Sophomore Nick Drtina embraces the spotlight, leads Nazareth to 3A baseball state title

Nazareth beat Glenwood 5-1 on Saturday at Duly Health and Care Field in Joliet. It’s the first baseball state title for the Roadrunners.

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Finn O’Meara, facing, and Sam Wampler, jumping, celebrate after the Roadrunners win the Class 3A state title.

Finn O’Meara, facing, and Sam Wampler, jumping, celebrate after the Roadrunners win the Class 3A state title.

Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

It takes so much more than talent to win a state title.

Nazareth beat Glenwood 5-1 on Saturday at Duly Health and Care Field in Joliet for its first baseball state title.

Sophomore starting pitcher Nick Drtina was the hero, pitching 5⅓ innings to earn his school-record 12th victory of the season. He allowed one run and three hits.

The Roadrunners’ starting lineup features five sophomores and a freshman. Drtina and freshman Jaden Fauske are Louisville recruits. All the young players have bright futures in baseball, but that talent alone isn’t enough for a team to end the season hoisting the trophy.

The older teammates have to accept bench roles and create an environment that will allow the underclassmen to succeed. It’s one of the most difficult situations for high school coachesto navigate.

‘‘This is a credit to the seniors,’’ Nazareth coach Lee Milano said. ‘‘They accepted their role. Things aren’t always going to go your way in life, and you have to be a good teammate. It’s a really difficult thing to accept. But those kids accepted it, and they are the reason why we won. It’s because they bought into what we were doing.’’

Drtina held the Titans scoreless for the first five innings, but the Roadrunners (34-7) weren’t able to get on the board, either, so the pressure was increasing.

‘‘It was definitely building,’’ Drtina said. ‘‘But since I was a little kid, I have worked to tune everything out, just block it out. I had faith I would get the job done.’’

Milano didn’t have a heart-to-heart talk with Drtina to see whether he was ready to start the Class 3A championship game. He had faith in him and simply texted him the news after Nazareth’s semifinal victory Friday against Crystal Lake South.

‘‘I got the text and was like, ‘Oh, my God, here we go,’ ’’ Drtina said. ‘‘It was a little unexpected since I threw a lot of pitches a couple of times throughout the week.’’

Drtina is comfortable in the spotlight, which made Milano’s decision easier.

‘‘It’s not as bad as you think,’’ Drtina said. ‘‘It’s nice to have the spotlight on you. It pushes you even harder to make sure you do well.’’

The bottom of the Roadrunners’ lineup broke through in the fifth. Fauske started it off with a single before senior Sam Wampler walked. Sophomore Luca Fiore and sophomore Cole Reifsteck followed with singles, and Nazareth scored five times in the inning.

‘‘It’s just an awesome feeling to win a state title,’’ Reifsteck said. ‘‘Especially for [Milano], who has been coaching for so long and just hasn’t gotten one. We finally got the job done.’’

Milano is in his 21st season as the head coach at Nazareth. He led the Roadrunners to third-place finishes in 2018, 2012 and 2011 and to a second-place finish in 2015.

With so many talented sophomores, Nazareth might be a regular fixture in Joliet in the next couple of seasons.

‘‘It’s an indescribable feeling to win with all these sophomores,’’ Drtina said. ‘‘We have two more years left, and we can still just keep pushing forward.’’

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