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

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. It’s the first baseball state title for the Roadrunners.

Sophomore starting pitcher Nick Drtina was the hero, pitching 5 1/3 innings to earn his school-record 12th win of the season. He allowed just three hits and one run.

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 a 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 coaches in any high school sport to 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 (27-7) scoreless for the first five innings, but Nazareth wasn’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 with Drtina to see if he was ready to start the state championship game. He had faith in the sophomore and simply texted him the news on Friday night after the semifinal win 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 times throughout the week.”

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

“It’s not as basd 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 lineup broke through for Nazareth (34-7) in the fifth inning. Freshman Jaden Fauske started it off with a single. Senior Sam Wampler walked. Sophomore Luca Fiore and sophomore Cole Reifsteck singled. The Roadrunners scored five 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 head coach at Nazareth. He led the Roadrunners to a third-place finish in 2018, 2012, and 2011 and second place in 2012.

With so many talented sophomores, the Roadrunners could be a regular fixture in Joliet the next few 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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