High School Baseball: Marian Catholic has overcome adversityMarian Catholic players pose with the Class 3A Supersectonal plaque after defeating Simeon at Standard Bank Stadium for the Class 3A Supersectionals, Monday, June 4th, 2012 in Crestwood, IL. | Gary Middendorf~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 7, 2012 7:50PM
It has been a season filled with drama for Marian Catholic.
From the players and parents to coaches, there was plenty of strife to go around during an 18-17 regular season.
How does the saying go? Adversity can make a team stronger.
“There was a lot of drama,” senior outfielder Rob Cifelli said. “A couple of things went wrong during the season and there were some things that went on within our team. We faced plenty of adversity.
“But the coaches had a little meeting before the postseason. We decided we were going to play hard every pitch and leave it all on the field. The coaches prevented the blame game from happening and made us into a team.”
Five straight victories later, the Spartans (23-18) find themselves in the Class 3A state finals — a first in program history — and just two wins from hoisting the championship trophy.
First, Marian must upend powerhouse Nazareth (30-9), a fellow East Suburban Catholic Conference team.
The teams met twice during the regular season, each earning a win on the other’s field. Nazareth took Game 1, 4-1 on May 2 in Chicago Heights. Marian rebounded the next day to claim a 5-3 win.
Marian ace Brett Lilek didn’t pitch in either game, which should greatly benefit the Spartans on Friday. In fact, the Arizona State recruit hasn’t faced the Roadrunners in two years.
Lilek is 6-4 with a 2.63 ERA. The left-hander, with a fastball that consistently approaches 90 mph, is coming off arguably the finest performance of his career on Saturday, firing a two-hitter and striking out 15 during an 11-2 win over Lincoln-Way West.
“When you throw Brett on the mound, the other team has an entirely different obstacle,” Cifelli said. “And with the way we’ve been playing, we’re feeling good. Nazareth is a great team, but I have all the confidence in the world in Brett and our team.”
Marian’s defense has been shaky at times. But having Lilek, a strikeout pitcher, on the hill should greatly reduce Marian’s chances of committing an error. Lilek has struck out 78 in 54‰ innings.
Still, the Spartans’ offense, after scraping by in a 1-0 win Monday over Simeon in the Crestwood Supersectional, must produce.
Only two regulars — Cifelli (.320) and Lilek (.303) — are hitting above .300. Others capable of finding the gaps are Iowa recruit Devin Pickett, Patrick Schmidt and Brent Feldner.
The Spartans can’t rely on the long ball. They’ve hit just four homers as a team. Erik Callaghan leads the way with two dingers.
Nazareth, on the other hand, boasts seven regulars above .300, including four — Dominic Purpura (.375), Ryan Marske (.364), Timothy DalPorto (.359) and Jake Bartels (.355) — hitting above .350.
Lilek, however, can be the great equalizer.
Marian boasts depth on the mound. Beyond Lilek, there’s Ryan Waaso (5-3, 2.20), Ben Santori (3-2, 2.67), Mitch Weissenhofer (4-2, 3.87) and Western Illinois recruit Robbie Nunn (3-3, 4.99).
Purpura (9-1, 1.43) and Bartels (7-2, 2.01) provide the Roadrunners with an outstanding 1-2 punch.
“I think the key is going to be playing great defense and providing our pitchers with run support,” Cifelli said. “We’ve been down to our last out and down a lot of runs at points during the playoffs, but we’ve found ways to come back. I have all the confidence that we can go all the way.”