Prep Baseball Report

Preseason Power 25 Coutndown: No. 2 Nazareth Academy

By: Pete Hamot & Tyler Defibaugh
Illinois Staff

The Illinois high school baseball season kicks off on March 11, opening day for regular season action under IHSA regulations. Over the next two weeks, leading up to opening day, we’ll be publishing our team previews ahead of the 2024 spring season, touching on programs spanning all state classifications, counting down through the official Prep Baseball Illinois Preseason Power 25 Rankings.

Perennially, we’ve submitted a preseason questionnaire to high school head coaches across the entire state. Their responses have been flooding in and we’re using the detailed insight they’ve provided in our team-by-team preseason analysis.

Our 2024 preseason coverage continues today.

High School: Nazareth Academy Roadrunners
Preseason Rank: No. 2
Head Coach: Lee Milano
Classification: 4A
Conference: East Suburban Catholic
2023 Record (Finish): 34-6 (3A State Champions)
Key Players Lost: Lucas Smith (Illinois-Chicago) & Finn O'Meara (DePauw)



No. of Returning Positional Starters: Seven
No. of Returning Pitchers: Seven
Team Strengths: Experience and confidence. Deep on the mound and should hit for average and power.

David Cox IL 2024 INF/RHP Illinois-Chicago
Nick Drtina IL 2024 1B/OF Louisville
Luca Fiore IL 2024 LHP/OF Illinois-Chicago
John Hughes IL 2024 LHP North Carolina
Cooper Malamazian IL 2024 MIF/RHP Indiana
Cole Reifsteck IL 2024 OF Belmont
Jaden Fauske IL 2025 UTL Louisville
Collin Roche IL 2025 C -
Landon Thome IL 2026 MIF -
Kamran Alikhan IL 2026 OF -
James Wasson IL 2027 RHP -


Fresh off a Prep Baseball Illinois First-Team All-State selection, UTIL Jaden Fauske (2025; Louisville commit) will look to repeat his success and lead the Roadrunners offensively again in ‘24. Currently ranked No. 2 in the state, No. 35 nationally, the left-handed hitter turned in a .487 batting average a season ago with 17 doubles, two triples, three home runs, 38 RBIs and 38 runs scored. He also saw a bulk of innings on the mound, as he recorded a 0.42 ERA in 33 innings with 49 strikeouts. Fauske is the real deal at the plate, boasting a polished stroke that can hit for average as well as power, and he also provides defensive versatility with being able to play on the infield, outfield, on the mound and even behind the dish. If Fauske is able to repeat his success on both sides of the ball in ‘24, we’re looking at one of the more dominant players in the state for the second year in a row.


RHP James Wasson (2027) is a new face we can expect to see some innings this year for the Roadrunners. Listed at an uber-projectable 6-foot-5, 195-pounds, the right-hander can work his fastball into the mid-80s, topping out at 86 mph with over 2,500 rpm at times. To pair off the fastball he goes to both a curveball and slider, with both offerings spinning between 2,400-2,500 rpm in the upper-60s/low-70s. Wasson will be an exciting power arm the defending back-to-back state champs will have at their disposal.

Another new face for the Roadrunners will be OF Kamran Alikhan (2026), who we recently saw show well at our Preseason All-State: Underclass showcase earlier this winter. The right-handed hitter has been trending up with the bat, and he has a twitchy, athletic stroke that should continue to get better throughout his prep career and also provide depth in an already potent lineup.


Not too long ago, the Roadrunners were the young, exciting team with a deep roster trying to win their first state championship. Now, a couple years and two state titles later, they are a deep, battle-tested group that has arguably the most reps in high-level situations in Illinois. 

They have six Divison One commits who have been on the team since their freshman year with RHP/INF David Cox (2024; Illinois-Chicago commit), UTIL Nick Drtina (2024; Louisville commit), LHP/OF Luca Fiore (2024; Illinois-Chicago commit), LHP John Hughes (2024; North Carolina commit), SS/RHP Cooper Malamazian (2024; Indiana commit) and OF Cole Reifsteck (2024, Belmont commit).

We have seen both Cox and Malamazian this winter and each look primed for big senior seasons in pursuit of a third state title on their way out the door.

Currently ranked No. 37 in the state, we saw Cox at our Preseason Procase earlier this year where he continued to show strength in his game both with his arm (T89 mph) and with his bat (T95.6 mph EV). In 2023, he turned in a .388 average in 98 at-bats with nine doubles, two triples, four home runs, 36 RBIs and 23 runs scored. Cox will play on the left side of the infield for the Roadrunners and also be a staple in the rotation throughout the season. 

Malamazian has garnered some pro interest for himself also, recently participating at the Prep Baseball Super 60 ProCase. The 6-foot-1, 187-pound shortstop proved to be a solid defender that has the arm to stick on the left side of the infield at the next level. Malamazian also swung a strong bat at the event as well, reaching a max EV of 99.3 mph to cap off a loud round of BP. He's coming off a Prep Baseball Second-Team All-State selection where he recorded a .528 average in 72 at-bats with nine doubles, three triples, five home runs, 32 RBIs and 27 runs scored. 

Also playing on the infield for Nazareth this season will be INF Landon Thome (2026). Thome is currently ranked No. 6 in the state and No. 250 nationally and will see time up the middle for the Roadrunners this spring after having a key role in last year’s championship run as a freshman; hitting his way to a .333 average in 109 at-bats with eight doubles, 27 RBIs and 26 runs scored. 

Likely handing the duties behind the plate will be C Collin Roche (2025), who returns a .369 average in 84 at-bats with 26 RBIs. He's also a quality defender behind the plate that will help the staff and limit the run game. 

Rounding out the potential starting lineup for the Roadrunners this spring will be the previously mentioned LHP/OF Fiore (2024) and OF Reifsteck (2024) - with Fiore recording a .392 average in 102 at-bats and Reifsteck turning in a .407 average in 54 at-bats. 

Some utility players to note for the Roadrunners’ lineup will be the previously mentioned UTL Drtina (2024) and UTL Fauske (2025), and Drtina is coming off a year where he hit .412 in 102 at-bats with 12 doubles, one triple, 35 RBIs and 27 runs scored.

On the pitching front, the rotation will be spearheaded by a pair of southpaws in LHP John Hughes (2024; North Carolina commit) and LHP/OF Luca Fiore (2024; Illinois-Chicago commit).

We last saw Hughes running his fastball up to 86 mph with a feel for the corners of the zone. We have also seen him show comfortability throwing all of his pitches in all counts, tossing in a changeup and slider to go as his secondary offerings. Hughes is currently ranked No. 43 in the state and will look to be the ace of the staff in 2024, coming off a year where he fired 34 innings with a 7-0 record, 0.41 ERA, 42 strikeouts and 10 walks. 

Fiore is currently ranked No. 110 in the state and has also been seen running his fastball toward the upper 80’s (T87). An athletic mover downhill at 5-foot-10, 175-pounds, he has continually shown to have above-average feel to spin the breaking ball as well. A season ago, he fired 26.2 innings with a 3-1 record, 2.10 ERA, 41 strikeouts and 21 walks. 

Right-handers Chase Zidlicky (2025) and Cox will help fill out the rotation.

Zidlicky, currently ranked No. 148 in the state, can work his fastball into the upper-80s to pair off an 11/5 curveball in the low-70s. The right-hander saw some time a season ago as a sophomore, and he’ll bring back 12.2 innings with 19 strikeouts.

Cox returns 28.1 innings from a season ago, boasting a perfect 3-0 record with 45 strikeouts, 16 walks and a 1.48 ERA. The right-hander features a heavy sinking fastball that can work up to 88 mph. To pair off the fastball he’ll go to a mid-70s curveball and upper-70s changeup to keep hitters off-balance.

Coming out of the ‘pen will be the aforementioned Fauske, while Malamazian, RHP Mac McGarry (2025), RHP Andrew Kouris (2025) and Wasson will all see a bulk of innings as well - and every single one of these arms will run their fastball into the upper-80s.

From a workload perspective, Malamazian returns a 1.50 ERA in 9.1 innings, McGarry returns a 3.89 ERA in 18 innings, and Kouris fired a handful of innings on varsity last spring, too.


Back-to-back state titles with most of the roster coming back is a clear recipe for success, and the Roadrunners should have high expectations once again in ‘24. Their offense is one of the deepest in the state, both in high-end talent and just overall depth from top to bottom. They are very sound on defense, with all sorts of versatility that will allow them to move pieces around at will. They are also very deep on the mound, both in the rotation and in the bullpen, boasting power arms all throughout their stable. Overall, it's an extremely well-rounded team that has “been there, done that” in the state tournament, and they are certainly one of the favorites to make it back to Joliet in ‘24.

Find more information on the 2024 Nazareth Academy program below:

+ Follow them on X: @Baseball_Naz
+ Visit the Prep Baseball Illinois Preseason Power 25 homepage

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