Talking with the coaching staff of the sophomore team this past spring, St. Rita Coach John Nee heard glowing reports time and time again about Diego Koval.
Pitching mostly out of the bullpen this summer season, Koval showed skills that drew comparisons to Kansas-bound Steve Washilewski.
Taking the mound in the summer state title game, Koval delivered in a big way. The junior fired a complete game, striking out 3 and allowing a lone run on 5 hits as St. Rita claimed an exciting 4-1 victory over Lincoln-Way East (LWE) on July 24 at Benedictine University in Lisle.
By John Nee '93
The varsity baseball team lost 21 seniors to graduation this past spring including 25 of the team’s 29 wins on the mound. Inexperienced with potential is a way to describe the 2018 St. Rita pitching staff. They did not disappoint this week as the staff gave up three runs in four games as the Mustangs won the Richards Regional to advance to The Phil Lawler Summer Classic in Naperville next week.
Seniors Mike Rios and Payton Condon, along with juniors Matt Callahan, Diego Koval, Logan Strutz, Vic Aguilar, Mike Benson and sophomore Justin Valdez combined this week to allow only three earned runs in 22 innings pitched as St. Rita won doubleheaders over Oak Lawn and Brother Rice on Tuesday and Bremen and Mt. Carmel on Thursday. It will be St. Rita’s first appearance in the Lawler Classic since winning the tournament title in 2013. The Mustangs also took home the summer state championship in 2005 and 2009.
The Mustangs offense also provided some fireworks on the week as they scored 43 runs in their four wins. Sophomore Luke Napleton led the charge in the semis and championship game as he had a two-run single and RBI triple against Bremen in the semis, and he provided the big blow against Mt. Carmel in the championship game with a bases-clearing, three-run triple to put the game away.
The Mustangs (11-3-1) will next play at Naperville Central High School on Monday July 17th against Lake Park High School. Game time on Monday is 10:00 a.m. The full tournament schedule can be found at www.tourneymachine.com.
By: John Nee '93
The Chicago Catholic League Blue Conference is widely regarded as not only the best baseball conference in the state of Illinois, but also as one of the very best conferences in the entire country.
With that being said, when it’s time to choose an all-conference team, invariably some really good baseball players will be omitted from the final list. That was the case again this year as only three St. Rita Mustang seniors were named first team All-CCL Blue at the conference meeting last Sunday.
Senior Kansas signee Steven Washilewski led the way for the Mustangs with his sterling (4-0) record against Catholic League Blue competition. In his four starts against Blue opponents (Providence, Brother Rice, Mt. Carmel, and St. Laurence) Wash allowed only four earned runs while striking out 25 and walking only three in his 25 innings of work. His line also included complete game shutouts at Providence and at Brother Rice. Overall, Washilewski leads the Mustang pitching staff in almost every category with a 10-1 record and a minuscule 0.83 ERA while striking out 87 batters and walking only 16 in his 67 1/3 innings pitched.
Senior first baseman and Benedictine University signee Tyler Woynerowski joined Washilewski on the first team. Woynerowski in 21 Catholic League games hit .375 with four homeruns and 23 RBIs to lead the Mustang offense. Overall, on the season he is hitting .353 with four homers and 32 RBIs.
The third member from St. Rita to be named to the first team All-CCL Blue team was senior second baseman/pitcher Lewis signee Matt Verdun. In his 21 league games, Verdun led the Mustangs with a .441 average and a .552 on base percentage. He also hit one homerun and drove in 14 to go along with his team-leading 10 doubles. Overall, Verdun leads St. Rita with a .481 average with one homer and 28 RBIs including a robust .552 on base percentage.
Retiring Head Coach Mike Zunica was voted the Lawless Award Winner as the top coach in the league by his fellow coaches, an award to an out-going legend in the league who has left an imprint on all things baseball in the Catholic League for many years to come. Zunica is a member of the Catholic League Hall of Fame after starring at St. Francis De Sales in the early 1980s and leading the St. Rita baseball program to unprecedented heights in his 21 years at the helm.
St. Rita Baseball competes next in a sectional playoff game vs. Br. Rice at St. Rita on Thursday, June 1, 2017 at 4:00 p.m.
By: John Nee '93
The Mustangs (28-8) advanced to Saturday's (May 27) regional championship game at 2:00 p.m. Lyons Township with a 9-2 win over Whitney Young.
Jake Zylman (3-3, 2B 2RBIs) and Blake Soria (2-run HR) led the offense. While Connor Kelly threw 3 shutout innings for St. Rita.
The Mustangs will next play the winner of Saturday's other regional semifinal between Lyons Township/Jones on Saturday at 11:00 a.m. at Lyons Township.
By: John Nee '93
The 2017 season went full circle for retiring head coach Mike Zunica on Sunday as his Mustangs continued their dominance of the most prestigious tournament in the state of Illinois claiming their third Steven M. Bajenski Memorial Tournament championship in the six years of the tournament’s existence.
As for going full circle, the Mustangs (27-8) travelled to Standard Bank Stadium on March 18 for Zunica’s final opening day as skipper of St. Rita. They came away with a 1-0 victory over Glenbrook North. On Sunday in their regular season finale, with the stakes a little higher, the Mustangs once again used pitching and defense at Standard Bank Stadium in a 1-0 win over Catholic League Blue rival St. Laurence to claim the illustrious title.
Senior Matt Verdun (3-3) was the star on the mound and at the plate for St. Rita against the Vikings. He pitched his first complete game of the season shutting out the potent St. Laurence lineup on only three singles while striking out five and walking five. Verdun also provided all the offense the Mustangs would need with a first-inning, run-scoring single following back-to-back walks to seniors Charlie Rodriguez and Justin Ruthrauff to lead off the game.
The Mustangs had to beat Catholic League rivals Providence 10-2 on Thursday at Wheaton College, and Mt. Carmel on Friday 11-1 at Standard Bank Stadium to advance to Sunday’s championship game against St. Laurence.
Verdun pitched out of two jams against the Vikings on Sunday. After loading the bases in the 6th, he induced the St. Laurence hitter to hit a sinking liner to center when Rodriguez dove to make the catch and ultimately save the game for St. Rita.
By: John Nee '93
The Catholic League Blue is widely regarded as the best baseball conference in the state of Illinois and according to some maybe the entire country.
On Senior Day Saturday at St. Rita, Kansas recruit and Mustang Ace Steve Washilewski took the hill for his fourth start against a CCL Blue opponent this season, and just like the previous three, it ended in a St. Rita victory. The Mustangs prevailed over the Vikings 10-5 on a warm spring day at 77th and Western as Washilewski (8-1) allowed two runs in his 5 2/3 innings of work to pick up the victory.
In his four starts against the Blue (Providence, Brother Rice, Mt. Carmel, and St. Laurence) Washilewski has allowed only four earned runs in 25 innings of work (1.12 ERA) striking out 26 while walking only four.
The Mustang offense exploded in the bottom of the first on Saturday for four runs keyed by a bases-loaded double by senior Tyler Woynerowski to stake St. Rita to lead they would never relinquish.
Senior Justin Ruthrauff was the hitting star on the day going 3-3 with a walk. After a gritty at-bat in the first that lead to a bases on balls, Ruthrauff doubled and tripled in consecutive plate appearances before delivering the big blow, a 2-run single to right, against a drawn-in infield to give the Mustangs some insurance runs late in the game.
Senior designated hitter Blake Soria added a solo homer to left center for the last run of the day for St. Rita.
The Mustangs (23-7, 15-5) look to complete the sweep of the Vikings for the second consecutive year on Monday, May 15 as they travel to Burbank for a 4:30 p.m. first pitch.
Mike Zunica thought he was done getting emotional.
St. Rita honored its baseball coach during a pregame ceremony Saturday by retiring his No. 13 and naming the field after him, beginning with the 2018 season.
"It got the best of me," Zunica said. "I didn't think I would get emotional but I did. Once the game started, I thought I was good."
Junior catcher Jake Zylman then cracked a grand slam in the first inning of the Mustangs' 12-5 Catholic League Blue victory over Loyola.
By: John Nee '93
On Saturday, May 6, 2017, the St. Rita community came out in full force to honor retiring head baseball coach Mike Zunica. In a moving, hour-long, pre-game ceremony Zunica was honored for his 21 years of service to St. Rita of Cascia High School as Head Baseball Coach. Zunica, who is retiring at the conclusion of the 2017 season to allow him to follow his son’s baseball career at Kansas University, will remain at St. Rita as President.
During the ceremony, which was attended by hundreds of family, friends, former players, and former teammates and coaches, it was announced by St. Rita Chairman of the Board of Directors Ernie Mrozek that the St. Rita Baseball Field beginning with the 2018 season would forever be known as Mike Zunica Field. Zunica’s #13 was also retired and a special gift was presented to him by his coaching staff, a state-of-the-art hand-made rocking chair made of baseball bats commemorating his years of service.
Zunica then gave an emotional 25-minute speech thanking his parents, family, friends, and coaching staff before finishing with a touching tribute to the St. Rita Community, thanking them for accepting an “outsider” as he referred to himself and embracing him as a Rita guy.
As for the game, junior catcher Jake Zylman provided some early offense by cracking his fourth homer in the last five games, a grand slam down the right field line in the bottom of the first to give the Mustangs an early 4-0 lead. After Loyola scored two in the third and three in the fourth to tie the score at five, senior centerfielder Charlie Rodriguez cracked a two-run shot to right to give the Mustangs the lead for good. Senior Steve Washilewski then put the icing on the proverbial celebratory cake by cracking a three-run homer to deep left in the bottom of the sixth to provide the 12-5 winning margin. Sophomore Logan Strutz was great in relief picking up the win while throwing 2 2/3 scoreless innings.
The Catholic League Blue win capped off a very special day for the entire baseball program and particularly Mike Zunica and his family. It was a fitting tribute for the all-time wins leader in St. Rita Baseball history. It was a day neither Zunica nor his family will ever forget!
St. Rita coach Mike Zunica isn't sure how he's going to react during Saturday's ceremony in his honor.
Most likely with a smile and a wave to the crowd, or maybe even a bow.
Short and sweet.
What Zunica, 53, made certain during our conversation is there won't be any tears. At least, not from his eyes. Perhaps from his mother Carol and father Leandro, or the dozens of friends, family and former players who will be there.
We're still trying to win baseball games," he said. "That's the focus. No, there's no chance of me being emotional."
St. Rita will hold a 15-minute ceremony prior to its 11 a.m. Catholic League Blue game against Loyola.
Clinging to a 1-0 lead, St. Rita's Steve Washilewski pitched his way out of a tough jam Saturday.
Brother Rice loaded the bases with two outs in the fourth inning, and Washilewski offered a first-pitch curveball to Jack Guzek. The Indiana State recruit didn't bite for ball one.
Not exactly how Washilewski, a senior left-hander bound for Kansas, wanted to start the sequence.
"I would have liked to have thrown a strike, but I really wasn't pressured in that situation," Washilewski said. "When I fell behind, I knew I had to make some pitches."
And make some pitches he did. Washilewski fired three straight fastballs past Guzek to thwart the rally, and the Mustangs made that lead stand up for a 1-0 Catholic League Blue win.
The loss snapped the Crusaders' 33-game conference winning streak.
By: John Nee '93
The varsity baseball team took their annual spring break trip to Georgia this year to compete in the Rawlings Select Classic #1 at Perfect Game Park. Coach Mike Zunica’s squad won their first two contests against stiff competition, advancing to the semifinals of the prestigious invite-only tournament, before dropping their final two games of the tournament to finish in fourth place out of the 14-team field.
In the opener on Thursday, March 23, the Mustangs beat Greenwood (AR) 5-0 behind a dominant pitching performance from Andrean transfer Justin Ruthrauff. He threw a complete-game shutout allowing only four hits while striking out seven and walking one. Ruthrauff outdueled Arkansas commit Connor Noland on the mound. Seniors PJ Raines and Blake Soria provided RBIs for St. Rita.
On Friday staff ace Steve Washilewski (Kansas) took the bump and turned in an equally impressive outing. Washilewski dominated Briarcrest Christian (TN) for six innings allowing one run on three hits while striking out eight. The Mustang offense exploded for 12 runs against Alabama commit Connor Shamblin behind seniors Matt Verdun (Lewis) (4 RBIs) and Charlie Rodriguez (3 RBIs) as St. Rita advanced to the semifinals with a convincing 12-1 win.
On Saturday morning it was senior Matt Verdun’s turn on the hill as the Mustangs were matched against the marquee team in the tournament Cullman (AL) who came into the game ranked 9th in the country. St. Rita fell into an early hole falling behind 5-0 after two innings, and they were never able to recover as Mississippi State commit Will Morrison held the Mustang offense in check as Cullman defeated the Mustangs 6-1.
In the 3rd place game against Savannah Christian (GA), the Mustangs jumped out to an early 1-0 lead on a Frank Napleton ground ball, but despite the efforts of sophomore Logan Strutz (4 innings, 1 run) the Mustangs fell 6-2 to return home with a disappointing 4th place finish.
The Mustangs are ranked #4 in the pre-season Southtown Star poll. After another week of non-conference tune-ups, St. Rita will open Catholic League play on Saturday April 8 at DeLaSalle.
At 5-foot-8 and 150 pounds, St. Rita pitcher Matt Verdun isn't the most imposing figure around.
His blazing fastball, however, is plenty intimidating.
Just ask Blake Soria.
"Matt's the hardest throwing kid on our team," said Soria, the Mustangs' senior catcher. "I won't be surprised to see him throw 90 at some point during the season. He's already throwing in the upper 80s."
4. St. Rita (29-9): Lefty Steve Washilewski (Kansas) and righty Matt Verdun (Lewis) boast big-time pitching experience. Hopes are high Killian O'Hanlon (Iowa Western) can return to form after an injury-plagued 2016. Lefty Justin Ruthrauff, a transfer from Andrean in Indiana has ace potential.
Catch St. Rita's Mike Zunica on the Dec. 14 edition of Coach's Corner television show.
Written by: John Nee '93
The St. Rita Baseball program has registered the most wins in the State of Illinois over the past ten seasons and was ranked the #1 team in the entire country at one point during the 2014 season. They have also participated in three Class 4A State Championship games since 2009 and have won three Summer State Championships during that span; but Head Coach Mike Zunica points to another aspect of his program as the one he is most proud--the number of St. Rita players who continue their baseball careers at the collegiate level.
After 22 of 26 senior baseball players signed national letters of intent to play college baseball from the classes of 2015 and 2016, the Mustangs added three more to that already impressive list from the Class of 2017.
Washilewski, from Dyer, Indiana was the ace of the Mustangs’ pitching staff in 2016. He will continue in that role this coming spring. He went (8-2) last season with an impressive 1.35 ERA while striking out 93 hitters in 72 innings of work.
Verdun (Homer Jr. High) emerged as the Mustangs’ number-two starter the latter part of last season as he posted a (6-2) record with a 2.12 ERA. He also played second base while hitting .288 with nine RBIs and 17 runs scored.
Woynerowski (St. Gerald), after spending most of the first half of the season on the bench, came on strong at the end. He won the job at first base in the latter part of the year and into the playoffs. He hit .242 in limited at bats, and he provided one of the most memorable moments of the season--cranking a ninth-inning homerun at St. Laurence to lead the Mustangs to an exciting 3-2 road victory over the rival Vikings.
Chicago – John Nee, a 1993 graduate of St. Rita of Cascia High School has been appointed to the position of head baseball coach--effective in the 2018 season. Nee currently serves as the associate head baseball coach, alongside head coach Mike Zunica (Hon.), who will complete his 21st and final season at the helm of the program in 2017. Nee will continue as an assistant varsity football coach and English teacher. Zunica will retain the responsibilities of president, athletic director and chief advancement officer. Zunica also retires as the winningest baseball coach in St. Rita history with over 600 wins, including three summer state titles and three state champion runner-up finishes.
In addition to being a football standout, John Nee was a three-year member of the varsity Mustangs baseball team. He helped lead the Mustangs to a 1991 regional championship, a 1993 #1 state-ranking and a 1993 Catholic League championship during his high school playing days.
After high school, Nee attended the University of St. Francis, in Joliet, Ill. to play baseball and football. He honed his baseball skills at the collegiate level under legendary coach Gordie Gillespie. After graduation from college, Nee served the St. Rita baseball program for 19+ years, including the last eight years as associate head baseball coach.
Zunica said, “I know John is the best man to lead the Mustang baseball program in the next era. His skill set is unique because he combines an amazing baseball knowledge with an exceptional ability to motivate his players. He also understands the St. Rita philosophy. He’s always prepared when he comes to the diamond. I am happy to pass the torch to John and look forward to seeing him succeed as the 13th head coach in St. Rita history.”
Nee said, “I am unbelievably humbled by and thankful for this great opportunity to continue the tradition that is St. Rita baseball. Working under Mike Zunica over the past 19 years has been a tremendous experience, and I will forever be in debt to him for all that he has taught me on and off the baseball field.”
The 109-year old St. Rita baseball program is one of the winningest and most-legendary athletic programs in the State of Illinois, playing in the storied Chicago Catholic League conference.
About St. Rita High School
St. Rita High School is a college-preparatory, Augustinian Catholic high school located on a beautiful 37-acre campus at 7740 S. Western Avenue on Chicago’s south side. The all-boys St. Rita has a 111-year old tradition and legacy, is over 24,000 alumni strong and offers 15 athletic teams competing in the Chicago Catholic League and 30 clubs and activities.
Joey Filomeno is in a great place these days, both physically and mentally.
When we talked Thursday, he had just finished golfing. He scored a 95 or, like he put it, "10 strokes higher" than the 85 he produced Wednesday.
A few hours later Thursday, he would be sitting in the bullpen for the Frisco RoughRiders, the Texas Rangers' Class AA affiliate.
"I'm going from playing the second-most frustrating game in the world to the most frustrating game in the world," Filomeno said with a laugh.
On the baseball field, the frustrations have been few and far between this season for Filomeno, a 2011 St. Rita graduate who's been dominant for the RoughRiders.
The left-handed pitcher attributes much of that to being in the shape of his life, tipping the scales at 230 pounds — or 25 less than his high school days.
He's also regained the confidence that deserted him during a frustrating three-year collegiate career at Louisville that produced a 2-3 record and 6.04 ERA.
It didn't prevent the Rangers from drafting the Cicero native in the 15th round in 2014.