Marian Catholic High School’s baseball season could be divided into two parts: Before and after the losing streak.
The Spartans missed about a week and a half midseason in COVID-19 quarantine. They came back and lost nine straight games and then got hit with the injury bug.
Once back to full strength, Marian came together for a playoff run that ended with a 5-2 loss to St. Laurence in the Crestwood supersectional Monday.
“After we got done with COVID, it was like starting a whole new season again. To be away from everybody for a week and half was a really long time,” coach Tony DeCarlo said. “To get to where we got when we were playing well again, I think we just kind of hit our groove. We really found out who we were and started playing together as a team. It was obviously a fun time and led us right into the playoffs.”
DeCarlo said he was confident heading into the St. Laurence game with his ace Tyler Fullman on the hill. Fullman, a Homewood resident, is a University of Michigan recruit.
“We’ve said it all along, we have a number of great players but if we were going to be given a chance it was through Tyler,” DeCarlo said. “He’s a great kid. He’s our workhorse. He’s done so much for this program and I’m sorry to see him go.”
Fullman said he felt ready before he took the ball. He was already thinking about dogpiling with his teammates after the win.
He gave up five earned runs over his four and a third innings.
“I was energized. I honestly couldn't prepare more for that game. I did everything I wanted to do,” Fullman said. "I guess I was too anxious and sometimes when you get anxious you start doing too much. I was overthrowing it sometimes and I was spiking the ball. I really haven't been like that in a minute but it is what is. I should've just kept my composure, calmed down and focused on myself."
Marian did have its chances in the game, tallying nine hits but left too many on base. DeCarlo said the team could depend on its timely hitting throughout the playoffs before that.
With two on base in the second inning, leadoff hitter Donovan McIntyre lined a ball down the third base line that turned into a St. Laurence double play. That prevented a possible multi-run frame that would’ve given the Spartans the momentum.
“I just feel like the energy in the dugout went down once St. Laurence went up by two runs," Simon Brush said. "We got unlucky. I feel like we easily could've beat them because we had double the hits they did. We just got unlucky."
Fullman was 4-1 with a 1.91 ERA on the season, striking out 80 in 44 innings. He put up those numbers despite losing Brush, the starting catcher, for two weeks with a hairline fracture in his thumb.
Brush took a bat to the glove hand during a May 3 game at Nazareth. With no other catchers making the trip, Brush had to catch two more innings with the injury.
He said he tried to fire up his teammates when he returned to the lineup.
"One thing I think that turned that switch on was our bench energy. There were games when some of my friends on the bench would get everything so hyped up. It would make me want to go out there and play even harder," Brush said. "When we were on that losing streak, it felt like we were letting our family and our friends down. I think we all realized that we're here and we're a really good team. We've got to put on something special. We can't just keep losing."
Once Brush returned and Marian was at full strength, the Spartans hit their stride. Fullman said a seventh-inning comeback to beat Marist 9-7 on May 25 was a turning point.
"I talked to my players (after the losing streak) and I said 'We've got to change something to win.' We needed to have that grit back again," Fullman said. "(After the Marist win) we felt like we could beat any team. That confidence really boosted us up and made us play the right way every single game."
Fullman and Brush are two of the 12 seniors who leave the program. The class of 2021 missed out on a chance to make a playoff run a year ago when the season was canceled.
“It was a great senior class and just to be able to see them go out there and compete and have a playoff was nice. It was rewarding to them and to me as well,” DeCarlo said.
Marian started three freshman and a sophomore and the lower ranks had successful seasons, as well. The freshman team was 18-5.
For the Spartans (20-18) to have even made the Elite Eight after a tumultuous season was a victory in itself, DeCarlo said.
“We took a lot out of this season. It was a rollercoaster for us,” DeCarlo said. “We’re happy with where we were. We would’ve obviously loved to have been back down state like we were a couple years ago but we ran into a tough opponent and just didn’t have our ‘A’ game.”