CALUMET CITY | The defending Class 3A state baseball champions are in the 4A playoffs now, and don't for a minute think Marian Catholic's Spartans aren't conscious of that fact.
"We're trying to show we can play with these teams out here," Spartans designated hitter Chris Baker said. "Coming off of 3A, we want to show we can hang with the big dogs."
Baker had the most bite Friday in a T.F. North Regional semifinal with Homewood-Flossmoor. The Spartans managed a 2-1 win in a pitchers' duel between their own Ryan Wasso and H-F's Teddy Romas, who beat the Spartans on May 3.
"It's just so much better, beating your neighborhood rival," Baker said.
Especially if you're Baker, whose RBI double in the fourth inning was the difference in a contest that was witnessed by a wildly enthusiastic crowd estimated at more than 300.
With the win, seventh-seeded Marian (22-14) advances to meet No. 2 Lockport, a 9-1 winner over Marist, at 11 a.m. today for the championship. H-F, seeded 10th, finished 17-14.
The chance to win a 4A regional might not seem like much beside the 3A state trophy, but then Marian coach Phil Wail said the Spartans aren't thinking about last year's run.
"I really don't think they do," he said, "just for the fact that nobody in Illinois thought they should have won it last year."
H-F coach Todd Sippel dismissed the notion that the Spartans are lightly regarded.
"I think everybody thinks they're a good program," he said. "I don't think they're disrespected in the least. We certainly didn't take them lightly."
The Vikings wasted little time before getting on the board. With one out in the first, Pat Sheehan singled to right and stole second ahead of Jesse Forestell's RBI double to left.
Marian scratched across the tying run in the third. Patrick Swanson reached with one out when a pitch ticked his left wrist. A wild pitch moved him to second. He scored when Eric Hurley hit a slow chopper toward second that was bobbled, then thrown past first base.
The Spartans took the lead in the next inning. After Erik Callaghan's one-put walk, Baker's deep drive to left glanced off Jacob Klemp's glove for an RBI double, making it 2-1. Baker was out trying to stretch it into a triple.
Wasso (7-3) and Romas (4-4) battled gamely, each going the distance. After giving up a pair of hits in each of the first two innings, Wasso faced the minimum over the next four, while Romas kept things close despite at least one Spartan reaching base every inning.