Baseball: Dominic Purpura, Nazareth repeat as supersectional champs
Updated: June 4, 2012 9:28PM
New look Nazareth is back in old familiar territory: the Class 3A baseball state semifinals.
Powered by the pitching of Dominic Purpura (eight strikeouts) and an offensive attack led by No. 9 hitter Mark Perrone (3-for-4 with three RBIs), the Roadrunners rolled past Grayslake Central 7-2 in Monday’s North Central Supersectional to advance to state for the second year in a row.
But beyond the same big destination, this spring and 2011 have been different stories for Nazareth (30-9).
“I was a pitcher only last year,” Purpura said, “and for every other kid on this field today, this was their first year playing varsity baseball starting in their position. So no one expected us to be where we are right now except us. We worked hard.”
Purpura made Grayslake Central work for everything. Only two hitters in the first five innings reached as much as a two-ball count, and he walked none on the day while scattering six hits.
“Any high school pitcher that can throw breaking balls for strikes 50 percent of the time is going to get guys out,” Grayslake Central coach Troy Whalen said. “And his ability to run his fastball away – he had us on our heels.”
Purpura was a 10-game winner on last year’s march to state, and his veteran poise showed.
“I’ve been in a lot of tough situations, so I thought I could help my team relate to how this game was going to be,” Purpura said. “I was here last year and at summer state before that, so I knew what to expect.”
“Dom is lights out,” Perrone said. “When you have him on the mound it’s kind of easy to play relaxed.”
Perrone helped give Nazareth reason to relax in a decisive fourth-inning uprising.
After No. 8 hitter Anthony Tapia battled back from a 1-2 count to draw a bases loaded walk that put the Roadrunners up 1-0, Perrone followed with a two-strike, two-RBI single to left field.
Perrone added an RBI double in the Roadrunners’ two-run sixth inning that built an insurmountable 6-0 lead.
“He had a career day,” Nazareth assistant coach John Sime said. “He’s never batted that well. He’s a senior so it’s so great for him.”
“Just put the ball in play, hit it hard somewhere and hopefully it’ll fall,” Perrone said of his approach.
“Our coach (Lee Milano) stresses hitting to the count and looking for your pitch. I jumped on the first fastball, which is usually a good pitch, and it worked out for me.”
Jake Bartels (3-for-4), Kyle Piotrowski (RBI single in the fourth), Purpura (2-for-4, two RBIs), Ryan Marske (2-for-3 with a triple and two runs scored) and Mike Stromberg (2-for-3) were other hitting stars for Nazareth. No one on the team’s roster had more than 20 at-bats last spring.
“We knew that we would have a chance to play this year,” Perrone said. “And it means so much to this group of guys.”
“These kids all bought in to what we were doing,” Sime said. “They listen, they’re so coachable.
“And it’s the head coach (Milano). I’ve been coaching for 48 years, and he’s the best coach I’ve ever been around.”
Nazareth’s offense excelled despite adversity. The fourth inning uprising came after a runner was thrown out at the plate on a one-out single by Marske, and a bizarre triple play (a dropped fly ball on an infield fly rule with two runners on base, when each runner was thrown out trying to advance) denied a fifth inning threat.
“Hats off to all my hitters putting up seven runs,” Purpura said. “Once they got a few runs I knew right away, just throw strikes and the defense is going to do its work. There were no worries.”
Grayslake Central (30-10) created some tension in the bottom of the fourth, but Purpura escaped a bases loaded, two out jam with a called strikeout on a 3-2 pitch.
“We gathered up just before that batter with the bases loaded,” Purpura said. “I said two things to my fielders: ‘it’s not going to be a walk. It’s either going to be a hit or to you, so be alive.’ And I ended up striking him out.”
“He really is tough mentally,” Sime said of Purpura. “He believes in himself. He’s had good control all year long. He’s been phenomenal.”
Led by catcher Kristian Meehan (3-for-3 with an RBI double), Grayslake Central finally solved Purpura for two runs in the sixth inning. But Purpura retired the game’s last four hitters to seal a return trip to the state semifinals, where Nazareth placed fourth last year.
“Coming into this game last year we were expected to do well – people had us higher than this year,” Purpura said. “That’s what we love, we keep proving everyone wrong. We’re all best friends and we play for each other.”
“We all knew that we had a good team and good chemistry,” Perrone said. “Our offense and defense are hot and our pitching is good, so it all works out.
“These guys are amazing. It’s easy to play with them when you get along with them.”
Nazareth hopes to continue to amaze at state this weekend with a simple approach.
“Just play good baseball,” Perrone said. “Don’t worry about the opponent – just play the way we know how and it’ll work out for us.”