St Rita illustrated efficiency, aggressiveness and a fundamental style of play.
In an early season showdown with Public League power Simeon, the host No. 4 Mustangs strung together intangibles, toughness and nearly flawless defense in neutralizing the Wolverines 7-1 on a blistering cold Thursday.
St. Rita (6-0) collected eight hits, all singles, and utilized aggressive baserunning and superb pitching and defense to sustain its strong early season play.
“Small ball is a big part of St. Rita baseball,” centerfielder Mateo Zunica said.
He has a close view, his father Mike Zunica is the Mustangs’ coach. Mateo Zunica finished 2-for-3 with an RBI single.
“We like to look at first pitch fastball a lot and be aggressive at the plate,” Mateo Zunica said.
“We want to put the ball in play, advance the other guy and make something happen.”
Danny Gleaves scored a run on a perfectly executed double steal of home and drove in a run on a fielder’s choice during a four-run fifth inning that broke the game open.
Gleaves, the leadoff hitter, set a school record with a .519 average as a sophomore last year. His speed is a destructive force, said Mike Zunica.
“Our top of the order has a lot of speed, and they put a lot of pressure on the other team,” Mike Zunica said.
St. Rita starter Tyler Halas ran his mark to 2-0. He allowed just one hit, struck out two and walked three.
“On a day like this when it’s cold it is always tough on a pitcher,” he said. “I just concentrated on getting the ball down and getting it past them and have our fielders do some of the work.”
The Mustangs’ defense was sterling. Halas faced only 14 batters in the four innings, in part because St. Rita turned in inning-ending double plays to close out the Wolverines in the second and third.
With Simeon runners at first and second in the third inning, second baseman Matt Murowski stabbed a ball up the middle and completed the double play. Halas also threw out a Simeon baserunner in the fourth inning.
“Getting out of the big inning is huge for us,” Mateo Zunica said. “That takes the momentum away from them and we were able to put some runs on the board after that.”
Connor McAlilly, a hard-throwing left hander, threw the last three innings for the Mustangs.
Catcher Cal Greenfield also smashed two hits and recorded an RBI single for the Mustangs.
“That’s what so great about this team,” Mateo Zunica said. “We’re never satisfied, and there’s always somebody trying to beat the next guy out, because we have so much talent.”
Simeon (1-2) is expected to challenge with defending city champion Morgan Park, Harlan and Clemente for the top honors in the Public League. Second baseman Dion Earls Jr. averted the shutout by driving in a run in the seventh inning on a sacrifice fly.
Simeon generated baserunners but failed to deliver when it mattered the most.
“One hit and we score some runs,” Simeon coach Leroy Franklin said. “But the season is still really young, this was just our third game and I thought we looked decent.”