Mike Napoleon isn’t going to downplay the importance of playing winning baseball.
He has more victories — 967 and counting — than any baseball coach in state history, after all.
But sometimes he has other priorities. One of those times came Saturday, June 10, when the Trevians played York in the Class 4A third-place game at Duly Health & Care Field in Joliet.
New Trier did win, scoring five runs in the top of the eighth for a 9-4 victory that clinched Napoleon’s ninth 30-win finish in 27 seasons in Winnetka.
But that was secondary to his primary focus: giving every Trevian the chance to play in a professional ballpark.
“They’re not gonna remember that they won,” Napoleon said. “They’re going to remember the experience.”
The official box score for the game lists 27 New Trier players. But the Trevians’ state roster on IHSA.org has 29, something Napoleon joked about afterward.
“Don’t count the guys that played,” he said. “It’s not 27, it might be more.
“I don’t know if you were here in 2017 when we made kind of a spectacle and guys were coming out of the dugout. They told us to stop doing that.”
New Trier played St. Laurence, coached by Pete Lotus, in the 4A third-place game that year and lost 11-6.
“Pete told me, ‘I’m sorry, I’m going to try to win this game,'” Napoleon said. “I said, ‘Pete, you do what you want to do … but this is what I’m gonna do.’ And this is how I did it.”
Napoleon employed a similar approach when New Trier beat Montini 3-1 at Guaranteed Rate Field on April 24. Again, he wanted all of his players to fully enjoy the moment.
Senior right fielder Brendan Stressler, who led the way on Saturday with a 3-for-4, four-RBI effort, said Napoleon’s strategy helped to keep non-starters engaged.
“I think it helps their mood a lot,” Stressler said. “They put in the work knowing they’re going to get an opportunity, which I think last year we didn’t have. Some guys didn’t get playing time and they kind of stopped caring.
“This year I think it’s helped us stay together as a whole.”
New Trier (30-8) used nine pitchers against York (25-15-1). Jack Wilson got the win, pitching two scoreless innings with no hits and one strikeout.
Other Trevians beside Stressler with big days at the plate included Jackson McCarey, who was 2-for-3 with a run scored and an RBI; third baseman Graham Mastros (1-for-4, run, RBI); designated hitter Dylan Mayer (2-for-3, double, run) and catcher Max Miller (2-for-3, RBI).
The Trevians quest for a state title came to an end one day earlier when they lost 4-0 to Brother Rice High School in the state semifinals. But New Trier battled back to end the season on a high note with its victory over the Dukes.
The win also capped a bounce-back season for the Trevians, who went 16-17 in 2022 — Napoleon’s first losing record at New Trier and his first overall since going 16-19 at Notre Dame in 1988.
“We had kind of a down year for us last year and I think the seniors took it upon themselves to do something about it,” he said. “We talked about changing the culture, doing the little things.
“We started off in late October with a meeting and started lifting in December. I think the seniors, getting those guys in the weight room and making them accountable was really important. And it just carried over into the season. “
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