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."
Seated near the scorer's table, Gary DeCesare glanced to his left, then to this right before cracking a slight smile of approval.
The St. Rita coach has had his share of high-major talents through the years, most recently Charles Matthews and Vic Law at the all-boys South Side school, as well as former McDonald's All-Americans Julius Hodge, Majestic Mapp and Kareem Reid from his days coaching in the Bronx, N.Y.
9. St. Rita: Brendan Murney is one of the top middle hitters in the area. Toss in the varsity experience of Sean Coghlan and Liam Kelly, and the Mustangs have potential to make waves under coach Brian Hagen '04.
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.
Gary DeCesare followed his heart when he filled out his NCAA March Madness bracket sheet.
The St. Rita basketball coach has Louisville and Northwestern advancing to the Final Four of the men's basketball tournament.
DeCesare has a vested interest in those picks.
St. Rita graduates Tony Hicks (2012) and Vic Law (2014) are players on those teams. Law plays for Northwestern (23-11), which plays Vanderbilt (19-15) at 3:30 p.m. Thursday, and Hicks is with Louisville (24-8), which plays Jacksonville State (20-14) at 1:45 p.m. Friday.
By: John Nee '93
On Wednesday night St. Rita hosted its first-ever sectional basketball game, and Coach Gary DeCesare’s “Running Mustangs” did not disappoint the partisan crowd. With assistance from the “Mustang Maniacs,” St. Rita outlasted a tough Bogan squad 72-68 to advance to Friday’s sectional championship game against Morgan Park.
St. Rita jumped out to a 40-32 lead at half over the Bengals, who had a win over Simeon on their resume and was the #2 seed in the sectional. The sixth-seeded Mustangs used a 24-13 advantage in the second quarter to open up the eight-point halftime lead, in front of a capacity crowd.
The third quarter was all Bogan as they quickly jumped on the young St. Rita squad opening up a six-point lead late in the quarter. A late flurry by the Mustangs closed the gap to one (54-53) at the end of the third energizing the St. Rita crowd.
The fourth quarter saw several lead changes as the level of play picked up considerably. St. Rita and Bogan matched each other basket for basket in the quarter until the game was finally decided in the final minutes.
With 1:33 to play, freshman guard Alec Millender hit a five-foot jumper off the glass to give the Mustangs a 65-64 lead. Then after a big stop by the St. Rita defense, senior first-team All Catholic League selection Rashaad Williams (19 points) hit a dagger three-pointer from the corner to give the Mustangs a 68-64 lead. After two Bengal free throws cut their deficit to two, resurgent senior Te’mon Green (11 points) drove to the basket and scored to bring the St. Rita lead back to four with just seconds to play.
Junior guard Jordan Matthews (19 points), who had several key drives in a fourth quarter that saw him score 8 points, hit two free throws with under a second to play to secure the win for the Mustangs.
St. Rita now plays Morgan Park Friday night in the sectional championship game 7:00 p.m. at St. Rita. The Mustangs will be seeking their first-ever sectional championship after having advanced to the title game on two previous occasions (2014, 2015). It is expected to be another capacity crowd, so fans are encouraged to arrive early.
By: John Nee '93
St. Rita Head Basketball Coach Gary DeCesare has petitioned the IHSA the last few years to remain in Class 4A despite the fact that enrollment would put the Mustangs in Class 3A. This year DeCesare spoke to his coaching staff, and collectively they decided that they would allow the “chips to fall where they may” this season.
St. Rita, therefore, landed in Class 3A, which proved to be no bargain. With the majority of teams from the Chicago Public League making up the sectional, the Mustangs were done no favors by being voted the #6 seed. That meant DeCesare’s squad would have to go on the road to Hyde Park, the #3 seed in the sectional, to win a regional championship.
On Friday night the Mustangs did just that.
After opening up a 17-point lead midway through the third quarter, the Mustangs hung on for dear life and survived the tough road test outlasting the Thunderbirds of Hyde Park 65-63 to capture their third regional championship in the last four years.
Senior sharp-shooter Paul Kingsley led the way for the Mustangs pouring in a game-high 28 points on 10-20 shooting from the field. Seniors Rashaad Williams (14 points) and Te’mon Green (11 points) also contributed for St. Rita.
In a hectic final few minutes, Hyde Park tied the score at 63 with just over a minute to play. Junior Jordan Matthews then drove the length of the floor to give the Mustangs their final lead. The basket was Matthews’ only field goal of the game as he battled through an undisclosed injury throughout the night.
St. Rita now advances to their own sectional along with #1 seed Morgan Park, #2 seed Bogan, and #4 seed Brooks.
The St. Rita Sectional will open up Tuesday night with #1 seed Morgan Park battling #4 seed Brooks at 7:00 pm. The sixth-seeded Mustangs will then take on the #2 seed Bogan Bengals on Wednesday, March 8 at 7:00 p.m. The winners will then meet on Friday, March 10th 7:00 p.m. at St. Rita in the sectional championship game.
St. Rita Hockey Senior Colan Fitzgerald Named to 2017 America's Showcase Team!
America’s Showcase will take place from April 20-24, 2017 at the Robert Morris Island Sports Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The AHAI High School coaching community is honored to have the opportunity to be involved with the top High School players in Illinois. They feel that America’s High School Showcase offers players a great opportunity to be exposed to Junior, College and Professional Scouts from throughout the USA and Canada and the honor to represent Illinois in the best High School Hockey event in North America. Teams from across the United States will compete and showcase their talents to scouts from every major hockey institution in the country.
By: John Nee '93
St. Rita senior goalie Trevor Scianna is 95% sure he will attend Villanova University in the fall. He’s one of the top students in St. Rita’s senior class, so admission to the prestigious Augustinian university wasn’t a problem. The cost, when you consider the travel and other expenses, though, may have been; but not anymore. Scianna last week was named one of three recipients of the Chicago Blackhawk Alumni Scholarship, which is worth $30,000 over his four years of college.
Any senior hockey player, who plays for his high school team, is eligible to apply for the scholarship. It is then rewarded to three current senior hockey players in the state of Illinois based upon the student’s dedication to his school, community, and the sport of hockey. Applicants were required to submit two essays about themselves, and they were required to supply three letters of recommendation from their respective schools. Scianna’s dedication to his studies while playing two varsity sports, acting as Drumline Captain for the St. Rita Band, and taking part in several service projects, including Habitat for Humanity and the Special Olympics, made him a more-than-deserving choice for this prestigious honor.
Scianna becomes the second St. Rita Mustang hockey player to win the prestigious award following in the footsteps of 1992 St. Rita grad and all-state goalie Mike Kelly, who coincidentally attended Villanova University as well.
All honorees will become lifetime honorary members of the Blackhawk Alumni Club. Also, on Friday, March 3, Scianna will be a guest of the Blackhawks for their game at the United Center against the New York Islanders. The scholarship recipients will get a pre-game tour of the Blackhawks dressing room, and they will spend the game in the Blackhawks suite with other dignitaries from the organization. Then on Monday, March 6 a ceremony will take place where Scianna and the other two recipients of the scholarship will be honored.
By: John Nee '93
It’s not unusual for sophomore teams to compete a bit short-handed. All lower-level coaches know that the varsity is the most important thing when it comes to the program, so they accept the fact that they may be missing a key player or two.
Sophomore Head Coach Roshawn Russell ‘08 knew the varsity team would need some young reinforcements to fill out their roster and rotation, but when six freshman and sophomores made the varsity team out of pre-season camp, it left him a little more than short-handed.
Instead of using it as an excuse to be average, the sophomore team did just the opposite as several players stepped up and took advantage of the opportunity and because of that they came together and captured a championship.
Coach Russell’s 2016-2017 sophomore team was crowned Catholic League South champions by going (8-1) in the league to go along with their (19-4) overall record. In addition, they won the Marian Catholic Christmas Tournament and were consolation champions of the Bremen Thanksgiving Tournament. They had an impressive 8-game winning streak in the middle of the season, and they notched huge non-conference wins over an undefeated Benet Academy squad 41-37, and they defeated a tough Marist squad, handing them their only loss at home, 47-38.
The Mustangs were led in scoring by Daylen Wilson (13 ppg), Myles Montague (12 ppg), and Cinque Simmons (12 ppg). The other members of the team include: Jourdan Jackson, Richard Martin, Vincent Brown, Frankie Zoller, Marc Zavala, Julian Esparaza, Joseph Pater, Anthony McGuire, Javon Cooley, Miles Adams, and Lemone Lampley.
Coach Russell was assisted by his former St. Rita teammate Anthony Rappold ‘08
By: John Nee '93
Senior Colan Fitzgerald had huge shoes to fill in his family after his older brothers Brendan and Ryan had stellar hockey and baseball careers at Chicago Catholic League rival Fenwick. In eighth grade, after taking the entrance exam at Benet Academy, Colan decided he wanted to set his own path at St. Rita…and he has done just that!
Fitzgerald was recently recognized by Chicago Catholic Hockey League coaches as the top defenseman in the Catholic League. In 19 games this season, he scored 11 goals and handed out 14 assists, averaging well over a point per game, an unbelievable accomplishment for a defenseman whose main focus is shutting down the opponents’ top line. In his career, "Fitz" has scored 26 goals with 41 helpers in 63 Catholic League games, averaging over a point per game for his career.
Fitzgerald is a three-time Chicago Catholic League All-Star and a two-time All-State selection. He was also a member of the Illinois Showcase team in 2016. He is a virtual lock to make the team again this season. Despite all his individual accolades, being named team captain in his senior year might very well be his greatest honor. To wear the “C” on your jersey is the greatest honor bestowed upon any hockey player by his teammates, and Fitzgerald has worn it well leading the “Skating” Mustangs to a tremendous season that has seen them ranked as high as the top five in the entire state.
Oh by the way, Fitzgerald is also a returning starter for Mike Zunica’s varsity baseball team where he manned left field last season while batting over .300 in the number two hole most of the year.
After a hard-fought Kennedy Cup semi-final series loss to Providence, Coach Brian Coleman’s '99 “Skating” Mustangs have now set their sights on a state title. St. Rita will open state playoff action on Saturday, Feb. 25 at Southwest Ice Arena in Crestwood against Carmel of Mundelein. Fitzgerald will do his usual juggling act during the state playoffs, practicing with the baseball team in the afternoon and shutting down the other teams’ top lines at night.
He and his family wouldn’t want it any other way!
by: John Nee '93
Several members of the St. Rita varsity hockey team have been recognized individually for their play on the ice during the 2016-2017 season.
The “Skating” Mustangs were led this year by senior captain and all-state defenseman Colan Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald played recently in the state all-star game, which took place at The Edge in Bensenville.
Fitzgerald also was among five Mustangs were named to the Chicago Catholic League All-Star team, others included: senior Charlie Pienta, senior Tanner Crites, senior Mike Iwaniec, and sophomore Connor McGrath. Also, Fitzgerald, Pienta, and Iwaniec were awarded a Showcase Tryout Invitation.
The Mustangs will open up state playoff action on Saturday, Feb. 25th at Southwest Ice Arena in Crestwood against Carmel of Mundelein.
By: John Nee '93
After suffering a first-round Chicago Catholic League Tournament defeat at the hands of Gene Pingatore and his St. Joseph Chargers last Saturday in Westchester, Coach Gary DeCesare’s young squad did what it has done all season long in this up-and-down 2016-2017 season--bounce back.
The Mustangs regrouped on Sunday at St. Laurence against rival Mt. Carmel. St. Rita rode the hot shooting of senior guard Paul Kingsley (19 points) and the strong play of senior forward Temon Green (18 points, 12 rebounds) to beat the Caravan convincingly for the second time this season by the score of 72-52.
St. Rita continued their strong play on Wednesday night at home as they outlasted a game St. Ignatius squad 57-47. The Mustangs led 23-20 at half as both teams struggled to score in the first 16 minutes of action. DeCesare’s young team then broke out in the third quarter as St. Rita outscored the Wolfpack 19-7 behind the hot shooting of senior guards Kingsley (15 points, 5-9 from 3pt-range) and Rashaad Williams (17 points) to take a commanding 15-point lead heading into the final quarter.
The Mustangs (14-10) now advance to the Chicago Catholic League Tournament Consolation Championship Game on Friday at 4:30 p.m. in Wilmette against DeLaSalle. The game is the first of a tripleheader at Loyola with the CCL third place game between Loyola and Brother Rice at 6:00 p.m. and the Championship game between Fenwick and St. Joseph at 8:00 p.m. St. Rita will then close out their regular season on Tuesday February 21st at home versus East Chicago (IN). Tip-off is 7:00 p.m., and it will be senior night.
By: John Nee '93
Wrestling in arguably one of the toughest individual sectionals in the state, St. Rita Wrestling Coach Mike Boyd '01 knew that it would be tough to get anyone through other than senior Austin O’Connor; but besides O’Connor two other St. Rita grapplers punched their ticket to Champaign by finishing in the top four in their respective weight classes.
Junior Tommy Russell (113 lbs.) notched the upset of the sectional in the semi-finals when he pinned #1 ranked Joey Melendez from Montini. Trailing 11-5 midway through the third and final period, Russell turned the tables on Melendez and pinned him setting off a frenzy throughout the large sectional crowd at Downers Grove South. Russell then lost a hard-fought match to the #3 ranked wrestler in the state at 113 lbs., but his second place finish was good enough for a chance to compete in Champaign this weekend.
Senior Austin O’Connor, the #1-ranked 152 lb. wrestler in the country, pinned his way to his fourth-consecutive individual sectional championship. By pinning all three of his opponents, O’Connor sent the message again to the entire state that he’s primed to become a four-time individual state champ and ultimately one of the most decorated wrestlers in the history of Illinois state wrestling.
Senior Pat Larkin was the third Mustang to punch his ticket to Champaign at 160 lbs. Larkin finished fourth in the sectional by going (3-2) in the tournament.
The individual state championships will begin in Champaign on Thursday as Tommy Russell (22-8) will battle Reese Durlacher (40-7), a sophomore from Mundelein H.S. Pat Larkin will wrestle Dylan Geick (39-1), a senior from Stevenson. Austin O’Connor will take on Jack Damenti (37-5), a senior from Libertyville.
By: John Nee '93
Coach Gary DeCesare’s young squad travelled to Wilmette on Tuesday, Feb. 7 for an unusual 5:00 p.m. start versus the Ramblers. Both teams were using this non-conference matchup to prepare for the upcoming Chicago Catholic League tournament, which will start this weekend. The result was another huge road win for St. Rita versus a ranked opponent as the Mustangs hung on for an exciting 50-49 win over #24 Loyola.
The Ramblers came into Tuesday night’s contest as one of the hottest teams in the state, having won 11 of their previous 12 games including a huge win over #10 St. Patrick last week in Evanston at “The War on the Shore” shootout.
The young Mustangs kept the game close throughout versus the veteran Rambler squad as neither team lead by more than four in the first half. St. Rita began to take control of the action in the third quarter as they took a 44-39 lead heading into the fourth.
Lead by junior point guard Jordan Matthews (14 points.) and senior sharp-shooter Paul Kingsley (13 points, 3-8 three-point range), the Mustangs extended to their largest lead of the game 49-42 with just under five minutes to play. However, a huge Rambler three-pointer cut the deficit to four with just over four minutes to play, setting the stage for a frantic finish.
The Mustangs did not record a field goal in the final five minutes in the fourth quarter, but they strung together just enough stops down the stretch to hold onto the 50-49 victory.
According to DeCesare defense was the key to the win. “We guarded down the stretch and hopefully we can get them to carry it over the rest of the season,” said DeCesare.
The Mustangs also received great contributions off the bench from sophomore Stedmon Ihejirika (7 points, 7 rebounds) and junior Landen Gladney (4 points, 7 rebounds). For the game, St. Rita out-rebounded Loyola 30-15.
After the game both teams joined with the residents from Misericordia for a pizza party in the balcony of the Loyola gym.
The Mustangs (12-9) will now move onto the CCL tournament where they will open at St. Joseph on Saturday versus the host Chargers. Tip-off is 5:30 p.m.