Baseball: Nazareth’s Marske lets bat do the talking
Nazareth shortstop Timothy Dalporto (right) is the first sophomore to earn all-East Suburban Catholic Conference honors in program history. He finished with a .480 batting average in the conference. | Jon Langham~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 3, 2012 11:55AM
Ryan Marske remains a star in the Nazareth baseball team’s postseason run, but the storyline could have been very different.
After helping pitch the Roadrunners to a fourth-place finish in the 2011 IHSA Class 3A state tourney with a 9-1 record and 1.62 ERA (his only loss being a 3-1 decision in the state semifinals), injuries this spring have kept Marske off the mound since early May.
But that’s just given the senior a new way to prove his worth.
Marske leads Nazareth in home runs (3) and RBIs (28) this season, and his 3-for-3 day at the plate Saturday — including a two-run triple in the first inning — powered the Roadrunners to a 10-1 win over Little Village in the Nazareth Regional final.
“Ryan has really handled the situation well, and hasn’t changed the way he’s approached his hitting,” said Nazareth coach Lee Milano. “He’s a leader, a senior player with three years of returning varsity experience. And we’ve needed his leadership whether it was on the mound or not.”
Regarding his absence from the mound, Marske said, “It’s been tough. But you just keep your focus and try to help the team any way you can.”
Marske had a 3-1 record, one save and a 2.17 ERA in 29 innings this spring before his injury. Milano is noncommittal about the 6-foot-5 senior’s prospects of a return to the hill — for sectionals or beyond.
“There’s potential he could pitch,” Milano said. “He’s been doing some bullpen work. When you lose your No. 1 guy for the last three weeks — or whatever it’s been — especially in a tough conference where you play four games in a week, obviously that leaves a big gap to fill out there.”
Fellow Nazareth mound aces Dominic Purpura (1.53 ERA) and Jake Bartels (1.85 ERA, including three innings of one-hit work on Saturday) have done their part to keep the Roadrunners (27-9) rolling, and provide a strong top of the postseason pitching rotation — even if Marske is limited to hitting.
And as things have turned out, Marske’s offensive production helped fill the Roadrunners’ biggest void.
“Every position player was lost from last year,” Milano said. “We had 40 home runs as a team last year. We have four this year, and Ryan has three of them. We’ve had to adjust our style of play, like putting more guys in motion (Nazareth had three stolen bases in the first two innings Saturday, including two by Sean Maloney). But the whole team has responded well, even to things out of their control. Injuries like Ryan’s are part of those things.
“I thought our pitching would be solid, and we played well last summer, but you don’t know what’s going to happen in the spring. I had an idea that we had a group of guys who would get the job done, but I don’t know how many teams would have 27 wins with that many changes, and the conference we play in. That’s something to be proud of.”
Offensive stars include shortstop Timothy DalPorto (.480 average in conference play), the first sophomore to earn all-ESCC honors in program history. Bartels (.380) and standout defensive catcher Mike Stromberg (.360) have also emerged as major contributors, but Marske — batting in the No. 6 spot in the lineup — has done some of the most damage.
A .353 average (double, 3 RBI) in 17 at-bats last season provided a preview of things to come for Marske. And whether it’s with his bat or a return to health on the mound, he hopes to end his Nazareth career with another memorable June.
“Take nothing for granted, because you never know what’s going to happen,” Marske said. “But I think we definitely have the tools this year, so as long as we play our game we can do it.”
That means a deep run in the postseason, including Wednesday’s Glenbard South Sectional semifinal game against the host Raiders. The sectional championship game is set for 1 p.m. Saturday.
With four regional titles in a row, Nazareth has tradition on its side.
“You have to be careful with that,” Milano said. “You want to remember what those teams in the past three years have accomplished, but you don’t want to compare teams. The kids who were around last year know what it takes, and this year, in 19 games decided by three runs or less, we’re 14-5. So these kids are battle-tested in close games, and the ESCC competition is second to none. Hopefully, that’s prepared us for the tournament.”
Besides Marske, hitting stars in the regional final win over Little Village included Purpura (2-for-2, double, 3 RBI), Maloney (2-for-2, 2 runs) and Mark Perrone (2-for-4, RBI).
Edward Gengo pitched four innings of one-hit, eight-strikeout relief for the win.