By Marty Farmer
Under the guidance of head coach Lee Milano, the Nazareth Academy baseball team has been the gift that keeps on giving for local high school baseball fans. The Roadrunners have produced nine regionals titles, six sectional championships and four top 4 finishes in the state playoffs over the past 13 years.
Amid all the great players and memorable games associated with Nazareth baseball, the Roadrunners'10-9 win over Antioch in a Class 3A supersectional this season ranks among the best. Trailing the Sequoits 9-3 in the seventh, Nazareth scored seven runs to pull off a comeback.
That miraculous rally highlighted the Roadrunners' 24-14-1 campaign and third-place finish in the 3A state playoffs. Those accomplishments secured Nazareth as the Riverside-Brookfield Landmark's Male Team of the Year at the upcoming Night of Champions.
On Wednesday, June 20 between 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. at Dominican University,7900 Division St. in River Forest, the Riverside-Brookfield Landmark, in conjunction with sister publications Oak Park Wednesday Journal, Forest Park Review plus sponsor state Sen. Don Harmon, will be putting on the fourth annual Night of Champions.
The sports awards event honors elite high school teams, athletes, and coaches from Riverside-Brookfield, Lyons Township, Fenwick, Nazareth Academy, Oak Park and River Forest and Proviso East.
Between 6 and 7 p.m., a reception will be held in the foyer of the Lund Auditorium with live music from the OPRF Jazz Trio, plus networking opportunities, sponsor booths, a raffle including several Chicago pro sports teams items and other surprises.
Two-time Olympic speedskater and OPRF alumnus Emery Lehman is the featured speaker for the evening.
Landmark award winners include Male Athlete of the Year, Female Athlete of the Year, Male Team of the Year, Female Team of the Year, Coach of the Year and a Hall of Fame honoree.
LTHS senior Danny Kilrea beat out a distinguished group of candidates to earn Male Athlete of the Year. The Notre Dame-bound Kilrea won a pair of state titles, taking the cross country state title (14 minutes, 0.08 seconds) in the fall and the 3,200-meter race (9:02.77) in the spring.
"I just put everything I had out on the table for my last state meet," Kilrea said. "There's no feeling compared to crossing the finish line knowing that I'm a state champ."
On the girls side, Nazareth guard Annie Stritzel is the Athlete of the Year. She averaged 25 points, six rebounds, three assists and four steals this season. Stritzel, who will be a senior at Nazareth in the fall, has committed to play college basketball at Harvard.
"Annie is the type of player that no matter what's going on, she's going to go out there and drop 20-30 points," said Nazareth forward Marissa Metz, a Landmark All-Star pick. "She scores though within the framework of our offense and cares most about our team and winning."
Led by Stritzel, Metz and Alyssa Geary, Nazareth won 31 games and earned second place in the Class 3A state playoffs. Consequently, the Roadrunners are the Female Team of the Year.
Like the Oak Park and River Forest softball team on the Wednesday Journal side of coverage, the LTHS boys swimming team fell short of three straight state championships this year. Nevertheless, the Lions finished second in the state this year and have earned Hall of Fame distinction at Night of Champions. Spencer Walker, Henry Claesson and Jeff Vitek led one of the greatest teams in the history of Illinois high school swimming.
"We had a terrific run of success with our senior group," LTHS coach Scott Walker said. "I loved how hard the guys worked and just the way they went about everything. It was special coaching my son, Spencer, but I feel very close to all the kids."
The best coaching job this year was turned in by RBHS girls water polo coach Todd Fridrych. The Bulldogs (23-8) recorded their best season ever. After a 3-3 start, RBHS won 20 of 25 matches highlighted by an 11-match winning streak. Prior to this season, RBHS never finished above .500 and went 11-18 in 2017.
"The biggest reason for the turnaround was the amount of water polo our girls played in the offseason," Fridrych said. "In addition, we only lost one senior on the whole team from last season to this season."
In addition to the Landmark All-Stars, here are this year's Honorable Mention athletes: Gabby Allen, LTHS softball; Max Alvarez, RBHS golf; Jeff Bills, RBHS football; Mickey Brown, LTHS football; Veronica Cariveau, RBHS swimming; George Cervanka, RBHS track; Cameron Cowan, LTHS water polo; Zach Carmignani, Nazareth baseball; Kate Dickman, LTHS cross country; Mary Kate Gannon, LTHS swimming; Marta Gocucki, LTHS cross country; Hanna Good, LTHS water polo; Howie Hatton, RBHS baseball; Bridget Holly, Nazareth volleyball; Lucas Huneryager, LTHS volleyball; Hailey Jurgens, RBHS cross country; Taylor Jurgens, RBHS soccer; Bruno Kieszkowski, RBHS tennis; Joe Kreikemeier, LTHS track (pole vault); Grace Larson, RBHS soccer; Mia Longo, Nazareth track; Olivia Louthen, RBHS volleyball; Jeannine Mantooth, Nazareth softball; Katie Materick, LTHS tennis/badminton; Frank McCarter, LTHS water polo/swimming; Dominic Milano, Nazareth baseball; Eileen Murphy, LTHS soccer; Nolan Niego, LTHS basketball; Juan Quiroz, RBHS soccer; Charles Robling, RBHS water polo; Sean Ryan, LTHS volleyball; Xavier Sanchez, RBHS soccer; Scott Sikorski, Nazareth track; Kaysie Stuba, LTHS water polo; Grace Wantuck, LTHS water polo; Andrew Veon, RBHS basketball; Emily Zalewski, Nazareth softball
To register for tickets for Night of Champions, visit this linkhttps://www.facebook.com/events/954308244740163/. While the event is free and open to the public, registration is encouraged.