CHICAGO HEIGHTS | Eight seniors graduated from the 2011 team, so Marian Catholic softball coach Kerri Evans entered 2012 with the mindset that her Spartans would need to re-invent themselves.
What started as an expectation of small ball play, however, eventually came full circle. The Spartans coalesced behind a pair of young pitchers to once again establish itself as the area's premier program, one that posted 24 victories. They did so, at times, with the same sort of power hitting that guided the 2011 team to 29 wins.
For her role in helping the area's best team find its identity against a brutal schedule, Evans is The Times 2012 Softball Coach of the Year.
"The sheer want and desire of this year's team was so impressive," Evans said. "They always wanted more practice; they would stop at nothing to get to where they needed to be."
The Spartans started 2-3, but began their turnaround with a 7-3 win March 30 over Homewood-Flossmoor. The win over the Vikings began a stretch of games during which the Spartans would win 20 of 24 games. Evans also said an extra-inning loss to Minooka opened the eyes of her players, and helped turn the tide.
"Early on we lost tough games to Minooka, Andrew and Mother McAuley, and so we had a talk with the captains about what we expected," Evans said. "After that, everybody caught fire."
Included in the winning stretch was a trip to Orlando, Fla., where the Spartans won four of five games. They faced opponents from New York, Ohio and Maine plus a victory over Sandburg, in which the Spartans rallied from a six-run deficit for a 9-7 win.
The Spartans, behind sophomore pitcher Haley Earl and freshman pitcher Allison Spence, would also earn wins over established programs such as Lockport, Providence, Oak Forest, Marist and Beecher. The Spartans finished fourth in the Eastern Suburban Catholic Conference before bowing out of the playoffs, losing in the Class 3A Marian Catholic Regional championship.
"We had some amazing wins," Evans said. "No one expected that we would end up with the 24 victories we ended up winning. Obviously, we had talented girls, but we played beyond expectation. Seeing these kids have a great time playing in conjunction with the winning was something I will remember forever."