Disabato: St. Rita riding high at 17-0
By Pat Disabato email@example.com Twitter: @disabato April 16, 2014 8:40PM
St. Rita's C.J. Santoyo delivers against Minooka during the Phil Lawler Summer Classic at North Central College in Naperville, Ill., on Monday, July 22, 2013. | Corey R. Minkanic/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 19, 2014 12:56PM
It’s difficult to determine what’s more impressive about St. Rita’s 17-0 baseball record: that the Mustangs have played 17 games during this hazardous spring or that they’ve won all 17 games.
Knowing that Mustangs coach Mike Zunica would be willing to play in an oversized igloo if allowed, I’m more impressed with his team’s 17-game winning streak.
That St. Rita is perfect through Wednesday (after a 7-0 win over Gordon Tech) isn’t a total shocker. The Mustangs were the preseason No. 2 team before unseating No. 1 Mount Carmel two weeks ago and are coming off the summer league state championship.
Additionally, this is a program that’s won 30 games nine times and advanced to four state finals in the past 17 seasons.
“I’m not surprised,” Zunica said of his team’s streak. “This team has a great mind-set every day. They don’t feel like they won anything except for a bunch of preseason games.”
In reality, that’s all the Mustangs have won. Plaques and trophies aren’t awarded for winning a bunch of nonconference games.
However, the Mustangs have exhibited an air of dominance during their impressive run. The team batting average is a robust .352. The team ERA a minuscule 1.08. They’ve outscored opponents 155-19.
That’s borderline cruelty.
“I’m not surprised at all,” St. Rita senior Jake Shepski said. “We knew going into the season we had a real good team.
“Everyone worked hard during the offseason.”
It’s showed during the first three weeks of the season. The pitching staff has been a pleasant surprise. Mike Costanzo, an Austin Peay recruit, has been dominant on the bump — that’s not a surprise —boasting a 5-0 mark and 0.56 ERA. Junior Tyler Halas, already committed to Tennessee, has stepped up his game and is 4-0 with a 1.02 ERA.
Junior Matt Lenzen and senior C.J. Santoyo (Utah) are vying for the No. 3 spot in the rotation and each is 3-0.
At the plate, Halas, Shepski, Nick Goldsmith, Nate Soria and Mateo Zunica have been feasting on the competition.
“I like our approach and the way we’re swinging the bats,” Mike Zunica said. “But there’s room for improvement.”
Now that’s scary.
No one, however, has meant more to this run than Shepski, who is making a case for Player of the Year honors. He’s hitting .500 with three doubles, four triples, two homers, 19 runs and 20 RBI. On the mound, he’s yet to allow an earned run over 101/3 innings, has three saves, struck out 16 and walked one.
“Jake’s having a phenomenal year,” Zunica said. “He’s hitting the ball, playing good defense and his ability to come in and close games is unbelievable.”
A three-year varsity starter, Shepski is signed, sealed and delivered to Notre Dame. He’s an infielder/pitcher by trade. However, Zunica approached him during the offseason about moving to the outfield.
Listen up, moms and dads, boys and girls: Shepski could have resisted the position change. Heck, he’s a three-year varsity player and likely will be playing middle infield at Notre Dame. Players with that stature don’t change positions. Shepski, however, didn’t think twice about making the move.
That’s the essence of a team player.
“Coach thought playing the outfield would allow me to focus on my hitting and it would be better for my arm,” Shepski said. “It’s been fun. I’ve thrown some guys out, made some diving plays. It’s all about helping the team win games.”
Shepski has battled a sore right arm the past two seasons while playing shortstop and pitching. The move to the outfield seems to have agreed with his arm.
“This is the first year my arm hasn’t bothered me at the beginning of the year,” Shepski said. “I really like closing. It’s always a close game and I like the adrenaline. The team looks to me to close it out. It’s a really cool situation.”
It’s also pretty cool to be undefeated.