LA GRANGE PARK, Ill. (BVM) – Over the last decade, the Nazareth Academy baseball program has gotten close to winning a state baseball championship, but just hasn’t been able to break through. Led by a young group of talented stars including Nick Drtina, that all changed this season.
Going into the year, the Roadrunners had their sights set on state, and knew they had the talent to make that kind of run.
“Our team goal is obviously to win a state championship,” Drtina said. “That was the goal coming in and we knew it was going to take a lot of hard work.”
A couple of moments throughout the season further vindicated that the hard work was not only paying off, but the end to the season could be a special one for Nazareth. One of those moments came during the regular season against one of the top teams in Illinois, Yorkville, as the Roadrunners hit a walk-off home run to win. Another came in the postseason against Lemont, where Nazareth came back to again win on a walk-off hit.
“The energy and the fans were awesome,” Drtina said. “That really put into my brain that we’re not messing around. We’re going and we’re going to win it all.”
Meanwhile, coming into this 2022 season, Drtina was also determined to make waves from a personal standpoint.
“I was like, ‘OK, I have to set my name here, I have to set my mark on the school,’” Drtina said. “I really, really pushed myself to be the best I could possibly be at the plate and on the mound. I really put in a lot of work in during the offseason. My goal was to make myself known.”
Drtina has played baseball his whole life, and his talent has never been in question. He was introduced to the game by his father, and one memory specifically sticks out to the rising junior when thinking about his beginnings in the sport.
“I had one of those big-barreled, orange bats,” Drtina said. “He was in the backyard throwing wiffle balls at me. Anyways, I ended up smoking him with a line drive. That’s when I knew, ‘OK, this looks like a lot of fun, I think I want to play.’”
As Drtina began playing competitively, he realized just how much of a passion he had for the diamond, and that he wanted it to be part of his future. By the end of his middle school years, the pitcher began realizing he also had a special talent in the sport.
That was evident right off the bat at Nazareth Academy. Transferring from Lemont, Drtina was not expecting to get much playing time. However, that wasn’t the case.
“All of a sudden, I was playing almost everyday and I was like, ‘OK, here we go, I have to live up to expectations here and go out and play,’” Drtina explained. “It was a lot of fun. Honestly, it was a little terrifying at some points for a freshman to be in big situations. But I knew I could trust all of my hard work and all of the time and hours I’ve put into the sport.”
Drtina maintained that trust into his sophomore season, and his hard work once again did not let him down. Over the course of the year, the pitcher went 12-1 with a 1.16 ERA and 72 strikeouts. He was a key cog of the Roadrunners’ postseason run, which eventually did lead all the way to state.
“On the mound, I would just go out there and not think about anything,” Drtina explained. “I’d just relax and have fun. It’s the sport I love, and I want to have fun doing it … Our path to state was unbelievable, we had one of the toughest sectionals in Illinois to go through. We were really, really happy after we beat St. Laurence to go to state. The energy was great, it was super special.”
Going into state, Drtina and his team had some nerves, but were ready to achieve their season-long goal. After a win in the semifinals, Nazareth was slated to go up against Chatham Glenwood for the title. The night before the game, the sophomore pitcher got a text from 23-year Nazareth head coach Lee Milano.
“The night before was pretty funny,” Drtina said. “He just texted me and was like, ‘Are you good to go? Is your arm alright?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, I feel great, my arm has definitely recovered enough to throw.’ And he goes, ‘Alright, the ball is yours.’”
Excited for the opportunity, Drtina took the mound in a big-time moment and a unique atmosphere.
“There were tons of fans from all different places,” Drtina added. “It was super, super special. In my pregame warmups, I was throwing long toss, and I just took a second out there in center field and just looked around. I just embraced it for a little bit.”
Although he felt some nerves prior, Drtina took the mound and settled in after turning a double play in the first inning. From there, the Roadrunners wouldn’t look back, taking down a strong Chatham Glenwood squad led by Louisville commit Parker Detmers, 5-1, to earn Nazareth’s first baseball state title.
“All of us just came running out of the dugout, there were people screaming, it was super cool,” Drtina said. “We had a huge dogpile on the mound, it was truly special. And I think everyone realized how special it was not to us, but all the people in La Grange and around who support Naz, the alumni and all the guys coming into Naz.”
Nazareth finished the year on a 17-game winning streak. Perhaps making the moment even more special for Drtina personally is that he set a program record with his 12th victory of the season in the final game.
“The 12th win was super cool, especially because it was in a state final,” Drtina said. “I knew in the back of my mind I was going after it and I could potentially do it. It gave me a little extra motivation to work as hard as I could and hit my spots.”
The achievement led Drtina to reflect on all the work he has put in and all the people who have helped him to this point. So too did being named an all-state player shortly after the season ended.
Congratulations to @LouisvilleBSB commit Nick Drtina on being named to the @IHSBCA1 3A All-State Team. Drtina broke the school record with his 12th win in the state championship game. #LEO @Sparks_North pic.twitter.com/1HZJgAz8va
— Nazareth Academy Baseball (@Baseball_Naz) June 15, 2022
The baseball standout will have plenty of time to add to his high school resume over the next couple of years, but his future beyond is bright.
Last summer, Drtina verbally committed to the Louisville Cardinals. It came down to Louisville and in-state rival Kentucky, and after his hitting coach sent a video of him to the Wildcats, Drtina realized his recruiting process had begun.
“That was really where it kick started, I felt on top of the world,” Drtina said.
Over the last couple of years, Drtina has played with the Cangelosi Sparks, helping him get further noticed and develop his game.
“I’m sort of a newbie, this is only my second year on the roster,” Drtina said. “These guys have just embraced me with open arms … We have great coaching, it’s unbelievable. It’s awesome that I can play with kids that want to win, want to work hard, put in effort and go out there and play.”
He continues to play with them this summer, but last year, it was a tournament in Georgia in front of plenty of scouts that got Drtina some extra attention.
“I had a really good tournament down there and the day after I got a call from my coach, and he’s like, ‘Louisville wants to talk to you,’” Drtina said.
From there, the Nazareth star took a visit to Louisville, taking a liking to the campus and the people. After a Zoom call with the coaching staff, Drtina was sold on joining the Cardinals.
I’m honored and blessed to announce that I have committed to The University of Louisville!! I want to thank my family, teammates and coaches that have helped me get here! Go Cards!!! @ShooterHunt @Sparks_North @PBRIllinois @LouisvilleBSB @Givemethelefty @Baseball_Naz pic.twitter.com/CXnEwlz8Dm
— Nick Drtina (@DrtinaNick) August 2, 2021
“Louisville and Kentucky were the main two,” Drtina said. “Louisville offered me, they had a better deal, and I enjoyed Louisville a lot better. It was a perfect fit for me.”
While it is still a few years off, Drtina is already focusing on making any kind of impact he can at Louisville, and also reaching a College World Series.
“When I get on campus, I really want to make myself known,” Drtina said. “I want to push myself to the max. I’d love to start as a freshman, that’d be super awesome. And of course, what kid doesn’t dream of being in the College World Series.”
Drtina’s talent level continues to rise everyday. He is also aware that if he remains on this trajectory, his career may go beyond just college baseball.
“My goal always as a little kid was to get drafted,” Drtina said. “As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized, it’s going to take a lot of hard work, it’s going to take a lot of determination, it’s going to take really everything I’ve got. I’m willing to make sacrifices and just go out there and be the best player I can be. My ultimate goal is to definitely play on a pro field, that’s something that doesn’t happen to a lot of people.”
Regardless of what happens down the road, the present is where Drtina is placing his focus. As just a sophomore, the pitcher already achieved things in his career most don’t, and he will look to build on that through the remainder of his high school tenure. Drtina will do so with a talented core in his 2024 class, as well as freshman star and fellow Louisville commit, Jaden Fauske. The group has plenty of talent and potential, and they have visions of being the best to ever come through Nazareth Academy.
“From when we got there as freshmen, we knew this was a really special group coming in,” Drtina said. “We have the opportunity now to just keep doing it and keep rolling. Realistically, we’ve only lost a couple of starters in our lineup … Our goals as a collective group, as a 2024 class, are to go out and repeat and win as many as we can before we graduate. We don’t plan on stopping.”