Prep Baseball Report

Top-10 Stories of 2022: No. 4 Nazareth Wins 3A State Title

By Drew Locascio & Illinois Staff

The Roadrunners of Nazareth came into 2022 with high expectations, ranked No. 6 in our Preseason Power 25. With that said, making a run to the 3A state title with a roster riddled with underclassmen still seemed like a tall task, especially when you factor in how tough navigating a single elimination playoff can be. That is exactly what Nazareth did however, going 7-0 in the playoffs, ultimately knocking off Glenwood 5-1 in the Championship.

In three of the five games leading up to the state finals, the Roadrunners shut out their opponent, with the biggest scare coming against Lemont in the Sectional Semi-final at St. Laurence. Nazareth was down three entering the final frame and down to their final strike five different times. However, they kept finding a way to stay alive and OF Lucas Smith (UIC commit), one of the lone juniors on the roster, delivered one of the biggest hits of the season, a two-strike, two-run, walk off single to advance Nazareth to the Sectional Final by a score of 6-5.

Following the improbable come-from-behind win, the Roadrunners took care of one of St. Laurence, one of the favorites in 3A, by a score 6-0 in the Sectional Final and St. Ignatius 10-7 in the Super-Sectional.

Looking at the roster, Nazareth was a complete team with a balanced offense and a deep, balanced pitching staff. Smith, mentioned above, stood out all season for the Roadrunners and earned Third-Team All-State Honors. In 126 at-bats, Smith recorded a .444 batting average with three home runs, three triples, 17 doubles, 26 RBIs, 44 runs scored, 13 stolen bases and a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage. Smith, the catalyst for the squad, also set the school record for doubles and was named to the ESCC All-Conference Team. 

On the mound, Louisville commit, RHP/1B Nick Drtina (2024) led the way. Drtina earned Second-Team All-State Honors after racking up 12 wins and breaking a 25-year school record at Nazareth in the process. He toed the rubber in the state championship game and earned a win, tallying 61.1 innings in total this spring. Over that span Drtina allowed only 11 earned runs, good for a 1.24 ERA, with 72 strikeouts and 1.13 WHIP.

We were able to send head coach Lee Milano a few questions via email this past week as we reflect on this past spring season as well as Nazareth's 3A title run and here's what the state-title winning head coach had to say about his team's successful 2022 campaign:

Question: Entering the season, the roster was full of underclassmen. Did you expect a state title run to happen this fast?

Answer: Our goal every year is to be playing our best baseball at the end of the season. We won our final 17 games. We knew we were talented but we also knew we were going to have some growing pains. We had guys that bought into their roles and played for each other. When that happens, you increase your chances greatly to win.

Q: How were you guys able to overcome two injuries to two of your top left-handed pitchers during the season?

A: We got a combined 29 1/3 IP from Luca and John.

We had many guys step up on the mound-

David Cox gave us 31 IP which I didn't account for.

Nick Drtina was 12-1, a school record, and took the ball in many different roles. 

Finn O'Meara - was 5-0 with a save and 1.50 ERA from April 29th on.

Sebastian Gutierrez - pitched in 19 different games in many roles. He threw 52 innings. He started, middle relieved and closed. He was all-conference as a position player the year before but gave up playing the field so we could use him many different ways on the mound. 

Q: To get through a one-and-done playoff format, special things need to go your way at times. Was there a game in the postseason that stands out, that helped propel you to the state title? 

A: Being down to our last strike on 5 different pitches for 3 different hitters and coming back to beat Lemont was one for the ages. We were down 5-0 in the 5th and 5-3 heading into the 7th. Of course, Lucas Smith hit the walk-off single plating two.

 John Hughes' performance against St. Laurence was something special. He thought he was done for the season. He went to the doctor the day before the sectional final and the orthopedic doctor told him that he couldn't hurt his elbow any worse. The doctor and I left it up to John and his dad if he wanted to pitch. He wanted the ball.

We went pitch by pitch that game with him. He threw 5 innings allowing 3 hits, and no runs while striking out 6.  

Q: You have been to the state finals in the past but never won a state title. Was there something different about this year's club that stands out? Did you approach it any differently as a coach?

A: We have been to the state final four 5 times since 2011. We finished 4th in 2011, 3rd in 2012 and 2018, and 2nd in 2015. 

I have been very fortunate with excellent coaches, talented players, and supportive parents and administration.  

You always learn things along the way. We try to play one pitch at a time and stay in the moment. This team was very relaxed. Probably too young to know any better.

When we were taking BP at a local HS for the state championship game and the loudspeaker was playing the Cha Cha Slide and I turned around and the entire team was dancing, I knew right then and there that they weren't nervous at all. Thank God they are better baseball players than dancers.

We had a very young but talented group.

Q: Looking ahead at 2023, can you give us a brief look at this year's squad as you prepare to defend your title?

A: We have a lot coming back which doesn't translate to success. We have 6 division one commits and possibly three other commits on this team. We don't talk about last year and we don't talk about repeating.

We are focused on the journey ahead for the upcoming season.

Read on below for a look at the 3A Championship Game Story:



By: Peter Hamot
Area Scout, Staff Writer

Nazareth Academy and Chatham-Glenwood squared off in the 3A State Championship game and saw the Roadrunners win their first baseball State Championship by the score of 5-1. 

Both respective pitchers were dealing through four innings, but it was the Roadrunners who finally broke through in the bottom of the fifth. Sophomore Luca Fiore broke the scoreless tie with a single past the first-baseman, plating Louisville commit Jaden Fauske (2025) who reached with a single earlier in the frame and giving Nazareth a 1-0 lead at the time. Cole Reifsteck (2024) followed up with a single of his own, plating pinch-runner Robby Mishka (2022) and pushing their lead to 2-0. A sac-fly from Morton JC commit Luke Brabham (2022) and a single from Louisville commit Nick Drtina (2024) made it 4-0 with Naz still threatening. Indiana commit Cooper Malamazian (2024) brought in the final run for the Roadrunners with a steal of home on a passed ball, giving the Roadrunners their biggest lead of the game at 5-0.  

The Titans of Glenwood were able to push across a run in the top of the sixth thanks to Jackson Rose scoring on a passed ball, cutting the deficit to 5-1.  

The Roadrunners were led on the mound by the aforementioned Nick Drtina, who fired 5.1 strong innings with three hits, one earned run, two strikeouts and five walks. Finn O’Meara (2023) came out of the ‘pen and fired 1.2 scoreless frames to close the door, striking out three and only walking one.

Notable Performances:

Nick Drtina (Nazareth): 5.1IP, 3H, 1ER, 2K, 5BB - 1-for-3, RBI
Cole Reifsteck (Nazareth): 1-for-2, RBI, R
Luca Fiore (Nazareth): 1-for-2, RBI
Jaden Fauske (Nazareth): 2-for-3, R
Will Plattner (Glenwood): 1-for-2, 2B