Written by: John Nee '93
Since 2009, the St. Rita Baseball Program has won more games than any program in the state of Illinois. Coach Mike Zunica’s Mustangs have been nationally ranked in seven of the last eight years, including a number-one national ranking by MaxPreps in 2014. At the center of most of that success have been the Soria brothers.
Zack, the oldest of the Sorias, became “famous” after leading his Lemont twelve year old team to the Little League World Series in 2006. That would be just the beginning of a blossoming baseball career. After Zack chose to attend St. Rita, he showed his great versatility early on in his St. Rita career by cracking the varsity lineup as a sophomore at shortstop despite the fact that he was a catcher. That 2010 season, Soria helped lead the Mustangs to their second consecutive Class 4A state title game appearance. In the semi-final game versus Huntley, Soria drilled a line drive down the right field line in the bottom of the seventh to help complete a walk-off 7-6 come-from-behind victory. Soria would start the next two seasons behind the plate for the Mustangs, garnering All-Conference and All-Area honors as well as beginning a tradition of the Soria Family behind the plate for the Stangs.
Nate Soria had some pretty big shoes to fill when he took over behind the plate for St. Rita as a junior in 2013, but he never buckled, picking up right where his older brother left off leading the Mustangs to even more success. As a senior, Soria helped lead the Mustangs to a 25-game winning streak to begin the 2014 season, including a tournament championship in Myrtle Beach, S.C. and an eventual #1 national ranking for St. Rita, the first in the baseball program’s storied history. The Mustangs would make another Class 4A state championship game appearance in 2014 before falling to LSU recruit Jake Godfrey and the rival Providence Celtics 4-1.
The decision to attend St. Rita was an easy one for the youngest of the Sorias, Blake. He had grown up watching older brothers Zack and Nate have tremendous success on the diamond and in the classroom for the Mustangs. Blake faced a difficult task keeping the Soria tradition of being the starting catcher for St. Rita because of another catcher that had come in with him by the name of Cal Greenfield. As Greenfield enjoyed early success on the varsity, Soria kept working every single day to get better and better at his craft. That hard work paid off his junior season when he took over for Greenfield for a nine-game stretch, leading the Mustangs to an impressive 8-1 record while leading the team in hitting during that time. Coming into the 2017 season, Soria will uphold the family tradition as he has solidified himself as the Mustangs starting catcher after Greenfield’s move to Florida.
When you think of St. Rita Baseball, the Sorias will always come to mind, and when you think about the Sorias, hard work, integrity and class come to mind. There may never again be a family that has had the impact on one program like the Soria brothers have had on St. Rita Baseball. The 2017 season will be a season of good-byes: not only good-bye to legendary coach Mike Zunica, but good-bye to the First Family of St. Rita Baseball: The Sorias.
Looking to make the most of his first year at Florida Gulf Coast University, Stefano Belmonte had a less than ideal start.
Injuring the meniscus in his right knee, the St. Rita High School alumnus underwent surgery over the winter and missed two-plus months of the regular season for the Eagles.
“It was tough, but it was something I had to overcome,” Belmonte said. “My knee feels 100 percent right now. I’m looking forward to get the season rolling and do some damage this year.”
A 2012 St. Rita graduate, Belmonte played at South Suburban College in South Holland for two years after transferring from Purdue University. With two years of eligibility left, he transferred to Florida Gulf Coast in Fort Myers.
By: John Nee '93
St. Rita Athletic Director and Head Baseball Coach Mike Zunica (Hon) will be inducted into the Sports Faith Hall of Fame on Saturday, May 14, 2016 in Lake Forest.
Sports Faith International, founded in 2008, is dedicated to contributing to positive cultural change by showcasing the virtues and achievements of exemplary athletes, coaches, and teams. Chicago Bears’ Patrick McCaskey serves as its chairman and will be the host and emcee at this year’s induction ceremony.
Past inductees into the Sports Faith Hall of Fame for professionals include George “Papa Bear” Halas, New York Football Giants owner, Wellington Mara, Pittsburgh Steelers’ Art Rooney, Arizona Cardinals’ Bill Bidwell, former major league pitcher Jamie Moyer, and former Raider Tight End Dave Casper.
High school athletes, coaches and teams are inducted into the ALL-STAR CATHOLIC HIGH SCHOOL Sports Hall of Fame, Olympic athletes into the Sports Faith Olympics Hall of Fame, and college athletes into the Sports Faith College Hall of Fame.
In his 21 years as a head baseball coach at the high school level, the last 20 at St. Rita, Coach Zunica has amassed an overall record of 599-198.
This year’s ceremony will take place on Saturday May 14th with 5:00pm Mass at the Church of St. Mary’s located at 175 East Illinois Rd, Lake Forest, IL 60045. A dinner and induction ceremony will immediately follow at the nearby Deer Path Inn, 255 East Illinois Rd, Lake Forest, IL 60045.
It was a cloudy Tuesday morning on November 17, 2015, but smiles shone brightly in the St. Rita of Cascia High School boardroom as a big crowd of families, coaches, administrators and student-athletes gathered to celebrate three senior St. Rita baseball players signing national letters of intent.
Principal Brendan Conroy (HON) and Head Baseball Coach and Athletic Director Mike Zunica (HON) personally congratulated each student-athlete and their parents on their significant accomplishments.
The three senior players are: Right-handed pitcher Max Franklin (St. Agnes – Chicago Heights), outfielder Danny Gleaves (Oak Prairie Junior High) and outfielder Mateo Zunica (Palos South Middle School), Franklin plans to attend Heartland Community College in southern Illinois, Gleaves signed with Michigan State University and Zunica signed with the University of Kansas.
All signings are very important for Coach Zunica, as the St. Rita Baseball program always puts kids first; but this one is extra special as Mateo is Coach Zunica’s son. Zunica spoke highly of all three Ritamen and said “We are very proud of these three young men. We are happy to see them moving on to such great places and strong programs. We also look forward to another St. Rita baseball season this spring. Great things are expected from these young men as they build on the academic and athletic foundation they are receiving at St. Rita.”