Hall of Fame: 1978 Baseball Team

1978_Baseball

Having advanced to the supersectional in 1977, Coach Don Kuehner knew he had a solid baseball squad returning for the 1978 season.

The team went 38-4-1 and completed the season in the state championship against Richwoods High School from Peoria. Marist brought home the hardware and the state championship banner—Marist’s first—still hangs in the gym.

The team had a conference record of 10-2. They defeated Br. Rice, Eisenhower, and DeSales for the regional championship. In the sectionals they picked up wins against Thornwood and St. Laurence; the latter was a thrilling 5-4 extra-inning game to reach the elite eight downstate. In the state series, Marist defeated Springfield Lanphier (8-3), Mundelein (8-2), and Peoria Richwoods (5-3).

Kuehner notes that a major key to the team’s success was a squeeze offense. Marist went on the attack; realizing teams rarely work on bunt defense. It meant many players had to sacrifice their hitting glory to advance runners but that was merely one way the team showed its selfless ways. Kuehner credits the seniors for being self-starters and natural leaders who put the team first and led by example. Even with the warm weather of spring and fun events such as senior prom, the players never lost focus.

Marist was the winningest state championship team in the prep league history. The squad was strong at all positions and had the best pitching in the state, including Bob Hallas’ 18-0 record. “This team was so deep with talent, most bench players would have started on any team in our conference,” team member Jim Nelson ’78 explained. “None of us were selfish players; we pulled for each other and wanted to see every player succeed.”

The community wanted the team to succeed, too. Nelson recalls more and more students, teachers, and fans showing up to games as the season continued. The late Br. Anthony Iazetti, FMS, the principal at the time, was often in the dugout with team cheering them on during home games.

The 1978 team had not always appeared to be a championship caliber squad. In their freshman season the team had a losing record, but they kept at it. They stuck by each other’s sides.  “What we took away from that magical [1978] season is our great memories and friendships that continue today,” said Nelson. “It was great winning the first state championship in the school’s history, but it even made it better knowing how far we came along as teammates and baseball players from freshman year to senior year.”