Last season, senior pitcher Finn O’Meara had the added thrill of his strikeout recording the final out for the Nazareth Academy baseball team’s first-ever IHSA Class 3A state championship.
“I remember before the last pitch, I looked at the crowd and soaked it all in,” O’Meara said. “To have a big strikeout like that is something out of a movie. I know winning state was special for everyone.”
On June 5, O’Meara again was part of another special pitching performance and victory for the Roadrunners. He combined on a no-hitter with juniors Luca Fiore and Cooper Malamazian as Nazareth blanked Lindblom 8-0 to win the Crestwood Supersectional at Ozinga Field and return to the state semifinals.
Nazareth (32-6) will play Sycamore at noon on June 9 at Duly Health & Care Field in Joliet. The third-place game is at 9 a.m. on June 10 with the championship game later at a time to be announced.
Starter O’Meara (6 strikeouts, 2 walks) and Fiore (7 strikeouts, walk) each pitched three innings before Malamazian (2 strikeouts) worked the seventh.
“We’ve put in tons of hard work so another trip to state means a lot to all of us,” said O’Meara, who also contributed to a combined no-hitter last season against Riverside-Brookfield High School. “This [no-hitter] means a little bit more, being the supersectionals and being on that big stage.”
This is Nazareth’s sixth trip to the state semifinals since 2011 but first in consecutive seasons since 2011-12. The Roadrunners have the most Class 3A state appearances since the state tournament went from two to four classes in 2008.
“You can never take things like this for granted. It’s not an easy task at all,” said Nazareth coach Lee Milano, the Roadrunners’ head coach since 2000. “The playoffs are so hard because one bad game and you’re done.”
Again this season, the Roadrunners have been successful with a relatively young lineup. Center fielder Lucas Smith and O’Meara, often the designated hitter when not pitching, are the only seniors regularly in the lineup.
This season’s All-East Suburban Catholic Conference selections were Fiore, Malamazian; juniors Nick Drtina, David Cox and Cole Reifsteck; and sophomore Jaden Fauske.
Fauske was named Player of the Year and Milano was named Coach of the Year. Malamazian and Drtina are repeat selections.
“I’m just trying to make the most of the situation,” said Smith after an 11-1, six-inning victory over St. Laurence in the Marist Sectional final on June 3. “This is my last opportunity to play high school baseball. I came into the season thinking that I have to appreciate every single moment. You only get this opportunity once, so I try to make the most of it and I’m enjoying it.”
Nazareth had 11 hits on June 5 with two each from Malamazian (2 doubles, 2 runs batted in), Fauske and freshman Landon Thome.
A four-run second with six hits opened a 5-0 lead. Cox hit a leadoff triple and Malamazian doubled. The Roadrunners added a run in the fifth and two in the sixth behind doubles from pinch-hitter Jeremy Thompson and Malamazian.
Nazareth defeated St. Laurence in the sectional final for the second year in a row. Once again, junior John Hughes was the winning pitcher, this time working the first four innings and allowing just two hits with five strikeouts, one walk and one hit batter.
The 2022 meeting was Hughes’ first start after battling a forearm injury.
“Torn UCL, hurt. It was bad. But today I came out firing, feeling really good,” Hughes said. “Everything was working. It was perfect.”
The Roadrunners used a five-run second against St. Laurence pitching ace and Notre Dame recruit D.J. Helwig to open a 6-0 lead. They ended the game with a five-run sixth.
Fauske (3 doubles, 3 RBIs), Smith (3 for 4, 4 RBIs, double) and Cox (2 for 4, 2 RBIs, double) paced the offense. Leadoff hitter Fiore scored three runs.