This season has been history-making for the Nazareth Academy baseball team.
Head coach Lee Milano recorded his 500th career victory May 17 as the Roadrunners rallied to defeat Benet Academy.
But now, Nazareth turns its attention to the Illinois High School Association Class 3A tournament, which begins June 4. Despite a grueling schedule in the East Suburban Catholic Conference, the Roadrunners have compiled a 25-7 record entering this week, good enough to merit a No. 2 seed in Class 3A Sectional 4.
Due to COVID-19 protocols, the formats for both regional and sectional play are different than usual. Instead of games being played at designated host schools, the higher-seeded team hosts each game.
Milano feels Nazareth’s schedule has his team prepared for the rigors of postseason play. And he also likes where the Roadrunners are seeded.
“We are 8-3 in games decided by two runs or less and have six walk-off wins,” Milano said. “The tough schedule and the pressure-filled games only makes us a better team. … A team has to win three games in five days to win the sectional and I feel we have the pitching to do that.”
Nazareth has several reliable arms, including freshmen Nick Drtina and John Hughes (1.18 ERA), junior Sebastián Gutierrez (2.71 ERA) and seniors Joseph Milano and Ryan Smith (1.37 ERA)
The Roadrunners also possess a potent lineup led by junior Luke Brabham (.476 batting average), Ryan Smith (.405) and sophomore Lucas Smith (.383). Seniors Wyler Guido and Anthony and Joseph Milano as well as freshman Cooper Malamazian supply depth and production.
Nazareth’s first playoff game is June 7 in a regional final against the winner of the Glenbard South-Kenwood semifinal.
LTHS seeded 6th at sectionals
With a 13-10 record entering this week, the Lions are the sixth seed in Class 4A Sectional 5.
“We’ve had our ups and downs. The one thing I’ve been preaching is that we should be playing our best ball at the end of the season so that we can make a deep playoff run,” said LTHS coach Kevin Diete.
Emmett Spolar leads the Lions with a .357 batting average. Other notable LTHS batters are Noah Jouras (.322, 13 RBI), Bo Karlson (.319, 19 RBI), Jack McNamara (.329, 11 RBI) and Cooper Ohlson (.327, 3 HR, 19 RBI).
The top LTHS pitchers are Luke Stockbridge (2-1, 3.54 ERA), Karlson (3-0), and Spolar (2-1, 2.21 ERA).
Consistency is something the Lions hope to have more of as the tournament starts.
“In the most successful games we’ve had, we’ve pitched and fielded well enough and put the ball in play,” Diete said. “If we have at least two out of those three components working, that’s when we are winning games.”