Nazareth players celebrate their Class 3A state title on June 10 at Duly Health and Care field in Joliet. (Photos by Jeff Vorva)
Back-to-Back Champs! Nazareth makes history with second straight title
By Jeff Vorva
Despite being a beloved Hall of Fame baseball player, Jim Thome had never won a championship ring in high school or the pros.
That ended on June 10.
Thome is an assistant coach for Nazareth, which made history by becoming just the fifth team in IHSA history to win back-to-back baseball championships.
“I’ve been to some World Series, but I never won a World Series,” said Thome, whose son, Landon, is a freshman on the Roadrunners. “To win something like this on the backside, and just to watch and help these kids as they have gone through this long grind this year is really cool.”
Nazareth won the Class 3A title with a 7-2 victory over Grayslake Central at Duly Health and Care Stadium in Joliet. Senior Finn O’Meara picked up the win, junior Nick Drtina drove in two runs and junior David Cox hit a massive homer in the sixth for the Roadrunners (34-6).
“It was the best feeling in the world,” Cox said of the homer that cleared the left-field fence. “I always dreamed about something like that and now that it finally happened, it’s a great memory of the state tournament. It feels absolutely amazing.”
“I think that ball is still going,” Nazareth coach Lee Milano said after the game. “That probably had to be close to 380 feet. He hit that ball a long way.”
Junior Cooper Malamazian closed the game pitching a pair of scoreless innings and at shortstop in the fourth inning, he made a leaping catch with runners at first and second to start an inning-ending double play.
“Honestly, it happened so fast,” Malamazian said. “I saw it come off the bat and I knew I had to get up there. I jumped pretty high, and I caught it. It was definitely a game-changing play. I was glad I was able to make it.”
Seconds after the game ended, he threw his cap high in the air.
“Last year, I had a pretty impressive throw after the game and I threw it pretty high,” he said. “But I said I had to throw it higher this year. You can’t be boring and not throw it as high as last year.”
Later in the day, Edwardsville became just the sixth team in state history to win back-to-back state titles in a tournament that started in 1940.
Repeating is never easy, and the Roadrunners also had the pressure of keeping up a winning streak that started with 17 straight wins to close out 2022.
“We talked about the fact that we never hid from the elephant in the room,” Milano said. “We talked about the 35-game winning streak, which was seventh longest in IHSA history. We never worried about people’s expectations.”
There may be more elephants in the room next year, too. The 12 Roadrunners to play in the game included five juniors, two sophomores and a freshman.
This concludes a school year in which Nazareth athletic programs won state titles in baseball, football and girls basketball, and finished runner-up in girls volleyball.
Nazareth’s baseball team had the target on its back all season, and on March 14 opened the season sweating out a 3-2 victory over Timothy Christian.
But then the Roadrunners flexed their muscles and won the next 17 games by a combined score of 186-49. That included a five-game stretch in which they won by a combined score of 52-0.
They finally lost, 10-9, in a slugfest to Benet on April 25 to set off a slide in which they dropped five out of eight games.
But they got back on track to close out the regular season winning six of seven.
“We trusted one another,” Malamazian said of the recovery. “We’re all a family here. When someone knocks you down, we’ve got someone else that will pick you up. We all came together and practiced every day and worked hard. We were bound to come back like this.”
It was a postseason of dominance for Nazareth, which beat Goode STEM, Richards, Marist, St. Laurence and Lindblom by the combined score of 53-3 to get to Joliet.
The Roadrunners finally had a tight one against Sycamore in the semifinals, winning 3-0 on June 9. John Hughes and Jaden Fauske combining on a shutout while Landon Thome had two hits and drove in a pair of runs.
REPEAT & REPEAT
Since the Illinois High School Association hosted a state baseball tournament in 1940, only six schools have repeated winning titles in back-to-back years. Two of them happened on June 10. A look at the six repeaters:
SCHOOL YEARS CLASS
Maine 1958-1959 Single class
Stanford (Olympia) 2008-2009 2A
Teutopolis 2010-2011 2A
Providence 2014-2016* 4A
Nazareth 2022-2023 3A
Edwardsville 2022-2023 4A
*Providence is the only school is state history to win three straight baseball titles.
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