The Marmion baseball team respects the other three teams in Friday’s Class 3A semifinals in Joliet but the Cadets are intimidated by none.
That’s because it’s nearly impossible to intimidate a 3A team that competes during the regular season in the scariest Class 4A baseball conference in the state.
Marmion (22-16) regularly faces some of the best talent in Illinois as a member of the Chicago Catholic League, which has produced the last four Class 4A state champions — Mt. Carmel (2013) and Providence (2014-16) — and second-place finishers St. Rita in 2014 and Mt. Carmel in 2015.
“Throw anything at us. We’ve seen it,” said Marmion second-year coach Frank Chapman, whose team split 2-game series against St. Rita, Mt. Carmel and Loyola Academy and lost 6-3 and 6-0 to St. Laurence, a Class 4A finalist.
Getting out of the ultracompetitive CCL and beginning the postseason energized the Cadets. They’ve since reeled off 7 straight wins, 6 in the playoffs.
Marmion aims for its seventh straight playoff win Friday at noon against semifinal opponent St. Viator (23-15) of the East Suburban Catholic Conference. The competitive ESCC produced five Class 3A regional champions this season and a pair of state finalists. Fellow ESCC member Marian Catholic (23-15) competes in the first semifinal against Champaign Central (30-9-1) at 10 a.m.
The winners play for the Class 3A state championship Saturday at noon.
Marmion’s pitching staff is ready to go. Junior right-hander Brandon McPherson enters the finals with a 6-2 record that includes a win over Mt. Carmel. The owner of a 1.21 earned-run average, he did not allow a run in playoff victories against Sycamore and Burlington Central. McPherson has yielded 6 hits and 6 walks while striking out 16 in 11 playoff innings. In 52 innings overall, he has struck out 75 and walked 32.
Senior right-hander Collin Gibson has been sprung from baseball jail. He was forced to sit out Monday’s 6-3 supersectional win over Morton by rule after being ejected in the sectional final. Gibson (5-3) enters the weekend with a 3.50 ERA and 50 strikeouts in 50 innings.
Marmion is batting .299 going into its first state finals appearance, led by senior outfielder Bobby Pierce (.391, 5 home runs, 29 RBI), Arkansas-committed junior catcher Chase Stanke (.320, 10 doubles, 24 RBI), junior leadoff batter Jack Molenhouse (.397, 25 runs, 19 RBI), Ohio Wesleyan-bound senior infielder Trevor Taus (.308, 24 runs, 14 RBI) and sophomore Dillon Dilorio (.333, 20 runs).
How did a team that batted .244 a year ago raise its average 55 points in the off-season?
Chapman instituted off-season strength training after seeing how physically imposing Mt. Carmel’s players were last spring compared to his Cadets. He turned to Bryce Biel of Legacy Sports Performance in St. Charles, a Geneva and Elmhurst College graduate.
“Hiring a strength coach was a key,” Chapman said. “That really began to change the culture here when guys got into the weight room in September at 6 a.m. We saw how physically strong Mt. Carmel was last year and we knew we had to improve.”
St. Viator is led by future Notre Dame tight end Cole Kmet (6-foot-4, 250 pounds), who leads the Lions in batting average (.435), doubles (16), triples (2), home runs (12), runs (36) and RBI (44). He is also St. Viator’s most dominant pitcher. The left-hander is 7-3 with a 2.11 ERA. In 56⅓ innings he has struck out 96 and walked 19.
Do the physically strong Cadets have the mental strength to withstand the pressures inherent to playing on the state’s biggest stage?
“We feel pretty good,” Chapman said. “We’re trusting that strength and conditioning program we started in the fall in the weight room and relying on the experience of the tough CCL schedule we played. The guys are excited.”