Preseason Top 25 Team Countdown: No. 4 Providence

By Sean Duncan
Executive Director

Leading up to the start of the high school season, we will count down the Top 25 preseason teams every day as part of our comprehensive season coverage:

Mike Madej
              2B Mike Madej

Team: Providence Catholic
Preseason Rank:
2015 Record:
Chicago Catholic League
IHSA Class:
Head Coach:
Mark Smith
Playoff Run:
Won Second-Consecutive 4A State Title
2015 Final Rank:
Returning Starters:
Returning Pitchers:

Name, Position, Class (College Commitment)
Mike Madej, 2B, 2016 (Purdue)
Jim Jeffries, C, 2016 (Heartland CC)
Jackson Stulas, SS, 2016 (Parkland JC)
Zack Pych, 3B, 2016 (Parkland JC)
Tom Kelley, RF, 2016 (Miami (OH))
Jackson Dvorak, 1B/DH, 2016
Matt Waznis, OF, 2016
Noah O'Brien, RHP, 2016
Matt Swanson, 1B, 2017
Tyler Zarembka, LHP, 2017
Kurt Dankovich, 3B/RHP, 2017

RHP Noah O’Brien. The 5-foot-9, 150-pound senior right-hander will be counted on to deliver as the Celtics’ No. 1 pitcher. A competitor on the mound, O’Brien proved his toughness in the Class 4A state championship game when he threw 4.2 innings of two-hit, one-run relief to earn the victory over Mount Carmel. O’Brien finished his junior year with a 4-0 record.

Matt Swanson. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound junior 1B/DH has the potential to be a run-producer for the Celtics.

RHP Brenton Villasenor (University of Chicago)
RHP/INF Justin Hunniford

Senior 2B Mike Madej earned PBR third-team All-State honors as a junior. A hard-nosed competitor, Madej impressed with his clutch play down the stretch, including delivering the walk-off RBI single in extra innings to give the Celtics a 6-5 win over Mount Carmel in the title game. The switch-hitting Madej batted .421 with 12 doubles, five triples, two home runs, 32 RBI, and 45 runs scored. He also showed plate discipline, walking 25 times while posting a .512 on-base percentage.

Providence is going for an unprecedented third-straight state title in Class 4A. Last spring, the Celtics were the first large school to win back-to-back state titles in the last 56 years (Olympia and Teutopolis did it recently in small-school competition). Providence accomplished its feat in amazing fashion, too, winning five consecutive games by one run, including a 6-5 eight-inning victory over Mount Carmel in the 4A title game and a 1-0 win over Oak Park in the semifinal. Coach Mark Smith, who has guided the program to two state titles and a runner-up finish in the last five years, has the experience to make another run at it. Smith welcomes back seven starters, including four who are three-year, battle-tested standouts. The Celtics’ infield is especially strong. Switch-hitting 2B Mike Madej, a Purdue recruit, and SS Jackson Stulas return up the middle, while 3B Zack Pych also is back. Left-handed hitting catcher Jim Jeffries is another three-year starter who will handle the pitching staff, and senior 1B/DH Jackson Dvorak provides pop in the middle of the lineup. In the outfield, RF Tom Kelley, a Miami Ohio recruit, is a top-level defensive outfielder with some right-handed power at the plate. Senior left-handed hitting OF Matt Waznis hit third for the Celtics last season and is a tough out. Last spring Waznis struck out only eight times in 120-plus at-bats. While Providence may lack a big power threat, like it had with former 2011 Player of the Year Sam Travis, the Celtics have a lineup full of advanced hitters who take quality at-bats. Pitching is the chief concern for the Celtics. Although they return five pitchers from last year, they lack a dominant ace and, those that are returning, don’t have a lot of big-game experience. Then again, that was the case last year, too, and look what happened. RHP Noah O’Brien will assume the No. 1 responsibilities after pitching in the back end of the rotation last spring.  Senior RHP Connor Hilty, senior RHP Connor Creed, junior LHP Tyler Zarembka and junior RHP/INF Kurt Dankovich will all contribute on the mound.

The Celtics are proven winners. They showed their grit by pulling out a string of one-run victories over the top teams in the state to claim some may say an improbable state championship, given Providence finished fourth in the Chicago Catholic Blue during the regular season. While on paper the pitching staff would suggest that a three-peat is unlikely; then again, so were the last two state championships.

Make sure to follow @pbrillinois on Twitter for the most up-to-date coverage throughout the season.


Preseason Top 25 Team Countdown Previews 

Updated Illinois 2016 Rankings

Complete Illinois High School Schedules