year's team just made a lot of errors and that also led to it losing eight one-run games. In the playoffs, when the errors were eliminated, so was the losing.
"Once we stopped giving up runs, we got hot," Wail said. "This team knows that this year, and with most of those guys back and them knowing what happened last year (during the regular season), I think we will be a little better defensively.
"We are not a power team, so last year we were not affected as much ay the new bats. We were and still are a line-drive hitting team. We do not have the big boppers."
A good regular season will also be the key to postseason seeding. Wail said the team will have to have that in 4A.
"You do not want to get a No. 12 seed and face the No. 1 pitcher from a top seed," Wail said. "We have to get ourselves in position to get a good seed and right now, we have to be concerned with doing the things to have a successful season."