Nazareth Academy’s Finn O’Meara hoists the championship trophy after defeating Grayslake Central during the IHSA Class 3A state championship game on June 10 in Joliet. | Steve Johnston

The Nazareth Academy baseball team defended its IHSA Class 3A state title on June 10 with a 7-2 victory over Grayslake Central at Duly Health and Care Field in Joliet. It marked the school’s fourth state championship of the year, to go along with titles in football, girls basketball and girls volleyball.

“Our kids battled,” said Nazareth coach Lee Milano. “They’re battle-tested and weren’t fazed at all. I love my group; what more can I say?”

After both Grayslake Central (33-8) and Nazareth stranded runners in scoring position in the first inning, the Roadrunners (34-6) broke through for three two-out runs in the bottom of the second. Finn O’Meara walked, stole second and came home on a single by Collin Roche. 

Pinch-runner Matt Uphues moved to second on a Luca Fiore walk, then Cooper Malamazian drew a walk to load the bases.

Uphues scored on a wild pitch by Grayslake Central’s Charlie Rogers, who then issued walks to Jaden Fauske and Lucas Smith, which produced another run and a 3-0 Nazareth lead.

The Rams threatened in the fourth with one out as Riley Policht and Garrett Guenther drew back-to-back walks off O’Meara, who was relieved by David Cox. Malamazian came up with the play of the game when he leaped up at shortstop to snare a line drive by Cal Hanson and doubled off Guenther at first.

“I told Cooper as a freshman he may the best shortstop we’ve ever had, and that’s not an insult to anyone else who’s played here,” Milano said. “He’s a money player.”

Nazareth put three more runs on the board in the bottom half of the inning. Fauske led off with a triple, then Smith walked and stole second. Nick Drtina’s double down the left-field line brought home both and raised the Roadrunners’ lead to 5-0. Later, Drtina scored on an infield single by O’Meara.

Grayslake Central scored in the fifth on an RBI single by Adam Fitzgerald. The Rams then loaded the bases with no outs in the sixth on a single and two walks.

Malamazian came on in relief, and Sam Cooper’s fielder’s choice made it 6-2. But Malamazian limited the damage by striking out pinch hitter Jordan Dumas and, after issuing a walk to Jack Gerbasi, getting Luke Mudd on a fly out to Fiore in right.

In the bottom of the sixth, Cox blasted a long solo home run over the left-field wall to effectively seal things for Nazareth. 

“It was the best feeling in the world,” Cox said. “I’ve always dreamed of that, and now that it finally happened, it’s a great way to end the state tournament.”

In the seventh, Malamazian ignited Nazareth’s celebration by inducing Policht to hit into a game-ending double play.

“I told [Milano] I want to close this game,” he said. “No matter what, I’m closing this.”

“To do it with this team, especially with all the freshmen we have now, it’s absolutely amazing,” said Cox of the Roadrunners’ repeat championship.

Nazareth knew going into this season it would have a target on its back, but the Roadrunners wanted to focus on their own play.

“We never worried about other people’s expectations,” Milano said. “Our hope was to be out here playing for a state title on the second Saturday of June, and it worked out.”

“Definitely more pressure on us from last year,” Malamazian said. “But this team’s resilient. We’re not only talented, but we’re also close and have a bond so strong.”

Cox, Drtina and Malamazian are juniors, and Fauske and Roche are sophomores. With plenty of young talent returning, the future looks bright for Nazareth.

“It’s definitely exciting,” Cox said. “We’re going to have guys coming back even better and stronger.”