Sports reporter

Jim was keeping standings on his chalkboard from the time he could print and keeping kickball stats in grade school at St. Bridget's. He covers all manner of prep sports for The Times and is a long-suffering Chicago Cubs fan.

From the day Pat Antone took over as the Boone Grove baseball coach, he wasn't the least bit shy about talking the talk.

Don't look now, but it's state finals week and the Wolves have walked the walk, backing up the preseason expectations of winning state by making it to Victory Field for the Class 2A championship.

"You can't be afraid to fail," Antone said. "I'm sure I rubbed some people the wrong way, but I'm not here to make friends. I have friends. I'm here to coach these kids the best I possibly can so we can accomplish our goals. I'm not concerned if I ruffled any feathers. The only time people like you is when they beat you."

At the age of 27, Antone is taking a team to state in his first season. A local parallel that comes to mind is former Marquette Catholic boys basketball coach Donovan Garletts, who was the same age when he guided the Blazers to a Class A title in 2014 in his fourth year as coach.

Both coaches have a similar passion, drive and swagger. Plus, they had the benefit of being tutored by some of their profession's best.

"Pat's a very confident individual," said Andrean coach Dave Pishkur, who has had Antone as a player and an assistant. "He's got a hard-working group and the one piece you need in the name of (pitcher) Ty Bothwell. I couldn't be happier for him as a first-year coach. It's not that easy."

Pishkur knows. This will be his seventh trip to state, where the 59ers are 5-1 in championship games, but it didn't happen overnight for him.

Andrean won a sectional in his first season, 1980, but it didn't win a regional until 1993 and it didn't win a semistate until 2004.

"You have to keep pushing," Pishkur said. "This will be seven (state finals) in (15) years, so it's not like we're strangers. To be honest, we're disappointed if we don't make it. Part of us feels it's where we belong, but you have to understand it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the kids. It never gets old because it's a new group of kids going through it for the first time."

Antone remembers talking to Pishkur about that process, how all the planning, effort and execution can be done just as it's drawn up, but that doesn't necessarily translate into results.

"That's why we're here. They made all the sacrifices," Antone said of his players. "They worked hard, competed. It may not happen when you want, how you want, the way you want, but you grow, you learn, you stay the course. Dave told me he wouldn't change it because it made it mean that much more."

While Antone certainly appreciates the moment, he's frank in saying it wasn't a surprise. The winter declarations may have been perceived as bluster, but they weren't.

"You can't be trapped in dogma, in opinions," he said. "I'm a very goal-oriented person. When I set a goal, say I'm going to do something, I get locked in and do everything I can to make it become reality. This is what we set out to do. Having a day to let it settle in, it is pretty remarkable, what we accomplished in our first year. I'm happy for the team, the players, the school, but I'm not shocked that we're here. It was our goal from Day 1 and the kids worked their butts off to make it happen."

When Antone took the Boone job, he brought a lot of Andrean with him, from the constant striving for excellence right down to the daily practice agendas. Like Pishkur with the 59ers, he will have his team work out in the time slot it will play on Saturday, 1 p.m.

"I was prepared. I just had to get the right job at the right place that was the right fit," Antone said. "I was fortunate to come into a situation where I had good players. I knew exactly what I wanted to do, how to do it and when to do it. We've achieved every goal we had as a team and a program. The last thing to check off is the state championship."

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at james.peters@nwi.com.