by Tim O’Brien

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.

“Today was his day,” Nee said. “It was his turn to come up and show us something. We know he is a kid who is not afraid of the big moment. Diego is a super-composed kid who threw strike one all day long.”

The summer state title was the program’s fourth, including championships in 2005, 2009 and 2013.

However, in this year’s summer title game, Koval had a rocky start as he dished up a solo home run in the first inning. The junior wasn’t derailed—far from it—and he quickly settled in.

“After I gave up that home run, I felt a little more intensity,” Koval said. “It made me feel a lot better with my pitches, my control, everything. It woke me up. You realize, ‘OK, we’ve got a ballgame now.’ I knew I had a great defense behind me, and I knew we would swing it.”

The St. Rita lineup wasted no time doing just that, crashing the bats to the tune of 4 runs in the top of the second. Pinch-runner Winston Hill scored on a steal and a throwing error to tie the game 1-1.

Senior Mike Skoraczewski knocked in a run on a safety-squeeze bunt that scored Matt Callahan from third. Skoraczewski raced down the line for the infield single. After a David Gleaves single, senior catcher Jake Zylman delivered a huge single through the left side of the infield that brought Drew Komendant and Skoraczewski around to put St. Rita up 4-1.

“This was our goal to win the summer state title,” Zylman said. “Each pitch, we were growing as a team. This will definitely benefit us for the spring. The 4 runs were great. It was huge because it gave Diego a ton of confidence working with the lead.”

Koval allowed lead-off doubles in the second and sixth but stranded both runners. He received vital help from his defense, including an awesome highlight-reel catch in the bottom of the seventh.

With a LWE runner at second, the Griffins’ Brandon Petkoff drilled a pitch to deep right. Senior Noah Miller raced to the fence, lunging at the last second to reel in the ball with a snow-cone catch.

Coming off an 0-for-3 day at the dish, Miller knew he had to find a way to contribute.

“I didn’t get anything with my three at-bats, so I was upset in the dugout,” Miller said. “The coaches told me to go out and make a big play. I wanted every ball hit to me. When I saw that ball hit to me, I ran as fast as I possibly could.”

St. Rita recorded the final out when an LWE runner was called for interference on a grounder to Brendan Carrane at shortstop.

For Nee, the title victory was a special moment, especially in his first year as St. Rita’s head coach.

“This is my dream job,” Nee said. “It’s never going to be about me. It’s about St. Rita and the kids. This is about them walking away knowing this is part of their experience. They can show their kids in 25 years that they were on the summer title team of 2017.”

Senior first baseman Frank Napleton was named tournament MVP.

St. Rita beat St. Charles North 6-0 on July 19 in the semifinals in a rain-shortened game. Junior Logan Strutz earned the win, striking out 6 in a complete-game effort.