Roadrunners repeat at IHSA state finals

The Nazareth Academy baseball team defended its state title Saturday, beating Grayslake Central 7-2 to win the IHSA Class 3A state championship in Joliet.

Senior outfielder Lucas Smith of Hinsdale said he wasn't surprised.

"Obviously you know we have a lot of talent, so my expectations were that we could do it again," he said. "I had no doubt in my mind that we had the capabilities to win another state championship."

Nazareth jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the second inning and kept Grayslake at bay with some strong defense.

"I think one of the biggest moments of the game was when Cooper Malamazian, our shortstop, he made one of the best plays I've ever seen," Smith said. "He jumped up about 10 feet in the air, caught the ball and doubled up the runner."

The Roadrunners' offense was strong in the fourth inning, scoring another three runs, one of which was Smith's.

"Nick Drtina hit me and Jaden (Fuaske) in. That was big to get more runs and give us a little more confidence," Smith said. "I'm just proud that I was able to get on base for my team. I didn't have any hits in the state championship game, but I did walk three times."

To reach the title game, the team shut out Sycamore 3-0 in the semifinal behind the pitching of Hinsdale resident John Hughes, a junior. He said the coach helped players steel their nerves as they got closer to the championship.

"Coach (Lee) Milano would say we're playing against ourselves and not anyone else," Hughes said. "I think it helped the team to calm down in those big situations and realize we're just playing a game and it's fun.

"I was nervous, very nervous, but I knew that everyone around me had confidence in me, and it made me feel confidence in myself," he added. "Once I got out there and got in the swing of things, I calmed down and enjoyed the moment and had a good time."

He not only enjoyed himself, he pitched a great game, striking out three and giving up giving up only four hits, one walk and no runs.

"They're a really solid team," he said of Sycamore. "I got in some sticky situations, but I battled out of them. Any time you give up no runs, it's a good outing."

Hughes said his strongest memory will be celebrating the win with his teammates.

"The moments right after the dog pile when the realization kicks in and all you think is, 'We really just did that twice,' " he said. "Just being able to go around and hug all your teammates and really enjoy the moment."

Hughes praised Smith for his role in the back-to-back titles.

"He is the heart and soul of the team and he is the leader and he built this Nazareth program with Coach Milano that no one expected," he said. "There's no way we could have done this without him."

Smith, who said the same thing of the coaching staff, said winning the title has been his vision since he joined the team as a freshman.

"You always want to win, but I felt like if I left Nazareth without winning a state championship, I feel like it wouldn't have been a failure, but my time at Nazareth wouldn't have been as sweet."

Winning back-to-back titles was even sweeter, he added.

"That's what we worked for."

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean