With a runner on second base and nobody out for Wheaton St. Francis in the top of the fourth inning of a scoreless Class 3A state championship game at Silver Cross Field, a left-handed hitter lofted a popup down the left-field line.
Joliet Catholic senior shortstop Chris Tschida, who had been shading toward the middle, made like the excellent receiver he was in football, using his speed and excellent hands to complete a highlight-reel catch.
Hilltoppers coach Jared Voss, whose team went on to win 5-0, said the play typified what Tschida brought every day in succeeding his former Joliet Catholic teammate, IIlinois left-handed pitcher Kevin Duchene, as the Player of the Year on the Herald-News All-Area Baseball Team.
“A lot like Kevin, Chris got better every year,” Voss said. “That’s a tribute to the amount of time he put in outside JCA practices, the amount of speed training. That play along the left-field line in the championship game, that wasn’t the result of showing up at our practices, it was the result of all the extra time he put in.”
Tschida hit .495 as a junior and .390 this season. After a 4-for-28 start, he finished on a 37-for-77 roll, a .481 mark. His 41 hits included 12 doubles, five triples and three homers.
He also drove in 32 runs, scored 44, walked 26 times, was hit by pitches eight times and stole 17 bases. He sported a .532 on-base percentage, .686 slugging percentage and 1.218 OPS, leading the state champion Hilltoppers in virtually every offensive category.
Tschida may begin his career at Western Illinois at first base but eventually could settle in at shortstop for the Leathernecks. He made only two errors this season, both on throws.
“Chris reminds you of a Troy Tulowitzki or Cal Ripken at shortstop,” Voss said. “He’s been the model of consistency there for two years, and he’s a smart player. He’s like Dave Cladis (shortstop on the 2009 state championship team) in that he takes charge of the entire infield.
“And I know this, he will swing the bat for Western IIllinois. He will be a nice luxury for them.”
Except for the slow start at the plate, it was quite a senior season.
“Honestly, I was putting too much pressure on myself early on,” Tschida said. “I was a Louisville Slugger Preseason All-American. But then I started 4-for-28 and I said, ‘What are you doing?’ ”
In the offseason, his summer travel team, the Chitown Cream, visited Sarasota (Fla.), Dallas and Phoenix. In Dallas and Phoenix, Tschida got the opportunity to sit down with former Texas Rangers and Cubs hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo.
“Don’t get me wrong, he taught me a lot,” Tschida said. “But he told me to pull the ball and that’s not me. In the back of my mind, I said I better get back to the old way, getting hits up the middle and to the right side. I can have power, but that’s not what I hit for.”
When Tschida was an eighth-grader at Troy Middle School, he thought he was headed to Minooka. But when he saw the “dog pile” celebration after Joliet Catholic won the 3A title in 2009, he said he knew where he wanted to go.
“When JCA wins, everyone there expects it,” he said. “There’s a real camaraderie about the place.”
Tschida played football all but his junior year. Last fall, the Hilltoppers dropped a 40-37 semifinal decision to Montini.
“Last fall was a heartbreaker,” he said. “But there was no way I was leaving here without a ring.
“I am glad I went back to football, though. You develop a lot of friendships in sports, but they’re different in football than they are in baseball.”
Last spring, when Joliet Catholic lost to Lincoln-Way West 3-0 in the sectional semifinals, that might have set the tone for this year’s championship run.
“Everyone, like PBR (Prep Baseball Report), had us winning it this year, but we were No. 1 going into sectionals last year, too,” Tschida said.
“I think losing to Lincoln-Way West, which was a good team but was not supposed to be on our skill level, might have been the best thing for me. It prepared me mentally for this season.”
The state championship was the first for a class that was a threat to win one in multiple sports. It was a class that lost one of its special people when football defensive tackle Matt Mammosser passed away May 27, 2012.
“When we won the state championship, I pointed to the sky and said, ‘This one’s for you,’ ” Tschida said. “I’d scrape the No. 91 (Mammosser’s jersey number) in the dirt at the back of the infield. He was always on our mind.”
The Hilltoppers’ state title also kept the Tschida family legacy intact. His dad Mike pitched for Providence’s 1982 state championship team and his mom Tammy won a state basketball title at McFarland in Wisconsin and was Wisconsin’s Miss Basketball.
“Both my parents were state champs — I had to be,” Tschida said with a laugh.