Prep Baseball Report

Providence Makes History With Third Straight Class 4A State Title

By Sean Duncan
Executive Director

JOLIET, IL – Providence Catholic made IHSA baseball history Saturday night when it became the first school, in any classification, to win three consecutive state championships after the Celtics defeated Mundelein 10-3 in the 4A title game – a victory, incidentally, in which they trailed for most of the contest.

And they accomplished the feat without a star-studded lineup of high-level prospects, without a hard-throwing ace (no pitcher eclipsed 84 mph), and without even winning a Chicago Catholic Blue championship during the regular season.

But make no mistake: Providence was the best team, in the truest meaning of team. How else could the Celtics, over the course of their remarkable three-year playoff run, pull out one late-inning victory after another, always seeming to find a way to rally?

Mike MadejIt certainly wasn’t luck. And, as standout senior second baseman Mike Madej pointed out fresh after the fireworks smoke had cleared Saturday night at Silver Cross Field – his fourth state championship celebration at the New Lenox school (three in baseball, one in football) – there’s no alchemy involved in winning championships, other than team chemistry.

“It’s not easy,” said Madej, a switch-hitting Purdue recruit who is one of four three-year senior starters in the Celtics’ lineup. “People say it’s magic. There’s no magic. It’s just everybody believing in each other that the next guy will come through. That’s it.”

Whatever the Celtics’ formula, it once again came to the fore over the weekend. On Friday in the semifinals, Providence (33-9) scored three runs in the seventh inning to upend No. 2 Plainfield North, 7-4.

Then in the championship game against Mundelein (31-10), the Celtics came out the gates uncharacteristically tight, and the Mustangs jumped out to quick 3-0 lead in the top of the first before the large Providence fan base could settle into the stadium. The Celtics actually trailed 3-1 for most of the game.

Then came the bottom of the fifth inning.

“In the fifth inning I called the team together, and said we’re playing tight,” said Providence coach Mark Smith, who has led his program to the state championship game four out of the last six years.  “I said let’s go back to having fun and go back to playing like we have over the last three years.”

The Celtics’ offense took Smith’s words to heart. Kevin Fitzgerald led off the fifth with a walk, followed by a single by three-year starting shortstop Jackson Stulas. Then Madej, who was hitting right-handed for the first time in the tournament, dropped in a run-scoring single to left field to make it 3-2. Senior left fielder Matt Waznis, the offensive hero from Friday’s victory, was hit by a pitch to load the bases.

Then … what would the Class 4A state championship game be without a little controversy? It came shortly after when senior third baseman Zack Pych, another three-year starter, clearly leaned into a pitch, catching him on the shoulder to force in a run to tie the game at 3-3. Venerable Mundelein coach Todd Parola vehemently disagreed with the home umpire’s call, but to no avail.

The very next pitch junior left-hander Zach Zentz threw, senior DH Jackson Dvorak laced for a two-run single. Later, Pych scored on a wild pitch – the fifth run of the inning – staking the Celtics to a 6-3 advantage.

“The first four innings we were playing tight,” said Madej. “We just took a deep breath and told ourselves that we had been here before.”

The Celtics’ playoff experience continued to show in the sixth when they pushed four more runs across to break open the game. Madej delivered another run-scoring single, and senior right fielder Tom Kelley later followed with a two-run triple to right field.

Kelley, a Miami Ohio recruit, put the proper punctuation on the game – and really, the Celtics’ three-year run – in the top of the seventh when he made quite honestly the best outfield putout this reporter has seen in nearly 20 years of scouting high school baseball. Back-tracking a few feet from the right-field warning track, Kelley planted and threw a flat-footed strike on the fly to third base to gun down a runner tagging from second.

Senior reliever Matt Trzesniewski then came in to face the final batter, which he induced a line out to Stulas – and the Celtics had cemented their mark in the IHSA record books.

Junior left-hander Tyler Zarembka (7-2) threw three scoreless innings of relief of senior starter Connor Hilty, yielding one hit with two strikeouts and two walks, to earn the victory.

Offensively, Madej finished 3-for-4 with three RBI and two runs scored. Stulas went 2-for-3 with a walk and three runs, Pych and Dvorak each contributed two hits for the Celtics, who have won five state championships in their rich history.

Mundelein, a perennial power in the northern suburbs of Chicago, was seeking its first championship in its third state appearance. And from the first pitch of the game, it looked like the great baseball cliché in the sky was smiling down on the Mustangs, when leadoff man Nick Stricker had a check-swing single to right field. An out later, junior Arizona State-recruit Brendan Murphy singled, Reese Dolan walked and … most shocking of all, Providence’s vaunted infield defense made an error. Junior first baseman Brett Parola sent Mundelein’s faithful into a frenzy with a two-run single, staking the Mustangs to a 3-0 lead.

Stricker, a junior third baseman, finished 3-for-4 with a run for Mundelein, and Murphy added a pair of singles and a run.

In the end, though, Providence’s big-game experience was too much to overcome.

“My goal at the beginning of my high school career was to win a championship,” said Madej. “And to leave here with four is incredible.”

Related Content